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States without Nations: Empires

Still more remote from contemporary experience is the concept of empire. This is a form of rule that has dominated large parts of the globe for millennia. The most notable examples are the ancient empires of China and Rome. But similar structures could be found in India (the Moghul Empire), in Africa (Egypt and Mali) and in Central and South America (the Aztecs). More recently, each of the European nations tried to create colonial empires in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Empires may be briefly built on military advantage alone as that of Alexander the Great. The longer-lasting empires had not only size, but also to the advantages of a ‘civilized’ culture, and society centred in large urban centres.

In the history of China particularly the empire was militarily subdued more than once by warlike tribes from the periphery of the empire. However the conquerors became a new ruling group and operated a very similar political system to the one they had defeated. The adaptability of the Romans is well illustrated by their reactions to Greek culture in the early period and the transformation from the Classical Empire based on Rome into the Byzantine Christian Empire based on Constantinople. One feature of such systems is that the rulers must be prepared to tolerate linguistic, cultural and religious diversity, and that subjects must be prepared to make the necessary political compromises with the needs of the empire. Such empires have been characterized by the development of cash economy and complex economic exchanges over long distances.

One final point worth emphasizing is the contrast between the ancient empires and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonial empires in their attitudes towards their subjects. The European empires were based upon a metropolitan state that claimed to be a nation and often a democracy. The empire was a separate area of colonies; the colonies depended on the metropolitan area because it was believed that the inhabitants of colonies were unable to rule themselves.

In contrast to this, the Chinese restricted their empire mainly to groups who could be assimilated into the Chinese way of life, viewing groups outside the empire as racially and culturally inferior. The Romans extended Roman citizenship to a number of other urban centres and made no systematic discrimination between Italian, Greek or African subjects of the empire.


1 Give Ukrainian equivalents for the following words and expressions.

Contemporary, military advantage, urban, metropolitan state, discrimination.

2 Translate words and word combinations from Ukrainian into English and use them in your own sentences.

Підкоряти, завдавати поразки, терпіти, різноманітність, підданий, асимілювати.


3 Complete the sentences.

1. The longer-lasting ...

2. The European empires ...

3. This is a form ...

4. The adaptability ...

5. The Romans extended ...

4 Comprehension questions.

1. What examples of empires can you give?

2. What were empires based on?

3. How were conquered nations treated in empires?

4. What was the secret of adaptability in empires?

5. What is the difference between the ancient empires and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century European colonial empires?


5 Say if the following statements are true according to the text.

1. The concept of empire is easy to understand for contemporary readers.

2. The European nations tried to create colonial empires in China and Australia.

3. Alexander the Great had the empire based on ‘civilized’ culture.

4. In China conquerors developed a similar political system to the one they had defeated.

5. The rulers tried to create linguistic, cultural and religious similarity.

6. In the European empires a metropolitan state was a nation.

7. The Romans gave Roman citizenship to conquered nations and made no discrimination between different subjects of the empire.

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