Normalised empires

When talking about empires, different ones come to mind: the roman empire, China, the British Empire, all encompassed larges swathes of territories during centuries or more, but they are somehow difficult to compare. I was wondering how the comparison would be if you normalised them.

One simple way to do this is measure them in year-men, i.e. the population multiplied by the length of the empire in time. My calculation are very approximate, taking the mid-point population is probably a very bad approximation for the integral of the population over time, but it is late. This yields the following table:

Normalised Empires
Duration Population (mid-point) Product
Han Dynasty 426 (206 BC–220) 57’671’400 24’568’016’400
Western Roman Empire 503 (27 BC–476) 58’800’000 29’576’400’000
Tan Dynasty 289 (618–907) 65’000’000 18’785’000’000
Byzantine Empire 891 (330–1453) 9’265’000 8’255’115’000
Mongol Empire 162 (1206-1368) 100’000’000 16’200’000’000
Ottoman Empire 624 (1299–1923) 20’769’225 12’959’996’400
Qing Dynasty 268 (1644–1912) 268’238’000 71’887’784’000
Imperial Britain 99 (1815–1914) 400’000’000 39’600’000’000

I find it interesting that empires start at around 10 Giga-person-years (so I should have kicked out the Byzantine Empire). With the exponential growth of population it is not surprising that the two heavy weight empires (Qing Dynasty and British Empire) are closest to the present time.

If we use this metric, if we consider the USA as an empire that started in 1945, then it would have an approximate size of 14’913’164’515 persons-years, in comparison the People’s Republic of China is 49’264’740’000 persons-years.

2 thoughts on “Normalised empires

  1. Interesting. You can expand the concept to any entity (including all countries but companies or any human group too). Finding more accurate population values is only a question of time.

    The beginning and the end of an Empire is something very political. Why should America begin in 1945? 100 years before it already claimed domination on all America, although the official borders did not expand much. And the US had more land before 1945 than after (Philippines, Panama…)

    For Germany, would you create a single Reich from Otto to Francis II, or to Hitler, or to Merckel? When does a « European » Empire begins?

    You could do the same with the surface and compute a ratio ( m2 / person ) of which Empire did use its surface the more effectively :-)

  2. I would value land and overall surface areas as well as (if not above) population, and duration above all. But I think you’re comparing qualitatively different entities: the Roman, Byzantine, and British Empires (to say nothing of Persia, too!) all functioned very differently for different purposes.

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