BIBLICAL TEACHING ABOUT EMPIRES
(Investigator 195, 2020 November)
Bible doesn't use the word "empires" but mentions many kingdoms
recognizable as empires, and everything it says about them seems true.
DEFINITION and HISTORY
History records hundreds of empires from the biggest, the British Empire covering 34,000,000 square kilometers, downward.
empire is a sovereign entity (such as a nation, kingdom or city state)
with one or more non-sovereign components which the sovereign entity
dominates politically and collects taxation and/or other resources from.
1 lists empires and large countries that peaked at 3.5 million km2 or
larger. Table 1 therefore excludes many smaller empires familiar to
laymen such as the Athenian, Carthaginian, Aztec, Inca, Dutch,
Austrian, Italian [Correction: Omit "Italian"], etc. There was once even a Jewish empire, the
Khazanian Empire 650-695 CE, located north and west of the Caspian Sea,
but only 3 million km2 at its peak, therefore not listed in Table 1.
land area, including Antarctica, is 148.9 million km2, but excluding
Antarctica 134.7 million km2. The percentage of global land-area which
various empires occupied (Table 1) is calculated excluding Antarctica.
This required omitting Australian Antarctic Territory (5.9 million km2)
from the area controlled by Australia which would otherwise come 7th on
the list instead of 17th.
Siberia, although virtually uninhabited, is included in the area of the
Russian Empire because Russia explicitly claimed it, but not in the
area of the Mongol Empire. About half of the British Empire such as
northern Canada and most of Australia was sparsely settled and not
directly governed by Britain but is included in the British Empire
because Britain claimed these areas.
by establishing the first global trade network became the first global
empire. Portugal's territories in South America, Africa and Asia made
it an empire on which the "sun never sets". Other empires in permanent
sunshine were Spain, France, and Britain.
land areas listed are provisional because scholars often disagree on
where the boundaries lay. One source estimated the peak size of the
Kushan Empire (north India and Afghanistan), which lasted nearly five
centuries until 375 CE, at 3.8 million km2. It therefore initially got
added to Table 1 but removed due to other estimates of 2 million km2.
Mongol Empire's peak could be 24 million km2 or 32 million km2, and the
Spanish (around 1800 CE) 14 or 7.5 million km2. These are huge
discrepancies whose resolution is beyond the current article.
Germany illustrates how boundaries can vary:
• German Empire (in Europe) 1871-1918 — 541,000 km2. Colonial holdings until 1914 — 2.66 million km2.
• Weimar Republic 1918-1933 — 469,000 km2.
Nazi Germany — 634,000 km2 in 1939; 824,000 km2 in 1940. Nazi-dominated
Europe and Africa totaled c.7 million km2.
• 1949-1989 West Germany 248,600 km2; East Germany 108,300 km2.
• 1990 Federal Republic of Germany, 357,000 km2 (24% less than in 1918-1933).
Table 1 (With two dates corrected)
Empires 3.5 million km2 or Larger at Greatest Extent
|| Km2 Millions
||% World Land Area
|Qing Dynasty (China)
|Yuan Dynasty (China)
|Han Dynasty (China)
|Ming Dynasty (China)
|Tang Dynasty (China)
|Golden Horde Khanate
|North Yuan Dynasty (China)
|Xin Dynasty (China)
|Hephthalite (White Huns)
|Eastern Turkic Khaganate
|Western Turkic Khaganate
|First French Colonial
THE FIRST GREAT EMPIRE
became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a
might warrior... The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and
Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into
Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between
Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city." (Genesis 10:8-12)
(Genesis 10) is considered to be "Akkad" in central Mesopotamia. It was
the capital of the Akkadian Empire which was governed by a monarchy and
lasted c.2334 BC to c.2154 BC.
founder, Sargon, defeated local kings and united Akkad with Sumer (the
previous main Mesopotamian power, located south of Akkad). He later
invaded Syria and Canaan four times, and sent military expeditions to
Anatolia and Elam (Iran), and naval expeditions to Bahrain, Oman and
perhaps Cyprus. Mears (2002) calls Sargon "The first great conqueror".
military exploits is why some identify Sargon as Nimrod who, according
to Genesis, was: "the first on earth to become a mighty warrior... The
beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad..." (Genesis 10)
its peak in 2250 BC the Akkadian Empire was 800,000 km2. It had roads,
a postal service, a library, and manufactured statues in copper, bronze
and lead, and traded with Lebanon, Anatolia, Afghanistan and India.
The Empire collapsed progressively and population declined due to:
• Continued wars
• Deterioration of agriculture;
• Collapse of trade;
Table 2 Some Empires Mentioned in the Bible
Hittite Empire covered much of Turkey and sent military expeditions as
far as Babylon in Mesopotamia. (Genesis 15:18-21; Joshua 1:4) A branch
of Hittites established small Hittite kingdoms in Palestine.
empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia (Achaemenid dynasty)
successively dominated the Near East. Each gets many biblical mentions.
or "Kush", now part of Sudan, was long ignored by archaeologists as
unimportant. In 1913-1916 Egyptologist George Reisner (1867-1942)
rediscovered Kush but considered it merely an Egyptian outpost.
The Bible in contrast implied Cush was an empire by:
|Maximum Area — km2
||% of World Land Area
|Egypt Middle Kingdom
|Egypt 15th Dynasty
|Egypt New Kingdom
|Hittites New Kingdom
|Neo Babylonian Empire
1. Calling Cush "a nation mighty and conquering" (Isaiah 18:1-2);
Bible was vindicated when the Los Angeles Times reported new
discoveries showing that, "Kush was much larger than scholars
previously believed." Kush even conquered Egypt around 712 BCE. The
fourth Cushite pharaoh, Taharqa (721-664), is mentioned in the Bible as "Tirhakah" (who reigned 26 years).
2. Mentioning its war with the superpower, Assyria. (II Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9; Isaiah 20)
GREECE VERSUS PERSIA — DANIEL 8
If the following is too concise read Daniel chapter 8 for yourself a few times.
(Chapter 8:20-21, 7) predicts that Greece would "break" and "trample
upon" Persia-Media. This was fulfilled by Alexander the Great in 330
The Greek Empire of Alexander would then break up into four kingdoms. (Daniel 8:22)
This was fulfilled when Alexander's generals shared Alexander's conquests between them after his death as follows:
• Persia and Mesopotamia — General Seleucus founded the Seleucid dynasty in 312 BCE;
This comes to five, not four, but Antigonus was overthrown by the other four in 301 BCE.
The Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt — General Ptolemy became the first
Pharoah of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in 305 BCE;
• Greece and Macedonia — ruled by Cassander;
• Thrace and part of Asia Minor — ruled by Lysimachus;
• Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine — ruled by Antigonus.
MAP: DIVISIONS OF ALEXANDER'S EMPIRE:
MORE PROPHESIED EMPIRES — DANIEL 2
Again, if the following is too brief, read Daniel 2 a few times.
2:25-44 interprets a prophetic dream that Nebuchadnezzar had, which
predicted four consecutive kingdoms usually interpreted as:
Daniel 2:36-38 directly states that the first kingdom is Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon.
8 predicts that Greece will subdue Persia-Media — which supports that
Persia and Greece are the second and third empires predicted in Chapter
second kingdom (Persia) is called "inferior" (2:39) to Babylon although
much bigger. "Inferior" therefore could refer to inferiority in length
of time in power, in wealth, or in overall accomplishments.
third kingdom (Macedonia/Greece) would "rule over the whole earth"
(2:39) probably meaning the territory of the previous two empires.
fourth, the Roman Empire, is predicted to "crush and shatter all
these". (2:40) Greece was "crushed" and added to the Roman Empire in
the 2nd century BCE. Babylon was occupied by Rome at least six times
over the centuries during Roman wars with revived Persian empires.
But did the Roman Empire ever "crush" and "shatter" the Persian Empire?
2. Persia — Seleucid dynasty;
CRUSHED AND SHATTERED?
Seleucid Empire suffered decisive defeat by Rome in 192-189 BCE,
losing Greece and Western Asia Minor, after which Parthia took
Persia from it, and it continued to get smaller.
In 63 BC when Seleucid rule had been reduced to only Syria, Rome abolished it and made Syria a Roman province.
these events be described as Rome "crushing" and
"shattering" Persia? Perhaps. But it's a far stretch, since
Persia already had risen again as the Parthian Empire which lasted
until 224 CE.
and Parthians were closely related and spoke a similar language. Roman
legions took the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, in southern Mesopotamia,
in 116, 165 and 198 CE. The furthest east that Roman legions ever
advanced was in 116 CE to Susa, Persia's alternative capital, 200 km
east of the Tigris River.
Parthia weakened by Rome, a new Persian dynasty took over. Ralby (2013)
writes: "The Sassanid Dynasty would become one the most powerful and
influential in history…" (p. 70) Nevertheless Roman legions took
Ctesiphon again in 283 and 298 CE.
But still no decisive "crushing" and "shattering". Was Daniel's prophecy wrong?
the 4th century Constantinople (situated where Istanbul stands)
replaced Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire. It was the same
empire, but with a new capital city and its people regarded themselves
as Romans. The eastern Roman Empire even re-conquered much of the
Western after "barbarians" had demolished it. The original Roman
legions retained their identity in the East even as the legions in the
West disbanded or disintegrated. Cowan (2005) writes they became
smaller, about 1000 men, but retained their "classic formation in
microcosm". He reports that the last known Roman legion fought to the
death at Gaza against Islam around 638 CE.
Around 600 CE the Roman Empire of Constantinople faced oblivion:
• A plague in 542 CE killed 30% of the empire's population;
It looked as if Daniel's prediction of the Roman Empire "crushing and shattering" the Persian was now forever false.
this final "titanic struggle", after 7 centuries of intermittent war,
the opposite was occurring — Persia, virtually fully restored, was
crushing the Roman Empire.
• A rebel army usurped the throne in 602 and installed a "murderous incompetent";
• King Khosroes II of Persia captured most of Asia Minor;
• In the Balkans the Avars and Slavs raided all the way south to Athens and Constantinople;
• In 608 occurred virtual civil war in Constantinople itself;
• In 613-616 the Persians took Syria, Palestine and Egypt;
• Persian armies also took Chalcedon opposite Constantinople and stayed for 10 years..
MAP: SASANIAN EMPIRE:
610 CE General Heraclius (575-641) from Tunisia became Emperor of
Constantinople and introduced far-reaching reforms in army, government
and finances (including confiscation of Church wealth). He bought off
the Avars, and made alliances with Armenians, Georgians and Khazars
(who dominated east of the Black Sea).
a series of campaigns, 625-629 CE, Heraclius retook all the provinces
taken by Persia, captured Mesopotamia including Ctesiphon in 627 CE,
and Jerusalem in 629 CE. Khosroes II died by torture and a pro-Roman Shah was installed on Persia's
Holland (2008) describes these events as "Heraclius Brings Persia to its Knees".
its armies crushed and empire shattered Persia fell easily a few years
later to the Arabian Muslims, and Islam replaced Zoroastrianism as
Persia's dominant religion.
lost Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia to Islam, but itself stood firm
and prevented Muslim invasion of Europe from that direction for 800
Empires mentioned in the Bible were all historical entities and biblical predictions about them came true.
The demise of most of them and of their gods — the ancient empires worshipped idols — was predicted in the Bible:
Egypt would be overthrown by Assyria (Isaiah 20); again by Babylon
(Jeremiah 43:10-13; 46:25; Ezekiel 30); and "will never again rule over
the nations." (Ezekiel 29:15)
same trend of empires rising and falling continued after biblical
times. Jesus said: "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against
kingdom." (Matthew 24:7) Some empires were extremely bloody such as the
Mongol Empire which under Genghis Khan slaughtered 10% (i.e. 40
million) of the world's population. Empires of Christianized nations
(Portuguese, Dutch, French) were relatively benign, especially the
British which brought modern law, science, education and medicine to
much of the world.
4:1 says: "I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.
Look, the tears of the oppressed — with no one to comfort them! On the
side of their oppressors there was power…"
occurs everywhere by people to each other; but was also the policy of
many empires. Conquered cities often suffered general massacre,
confiscation of everything of value, and unbearable taxes on survivors.
Grotesque mistreatment of defeated enemies was the norm varying from
enslavement, working them to death, compelling them to fight each
other, castration, cutting off of hands, crucifixion, etc. (White 2012;
Wilson 1985; Mannix 1970; Anonymous 2000) The Bible mentions blinding,
exile, starving, raping, "hung up by their hands", infants smashed
against rocks, etc.
ancient empire used its time in power to institute consistent,
humanitarian, benign laws. None considered that its own overthrow would
come and its own people suffer.
most obscenely stupid nation, considering history's countless prior
warnings, was 20th century Germany. Its Nazi rulers instituted murder,
oppression, torture, theft and rape on the grandest scale in their
agenda of stealing "living space" in the East, justifying this with
racist ideology opposed by the Bible and already refuted by the science
of genetics. The consequence in 1945 was avenging armies that inflicted
similar horror on Germans. And the "living space" was not even needed
as is demonstrated by Germans now living prosperously on 24% less land
than in the 1920s — 24% is how much of 1920s-Germany was confiscated as
part-payment for their war!
Bible foretells that all nations, and all empires, will ultimately come
to their end, followed by rule by God and universal peace and justice.
(Isaiah 2:1-4) But that's another story.
• Assyria would suffer a "mortal wound" (Nahum 3:19) and its capital Nineveh destroyed. (2:6-3:7)
Babylon "will become a heap of ruins … without inhabitant" (Jeremiah
51:37) and be "like Sodom and Gomorrah". (Isaiah 13:19-22)
Macedonia-Greece would "break" Persia and then split into four empires
which would eventually also perish. (Daniel 8)
Anonymous, The God of The Prophets Versus The Assyrian Empire, Investigator # 71, March 2000
___________ A Lost Empire Rediscovered, Investigator #124, January 2009
___________ Hittites and the Bible, Investigator #174, May 2017
Cowan, R. The Last Legion, Military Illustrated, No. 200, January 2005, 48-53
Graham, D. Trajan's Parthian War, Archaeological Diggings, Volume 20, Number 5, pp 30-35
Holland, C. Heraclius Brings Persia to its Knees, Quarterly Journal of Military History, Autumn 2008, 30-39
Khazanian Empire, BBC History Magazine, May 2008, 10-11
Mannix, D.P. 1970 The History of Torture, Nel Books
Maugh II, T.H. Ancient Kush rivaled Egypt, experts say, The Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2007
Mears, D. The First Great Conqueror, Military History, October 2002, 47-52
Ralby, A. 2013 Atlas of Military History, Parragon, 70-71
Strauss, B.S. The Original Quagmire, Bronze, Brains & Blood [A special edition of Military History magazine] 2008, 64-75
R. Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600
A.D., Social Science History, Volume 3, Numbers 3 & 4, October 4,
White, M. 2012 The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, Norton
Wilson, C. 1985 A Criminal History of Mankind, Panther