In order to remain on top, empires need effective governance, vast financial resources and cutting-edge technology. Score a three out of three and you’ll be fine, but lose one peg and your throne will teeter.
Roman Empire: 27 BC to 476 AD
If the Romans wrote a This Land is My Land song it’d go something like this: “From the Moors of Scotland out to the Tigris and Euphrates River, and from the North Seas of Germany to the sands of the Sahara, hail Caesar.” The Romans gave us sanitation and spectator sports, aqueducts, irrigation and fine wine.
How they collapsed: In the end, the bread and circuses could no longer disguise the crumbling economy and political corruption. Historians often attribute the downfall to everything from decadent lifestyle choices to rampant lead poisoning.
Lesson learned: Whether you’re an empire or a runway model, spread yourself too thin, and you will collapse.
Ottoman Empire: 1299-1922
In its heyday in the 16th century, during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, a.k.a. Suleyman the Lawgiver, this Turkish empire’s lands encompassed a wide swath of southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with Constantinople as the capital. The Ottomans gave us Turkish baths, belly dancers and, of course, the ottoman.
How they collapsed: While it was hit with the Sick Man of Europe label back in the mid-1800s, the empire would completely unravel during the First World War as the Ottomans allied themselves with the wrong side and lost the war.
Lesson learned: As Rihanna knows, getting a diverse audience to stand under your umbrella isn’t the challenge – it’s keeping them there.
USSR (Soviet Empire): 1917-1989
In addition to blanketing mother Russia, the Soviet spectre shone on an array of satellite states like East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Cuba and North Korea. The Soviets gave us gulags, the KGB and Vladislav Tretiak
How they collapsed: Because of what Sylvester Stallone said at the end of Rocky IV: “During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing…. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than 20 million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”
Lesson learned: Turns out Gordon Gekko was right: “Greed is good.”
Persian Empire: 550-330 BC
Spearheaded by Cyrus the Great, the Persian Empire incorporated Thrace, the lands bounded by the Tigris River and the Persian Gulf and eventually Egypt and Asia Minor. Their military taught us the importance of a well-trained army. They’re also responsible for Achaemenid architecture seen at Persepolis palace.
How they collapsed: Alexander the Great’s armies swept in and won decisively in the battle of Issus.
Lesson learned: Even the most ornate rug can still be swept from under the biggest and baddest kingdom on the block.
Inca Empire: 1438-1533
At the height of their power, the Incas ruled western South America with their powerseat in Peru, and their enviable territory reaching portions of modern day Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Their sophisticated mortar-free construction gave us Machu Picchu and introduced us to the intoxicating narcotic properties of the coca plant.
How they collapsed: Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizzaro conquered them with their superior artillery coupled with viral warfare via the smallpox they brought with them. It was a devastating one-two punch that would wipe out the Inca civilization.
Lesson learned: Worship the sun too long, and you will eventually get burned.