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What are the characteristics of an empire?

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The characteristics of an empire include a strong, centralized government. Empires throughout history have emanated from a central location or base of power from which it projected power outward. That central location was usually a city-state like Rome or a kingdom like existed in Spain. The ruling regime at that location invariably sought to capture ever-greater tracts of territory to exploit resources (including humans of different ethnicities to be forced into slavery) and to increase its stature as an empire.

Another characteristic of an empire is a large, relatively modernized military. That always meant an army of soldiers. In many instances, it also meant a sea-going fleet. Without that large military, expansion against the will of those already occupying the territory in question would be impossible, as would controlling that territory in years ahead—years that stretched in some cases (Rome, Ottoman) to centuries. These militaries were often equipped with forms of weaponry unheard of by those they conquered.

Empires were sought for the purpose of attaining natural resources, but they were also enormously expensive to maintain. In fact, they were so expensive to maintain that they sometimes drove the emperor or king into bankruptcy. Raising, equipping and feeding a large military is very expensive and the more battles or wars that had to be fought to expand or retain the empire further strained the central government or regime’s treasure.

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