Let’s say we have 2 states. One gets invaded by the other.

What does it take for an invader to successfully assimilate the population of a conquered state?

Successfully: At least 50% of the population has converted or is of the same language/religion.

  • Does it need many invaders?
  • Does the size of the country matters?
  • Could it be done in less than a generation?

Historical examples:

  • The Manchu invaded China but they are the ones that got assimilated.
  • William the conqueror invaded England but never imposed French as the common language.
  • Persia was converted religiously but not linguistically.
  • The British conquered all of North America but we still speak French here.

The answer could talk about the language assimilation, religious assimilation or both.

  • $\begingroup$ The British conquered all of North America but we still speak French here. -- I'm not sure if thats true...the French and Quebec were never really conquered. YOu could include the Romans conquered the greeks with military, but the greek culture eventually conquered the Roman military. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 10 '14 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth : Well the British won the 7 years war and managed to occupy the important cities of the Nouvelle-France in 1760-61. They controlled North America. But, they never tried very hard to assimilate us. I guess it depends what is you definition of conquering. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 10 '14 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ true enough...American independence interfered with that and next thing you know british are fighting alongside french not against them. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 10 '14 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth :alliances come and go. Eventually the British declare war to Napoleon. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 10 '14 at 23:51

The Middle East is the single best case study for this topic. As a region where continents, religions and cultures collide it has been ruled, conquered, and reconquered like no other place on the planet. There could be, and in fact have been many books written on this subject but for the sake of this we will just look at your specific questions.

Does it need many invaders?

That depends on the nation/empire/city-state being conquered. It is much more difficult to conquer and subsequently assimilate a state that is well organized and supported by its population. If the people are happy, or at least content, they will resent the invader making it much more difficult to assimilate anything. Generally this will require the use of force which has a tendency to have the opposite effect. Humans are beautifully stubborn like that.

Conversely if an empire is falling apart, and distant from its holdings, the people may be ready for change. In this case it can be a simple matter of marching in and taking over the joint with limited conflict.

Does the size of the country matters?

Of course. Size is very important, both the size of the invader and the invaded. But it is more complex than that. Size is important, but so is population density and geography. Just try invading and assimilating the Balkans, or Afghanistan.

Could it be done in less than a generation?

Again this is dependent on the situation. In the case of a new power taking border regions from an old empire. Sure it could. If the two peoples in question are more similar than different, and those being assimilated are willing to have it happen it can be almost over-night. (Crimea)

A couple more points.

  • Assimilation goes both ways. When the Turks invaded the middle east they not only adopted Islam but the bureaucracy of the areas they invaded. They had no previous experience in the matter so take what works and go for it. Often times while militarily powerful, invaders are ill equipped to run a country, after all its expensive to run an empire and that gives the outsider a military advantage as they don't have the same demands on their money.

  • Inclusion. Assimilation by force (unless you exterminate the local populace) rarely if ever actually works. People resist and may openly fight back. Empires that have assimilated other cultures and have grown very powerful have accepted the cultures they conquered.

  • Language. Language can take more time than the political or religious affiliation if for no other reason than it takes time...and lets not forget that Rosetta Stone software didn't exist in the middle ages. When talking about language conversion you are mostly speaking of the upper class. The lower class would likely continue to speak their native language, though influence from the invading language would permeate the lower classes vocabulary over time. For a full conversion you are talking many many years.

  • Religion. This one is tricky...forced conversion makes the religious person resentful if not outright unwilling to change and again the most successful Empires have been tolerant and inclusive (by the standards of their times at least). The person delivering the message drives a large part of this...

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The Romans were experts at this. The procedure was as follows.

  1. Invade state, conquer it. Do this peacefully if possible with displays of leniency backed by overwhelming force.
  2. Allow freedom of religion, provided the populace also gives loyalty to the emperor.
  3. Build infrastructure, roads, aquaducts, promote trade and ensure lots of people get rich.
  4. Romans move in, live in villas, have baths, and demonstrate an excellent lifestyle.
  5. The youth gradually become romanized, because that's the cool and aspirational thing to do.
  6. Within one or two generations the original culture is relegated to folklaw.
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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One thing you are missing here...Romans destroyed the previous civilizations language and history in a few of these cases. They literally removed entire peoples identity and left them as 'barbarians inspiring to be romans' and nothing more. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 10 '14 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the Romans did sometimes put a city to the sword, but they often had cause to regret it. $\endgroup$ – superluminary Nov 11 '14 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ Carthage yes...the celtic people on the other hand had no written language and their peoples history was passed verbally from the leaders to the next. Celtic leaders were druid...romans hunted and killed them and in doing so eliminated their peoples history. No cities put to the sword per se...just eliminated their history and identity and replaced it with a roman one $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 11 '14 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, on the pretext that they were cannibals, which they might have been for all we know. $\endgroup$ – superluminary Nov 11 '14 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ Wanted to add another one: By serving in the Legions anyone could become a Roman citizen. I'd add 7. Provide ways for the conquered to join and become a conqueror themselves. $\endgroup$ – Zan Lynx Jul 14 '15 at 23:39

It at least partially depends on how brutal you are willing to be.

There have been plenty of cases in history where the invaders killed every male over a certain age, enslaved the women, and raised the remaining children as their own.

In those cases the conquered culture is pretty much completely eliminated within one to two generations.


The Mongols relied on a two-pronged approach. First they offered peace, you paid tribute and agreed to submit to Mongol rule and they treated you reasonably well.

If you resisted though they destroyed you. They slaughtered entire towns, razed them to the ground.

According to the works of the Iranian historian Rashid al-Din (1247–1318), the Mongols killed more than 700,000 people in Merv and more than a million in Nishapur. The total population of Persia may have dropped from 2,500,000 to 250,000 as a result of mass extermination and famine.

Although those figures are contested:

Scholars such as Frederick W. Mote argue that the wide drop in numbers reflects an administrative failure to record rather than a de facto decrease whilst others such as Timothy Brook argue that the Mongols created a system of enserfment among a huge portion of the Chinese populace causing many to disappear from the census altogether. Other historians like William McNeill and David Morgan argue that the Bubonic Plague, spread by the Mongols, was the main factor behind the demographic decline during this period. The plague spread into areas of Western Europe and Africa that the Mongols never reached. The Mongols practised biological warfare by catapulting diseased cadavers into the cities they besieged.

Note that a relatively small Mongol army was able to control a huge territory through sheer terror. If you resisted, at all, your entire village would be slaughtered. As a result even when the main army moved on the conquered population remained submissive.

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Most of these concepts aren't as clear-cut as we tend to portray them from a distance. For example, if a country is conquered, and changes its language completely within 20 years, then either it was already very closely linked with its invader (like Austria/Germany), or the assimilation is superficial and the original culture considers itself to still exist (like Native American nations).

After many generations, it's murkier still, because neither culture is the same as it was before the invasion, and who can say which culture had the bigger influence on the present?

We usually focus on the more tangible things, like how long does it take the conquered country to be administratively and economically controlled, and if that's the level you mean, then total conquest can be achieved very quickly. European nations all have similar infrastructure, so when they used to conquer each other it was pretty easy to change the letterheads.

I think, broadly, one nation cannot be permanently subjugated by another unless both populations more or less agree to it. You can't wage war forever, and you can't police what people teach their kids, so opposition will exist as long as there's a motive for it. Often it goes quiet during good times, but then erupts again years later during a depression or a particularly harsh regime.

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Does it need many invaders?

This depends on "how" the invasion takes place. A big military strike versus a well armed(at least same quality of armor and strategic knowledge) nation is difficult and needs some advantages like the element of surprise and a very fast strike of combined forces (see Blitzkrieg for further information). This is probably the most common sense of "invasion". But also, one could invade a nation by undercutting their government and place some string puppets in their parliament or whatever the government is build in.

So depending on "how" you invade, you have different initial situations. A military invasion gives the advantage, that you have a lot of manpower in the enemies land which gives you the ability to rule them. You can foist up your law and force them with your military to hold it. A very effective way to assimilation would be death penalty to everyone who practice a prohibiden religion, language or whatever. But this can't be enough at its own.

What exactly do you need after a military invasion?

  1. Ban their language, religion and so on.

    Your military advantage could act as some kind of police. Therefore compare the occupied European nations during WWII. The German Wehrmacht and SS practically acted as a foreign police. But further you should force the local police to join your guidance. The folks may not like or trust you. The relation to their folksmen in the own police may be better. If the local police-troops don't want to join you, make an example of your power and kill some. This initial step is very brutal and will raise resistance. You must prepare this case. But you should not keep this brutality up for a long run, only at the first time to show them who rules.

  2. Teach them your language, religion and so on

    When there is no doubt on your power, teach them your culture in schools. The children are those who accept it very easy. Show your "new folks" the benefits of the new culture and make them "wanting" it. For example, as the marks of war are getting less, make tax advantages to those who establish the new culture.

  3. Settle people from your folk in the conquered nation, the more the better.

    (3 and 2 can be done simultaneously). People are social creatures. They talk with each other and overtake behavior of other people. Teach your old folks, that the new folks culture is a very very bad thing. Just like Hitler taught the Germans in 1930s that the Jews are pure evil, but they have to understand that the culture, not the people themselves are evil. When they settle in your new country, they will bring up and amplify your culture. Therefore see any multicultural country in the world.

Invasion without military:

Make as many people of your culture settle in the foreign country to assimilate them. This will take many many generations. Therefore so the black/Asian subcultures in the USA. Assume that you can bring at least 1/3 of the folks number with your settlers. Probably doesn't work when the folks 'look' different (skin colour, size,...)

Does the size of the country matters?

Yes and no. If you can enhance the number of folks equivalent to the size of the country, no. Otherwise, a spare populated country like Finland probably is harder to assimilate due culture doesn't spread well and resistance has many improvements, they can hide very well.

Could it be done in less than a generation?

Read upper blocks, depending on the scenario.

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