What Was the 1st Empire in World History?

The concept of an empire, a single political entity that exercises control over a wide range of territories and peoples, has been a fundamental feature of human history for thousands of years. But what was the first empire in world history?

Defining Empires

Before we can answer that question, it’s important to define what we mean by “empire.” There is no universally accepted definition, but most scholars agree that an empire is characterized by the following:

  • Control over multiple territories and peoples
  • A centralized government or authority that exercises power over those territories and peoples
  • The use of military force to expand and maintain control
  • An imperial ideology or worldview that justifies the empire’s existence and expansion

The First Empires

Using these criteria, we can identify several early empires in world history. The first known empire was the Akkadian Empire, which emerged in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) around 2350 BCE. Led by the legendary king Sargon of Akkad, the Akkadian Empire conquered many neighboring city-states and established a centralized government.

Another early empire was the Old Kingdom of Egypt, which emerged around 2686 BCE. The Old Kingdom was characterized by strong centralization under pharaohs like Djoser and Sneferu, who oversaw massive building projects such as the pyramids at Giza.

The Persian Empire

However, many historians consider the Persian Empire to be the first true empire in world history. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE, the Persian Empire rapidly expanded through conquest and diplomacy to encompass much of modern-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Central Asia. It was characterized by a highly centralized government with satraps (governors) appointed by the king, a strong military, and an imperial ideology that emphasized tolerance and respect for local cultures and religions.

The Roman Empire

Another contender for the title of “first empire” is the Roman Empire, which emerged in Italy around 753 BCE and eventually came to control much of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Like the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire was characterized by a highly centralized government and a powerful military. It also had a distinctive imperial ideology that emphasized the superiority of Roman culture and civilization.


In conclusion, while there were several early empires in world history, including the Akkadian Empire and Old Kingdom of Egypt, many historians consider the Persian Empire to be the first true empire due to its highly centralized government, strong military, and imperial ideology. However, others argue that the Roman Empire deserves that distinction due to its extensive territorial holdings and influential cultural legacy. Regardless of which empire we consider to be “first,” it’s clear that empires have played a major role in shaping human history for thousands of years.