WHP Lesson 19: Empire

In this video, we discuss how although empires may seem strong and domineering because they are large and expansive, they are actually pretty delicate.

Driving Question: What is an empire, and why is it a unique kind of state?

  • Going through this era, it would be easy to think about ‘empires’ as a kind of logical end-point for the development of societies in this period. However, this isn’t always the case. The truth is, empires are pretty unstable. They are made up of several societies, and even if they mix, they tend to remain somewhat separate. Also, one society generally rules over the others, so those being ruled can get resentful and unhappy, and then rebel. So, it may be helpful to think about empires as generally short-lived and delicate, instead of thinking about them as the pinnacle of community-building in the ancient world!

Word of the Day: Empire

  • Definition: a large state in which several or many societies are ruled by a single leader or government, usually with one society ruling over the other in an unequal system.
  • People often use the word “empire” to describe lots of different states, and give several definitions of what it is, but it’s only useful if we use it really carefully.


  • Read: “What is an Empire?” on Khan Academy
  • As you read, think about why empires developed, and what kinds of challenges they faced. 
  • If you’re up for some more reading, check out “Authority and Control in Ancient Empires.” This article is worth reading because it gives examples of different strategies that empires used to keep their vast territory and population together, which, as you may remember, was very, very difficult!

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • Do we have empires today? How has this become more or less apparent because of COVID-19? 
  • People don’t typically think of the United States as an empire, but the United States has “territories.” People living in the United States come from diverse backgrounds. Historically some of the people chose of their own free will to come to the United States, but some didn’t. Also, the United States is highly involved in global affairs, whether it be politically, economically, or otherwise.