This article is about the political and historical term. For other uses, see Empire (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Umpire.
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, 117 AD, the time of Trajan's death (with its vassals in pink)
|Part of the Politics series|
|Basic forms of government|
- Associated state
- Unitary state
(rule by many)
(rule by few)
(rule by one)
- Military dictatorship
(rule by none)
- Free association
Monarchy vs. republic|
Authoritarian vs. libertarian|
Global vs. local|
- Intergovernmental organisation
- National government
- World government
An empire is a sovereign state functioning as an aggregate of lands and peoples that are ruled over by an emperor-like monarch or oligarchy. The territory and population of an empire is commonly of greater extent. History's largest empires, such as the Roman, British and Mongol empires, were typically characterized by the conquest, colonization, plunder, and subordination of often large numbers of territories, kingdoms, ethnicities, and nations, for the benefit of the empire's central rulers and economic elites.
States can be empires either by narrow definition through having an emperor and being named as such, or by broad definition as stated above being an aggregated realm under a supreme authority.
An empire can be made solely of contiguous territories, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Russian Empire, or of territories far remote from the homeland, such as a colonial empire. Aside from the more formal usage, the word empire can also refer colloquially to a large-scale business enterprise (e.g. a transnational corporation), a political organisation controlled by a single individual (a political boss), or a group (political bosses). The word empire is associated with such other words as imperialism, colonialism, and globalization, with imperialism being a specific form of rule and not necessarily the policy of a state headed by an emperor or empress. Empire is often used to describe a displeasure to overpowering situations.
There are two main ways to establish and maintain an imperial political structure: (i) as a territorial empire of direct conquest and control with force or (ii) as a coercive, hegemonic empire of indirect conquest and control with power. The former method provides greater tribute and direct political control, yet limits further expansion because it absorbs military forces to fixed garrisons. The latter method provides less tribute and indirect control, but avails military forces for further expansion. Territorial empires (e.g. the Mongol Empire and Parthian Empire) tend to be contiguous areas. The term, on occasion, has been applied to maritime republics or thalassocracies (e.g. the Athenian and British empires) with looser structures and more scattered territories.
Empires like the Holy Roman Empire can also come together by electing the emperor with votes from member realms.