I'm currently doing some research for my first book which involves a planet with an empire that has had its roots in Antiquity. It's basically a country that formed about 2200 years ago and has started to take over the world 1500 years ago, forming a global empire around 200 years ago.

What would a global empire, grown from a country that was born during antiquity and took over every other nation by a combination of force and diplomacy look and feel like? I understand that the Romans kept their empire together against internal struggles by assimilating the different cultures. Would that work on a global scale? Or should it go the entirely opposite way, with an empire only in name and extreme independence for every conquered state?

I mainly would like to know 3 things:

  1. how can such an empire stay in power without losing grip on the distant parts?

  2. How do the logistics of such an empire work? Would their world economy be better or worse than ours, assuming similar tech level?

  3. How would the empire keep the military at a functional level? there are no other countries to wage war against, so I think there would be a pretty high likelihood of the armed forces just not staying at a proper level.

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    $\begingroup$ The British Empire could answer some of your questions. It's widely considered an example of hyperpower in geopolitical circles (that is above superpowers like the US, China and Russia today). It also contained 1/5 of the world population and 1/4 of the land mass on Earth. There are also anecdotal evidences that other powers like France, the US and the Turks would seek permission from the british before warring with each other because the british could block the sea wherever they wanted. But every great empire ends some day. In the case of the British Empire it was the seeds of Nationalism... $\endgroup$
    – Mystra007
    Oct 30 '14 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ I'm really having problems with this concept of 'belgae' tribe...Belgium is a collection of dutch, french, and German influence and descends from the Flemish people through medieval times and inhabited by early Britons prior to it (Incidentally, Charlemagne was the early German influences in the region as 'the holy roman empire'). I also have problems seeing an empire grow to that size and not suffer from discontent...taxation without representation is at the heart of revolt. How would a Belgium control people and resist the ambitions of internal and external forces? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Oct 31 '14 at 0:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth That is one of the questions I'm interested in having some answers for. I know that the USA was born from exactly what you describe. With Belgae, I mean the same tribes as the ones grouped under that term by the Romans. Since I'm already involving aliens in this, it's not a stretch to think that the aliens managed to get these Belgae to merge into a single nation. $\endgroup$
    – Nzall
    Oct 31 '14 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think you can remove the impact on history thing from your question and focus on what the empire itself would look like. As it is you're getting rather too broad .... and the impact on history is really something only you can decide since you know what impact you want... $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Oct 31 '14 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ You need to be specific but not too much unless it is required. Also, I think the question should be about a country dominating Earth since antiquity, not just since 1900. And you should also specify (if possible) what aspect you are the most interested in. Is it mostly political ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 1 '14 at 20:48

How can the empire stay in power?

The way to stay in power is to have everyone in the empire being convinced that it is better to stay in the empire than to leave it (forcefully), and to convince everyone outside the empire (during the time when there is an outside) that it is a bad idea to attack it or support any separatist forces inside the empire.

For the people inside the empire, there are several strategies:

  • Make the people happy. Happy people are unlikely to revolt. For the Romans, this strategy was known as panem et circenses, bread and games: You keep the people fed (so they don't revolt due to need), and you keep the people entertained (so they don't revolt out of boredom). In a more modern setting, TV would likely take the role of the games. Also, while the empire is not yet worldwide, it is important to have a better economy and more advanced technology than all the countries around, in order to avoid people finding that they could have a better life outside the empire.

  • Propaganda. Tell people constantly how lucky they are to be in the empire. If you tell it to them often enough (and they don't have an objective reason for doubting it, see the first point), most people will believe in it. This also means that the empire should control education so that already the children learn about the greatness of the empire. Having mandatory schooling with strict controls on who can become and remain teachers would certainly be an advantage in that case.

  • Control of resources. Make sure that no part of the empire (apart possibly of the core) has the necessary resources to build a self-sustainable economy, or, if they are near the border of the empire, can get the necessary resources from countries outside the empire. Also make sure that everyone knows how much they depend on resources from other parts of the empire (maybe make them believe it even more than actually the case; see the point about propaganda above).

  • Participation. Have people from every part of the empire taking part in whatever official roles people can get in the empire. People have to feel that the empire is their empire, which means that people from everywhere should have the same rights all over the empire. Also, having a certain autonomy of parts of the empire may be helpful (but on the other hand, it might encourage separatism, so it is probably a delicate balance).

  • A strong and effective police. On one hand, the police will keep crime low, adding to the point of making (non-criminal) people happy, but on the other hand, the police will also be able to stop any separatist movements.

  • A good intelligence service. The better the government of the empire is informed about what happens in it, the better and earlier it can react. Note that earlier reactions may also mean less visible reactions, which is an advantage because any visible actions might feed "us against them" feelings.

  • A good communication system: The faster and more reliable the information can flow between the central government and the outer parts of the empire, the more effective it can govern the empire. Also, fast communication may also help in making the people feel more connected to the empire (especially if communication to outside the empire works less well).

  • A good transportation system (roads, later railways etc.). This is important to have a lot of internal trade (see the point about resources above, but a common trade system may also help people feeling connected with the empire), but also to have fast movement of police groups/military if required, and at least in pre-technical time for fast communication.

  • A well-trained military, in case things get too much out of control. Coupled with mandatory military service, it may also be a way to further increase loyalty with the empire (that would, however, require that the experiences from the military are not too bad, except if the bad experiences come from external enemies).

  • Control of local governments. A local government might act in its own interest opposite to the empire's interest, or even plan to separate their territory from the empire. Also, the local government may become lazy or corrupted and stop enforcing empire policies or managing its territory as it should. You want to always be informed about anything the local governments do or don't do, and you certainly want to make sure that you always have the power to throw out any local government that doesn't behave properly; ideally through a pre-defined process as to not produce unnecessary unrest.

As soon as the empire grows too large, the main problem it will face is the lack of equally powerful external enemies. Nothing helps to keep an empire together as well as a common external enemy. Probably to compensate for the lack of external enemies, internal enemies will be needed. Separatist movements can make a great internal enemy as long as they don't have a real chance to succeed. So maybe the key of a lasting empire would be to not completely avoid separatists, but let them happen, but keep them sufficiently under control that they are not an actual threat.

For the countries outside the empire (during the time they exist), the following points apply:

  • A strong military. This is the most important part, especially in phases where a significant part of the world is not yet under control of the empire. You have to make sure that no one can reasonably expect to win a war against you. Ideally, you can also use it to further your control

  • Military contracts with other countries. If the empire is strong, other countries may like to be under protection of the empire; by making contracts, you can bind them to you, making sure that they won't attack you, and at the same time make them dependent on you.

  • Trade with other countries. The bigger the empire, the more likely it will have the monopoly on certain resources. Such a monopoly always comes with a certain amount of power, especially if coupled with military power.

How does the logistics of such an empire work?

It either works very well, or the empire will break down sooner or later.

How would the empire keep the military at a functional level?

See the controlled separatist movements above.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow. Amazing answer!! $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Nov 2 '14 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ definitely +1. Just add one paragraph: Control of local government. The all mighty, beloved by all, emperor must "know" and be able to interfere if there is too corrupted local government. $\endgroup$ Nov 3 '14 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek: Good point, added. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Nov 3 '14 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ Was the British empire lacking any of these? $\endgroup$ Dec 8 '16 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear: Well, they were obviously not making the people everywhere in the empire happy, see the Boston Tea Party. That wasn't exactly a demonstration of happiness with the empire. Also, they were lacking on the point of participation; not without reason the slogan of the Boston Tea Party was "no taxation without representation". $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Dec 8 '16 at 21:43

It Just needs to looks like it survived

A large empire may lose cohesion or power for many reasons but if a subsequent ruler conquers much of the same territory and claims the same name then "the empire" has survived.

The best example of this is China it has had hundreds of emperors that have been overthrown dozens of times, but since the subsequent emperor reconquers much a china and has a similar political structure we speak of dynasties of China rather than the rise and falls of Kingdoms of Europe. Even in periods where the central government had no real power and provinces were basically autonomous, they all still claimed to serve the emperor.

Internally provinces would battle for control and power, dynasties and aristocratic families would rise and fall in power but the empire would survive. Every successive emperor claims to be part of the old empire to justify his right to rule.

The internal warring would lead each district to have a strong military.

The economy would be both better and worse.
There would be fewer barriers to trade in 1 large empire than many small countries. The single central government and single rule system would limit opportunities to innovate.

Many of the great innovations in finance like free market trade, fractional reserve banking, national fiat currency, insurance and others were invented and adopted in attempts by small countries to gain advantages over their foes (the Netherlands and England are the major examples). But a central government might severely limit these innovations


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