Myth of Empires in Real Life: How Empires Are Born and Die

We discuss the process of turning a state into an empire; and how this is reflected in the video games.

What if you want to feel like the head of a great empire, fight with competitors for a place in the sun, gather an army and cut through enemy battle formations at the head of heavy cavalry? You can, for example, play a good sandbox game Myth of Empires. Everything will work there. But running a virtual empire eventually makes you wonder: how did it all happen in reality? Do all the empires of the world have something in common and what, on the contrary, separates them? Have empires disappeared today and will they return tomorrow? Let’s see.

What Is an Empire?

War never changes. For a place in the sun, for access to resources, for the right to decide who will live and who will die, who will make history and who will end up in the dustbin. War has been a constant companion of humanity. And it started long before he appeared. All wildlife is in an eternal war for the right to live, and the diversity of living organisms is a byproduct of the struggle.

Winning a war, or at least surviving, is best in the company of reliable comrades. The more of them, the better organized the interaction, the higher the chances. Therefore, people united into clans and tribes, and the tribes united into peoples.

Every leader died eventually, of old age or in battle, or was overthrown by evildoers. After that, some peoples again dispersed into separate tribes, while others, despite the loss of a leader, continued to exist, united by the experience of a common war against competitors. Those who unified the dialects into a more or less common language and develop a single culture have survived as a whole.

Civilization games do a pretty good job of how empires work, but not without simplifications

A new stage in a great war for a place under the sun was beginning. When it was not a unifying leader who came, but an outward conqueror. By losing, one nation was under the domination of another. Or, on the contrary, he entered voluntarily under an external authority. Or realizing the futility of open conflict, or even on their own initiative, seeking protection from other outside forces.

A state that rules not one people, but many, that’s an empire. Sometimes the formal name does not correspond to several features in reality. For example, the Empire of Japan has not been such for a long time. The vast majority of the emperor’s subjects are now only Japanese. And the French kingdom in the 18th century was not formally called an empire, but in fact it was. And it was one of the strongest in the world. The king’s power extended far beyond the borders of the European continent and subjugated many different peoples.

The empire accumulates the strength of various peoples through the collection of taxes. Each brings something of its own, and as a result, the state receives so many resources that each of the peoples that make up the empire individually never dreamed of. And he can either fight more effectively in the eternal war for a place in the sun, or squander everything, depending on the decisions made by the rulers or even just luck.

Almost in any sane empire there is a «core» people. Those who have made more efforts when founding and continue to strengthen the culture, who extend and protect the borders. The rest of the peoples float their business and do not interfere, or actively help. At the same time, the «core» of the people is not necessarily the most many. In the Austrian Empire, for example, a quarter of the Germans ruled over three quarters of the non-Germans. And in Britain, tens of millions of Englishmen ruled over hundreds of millions of Indians alone.

But woe to this empire in which it is not clear who governs whom. Here, we get a story from a fable about a swan, cancer and a pike. The Holy Roman Empire at the end of the Middle Ages was divided into two hundred feudal components. The emperor’s power was limited: to make an important decision, he had to persuade each of them. Within these many free principalities, duchies and cities, their own contradictions were maturing. For example, the confrontation between the Germans and the Slavs, exemplified in the same Kingdom Come. The emperor was so weak that some parts of the state fought full-scale wars with others. And there was nothing he could do about it.

Eternal Showdown

When the world is thrown into chaos, empires are relatively few in number and their main task becomes to survive and preserve as many aspects of civilization as possible. It can be a complex industry, a scientific school, or advanced state or military institutions like the Roman system of legions. Some empires have existed almost all their lives, surrounded by barbarians or one-day empires, and have learned to survive in precisely such conditions. The Byzantine Empire, despite numerous raids and a series of heavy defeats, with a short break after the Crusader conquest in 1204, held out for about a thousand years.

But most empires «imprisoned» under struggle with other empires. What happens is reminiscent of gameplay from the Civilization series. There is your country, competing powers, as well as barbarians and small states around. In an effort to secure the best terms for themselves, empires constantly clash with other empires. Because of their mutual strength, the parties cannot quickly destroy each other, so their confrontation often drags on for decades or even centuries.

The opposition of empires is reflected in various games; in Assassin’s Creed Rogue, for example, the British and French fought for control of Canada

Russia and Britain played the Great Game for most of the 19th century. St. Petersburg tried to reach India rich in resources and goods through the conquest of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and in London they tried by all means of infiltration to prevent this. The parties could stop and agree only at the beginning of the 20th century, and the reason for this was the strengthening of Germany. As a result, the Russians and the British were happy with the division of Persia into spheres of influence and moved on to more pressing issues (for example, the World War I).

The latter resulted from an imbalance between the empires because of the sudden rise of the German Empire at the end of the 19th century. The Kingdom of Prussia prepared, could unite the German lands around it, fought against powerful older empires like France and Austria, and began unprecedented economic growth. German ambitions and the reluctance of others to concede led to the most destructive war of the era, which generally swept the world of European empires established in the 19th century from the face of the earth. Half of them disintegrated and the other half was bled.

This shows us how important it is to maintain a balance between empires. When this is the case, everyone exists relatively quietly, wars are limited and local in nature. When the balance is disturbed, periods of relative calm also come to an end. But even that is better than the eternal war of all against all, when there are no empires. The long-term order, the roads, the uniform rules of the game over a large area make the world safer and richer in the long term.

Alluring Colonies

During the Age of Discovery (around the time Ezio from Assassin’s Creed lived), a somewhat anomalous period began for the empires of Europe. They suddenly rushed beyond the borders of their continent to develop new territories. Several centuries have passed and they have subjugated almost the whole world. At the height of the possession of the Spaniards, they rubbed from the Americas to Vietnam, the sun did not set on the British Empire, and the Russians reached the Pacific Ocean in fifty years of conquest of Siberia.

Most of these empires were maritime. New sailboats made it possible to establish more or less stable communications across entire oceans. Moreover, maintaining communication with Boston from London was easier, cheaper and faster than between Moscow and Yakutsk. But there was a catch there.

In the 16th-18th centuries, colonies were easy to acquire, but they were lost just as easily

The relative ease of communications across the sea did not encourage the strengthening of what had been gained by really serious colonization. In fact, to preserve the occupied territories, it is necessary to settle there: to reinstall as many representatives of the «core people» as possible there, to establish roads, posts, state structures, to achieve the establishment of a single of laws.

In land empires, moving from one end to the other was time consuming and expensive compared to sea empires. To mitigate it, it was necessary to seriously develop their lands. Maritime empires have more often focused on making immediate profits. There is a trading post that extracts a valuable resource. If something happens to him, we’ll just get on the boats and go somewhere else to do business there. For Russia, it didn’t work out that way. We conquer Siberia because of the furs. The fur ends in the neighboring lands, well, let’s conquer the next ones. We get fur. But at the same time it is necessary to keep under confident control what has already been won earlier. It is not a sea without an owner, it won’t work to sail quickly on a three-master.

With the maritime empires, the “easy come, easy go” principle worked. When the world started to get feverish in the first half of the 20th century, after the collapse of weak land empires like the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were followed by maritime empires. England, France, Holland. At the same time, Russia, despite a number of the most severe blows received during the World War I, the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War, survived as a great empire, although it managed to lose a a number of territories.

Why Empires Fall

All empires will disappear sooner or later, leaving behind only documents in archives and cultural heritage. But the peoples themselves live longer on average. Not all empires can last 500 years, while the planet is inhabited by many peoples with much older histories. The reason is simple: the empire is a more complex and large-scale mechanism. And therefore more fragile.

There is no single pattern for the collapse of the empire, as well as the main reason. Constructions like “the Romans pampered themselves and entrusted the protection of the borders to the federates” are simplifications. In fact, there is always an interweaving of many factors. Economic problems, delay in military affairs, civil unrest, weakening of the empire in the face of an external enemy. Maybe just bad luck. And then the empire, like the same late Rome, will find itself on the path of strong nomadic invasion in that period of history when reliable protection against nomads has not yet been invented.

Although, of course, you can extend the life of the empire, if you «play well». In other words, choose a reasonable and balanced strategy. The phenomenon of Byzantium already mentioned above, which survived much longer than Western Rome, despite much more difficult external conditions, has just such an explanation. Eastern Roman emperors, unlike many others, almost never destroyed the barbarians they defeated. On the contrary, they preserved and even fed the vanquished, in order to later conclude an alliance with them against other barbarians who would certainly come later. This tactic of playing barbarians against each other enabled Byzantium to survive for over a thousand years.

Every empire has its “moment of truth”, a hard blow it cannot survive, a test for the right to exist; for many empires in Europe it was World War I

When an empire falls, it most often ends in wars, and sometimes even massacres. Peoples who have lost supranational power are rushing to settle things among themselves, for what held their worst traits back is now gone. Such is the price of the order and tranquility which reigned during the lifetime of the empire. However, the empire may sense its imminent end and «dissolve itself», like Britain after World War II. But even in such cases, not everything is completely bloodless. It is worth recalling at least the wars in Rhodesia and South Africa with the Negro underground, which was supported by neighboring countries.

However, some empires are more tenacious than others, and some can «reassemble» themselves and return to the world stage after their seemingly fatal defeat. Take, for example, Alexander the Great, who seemed to have destroyed the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Several hundred years pass and the Persian Empire returns in the form of the Arsacid and Sassanid dynasties. And sometimes even beats brilliant Rome on the battlefields.

Even Russia has shown its ability to revive. Broken and sunk within its natural limits, it not only did not collapse, but it also jumped like hell out of a snuffbox, as soon as we stopped paying it any special attention.

As you can see, many principles of the existence of empires are reflected in a variety of games: from the same myth of empires to good old Civilization. Even carelessly playing Assassin’s Creed, you always come across signs of another empire. Even fantasy like The Witcher once again puts us face to face with a kind of Nilfgaard. Even Skyrim, in fact, is an arena of confrontation between the empire and the rebels who want to part with it. Indeed, even the most fantastic games can only describe the real world. That’s why they’re so close to us, and that’s why we’re so interested in playing them.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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