Largest Empires in History

  • British Empire
  • Mongol Empire
  • Russian Empire
  • Spanish Empire

British Empire (peak 1920) 

In 1497, King Henry VIII sent John Cabot on an expedition to North America. Cabot landed in Newfoundland modern day Canada. In 1583, Humphrey Gilbert set up a colony in Newfoundland. Gilbert died on the journey back to England. In 1584, sir Walter Raeligh founded the Roanoke colony in North Carolina, but the colony failed due to lack of supplies. In 1607, the Jamestown colony was set up in Virginia. In 1620, the Plymouth bay colony was established in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Plymouth, Massachusetts

In the 1620s colonies St. Kitts and Nevis and in Barbados were set up. A colony in Bermuda was also set up. In the Americas, many states were set up for different types of Christain. For example Maryland was for Catholics and Connecticut was for Congregationalists. In west Africa multiple colonies were also set up. In the 1710s the British gained colonies in Canada from the French and in Newfoundland. In the recent war Britain had defeated Spain and conquered Gibraltar and parts of the Balearic islands. In 1739 the War of Jenkin’s Ear began against the Spanish. The war had started because Captain Robert Jenkin, a British sailor had his ear cut off by Spanish Pirates.

British and Spanish ships fighting in the War of Jenkin’s Ear

During the middle of the 1700s the British East India Company had been gaining ever more control over the Mughal Empire in India. In 1770 British sailor James Cook had found many islands in the Pacific Ocean. The main islands were Australia and New Zealand, but there were also other ones like the Cook Islands.  In 1756 the Seven Years’ War had started as a result of British and French strife. It was a global conflict but most of the fighting was in North America. In 1760s Britain had been economically weakened by the Seven
Years’ War, so they made new taxes on the Thirteen Colonies to pay for it. In 1776 the American Revolution began.  Lasting until 1783, the Americans won.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the American Revolution

In the early 1800s tensions rose once again between the British and the Americans. The British had been sailing their navy over to America and forcing men at gunpoint to join the navy. So in 1812 the War of 1812 started. It went on until 1814. After the defeat of Napoleon Britain started to rapidly expand. In 1811 they colonized Java, in 1819 they colonized Singapore, in 1824 they colonized Malacca, and in 1826 they colonized Burma. During the First Opium War the British captured Hong Kong from the Qing Dynasty. During most of the 19th century Britain and other European countries all rushed to colonize Africa. It is commonly known as the “Scramble for Africa.” In 1875 Britain gained full control of Egypt and held it for most of the 20th century.

Map of colonial Africa. (Light Red British)

In 1914, World War 1 started. Britain didn’t join until the Germans had started their invasion of Holland. During the war Britain lost hundreds of thousands of men, but they had gained lots of territory, mostly from Germany’s colonies in Africa. They gained lots of land in the Middle east from the Ottomans. Britain also gained land in the Pacific. In 1921 Britain had reached its territorial peak. The countries it had was: Canada, Bahamas, Many Caribbean islands, Belize, Jamaica, Guyana, Falklands, South Georgia, Egypt, Sudan, Somililand, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Tangakiya Territory, Rhodesia, South Africa, Namibia, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, parts of Thailand, parts of Malaysia, Brunei, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, and lots of Pacific islands.

Map of British Empire near its peak

Mongol Empire (peak 1259) 

The Mongol Empire was one of the largest empires in history. It came from Mongolia and East Asia. When Genghis Khan became emperor in 1206 he decided to start conquering every country around him. One of the first countries he attacked was the Jin Dynasty (modern day China). He took some of the far northern parts of China. Then he fixed his attention to the west. He took all Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and others. He also conquered most of Siberia and even reached Ukraine.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan died in 1227. His successor was Ogedei. He won a great victory against a Chinese warlord and took Manchuria. He defeated the Bulgars (Turkic/Bulgarian tribe) also. In 1230 he led a campaign against the Jin Dynasty. In 1234 Ogedei defeated the Jin Dynasty. In Southern Persia some of the tribes there joined the Mongols willingly. Ogedei tried to invade Korea but had little success. They also started an offensive against the Song Dynasty of China. The Song Dynasty actually helped them fight the Jin Dynasty. Batu Khan was the new leader of the Mongol Empire. Batu destroyed the Principality of Vladimir at the Battle of Sit River.

Mongols burning Suzdal

The Mongols started their invasion of Poland and Hungary, and after this a couple of the countries in Europe formed an anti-Mongol alliance. In 1241 Ogedei died causing the Mongols to retreat from Central Europe. Although Ogedei was not the leader of the Golden horde, they still had to have a ceremony for his death. In 1246 Batu’s brother, Guyuk succeeded  the throne. In 1248, Guyuk died, and Mongke Khan was elected. In 1258 Monge invaded parts of the Middle east and Southern China. In 1258 he sacked Baghdad the capital of the Islamic Empire. He took Syria also. He attacked lots of Christain regions in the middle east and sacked all of the cities that wouldn’t surrender. A different “General” at that time was attacking the Baltic States and Ukraine. In August of 1259 Mongke died of a disease. This was the peak of the Mongol Empire and after Mongke’s death civil war began in Mongolia. In 1259 the Mongol Empire had reached its territorial peak. The countries it had was: Mongolia, most of Russia, most of China, Korea, parts of Vietnam, parts of Laos, parts of Burma, Bhutan, parts of India, Nepal, Iran, parts of Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, parts of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, parts of Jordan, Syria, parts of Turkey, parts of Ukraine, parts of Romania, Hungary, parts of Bulgaria, and parts of Poland. 

Map of the Mongol Empire around its peak

Russian Empire (peak 1810) 

The Russian Empire started under Peter the Great (1672-1725). Before Peter it was known as the Tsardom of Russia and earlier known as the Kievan Rus. He renamed it to the Russian Empire. He built a new city to be the capital of Russia. That city was Saint Petersburg. During his reign, Peter made the Russian Empire into an Autocracy. After Peter died in 1725, his wife Catherine I became tsarina for a short time. After her, Anna Ionavonna became tsarina for a short time also.

St. Petersburg in 1861

Peter III eventually came to the throne but was couped by his wife, Catherine the Great. She expanded the borders to the Baltic States. She reformed the death sentence too. The old punishment was drawing and quartering but she made a less harsh punishment. Catherine waged war against the Ottomans and conquered the southern lands on the Black Sea. Catherine also took some more Polish land too. In 1796, when Persia attacked Georgia she declared war on them. She was victorious and all of Persia and the Caucasus were under Russian rule. Catherine died in 1796, but had established Russia as a world power. Her successor, Alexander I, started more wars. At this time Sweden had modern day Finland and Sweden. Alexander attacked the Swedes and conquered Finland. He also annexed Bessarabia from Moldova. After all these wars, Russia was in grave debt. In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of France, had launched an invasion of Russia. Napoleon was defeated, and he retreated. After he won the war, tsar Alexander I took control of Poland. After the death of Alexander, Nicholas I became tsar. In December of 1825, there was a revolt in which the people tried to make Nicholas’s brother tsar. The revolt was repressed. In 1854-1855 the Crimean war started against Turkey and Britain.

Bunker in the Crimean War

The Russians were severely defeated in this war. In 1855 when Alexander II came to the throne, he abolished serfdom. From 1858-1860 Russia gained lands from the Qing Dynasty. They had gained Outer Manchuria. In 1877 another war against the Turks began. The Russians were very successful and had taken most of their land when they surrendered. They gained lots of territory in modern day Georgia and Azerbaijan. In 1881, Alexander III came to the throne. He was a very Autocratic tsar. This is the peak of the Russian Empire. Russia at this point, although it had lots of land, was very weak and unstable. The countries it had was: Russia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, most of Poland, parts of hungary, Ukraine, parts of Romania, Georgia, parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, most of Iran, parts of Afghanistan, parts of Mongolia, and parts of China.

Russian Empire around its peak

Spanish Empire (peak 1810)

In 1492, Spain had reconquered all of Iberia from the Islamics. After they had conquered Iberia, they decided to take North Africa. In 1497 they took Melilla, in 1505 they took Mazalquivir, In 1508 they took Penon de Velez de la Gomera, In 1509 they took Oran, In 1510 they took Algiers, In 1510 they also took Bougie, and Tripoli, and in 1476 they took Santa cruz de la mar Pequena. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed west, trying to reach Japan. Instead of finding Japan, he found America.

Christopher Columbus finds the new world

In 1502, the first settlement was made in the new world. It was in modern day Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. A colony in Cumana, Venezuela was also set up in 1510. The Spaniards conquered the Aztec and Incan Empires in Central America. Lots of more colonies were set up in Hispaniola (modern day Cuba and Puerto Rico). In 1496, Santo Domingo was colonized by Columbus’s brother. In 1498 the Spanish started to reach the mainland. By 1508, Spain had conquered the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. In 1510 they expanded greatly, taking Nicauragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. In the 1520s, Mexico was colonized.

The Battle of Tenochtitlan

In 1545, Potosi was discovered. A settlement was made there and massive amounts of silver were found. In 1572, the last ruler of the Incan empire was executed. From 1560-1580 Spanish pirates and English pirates engaged in a series of battles trying to steal from each other. The spanish defeated a fleet of British at the Battle of San Juan de la Ulua in Mexico. By the late 1500s most of Central and South America had been conquered. In 1564, the Spanish decided to take a country in Asia. The Philippines were conquered by the Spanish in that year. Luis de Velasco, had also found the “Spice Islands” which is a  modern day Archipelago of islands in Indonesia. In 1571, the Spanish attacked Brunei, which at that point had almost all of the island of Borneo. Brunei was conquered and it was made the capital of the Spanish East Indies.

Spanish colonization of the Philippines

In 1578, another war broke out between the Spanish and the Muslims from Brunei. In April of 1578 the Spanish captured the capital of Kota Batu. In 1598, Philip III came to the throne. Between 1600-1623 the plague hit Europe, and about 20% of the Castilliean  population in Spain died. During the reign of Philip IV (1621-1665) Spain was in economic decline. In 1776, during the American Revolution, Spain helped the colonies mostly because of their hatred with the British. In 1810, Spain had a vast quantity of land in the New world. The countries it had were: Spain, parts of Italy, Philippines, parts of Indonesia, Mariana Islands, Caroline Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, Equator, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, about half of the United States, and parts of Canada.

Map of Spanish Empire around its peak

The Christmas Truce of 1914

A German soldier giving a British soldier a light to his cigarette during the truce.

Just five months into WWI in December 1914, unofficial truces and ceasefires were called by soldiers in the Western and Eastern fronts of the Great War. 

The first of these Christmas Truces was made a week before Christmas, during the stalemates of the First Battle of Ypres and Race to Sea, French and British soldiers met German men in no man’s land on the Western Front of WWI. During this first truce, soldiers sang carols, exchanged gifts, talked, and even played soccer with each other.

On the Eastern Front, Austro-Hungarian and Russian soldiers had a similar ceasefire. In some of these truces, the two sides would go recover bodies, have funerals for dead men, and exchange prisoners with each other.

During 1915, there were some short truces, not just during Christmas but also during the rest of the year. Sadly after the truces of 1914, unofficial ceasefires (not called by officials) were looked down upon by higher authorities and by 1916 you could be court-martialed for doing so.

Some commanders directly disobeyed orders from generals that threatened to punish them with death if they called a ceasefire with the enemy. This was because higher commanders didn’t want the enemy to be seen as human rather as a horrible evil that needed to be destroyed at all costs.

A monument to commemorate the Christmas Truce at Ypres Battlefield in France, showing a British and German soldier shaking hands over a soccer ball.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 was one of the only times in WWI when soldiers from seperate sides came together on neutral ground to fraternize, trade, and play games.          

American States and Canadian Provinces Part 1

Alabama (Deep South) 

Alabama flag

Capital: Montgomery

Largest city: Birmingham

Population: 4.9 Million

Size: 52,419 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 14, 1819

Main languages: English, Spanish

Tallest point: Cheaha Mountain 2,407 feet tall

Peach water tower in Clanton, Alabama

Alaska (Pacific) 

Alaska flag

Capital: Juneau

Largest city: Anchorage

Population: 710,249

Size: 663,268 sq. miles

Date joined union: January 3, 1959

Main languages: English, Alaskin Native Languages, and Tagalog

Tallest point: Denali (Mount McKinley) 20,156 feet tall

Barrow, Alaska (AKA Utiaqiagvik) is the northernmost point in the United States. It is on the coast of the Arctic Ocean.

Arizona (West) 

Arizona flag

Capital: Phoenix (and largest city)

2nd largest city: Tucson

Population: 7.2 Million

Size: 113,990 sq. miles

Date joined union: February 14, 1912

Main languages: English, Spanish, and Navajo

Tallest point: Humphreys Peak 12,633 feet tall

Monument valley in Arizona

Arkansas (Deep South) 

Arkansas flag

Capital: Little Rock (and largest city)

2nd largest city: Fort Smith

Population: 3 Million

Size: 53,179 sq. miles

Date joined union: June 15, 1836

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Mount Magazine 2,753 feet tall

Christ of the Ozarks, Arkansas

California (Pacific) 

California flag

Capital: Sacramento

Largest city: Los Angeles

Population: 39.5 Million

Size: 163,696 sq. miles

Date joined union: September 9, 1850

Main languages: English, Spanish

Tallest point: Mount Whitney 14,505 feet tall

Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco, California

Colorado (West) 

Colorado flag

Capital: Denver (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Colorado Springs

Population: 5.7 Million 

Size: 104,094 sq. miles

Date joined union: August 1, 1876

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Mount Elbert 14,440 feet tall

Spanish Peaks in Trinidad, Colorado

Connecticut (New England) 

Connecticut flag

Capital: Hartford

Largest city: Bridgeport

Population: 3.5 Million

Size: 5,567 sq. miles

Date joined union: January 9, 1788 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Mount Frissell 1,800 feet tall

Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut

Delaware (New England) 

Delaware flag

Capital: Dover

Largest city: Wilmington

Population: 982,895 

Size: 1,982 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 7, 1787 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Ebright Azimuth 447 feet tall

Fort Delaware in Delaware City, Delaware

Florida (South) 

Florida flag

Capital: Tallahassee

Largest city: Jacksonville

Population: 21.4 Million 

Size: 65,757 sq. miles

Date joined union: March 3, 1845

Main languages: English, Spanish

Tallest point: Britton Hill 345 feet tall

Tampa bay hotel in Tampa bay, Florida

Georgia (South) 

Georgia flag

Capital: Atlanta (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Augusta 

Population: 10.6 Million

Size: 59,425 sq. miles

Date joined union: January 2, 1788 

Main languages: English, Spanish

Tallest point: Brasstown Bald 4,784 feet tall

Old brunswick ciy hall in Georgia

Hawaii (Pacific) 

Hawaii flag

Capital: Honolulu 

2nd largest city: East Honolulu 

Population: 1.4 Million

Size: 10,931 sq. miles

Date joined union: August 21, 1959

Main languages: English, Hawaiian 

Tallest point: Mauna Kea 13,796 feet tall

Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii

Idaho (West) 

Idaho flag

Capital: Boise (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Meridian 

Population: 1.7 Million

Size: 83,569 sq. miles

Date joined union: July 3, 1890

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Borah Peak 12,662 feet tall 

Field of potatoes in Idaho

Illinois (Midwest) 

Illinois flag

Capital: Springfield

Largest city: Chicago

Population: 12.6 Million

Size: 57,915 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 3, 1818

Main languages: English, Spanish

Tallest point: Charles Mound 1,235 feet tall

Buckingham fountain in Chicago, Illinois

Indiana (Midwest) 

Indiana flag

Capital: Indianapolis (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Fort Wayne

Population: 6.7 Million 

Size: 36,418 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 11, 1816 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Hoosier Hill 1,257 feet tall

Indiana landmarks center in Indiana

Iowa (Midwest) 

Iowa flag

Capital: Des Moines (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Cedar Rapids

Population: 3.1 Million

Size: 56,272 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 27, 1846

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Hawkeye Point 1,671 feet tall

Iowa state capitol in Des Moines, Iowa

Kansas (Midwest)

Kansas flag

Capital: Topeka

Largest city: Wichita

Population: 2.9 Million

Size: 82,278 sq. miles

Date joined union: January 29, 1861

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Mount Sunflower 4,041 feet tall

Rocks national landmark in Kansas

Kentucky (South) 

Kentucky flag

Capital: Frankfort

Largest city: Louisville

Population: 4.4 Million

Size: 40,407 sq. miles

Date joined union: June 1, 1792 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Black Mountain 4,145

Mammoth cave national park, Kentucky

Louisiana (Deep South) 

Louisiana flag

Capital: Baton Rouge

Largest city: New Orleans

Population: 4.6 Million

Size: 52,069 sq. miles

Date joined union: April 30, 1812

Main languages: English, French, Spanish, Creole, and Vietnamese

Tallest point: Driskill Mountain 535 feet tall 

Jackson square in New Orleans, Louisiana

Maine (New England) 

Maine flag

Capital: Augusta 

Largest city: Portland

Population: 1.3 Million

Size: 35,385 sq. miles

Date joined union: March 15, 1820

Main languages: English, French

Tallest point: Mount Katahdin 5,270 feet tall

Fort Popham in Phippsburg, Maine

Maryland (South) 

Maryland flag

Capital: Annapolis

Largest city: Baltimore

Population: 6 Million

Size: 12,407 sq. miles

Date joined union: April 28, 1788 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Hoyecrest 3,360 feet tall

Antietam national battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland

Massachusetts (New England) 

Massachusetts flag

Capital: Boston (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Worcester

Population: 6.8 Million 

Size: 10,565 sq. miles

Date joined union: February 6, 1788 

Main languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese

Tallest point: Mount Greylock 3,489 feet tall

Plymouth rock in Massachusetts

Michigan (Midwest) 

Michigan flag

Capital: Lansing 

Largest city: Detroit

Population: 9.8 Million 

Size: 96,716 sq. miles

Date joined union: January 26, 1837 

Main languages: English, Spanish, and Arabic

Tallest point: Mount Arvon 1,979 feet tall

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Minnesota (Midwest) 

Minnesota flag

Capital: St. Paul 

Largest city: Minneapolis

Population: 5.6 Million

Size: 86,950 sq. miles

Date joined union: May 11, 1858 

Main languages: English, Spanish, Hmong, Dannish, and Norwegian

Tallest point: Eagle Mountain 2,301 feet tall

Soudan mine, Minnesota

Mississippi (Deep South) 

Mississippi flag. Mississippi’s flag was changed to this on June 23, 2020.

Capital: Jackson (and largest city) 

2nd largest city: Gulfport 

Population: 2.9 Million 

Size: 48,430 sq. miles

Date joined union: December 10, 1817 

Main languages: English

Tallest point: Woodall Mountain 807 feet tall  

Lighthouse in Biloxi, Mississippi

Missouri (South) 

Missouri flag

Capital: Jefferson City

Largest city: Kansas City

Population: 6.1 Million

Size: 69,715 sq. miles

Date joined union: August 11, 1821

Main languages: English, Spanish, and German

Tallest point: Taum Sauk Mountain 1,773 feet tall 

St. Louis arch in St. Louis, Missouri