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Size of ancient empires

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    Posted: 30 Jan 2010 at 17:30
I wonder if what I here write about is just seen as an "accident" or any historians have made some hypothesis about it. What I hint at is that  the greatest "ancient" (before european expansion about 1500) empires seems to have been about the same "size" from the one end to the other.
Roman, Achaemenidian, Chinese and indian empires. Though Mongolians and arabs conquered far greater territories those seems to have disintegrated rather fast. Whas there some "limit" to effective control?


Edited by fantasus - 30 Jan 2010 at 17:31
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Goban Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2010 at 18:26
Effective control must be a balance of direct and hegemonic control--the latter in imperial incorporated areas and perhaps in the hinterlands--but all amounts to resource distribution which may depend primarily on the fruits of conquest and expansion. So, in a way, a decrease in, or a limit to an empire's expansion could ultimately lead to its demise...  

Edited by Goban - 30 Jan 2010 at 18:39
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2010 at 19:22
Originally posted by Goban Goban wrote:

Effective control must be a balance of direct and hegemonic control--the latter in imperial incorporated areas and perhaps in the hinterlands--but all amounts to resource distribution which may depend primarily on the fruits of conquest and expansion. So, in a way, a decrease in, or a limit to an empire's expansion could ultimately lead to its demise...  
There are other ways of ressource-distribution than expansion (I guess mostly booty). Taxes of all kinds are such a source, not necessarily depending on (further) expansion.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Goban Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2010 at 21:04
Taxes, even in the form of labor, are great methods for establishing, reinforcing, and the maintenance of control- but primarily of only extant resources (people and production). And in my thinking is a limit.
 
If we think of an empire as an organism that contracts and expands with every death of an emperor, the appointment of the new (by whatever means applicable), and a consistent struggle for control at home and in the hinterlands, ect, then resource distribution can be very fluid in both organization and scope. If these requirements are not met by the existing resources, then 'alternate methods' must be employed Big smile


Edited by Goban - 30 Jan 2010 at 21:05
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2010 at 21:32

Perhaps I have missed some point? My initial question however was if there was in some way some practical limits for "ancient" empires as the Roman, Chinese or persian, and if those empires came pretty close to it. After all infantry was vital, at least for roman armies, supplied by navies of largely non-oceangoing ships by sail and oars. I admit I am anything but "expert" on this topic, and know the romans made attempts to expand to the east (especially Trajan ). At that time the distances east-west seems to have been about the same as some of the biggest contemproary countries (except Russia and except "overseas possesions"). Perhaps even the Inca empire came close, though it was north-south oriented contrary to Eurasiatic empires longer in  "east-west" direction.

 

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Feb 2010 at 16:12
"Practical" limits? Perhaps, you should be measuring how "beneficial" to regional interests the participation in a larger political body called an "empire" really was and how determined the larger body was in maintaining that specific relationship.

Edited by drgonzaga - 04 Feb 2010 at 19:53
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Feb 2010 at 19:37
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

"Practical" limits? Perhaps, you should be measuring how "beneficial" to regional interests the participation in a larger political body called an "empire" really was and how determined the larger body was in maintainig that specific relationship.
I was not very specific, and perhaps it was not clear I wrote about geographical limits. Limits for effective control over distances, due to logistic and communication difficulties. I shall not exclude such "regional interests" (who´s interests?) may have something to say, though I admit I hardly see how?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Feb 2010 at 20:11
The limits of logistics over long distances, while "apparent" in terms of technology in a given time period are oft-times illusory as the vast reaches of the Mongol interlude underscores. Consequently, there the reason for my introduction of regional interests. A perfect example of such is Judea in both the Persian and Roman periods, where "imperial" interests were maintained by an elite exercising control over disparate elements at various levels without need of constant militarism.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Feb 2010 at 23:06
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

The limits of logistics over long distances, while "apparent" in terms of technology in a given time period are oft-times illusory as the vast reaches of the Mongol interlude underscores. Consequently, there the reason for my introduction of regional interests. A perfect example of such is Judea in both the Persian and Roman periods, where "imperial" interests were maintained by an elite exercising control over disparate elements at various levels without need of constant militarism.
 
Perhaps You are right that there was no need for "constant militarism". Especially if the imperial power in the  case of rebellion are ready to go to extreme measures - largely destroying the rebellious provinces, they can perhaps afterwards relax a bit. The same may bwe true in the case of Carthago. The romans wisely destroyed it to the ground and could in the later centuries safely ignore any threat from punic rebels. The mongols did as far as I know even go further in preventive measures (massacres).
But I realy have som doubts the mongols are a real example of an early empire much vaster than the roman. Reasons: 1: I am not sure its early stages so much represents permanent control as vast campaigns for booty. 2: The mobility of nomads may have been much greater than that of non-nomads, but they may have been much less permanent. 3:The "mongol territories" becae rather quikly divided, resulting in several "empires" with an "supreme khan".


Edited by fantasus - 04 Feb 2010 at 23:16
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote RollingWave Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Oct 2010 at 07:46
regionalism plays a big BIG part of this problem, for example, almost all the Chinese dynasty was able to maintiain the so called "China proper" area (lands within the great wall) but few can maintain areas out side of it for extensive period of time, in fact during it's found stages it was actually fairly common for smaller seperated states within the China proper area to just surrender outright or even proposing surrender before they were even being threatened.
 
The key issue of course, is that there is a sense of similar indentiy within the region, so the people aren't inclined to seek independence unless things was getting really bad. however in regions further out the locals still precieve whatever Chinese dynasty that rule them to be foreign invaders. and obviously will rebel at the first chance.
 
Remember, in the pre-modern world communications was limited, this presents huge challenges for any sizable kingdoms, in the Qing dynasty, even with constant relay of horses and a fairly good road system, the news that Guandong was attacked by British ships took nearly a week to reach the capital in Beijing.
 
The same issue plays into it's concern in terms of military, due to the communication restrictions, it was rarely a good idea to station large / powerful armies very far away from your capital, and once you establish a firm hold on the land, to maintain stability it is almost always a wise idea to demilitarize your population.
 
On a basic level, large empires that can hold is generally because of good governance system combined with effective social / political intergration of the conquered population. while in the case of the mongols, they didn't do a great job with any of those except maybe in the case of the golden hoard (obviously helped by the fact that the local population is much more similar to their origins )  and thus it's not hard to see their rapid disentergration.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Oct 2010 at 12:08
Evil Smile I've always heard that it is not the size that counts. Big smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Flipper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Oct 2010 at 21:26
There is another issue, concerning the size of an empire. In the past when mobilization was a much more difficult issue (airplanes, trains etc was not there) it was hard to keep the balance in different regions. It was difficult to keep your army equally strong everywhere. Rebellions will sooner or later appear. Usually, the unusual growth of an empire was a result of offensive defence (or expansive defence). Emperors/Kings were conquering whatever they felt could threaten them. See for example Rome. It had to conquer in order to defend itself. Strike before it would get struck. That is a trap that most of the big empires fell into.

The Ottomans were the first to solve that problem. They recruited native people in order to have a strong army everywhere. Of course, adult natives would not do the job, so they recruited children that could be trained to be loyal to the emperor. In the end of the day though, that won't be enough. It is just more effective than trying to do it otherwise.

In a large empire, the conqueror tries to sustain it. The conquered people though will live to get back their autonomy. They will at some point think further than the conqueror and strike back for independence. The assimilation is always a slower procedure, so there will be always time for organized rebellions.




Edited by Flipper - 24 Oct 2010 at 21:43
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Oct 2010 at 10:25
You could say the rate at which an empire can grow is inversely proportional to the extent it tries to control its subjects.
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