A list of the principal figures who founded and expanded the world’s largest and most influential empires.
Sargon the Great – Akkadian Empire (reigned c. 2334–2279 BC) Ancient Mesopotamian ruler who conquered main city-states of Sumeria (modern-day Iraq.) He was a powerful ruler considered to have been imbued with mythical powers. The Akkadian Empire is often considered one of the world’s first true Empires.
Cyrus the Great – Achaemenid Empire (600 – 530 BC) was the founder of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. Cyrus conquered the empires of Media, Lydia and Babylonia, creating the first multi-ethnic state. He was admired for his tolerance of different customs and efficient and fair administration.
Alexander the Great – Greek Empire (356–323 BC), Alexander the Great, was one of the greatest military leaders. By the age of 30, Alexander had created an Empire which stretched from his Macedonian home to the Himalayas in India. He conquered the Persian Empire and conquered as far as India. He laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world of individual territories; Alexander allowed a degree of local custom and religion to prosper within his Empire.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang – Qin Empire (260–210 BC) Huang led the state of Qin and conquered all warring states of China, creating the first unified state of China, which at the time was the largest Empire in the world. He also introduced a central bureaucracy with a legal framework and unified rules and regulations. Huang was ruthless in dealing with any opposition but is considered the creator of modern China.
Julius Caesar – Roman Empire (100 BC–44 BC) Under Caesar, the Roman Empire stretched to its furthest points – crossing the Rhine and into Britain for the first time. However, Caesar also oversaw the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the age of the Roman Emperors. Caesar’s motto: ‘ I came, I saw, I conquered’.
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab – Muslim Empire (586 – 684) Umar was the Second Muslim Caliph and confidant of Muhammad. Under Umar, the Rashidun Caliphate spread to Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Iran. He was influential in the spread of Arab culture and the new Muslim religion.
Saladin Ayyubid Empire – (1138–1193) led the United Arab armies in Islamic opposition to Christian crusades. In 1187, he defeated the Crusader army and led the Muslim reconquest of Palestine. He earned the grudging respect of the Crusaders and King Richard I.
Genghis Khan – Mongol Empire – ( 1162 – 1227) Genghis Khan was a Mongol warlord who succeeded in uniting the Mongol tribes before proceeding to conquer China. Khan then swept into Asia, reaching as far as Central Europe. Genghis Khan successfully subdued defeated populations and incorporated them into his own army. The Mongol Empire reached its peak in 1279 with an area of 13 million sq miles.
Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451 – 1504) Her marriage to King Ferdinand of Aragon, effectively united the Spanish provinces and led to a unified Spanish state. Under their rule, Spain accelerated its process of overseas expansion, financing the journey of Christopher Columbus and setting up the Spanish Inquisition. They played a role in justifying the foreign conquest of non-Catholic peoples.
Babur – Moghul Empire (1483 – 1530) Muslim prince from Turkestan who conquered regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India. He set the foundations of the Moghul Empire, which dominated India for the next three centuries.
Akbar the Great – Moghul Empire (1542–1605) The third Moghul Emperor, Akbar consolidated and expanded the Moghul Empire across India, through a series of striking military victories. His reign saw the blossoming of the Moghul Empire as a beacon of culture and religious tolerance.
Hong Taiji – Qing dynasty (1592 – 1643) Taiji consolidated the Jin Empire his father had created. He was responsible for changing the Empire into the Qing dynasty and he laid the foundation for claiming the Ming dynasty into his new empire, which dominated China until 1912.
Peter the Great – Russian Empire (1672 – 1725) Tsar of all Russia (1682 – 1721) and Emperor of All Russia (1721-1735). Through successful wars, Peter the Great, expanded the Russian empire and shaped modern Russia. He began the Romanov dynasty, which dominated Russia until the Russian Revolution of 1917. At its peak in 1897, the Russian Empire comprised 125.6 million people.
Napoleon Bonaparte – Revolutionary French (1769–1821) As Emperor of France (1804–1815), Napoleon’s forces swept across Europe. Napoleon frequently overcame numerical odds to win sweeping military victories. He established a dominion over much of Europe, changing the fate of the world.
Queen Victoria – British Empire (1837-1901) The British Empire had roots back in the 12th Century with Edward I conquest of north Wales. But, during the nineteenth century, the British Empire became more formalised and visible. Victoria was queen from 1837-1901. During her reign, Britain’s Empire grew to cover almost one-quarter of the world’s citizens. India was formally claimed as part of the British Empire (she gained the title Empress of India). Britain also claimed new colonies in Africa.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “People who founded Great Empires”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net. Published 4 October 2019. Last updated 13 March 2020.
Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference
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