List of modern great powers

Great powers are recognized in an international structure such as the United Nations Security Council.

A great power is a nation or state that, through its great economic, political and military strength, is able to exert power and influence over not only its own region of the world, but beyond to others.

In a modern context, recognized great powers came about first in Europe during the post-Napoleonic era.[1] The formalization of the division between small powers[2] and great powers came about with the signing of the Treaty of Chaumont in 1814.

The historical terms "Great Nation",[3][4][5] a distinguished aggregate of people inhabiting a particular country or territory, and "Great Empire",[6] a considerable group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, are colloquial; their use is seen in ordinary historical conversations (historical jargon).

Early modern powers

Early Modern history


French colonial empire
The French Empire in 1812.
Map of the first (green) and second (dark blue — plain and hachured) French colonial empires.
Bonaparte in a simple general uniform in the middle of a scrum of red-robbed members of the Council of Five Hundred
General Bonaparte, 18 Brumaire coup d'état.

France was a dominant empire possessing many colonies in various locations around the world. The Empire of the French (1804–1814), also known as the Greater French Empire or First French Empire, but more commonly known as the Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I in France. It was the dominant power of much of continental Europe during the early 19th Century.

Napoleon became Emperor of the French (L'Empereur des Français) on 18 May 1804 and crowned Emperor 2 December 1804, ending the period of the French Consulate, and won early military victories in the War of the Third Coalition against Austria, Prussia, Russia, Portugal, and allied nations, notably at the Battle of Austerlitz (1805) and the Battle of Friedland (1807). The Treaty of Tilsit in July 1807 ended two years of bloodshed on the European continent. Subsequent years of military victories known collectively as the Napoleonic Wars extended French influence over much of Western Europe and into Poland. At its height in 1812, the French Empire had 130 départements, ruled over 50 million subjects, maintained extensive military presence in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Duchy of Warsaw, and could count Prussia and Austria as nominal allies.

Early French victories exported many ideological features of the French Revolution throughout Europe. Napoleon gained support by appealing to some common concerns of French people. These included dislike of the emigrant nobility who had escaped persecution, fear by some of a restoration of the ancien régime, a dislike and suspicion of foreign countries had tried to reverse the Revolution – and a wish by Jacobins to extend France's revolutionary ideals. Seigneurial system of New France and Seigneurial system of New France were abolished, aristocratic privileges were eliminated in all places except Poland, and the introduction of the Napoleonic Code throughout the continent increased legal equality, established jury systems, and legalized divorce. Napoleon placed relatives on the thrones of several European countries and granted many noble titles, most of which expired with the fall of the Empire.

Historians have estimated the death toll from the Napoleonic Wars to be 6.5 million people, or 15% of the French Empire's subjects. The War of the Sixth Coalition, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States finally defeated France and drove Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on Elba. After Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, the continental powers joined Russia, Britain, Portugal and the rebels in Spain. With their armies reorganized, they drove Napoleon out of Germany in 1813 and invaded France in 1814, forcing Napoleon to abdicate and restoring the Bourbons.

Modern Venetian Republic

Main article: Republic of Venice

In the high Middle Ages the Republic of Venice was able to become a very wealthy and powerful state through the rich trade between Europe and the Levant. During the Modern Era the decline of Venice began, but it was a very long and "golden" decline. For almost three centuries the republic was the only Italian state able to preserve its independence; in particular Venice was able to match the invading powers of the French and Spanish monarchies in Italy. At the same time, the republic was repeatedly able to stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The last main success of Venice was the conquest of Morea between 1669 and 1718. The Republic of Venice ended in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the city and ceded its territories to Austria.

Qing Empire

1660s – 1700s
Main article: Qing Empire
Qing Empire
Qing Dynasty in 1790.

The Qing Dynasty was the last ruling dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 (with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917). It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China. The dynasty was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today northeast China (also known as Manchuria). Starting in 1644 it expanded into China proper and its surrounding territories, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing. Complete pacification of China was accomplished around 1683 under the Kangxi Emperor.

The Fragrant Hills Pagoda, built in 1780.

The dynasty changed its name to "Qing", meaning "clear" or "pellucid" around 1636. In 1644 Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a minor Ming official turned leader of the peasant revolt. The last Ming emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor, committed suicide when the city fell, marking the official end of the dynasty. The Manchus then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing and overthrew Li's short-lived Shun Dynasty.

During its reign the Qing Dynasty became highly integrated with Chinese culture. The dynasty reached its height in the 18th century, during which both territory and population were increased. However, its military power weakened hereafter and faced with massive rebellions and defeats in wars, the Qing Dynasty declined after the mid-19th century. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown following the Xinhai Revolution.

Safavid Empire

Main article: Safavid Empire
Safavid dynasty
The Safavid Empire at its greatest extent.

The Safavid Empire was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran. They ruled one of the greatest Iranian Empires after the Muslim conquest of Persia[7][8][9][10] The Safavids ruled from 1501 to 1736 and at their height, they controlled all of modern Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia, most of Iraq, Georgia, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus, as well as parts of Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. Safavid Iran was one of the Islamic "gunpowder empires". The Safavid empire originated from Ardabil in Iran and had its origins in a long established Sufi order, called the Safaviyeh. The Safavids established an independent unified Iranian state for the first time after the Muslim conquest of Persia and reasserted Iranian political identity, and established Shia Islam as the official religion in Iran.

Despite their demise in 1736, the legacy that they left behind was the revival of Iran as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy based upon "checks and balances", their architectural innovations and their patronage for fine arts. The Safavids have also left their mark down to the present era by spreading Shi'a Islam in Iran, as well as major parts of the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia.

Dutch Republic

Dutch Empire
A map showing the territory that the Netherlands held at various points in history. Dark green indicates colonies that either were, or originated from, land controlled by the Dutch West India Company, light green the Dutch East India Company. In yellow the territories occupied later, during the 19th century.

The Dutch Republic controlled various territories after the Dutch achieved independence from Spain in the 16th century. Their skills in shipping and trading aided the building of an overseas colonial empire which lasted from the 16th to the 20th century. The Dutch initially built up colonial possessions on the basis of indirect state capitalist corporate colonialism, with the dominant Dutch East India Company. A cultural flowering roughly spanning the 17th century is known as the Dutch Golden Age, in which Dutch trade, science and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. Dutch military power was at its height in the middle of the 17th century and in that era the Dutch navy was the most powerful navy in the world.[11]

By the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch had overtaken Portugal as the dominant player in the spice and silk trade, and in 1652 founded a colony at Cape Town on the coast of South Africa, as a way-station for its ships on the route between Europe and Asia. After the first settlers spread out around the Company station, nomadic white livestock farmers, or Trekboers, moved more widely afield, leaving the richer, but limited, farming lands of the coast for the drier interior tableland. Between 1602 and 1796, million Europeans were sent to work in the Asia trade. The majority died of disease or made their way back to Europe, but some of them made the Indies their new home. Interaction between the Dutch and native population mainly took place in Sri Lanka and the modern Indonesian Islands. Through the centuries there developed a relatively large Dutch-speaking population of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent, known as Indos or Dutch-Indonesians.

Early British Empire

Main article: British Empire
British Empire
The territories that were at one time or another part of the British Empire.
See also: Late British Empire (Below)

The empire began in the 17th century as a combination of factors led to its creation, such as the growth in British trade with India and the Far East, the success of the British East India Company, numerous British maritime explorations around the world, and the vast Royal Navy. The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. It is widely accepted that during the period known as the Pax Britannica the Empire was the most powerful unitary authority in human history due to the unprecedented level of predominance which the United Kingdom experienced at this time.

British colonies were created along the east coast of North America during the 17th and 18th centuries but by the late 18th century most of these colonies rebelled against British rule, leading to the American War of Independence and formation of the United States of America. Nevertheless, Great Britain retained significant colonies in Canada, the Caribbean and India, and shortly thereafter began the settlement of Australia and New Zealand. Following France's defeat in the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Great Britain took possession of many more overseas territories in Africa and Asia, and established informal empires of free trade in South America, China and Persia.

Mughal Empire

Main article: Mughal Empire
Mughal Empire
By the year 1690, the realms of the Mughal Empire spanned from Kabul to Cape Comorin.[12]

The Mughal Empire was a Turkic-Mongol imperial power from Uzbekistan, that ruled most of the Indian subcontinent in 16th and 17th century.[13] In 1526, Babur, a Timurid descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan from Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan, swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal Empire, which lasted for over 300 years, ruling 1/4 of the world's population at a time.[14]

The Mughal Dynasty rapidly expanded and ruled most of the Indian subcontinent by 1600; it went into a slow decline after 1707 and was finally defeated during the 1857 War of Independence also called the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The famous emperor Akbar, who was the grandson of Babur, tried to establish an inclusive empire. However, later emperors such as Aurangazeb attempted to expand the empire beyond its previous limitations. The Mughals were perhaps one of the greatest ever, and the richest single empire to have ever existed.

Ottoman Empire

15th century–1923
Main article: Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
Ottoman territories at its greatest extent(See: list of territories).
See also: Late Ottoman Empire (Below)
Istanbul, then called Constantinople or Konstantiniyye became the capital of Ottoman Empire after its conquest.

The Ottoman Empire was a Turkic state, which at the height of its power (16th–17th centuries) spanned three continents (see: extent of Ottoman territories) controlling much of Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and most of North Africa. The empire has been called by historians a "Universal Empire" due to both Roman and Islamic traditions.[15]

The empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. The Ottoman Empire was the only Islamic power to seriously challenge the rising power of Western Europe between the 15th and 19th centuries. With Istanbul (or Constantinople) as its capital, the Empire was in some respects an Islamic successor of earlier Mediterranean empires—the Roman and Byzantine empires.

Ottoman military reform efforts begin with Selim III (1789–1807) who made the first major attempts to modernize the army along European lines. These efforts, however, were hampered by reactionary movements, partly from the religious leadership, but primarily from the Janissary corps, who had become anarchic and ineffectual. Jealous of their privileges and firmly opposed to change, they created a Janissary revolt. Selim's efforts cost him his throne and his life, but were resolved in spectacular and bloody fashion by his successor, the dynamic Mahmud II, who massacred the Janissary corps in 1826.

The effective military and bureaucratic structures of the previous century also came under strain during a protracted period of misrule by weak Sultans. But in spite of these difficulties, the Empire remained a major expansionist power until the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe.


Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795)

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at its greatest extent (ca. 1635)

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the largest, most powerful and most populous[16] countries in 16th, 17th, and 18th century Europe. Its political structure was formed in 1569 by the Union of Lublin, which united the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and lasted in this form until the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, 1791. In the 16th century, the area of the Commonwealth reached almost 1 million km2., with a population of 11 million. Poland-Lithuania was a political, military and economic power.

The Union possessed features unique among contemporary states. This political system unusual for its time stemmed from the ascendance of the szlachta noble class over other social classes and over the political system of monarchy. In time, the szlachta accumulated enough privileges (such as those established by the Nihil novi Act of 1505) that no monarch could hope to break the szlachta's grip on power. The Commonwealth's political system is difficult to fit into a simple category, but it can be tentatively described as a mixture of:

The Polish "Golden Age", the period of the reigns of Sigismund I and Sigismund II, the last two Jagiellonian kings, or more generally the 16th century, is most often identified with the rise of the culture of Polish Renaissance. The cultural flowering had its material base in the prosperity of the elites, both the landed nobility and urban patriciate at such centers as Cracow and Danzig. After victories of Dimitriads (Battle of Klushino), Polish forces entering Moscow in 1610, Sigismund's III son, Prince Władysław of Poland, was briefly elected Tsar of Russia. However, soon afterwards, Sigismund III Vasa decided to seize the Russian throne for himself.

See also: Golden Liberty


Main article: Portuguese Empire
Portuguese Empire
An anachronous map of the Portuguese Empire (1415–1918).

The Portuguese Empire was the first global empire in history, and also the earliest and longest lived of the Western European colonial empires. Portugal's small size and population restricted the empire, in the 16th century, to a collection of small but well defended outposts along the shorelinein, with some exceptions. For the most of the 16th century, the Portuguese India Armadas, then the world leader navy of shipbuilding and naval artillery, dominated isolated most of the Atlantic ocean south of the Canary Islands, the Indian Ocean and the access to the western Pacific. The height of the empire power was reached in the 16th century but the indifference of the Habsburg kings and the competition with new colonial empires like the British, French and Dutch started its long and gradual decline. After the 18th century Portugal concentrated in the colonization of Brazil and African possessions.

Between the Spanish and Portuguese, the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly along a north-south meridian 370 leagues, or 970 miles (1,560 km), west of the Cape Verde islands. However, as it was not possible at the time to correctly measure longitude, the exact boundary was disputed by the two countries until 1777. The completion of these negotiations with Spain is one of several reasons proposed by historians for why it took nine years for the Portuguese to follow up on Dias's voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, though it has also been speculated that other voyages were in fact taking place in secret during this time. Whether or not this was the case, the long-standing Portuguese goal of finding a sea route to Asia was finally achieved in a ground-breaking voyage commanded by Vasco da Gama.


Main article: Prussia

The Kingdom of Prussia dominated northern Germany politically, economically, and in terms of population, and was the core of the unified North German Confederation formed in 1867, which became part of the German Empire or Deutsches Reich in 1871.

Prussia attained its greatest importance in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 18th century, it became a European great power under the reign of Frederick II of Prussia (1740–86). During the 19th century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck pursued a policy of uniting the German principalities into a "Lesser Germany" which would exclude the Austrian Empire.

Early Spanish Empire

Main article: Spanish Empire
Spanish Empire
An anachronous map showing areas pertaining to the Spanish Empire at various times over a period exceeding 400 years.
Map of the territories come under the Spanish monarch during the Iberian Union.
See also: Late Spanish Empire (Below)
The founders of Santiago, Chile.

In the 16th century Spain and Portugal were in the vanguard of European global exploration and colonial expansion and the opening of trade routes across the oceans, with trade flourishing across the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and the Americas and across the Pacific Ocean between Asia-Pacific and Mexico via the Philippines. Conquistadors toppled the Aztec, Inca, and Maya civilizations, and laid claim to vast stretches of land in North and South America. For a long time, the Spanish Empire dominated the oceans with its navy and ruled the European battlefield with its infantry, the famous tercios. Spain enjoyed a cultural golden age in the 16th and 17th centuries as Europe's foremost power.

From 1580 to 1640 the Spanish Empire, and the Portuguese Empire were conjoined in a personal union of its Habsburg monarchs, during the period of the Iberian Union, though the empires continued to be administered separately.

From the middle of the 16th century silver and gold from the American mines increasingly financed the military capability of Habsburg Spain, then the foremost global power, in its long series of European and North African wars. Until the loss of its American colonies in the 19th century, Spain maintained one of the largest empires in the world, even though it suffered fluctuating military and economic fortunes from the 1640s. Confronted by the new experiences, difficulties and suffering created by empire-building, Spanish thinkers formulated some of the first modern thoughts on natural law, sovereignty, international law, war, and economics — they even questioned the legitimacy of imperialism — in related schools of thought referred to collectively as the School of Salamanca.

Constant contention with rival powers caused territorial, commercial, and religious conflict that contributed to the slow decline of Spanish power from the mid-17th century. In the Mediterranean, Spain warred constantly with the Ottoman Empire; on the European continent, France became comparably strong. Overseas, Spain was initially rivaled by Portugal, and later by the English and Dutch. In addition, English-, French-, and Dutch-sponsored privateering and piracy, overextension of Spanish military commitments in its territories, increasing government corruption, and economic stagnation caused by military expenditures ultimately contributed to the empire's weakening.

Spain's European empire was finally undone by the Peace of Utrecht (1713), which stripped Spain of its remaining territories in Italy and the Low Countries. Spain's fortunes improved thereafter, but it remained a second-rate power in Continental European politics. However, Spain maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire until the 19th century, when the shock of the Peninsular War sparked declarations of independence in Quito (1809), Venezuela and Paraguay (1811) and successive revolutions that split away its territories on the mainland (the Spanish Main) of the Americas.


Main article: Swedish Empire
Swedish Empire
Formation of the Swedish Empire, 1560–1660.

The mid-17th and early 18th centuries were Sweden's most successful years as a Great Power. Sweden also had colonial possessions as a minor colonial Empire that existed from 1638 to 1663 and later 1784 to 1878. Sweden reached its largest territorial extent during the rule of Charles X (1622–1660) after the treaty of Roskilde in 1658. However, after more than a half century of almost constant warfare the Swedish economy had deteriorated. It would become the lifetime task of Charles' son, Charles XI (1655–1697), to rebuild the economy and refit the army. His legacy to his son, the coming ruler of Sweden Charles XII, was one of the finest arsenals in the world, a large standing army and a great fleet. Sweden's largest threat at this time, Russia, had a larger army but was far behind in both equipment and training. The Swedish army crushed the Russians at the Battle of Narva in 1700, one of the first battles of the Great Northern War. This led to an overambitious campaign against Russia in 1707, however, ending in a decisive Russian victory at the Battle of Poltava (1709). The campaign had a successful opening for Sweden, which came to occupy half of Poland and making Charles able to claim the Polish throne. But after a long march exposed by cossack raids, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great's scorched-earth techniques and the cold Russian climate, the Swedes stood weakened with a shattered confidence, and enormously outnumbered against the Russian army at Poltava. The defeat meant the beginning of the end for Sweden as an empire.

Tsardom of Russia and after

Russian Empire
The Tsardom of Russia, c. 1700, reign of Peter the Great.
See also: Russian Empire and Soviet Union (Below)

The Russian Empire formed from what was Tsardom of Russia under Peter the Great. Peter I, (1672–1725), played a major role in bringing his country into the European state system, and laid the foundations of a modern state in Russia. From its modest beginnings in the 14th century, Russia had become the largest state in the world by Peter's time. Three times the size of continental Europe, it spanned the Eurasian landmass from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

High modern historical powers

19th, 20th, and 21st centuries

Persian Qajar Empire

Main article: Qajar dynasty

The Empire of Persia under the Qajar dynasty during the 19th century was still a considerable power, with a considerable extension of territories; but during the century it was not able to prevent the expansion of other powers, so the empire lost some external territories and by 1907 it was divided under spheres of influence by the Russian and the British empires.


Dutch Empire
(Kingdom of the Netherlands)
Anachronistic map of Dutch colonial holdings.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was a major colonial power in the 19th and 20th century until the independence recognition of Indonesia in 1949. The last major colony Suriname became independent in 1975 and since then only the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles are part of the Kingdom.


French colonial empire
Map of the first (light blue) and second (dark blue — plain and hachured) French colonial empires.
The Eiffel Tower, 1902.

France was a dominant empire possessing many colonies in various locations around the world. The French colonial empire is the set of territories outside Europe that were under French rule primarily from the 17th century to the late 1960s (some see the French control of places such as New Caledonia as a continuation of that colonial empire). In the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial empire of France was the second largest in the world behind the British Empire. The French colonial empire extended over 12,890,000 km2 (4,980,000 sq mi) of land at its height in the 1920s and 1930s. Including metropolitan France, the total amount of land under French sovereignty reached 13,500,000 km2 (5,200,000 sq mi) at the time, which is 8.7% of the Earth's total land area.

France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean and India, following Spanish and Portuguese successes during the Age of Discovery, in rivalry with Britain for supremacy. A series of wars with Britain during the 18th and early 19th centuries which France lost ended its colonial ambitions on these continents, and with it is what some historians term the "first" French colonial empire. In the 19th century, France established a new empire in Africa and South East Asia. Some of these colonies lasted beyond the Second World War.

Late British Empire

Main article: British Empire
British Empire
Anachronous map showing British Empire from 1600–present. By 1920 it had become the largest empire in history, constituting approximately 25% of the world's surface and 25% of the world's people.[19]
See also: Early British Empire (Above)

The British Empire was the largest empire in world history. During the 19th century the United Kingdom was the first country in the world to industrialise and embrace free trade, giving birth to the Industrial Revolution. This rapid industrial growth transformed Great Britain into the world's largest industrial and financial power, while the world's largest navy gave it undisputed control of the seas and international trade routes, an advantage which helped the British Empire, after a mid-century liberal reaction against empire-building, to grow faster than ever before. The Victorian empire colonised large parts of Africa, including such territories as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana, most of Oceania, colonies in the Far East, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, and took control over all the Indian Subcontinent, making it the largest empire in the world.

After victory in the First World War, the empire gained control of territories such as Tanzania and Namibia from the German Empire, and Iraq and Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. By this point in 1920 the British empire had grown to become the largest empire in history, controlling approximately 25% of the world's land surface and 25% of the world's population.[19] It covered about 36.6 million km² (14.2 million square miles).[20] Because of its magnitude, it was often referred to as the empire on which the sun never sets.

The political and social changes and economic disruption in the United Kingdom and throughout the world caused by First World War followed only two decades later by the Second World War caused the empire to gradually break up as colonies were given independence. Much of the reason the empire ceased was because many colonies by the mid-20th century were no longer as undeveloped as at the arrival of British control nor as dependent and social changes throughout the world during the first half of the 20th century gave rise to national identity. The British Government, reeling from the economic cost of two successive world wars and changing social attitudes towards empire, felt it could no longer afford to maintain it if the country were to recover economically, pay for the newly created welfare state, and fight the newly emerged Cold War with the Soviet Union.

So the influence and the power of the British Empire dropped dramatically after the Second World War, especially after the independence of India in 1947 and the Suez Crisis 1956. The Commonwealth of Nations was the successor to the empire, where the United Kingdom is an equal member with all other states.

Late Spanish Empire

Main article: Spanish Empire
Spanish Empire
An anachronous map showing areas pertaining to the Spanish Empire at various times over a period exceeding 400 years.
See also: Early Spanish Empire (Above)

After the Napoleonic period the Bourbon dynasty was restored in Spain and over the huge amount of Spanish territories around the world. But the shock of the Peninsular War sparked declarations of independence in the Latin America controlled by Spain and by 1835 successive revolutions had signed the end of the Spanish rule over the majority of this countries. Spain retained fragments of its empire in the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico); Asia (Philippines); and Oceania (Guam, Micronesia, Palau, and Northern Marianas) until the Spanish–American War of 1898. Spanish participation in the Scramble for Africa was minimal: Spanish Morocco was held until 1956 and Spanish Guinea and the Spanish Sahara were held until 1968 and 1975 respectively. The Canary Islands, Ceuta, Melilla and the other Plazas de Soberanía on the northern African coast have remained part of Spain.

Austrian Empire (Austria-Hungary)

1804–1867 and 1867–1918

After the Napoleonic era, Austria was one of the main powers in Europe with great influence over Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe. During the second half of the 19th century Austria was not able to prevent the unification of Italy and Germany and was also obliged to grant equal partnership in the empire to Hungary. Nonetheless the empire remained one of the major players in European affairs until its destruction after the First World War.

Prussia and Germany

1815–1871, 1871–1918 and 1933-1945
German Empire
German colonies in 1914.
Main articles: Prussia, German Empire, and Germany
Reichstag in Berlin, 1900.

The Kingdom of Prussia dominated northern Germany politically, economically, and in terms of population, and was the core of the unified North German Confederation formed in 1867, which became part of the German Empire or Deutsches Reich in 1871. Prussia attained its greatest importance in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck pursued a policy of uniting the German principalities into a "Lesser Germany" which would exclude the Austrian Empire.

Germany rose again in world power status during the Third Reich (or Nazi Germany) under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1945. It seized Austria and Czechoslovakia, and invaded Poland which launched World War II in Europe. In alliance with Italy and smaller Axis powers, Germany conquered most of Europe by 1940. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the tide turned against the Third Reich as it suffered major military defeats in 1943; Germany was fully defeated by 1945.

Late Ottoman Empire

Main article: Ottoman Empire
Galata Bridge in Constantinople, between the 19th and 20th century.
Ottoman Empire
Ottoman territories in 1900 (See: list of territories).
See also: Early Ottoman Empire (Above)

The Ottoman Empire during the 19th century was still a considerable power, with a great extension of territories over Europe, Asia and Africa; but the empire was in a condition of decline and during this period lost progressively its influence, and the majority of his territories were conquered by other powers. The empire ended during the First World War in 1918 when the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed.

Russian Empire and Soviet Union

1815–1917 and 1917–1991
Main articles: Russian Empire and Soviet Union
Moscow, 1931, with Lenin's Tomb.
Russian Empire
Russian Empire (dark green) and areas within its sphere of influence (light green) as of 1866, at the time of the maximum territorial expansion of the empire.[21]
See also: Tsardom of Russia (Above)

The Russian Empire as a state, existed from 1721 until it was declared a republic 1 September 1917. The Russian Empire was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union. It was one of the largest empires in world history, surpassed in landmass only by the British and Mongolian empires: at one point in 1866, it stretched from eastern Europe across Asia and into North America.

At the beginning of the 19th century the Russian Empire extended from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea on the south, from the Baltic Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean on the east. With 125.6 million subjects registered by the 1897 census, it had the third largest population of the world at the time, after Qing China and the British Empire. Like all empires it represented a large disparity in economic, ethnic, and religious positions. Its government, ruled by the Emperor, was one of the last absolute monarchies in Europe. Prior to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 Russia was one of the five major Great Powers of Europe. After the October revolution it was transformed into the Soviet Union.

Following the death of the first Soviet leader, Vladimir Lenin, in 1924, Joseph Stalin eventually won a power struggle and led the country through a large-scale industrialization with a command economy and political repression. In World War II, in June 1941, Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union, a country with which it had signed a non-aggression pact. After four years of brutal warfare, the Soviet Union emerged victorious as one of the world's two superpowers, the other being the United States.

The Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states engaged in the Cold War, a prolonged global ideological and political struggle against the United States and its Western Bloc allies, which it ultimately lost in the face of economic troubles and both domestic and foreign political unrest. In the late 1980s, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform the state with his policies of perestroika and glasnost, but the Soviet Union collapsed and was formally dissolved in December 1991 after the abortive August coup attempt. The Russian Federation assumed its rights and obligations.

Italian Empire

Italian Empire
Every territory ever controlled by the Italian Empire as some point in time during World War II.
Kingdom of Italy (dark green), Italian colonial empire (light green) and Italian occupied territories (grey).
The Altare della Patria, in Rome, Italy.

The Italian colonial empire was created after the Kingdom of Italy joined other European powers in establishing colonies overseas during the "scramble for Africa". Modern Italy as a unified state only existed from 1861. By this time France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, and the Netherlands, had already carved out large empires over several hundred years. One of the last remaining areas open to colonisation was on the African continent.

By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Italy had annexed Eritrea and Somalia, and had wrested control of portions of the Ottoman Empire, including Libya, though it was defeated in its attempt to conquer Ethiopia. The Fascist regime under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini which came to power in 1922 sought to increase the size of the empire further. Ethiopia was successfully taken, four decades after the previous failure, and Italy's European borders were expanded. An official "Italian Empire" was proclaimed on 9 May 1936 following the conquest of Ethiopia.[22]

Italy sided with Nazi Germany during World War II and initially enjoyed successes. However, Allied forces eventually captured Italian overseas colonies and by the time Italy itself was invaded in 1943, its empire had all but ceased to exist. On 8 September 1943 the Fascist regime of Mussolini collapsed, and a Civil War broke out in Italy between Italian Social Republic and Italian Resistance Movement, supported by Allied forces.

Empire of Japan

Empire of Japan
The Empire of Japan in 1942.
Main article: Empire of Japan

The Empire of Japan, officially the Empire of Great Japan or simply Great Japan (Dai Nippon), was an empire that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of Japan on 3 May 1947.

Imperial Japan's rapid industrialization and militarization under the slogan Fukoku Kyōhei (富国強兵, "Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Army") led to its emergence as a great power, eventually culminating in its membership in the Axis alliance and the conquest of a large part of the Asia-Pacific region. At the height of its power in 1942, the Japanese Empire ruled over a land area spanning 7,400,000 square kilometres (2,857,000 sq mi), making it one of the largest maritime empires in history.

After winning wars against China (First Sino-Japanese War, 1894–95) and Russia (Russo-Japanese War, 1904–05) the Japanese Empire was considered to be one of the major powers worldwide. The maximum extent of the empire was gained during Second World War, when Japan conquered many Asian and Pacific countries (see Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere).

After suffering many defeats and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies on 2 September 1945. A period of occupation by the Allies followed the surrender, and a new constitution was created with American involvement. The constitution came into force on 3 May 1947, officially dissolving the Empire. American occupation and reconstruction of the country continued well into the 1950s, eventually forming the current nation-state whose title is simply that ("the nation of Japan" Nippon-koku) or just "Japan".

The Emperors during this time, which spanned the entire Meiji and Taishō, and the lesser part of the Shōwa eras, are now known in Japan by their posthumous names, which coincide with those era names: Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito), Emperor Taishō (Yoshihito), and Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito).

United States

1900 – present
United States of America
United States territory.

Founded in 1776 by thirteen coastal colonies that declared their independence from Great Britain, the United States began its westward expansion following the end of the American Revolutionary War and the recognition of U.S. sovereignty in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty bequeathed to the nascent republic all land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, and Americans began migrating there in large numbers at the end of the 18th Century, resulting in the displacement of Native American cultures, often through native peoples' forcible deportation and violent wars of eviction. These efforts at expansion were greatly strengthened by the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which resulted in the ratification of the United States Constitution and transformed the U.S. from a loose confederation of semi-autonomous states into a federal entity with a strong national core. In 1803, the United States acquired Louisiana from France, doubling the country's size and extending its borders to the Rocky Mountains.

American population and power grew rapidly, so that by 1823 President James Monroe felt confident enough to issue his Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed the Americas as the express sphere of the United States and, working in agreement with Great Britain, threatened military action against any European power that attempted to make advances in the area. This was the beginning of the U.S.'s emergence as a regional power in North America. That process was confirmed in the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, in which the United States, following a skirmish between Mexican and U.S. forces in land disputed between Mexico and the U.S., invaded Mexico. The war, which included the deployment of U.S. forces into Mexico, the taking of Veracruz by sea, and the occupation of Mexico City by American troops (which finally resulted in Mexico's defeat), stunned much of the world. In the peace treaty (Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo) that followed, the U.S. annexed the northern half of Mexico, comprising what is now the Southwestern United States. During the course of the war, the United States also negotiated by treaty the acquisition of the Oregon Territory's southern half from Great Britain. In 1867, William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire. The United States defeated Spain in the Spanish–American War in 1898, and gained the possessions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The territory of Hawaii was annexed in 1898. By the early 20th century, the United States would come to be considered a great power,[23] marked by its participation in the Boxer Rebellion outside of the Americas region and more notably when Woodrow Wilson attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919,[24] the first international trip by a U.S. President outside of the Americas. The United States first became a global power in 1945 after it helped to secure victory for the allies in the Second World War; its vast economic and military resources including a short-lived period of monopoly of nuclear weapons made the U.S. one of the world's three superpowers along with the USSR and the British Empire. After the deconstruction of the British Empire in the latter half of the 20th century, the United States vied against the Soviet Union as one of the two remaining superpowers in the world. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became the sole superpower in the world, sometimes referred to as a hyperpower.


A timeline of the main great powers since the early 19th century:

181518781900191919391945c. 2000
 Austria[25][26][27]  Austria-Hungary[28]  Austria-Hungary[29]
 British Empire[25][26][27]  British Empire[28]  British Empire[29]  British Empire[30]  United Kingdom[nb 1][31]  United Kingdom[25][32][33]  United Kingdom[34][35][32][25][36][37][38][39][40][41]
 China[25][32]  China[25][32][35][39][42][43]
 France[25][26][27]  France[28]  France[29]  France[30]  France[31]  France[25][32]  France[34][25][32][35][36][37][39]
 Prussia[25][26][27]  Germany[28]  Germany[29]  Germany[31]  Germany[34][25][35][36][37][39]
 Italy[44][45][46][47]  Italy[29]  Italy[30]  Italy[31]
 Japan[29]  Japan[30][nb 2]  Japan[31]  Japan[25][35][42][48][36][39]
 Russia[25][26][27]  Russia[28]  Russia[29]  Soviet Union[31]  Soviet Union[25][32][33]  Russia[25][32][35][42][36][37][39]
 Ottoman Empire[49][50][51][52]  Ottoman Empire[49][50][51][52]  Ottoman Empire[52]
 United States[29]  United States[30]  United States[31]  United States[25][32][33]  United States[34][25][32][35][53][36][37][39]

See also


  1. After the Statute of Westminster came into effect in 1931, the United Kingdom no longer represented the British Empire in world affairs.
  2. "The Prime Minister of Canada (during the Treaty of Versailles) said that there were 'only three major powers left in the world the United States, Britain and Japan' ... (but) The Great Powers could not be consistent. At the instance of Britain, Japan's ally, they gave Japan five delegates to the Peace Conference, just like themselves, but in the Supreme Council the Japanese were generally ignored or treated as something of a joke." from MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919. United States of America: Random House Trade. p. 306. ISBN 0-375-76052-0.


  1. Webster, Charles K, Sir (ed), British Diplomacy 1813–1815: Selected Documents Dealing with the Reconciliation of Europe, G Bell (1931), p307.
  2. Toje, A. (2010). The European Union as a small power: After the post-Cold War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  3. Edward Sylvester Ellis, Charles F. Horne (1906). The story of the greatest nations: from the dawn of history to the twentieth century : a comprehensive history founded upon the leading authorities, including a complete chronology of the world and a pronouncing vocabulary of each nation, Volume 1. F. R. Niglutsch.
  4. In Powell, T. (1888). Illustrated home book of the world's great nations: Being a geographical, historical and pictorial encyclopedia. Chicago: People's Pub. Co.
  5. Yonge, C. M. (1882). A pictorial history of the world's great nations: From the earliest dates to the present time. New York: S. Hess.
  6. Harrison, T., & J. Paul Getty Museum. (2009). The great empires of the ancient world. Los Angeles, Calif: J. Paul Getty Museum.
  7. Helen Chapin Metz. Iran, a Country study. 1989. University of Michigan, p. 313.
  8. Emory C. Bogle. Islam: Origin and Belief. University of Texas Press. 1989, p. 145.
  9. Stanford Jay Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge University Press. 1977, p. 77.
  10. Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, IB Tauris (March 30, 2006).
  11. Royal Netherlands Navy Archived 11 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Wilbur, Marguerite Eyer; Company, The East India. The East India Company: And the British Empire in the Far East. Stanford University Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780804728645. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  13. "The Mughal Empire". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  14. The Islamic World to 1600: Rise of the Great Islamic Empires (The Mughal Empire) Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. H. Inaicik "The rise of the Ottoman Empire" in P.M. Holt, A.K. S. Lambstone, and B. Lewis (eds), The Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge University). pages 295–200
  16. Heritage: Interactive Atlas: Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, last accessed on 19 March 2006 At its apogee, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth comprised some 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million. For population comparisons, see also those maps: , .
  17. 1 2 (English) David Sneath (2007). The headless state: aristocratic orders, kinship society, & misrepresentations of nomadic inner Asia. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 188. ISBN 0-231-14054-1.
  18. 1 2 (English) M. L. Bush (1988). Rich noble, poor noble. Manchester University Press ND. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-7190-2381-5.
  19. 1 2 Angus Maddison. The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective (p. 98, 242). OECD, Paris, 2001.
  20. Bruce R. Gordon. To Rule the Earth... Archived 11 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine. (See Bibliography Archived 13 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine. for sources used.)
  21. After 1866, Alaska was sold and South Sakhalin lost to Japan, but Batum, Kars, Pamir, and the Transcaspian region (Turkmenistan) were acquired. The map incorrectly shows Tuva in dark green, although in reality protectorate over Tuva was only established in 1914.
  22. Lowe, p.289
  23. Dallin, David. The Rise of Russia in Asia.
  24. MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919. United States of America: Random House Trade. pp. 36, 306, 431. ISBN 0-375-76052-0.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Peter Howard, B.A., B.S., M.A., Ph.D. Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University. (2008). "Great Powers". Encarta. MSN. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Fueter, Eduard (1922). World history, 1815–1920. United States of America: Harcourt, Brace and Company. pp. 25–28, 36–44. ISBN 1584770775.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 Danilovic, Vesna. "When the Stakes Are High—Deterrence and Conflict among Major Powers", University of Michigan Press (2002), pp 27, 225–228 (PDF chapter downloads) (PDF copy).
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 McCarthy, Justin (1880). A History of Our Own Times, from 1880 to the Diamond Jubilee. New York, United States of America: Harper & Brothers, Publishers. pp. 475–476.
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Dallin, David. The Rise of Russia in Asia.
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919. United States of America: Random House Trade. pp. 36, 306, 431. ISBN 0-375-76052-0.
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Harrison, M (2000) The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison, Cambridge University Press.
  32. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Louden, Robert (2007). The world we want. United States of America: Oxford University Press US. p. 187. ISBN 0195321375.
  33. 1 2 3 The Superpowers: The United States, Britain and the Soviet Union – Their Responsibility for Peace (1944), written by William T.R. Fox
  34. 1 2 3 4 Canada Among Nations, 2004: Setting Priorities Straight. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. 17 January 2005. p. 85. ISBN 0773528369. Retrieved 13 June 2016. ("The United States is the sole world's superpower. France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom are great powers")
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 T. V. Paul; James J. Wirtz; Michel Fortmann (2005). Balance of Power. United States of America: State University of New York Press, 2005. pp. 59, 282. ISBN 0791464016. Accordingly, the great powers after the Cold War are Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United States p.59
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sterio, Milena (2013). The right to self-determination under international law : "selfistans", secession and the rule of the great powers. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. xii (preface). ISBN 0415668182. Retrieved 13 June 2016. ("The great powers are super-sovereign states: an exclusive club of the most powerful states economically, militarily, politically and strategically. These states include veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council (United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia), as well as economic powerhouses such as Germany, Italy and Japan.")
  37. 1 2 3 4 5 Transforming Military Power since the Cold War: Britain, France, and the United States, 1991–2012. Cambridge University Press. 2013. p. 224. ISBN 1107471494. Retrieved 13 June 2016. (During the Kosovo War (1998) "...Contact Group consisting of six great powers (the United states, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy).")
  38. McCourt, David (28 May 2014). Britain and World Power Since 1945: Constructing a Nation's Role in International Politics. United States of America: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472072218.
  39. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Baron, Joshua (22 January 2014). Great Power Peace and American Primacy: The Origins and Future of a New International Order. United States: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1137299487.
  40. Chalmers, Malcolm (May 2015). "A Force for Order: Strategic Underpinnings of the Next NSS and SDSR". Royal United Services Institute. Briefing Paper (SDSR 2015: Hard Choices Ahead): 2. While no longer a superpower (a position it lost in the 1940s), the UK remains much more than a 'middle power'.
  41. Walker, William (22 September 2015). "Trident's Replacement and the Survival of the United Kingdom". International Institute for Strategic Studies, Global Politics and Strategy. 57 (5): 7–28. Retrieved 31 December 2015. Trident as a pillar of the transatlantic relationship and symbol of the UK's desire to remain a great power with global reach.
  42. 1 2 3 UW Press: Korea's Future and the Great Powers
  43. Yong Deng and Thomas G. Moore (2004) "China Views Globalization: Toward a New Great-Power Politics?" The Washington Quarterly
  44. Kennedy, Paul (1987). The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. United States of America: Random House. p. 204. ISBN 0-394-54674-1.
  45. Best, Antony; Hanhimäki, Jussi; Maiolo, Joseph; Schulze, Kirsten (2008). International History of the Twentieth Century and Beyond. United States of America: Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 0415438969.
  46. Wight, Martin (2002). Power Politics. United Kingdom: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 46. ISBN 0826461743.
  47. Waltz, Kenneth (1979). Theory of International Politics. United States of America: McGraw-Hill. p. 162. ISBN 0-07-554852-6.
  48. Richard N. Haass, "Asia's overlooked Great Power", Project Syndicate April 20, 2007.
  49. 1 2 "Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History Lecture 10: The Great Powers and the "Eastern Question"". Retrieved 4 June 2015. Besides Turkey, there were six Great Powers during the late nineteenth century: Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Germany.
  50. 1 2 Scott, Hamish. "The Birth of a Great Power System, 1740-1815". Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  51. 1 2 Thompson, William. "Great Power Rivalries". Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  52. 1 2 3 Quataert, Donald. "The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922". Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  53. "Analyzing American Power in the Post-Cold War Era". Retrieved 2007-02-28.

Further reading

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