In terms of raw numbers, the British Empire is the largest the world has ever seen. At its peak in the early 1900s, the UK was in possession of almost 14 million square miles of territory, and almost a quarter of the world’s population was under their control.
While it still possesses 14 territories overseas, many people mark the end of the British Empire as the day they transferred possession of Hong Kong over to China.
The Achaemenid Empire, more commonly known as the First Persian Empire, is not the biggest in all history, but during its own time, it was the largest and most powerful force on earth. Running from 550 to 330 BCE, the Persians were founded and led by Cyrus the Great.
At its peak, the Persian Empire stretched from the Balkans to the Indus Valley and had an estimated population of over 20 million people.
The Qing Dynasty was the last and largest of the Chinese imperial dynasties. At its peak in the 1800s, it owned 5 million square miles of territory and was home to almost 400 million people.
The empire would last until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which paved the way for the creation of the modern-day state of China.
The Mongol Empire, which lasted through the 13th and 14th centuries CE, has the distinction of being the empire with the largest single territory.
At its peak, it controlled almost 20% of all land on Earth—stretching across both modern-day Asia and parts of Europe.
After the death of Muhammad, the Islamic world split into four caliphates. One of the largest and most powerful of those was the Umayyad Caliphate.
At their peak in 750 CE, the Umayyads controlled areas in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and even the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. They had an estimated population of 33 million.
The Russian Empire came to an official end with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917, but before that, this massive world power ruled for almost two centuries.
It terms of land controlled throughout all history, it falls behind only the British Empire and the Mongol Empire.
Egyptian Old Kingdom
The Old Kingdom of Egypt may be ancient history these days, but during its time it was the most powerful (and largest) empire on Earth. From 2800 to 2400 BCE, the Egyptians controlled the areas around the Nile River, and it was during this time that they also constructed the pyramids of Giza.
We don’t have specific numbers about the population for the Old Kingdom, but it is estimated at around 1 to 2 million--which would have been massive at the time.
The Yuan Dynasty was a Chinese empire, but strangely enough, it wasn’t founded by the Chinese. Instead, it was established by Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Empire.
At its peak in the 1300s, it ruled over 10% of the land on Earth. However, this empire would not last as long as others—it was founded in 1271 and had fallen by 1388.
Spain may be a smaller country now, but during the Spanish Empire, it had territories across the globe.
In the 1700s, 3.6% of the world’s population (25 million) were under the rule of the Spanish crown.
The Roman Empire is probably the most well-known empire from the ancient world, and for good reason too--during its peak in the 3rd century, it was the largest and most powerful empire around.
With an estimated peak population of 65 million people, Rome controlled more than 20% of all the people on Earth at the time.
First French Empire
The French Empire was a major global force during the 19th century, led by the iconic and controversial Napoleon Bonaparte. His empire was in possession of more than 1.31 million square miles of territory.
In terms of France’s colonial empire, its reach stretched more than 4.4 million square miles.
The Ottoman Empire has a reputation for being particularly brutal, but regardless of their methods, they got the results they wanted.
In power for a staggering six centuries, it saw a peak population of 35,350,000 people and spanned through Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Rashidun Caliphate was another of the four caliphates that sprang up in the Islamic world after the death of Muhammad. However, this empire would not last long--its dates run from 632 CE until only 661, at which point the Umayyad Caliphate took over.
That being said, during their short tenure, they controlled almost 5% of all land on Earth.
Before the controversies over Tibetan rule today, it was its own independent empire in the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries CE. While specific population numbers are hard to come by, some estimates place it as low as 200,000 people.
Despite this, they possessed a massive 1.78 million square miles of land.
After the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty in 1644, the Ming Dynasty took its place. During its rule, trade routes with the West began opening in China, which led to some financial stability the area had not experienced in the past.
At their peak, they controlled 2.51 million square miles of land.
During its existence from 1922 to 1991, the Soviet Union was the largest empire on Earth.
With a population of 293 million and an area of 8.6 million square miles, it was one of the largest states to ever exist in modern history.
Macedonia was a kingdom was founded in 808 BCE, but it only became an empire under the rule of Alexander the Great centuries later.
For a short time, the Macedonian Empire was the biggest political force on Earth, and its dominance contributed to the spread of Greek culture, art, and philosophy throughout their conquered territories.
The Timurid Empire might not be the most well-known one in all of history, but during 1300s and 1400s, it was a force to be reckoned with.
While population numbers are hard to come by, the Timurids owned 1.7 million square miles of land.
The modern state of Japan only came into being in 1947, but before that was the Japanese Empire. While the island of Japan is relatively small, this kingdom had numerous territories in East Asia and the South Pacific.
At its peak, it had a population of 105 million and controlled 766,000 square miles of land.
At its peak, the Mughal Empire controlled most of modern-day India and then some. Dates vary for Mughal rule, but the empire got its start sometime in the early 1500s and ruled until 1857.
They had a population of 158 million and controlled 1.5 million square miles of land.