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Which Empire Ruled Over the Biggest Proportion of the World’s Population?

The British Empire once commanded the seas, stretching across continents and influencing over a quarter of the world's population. This colossal reach, unparalleled in history, shaped global culture, trade, and politics. How did this impact the societies under its sway, and what legacies persist today? Join us as we examine the echoes of empire that still resonate in our modern world.

While all roads might have once led to Rome, the Roman Empire was not the most dominant empire in history, at least according to one metric. In 480 B.C., all paths led to Persia.

According to Guinness World Records, approximately 50 million people, or roughly 44 percent of the world's population at the time, were ruled by the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. Established by Cyrus the Great around 550 B.C., the Persian Empire was the world's first superpower and covered some of the Mediterranean, North Africa, Central Asia, and ancient Thrace and Macedonia in Europe. By comparison, the Roman Empire in the first century AD encompassed about 5 million people.

According to Guinness World Records, the Persian Empire ruled over 44% of the world’s population in 480 B.C.
According to Guinness World Records, the Persian Empire ruled over 44% of the world’s population in 480 B.C.

Arguments against the Persian Empire being called the world's largest include the fact that later cultures have controlled more people, if a smaller percentage, because the world's population has grown steadily over time. For example, in 1901, the British Empire included about 400 million people, but only about 25 percent of Earth's total population of 1.6 billion at the time.

Inside the Persian Empire:

  • The peaceful and prosperous reign of King Artaxerxes II from 404 to 358 B.C. was the longest in Persian history.

  • Lying was considered one of the worst acts you could commit in ancient Persia.

  • Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army ended the longstanding dominance of the Persian Empire.

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    • According to Guinness World Records, the Persian Empire ruled over 44% of the world’s population in 480 B.C.
      According to Guinness World Records, the Persian Empire ruled over 44% of the world’s population in 480 B.C.