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Comparison: Fall of empires

Sal and World History Fellow Steven Schroeder discuss the fall of empires, from Achaemenid Persia, the Maurya Empire in India, the Han Empire in China, and the Roman Kingdom, Republic, and Empire in the Mediterranean.

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  • starky sapling style avatar for user hi5carissa
    At , what was the Yellow Turban Rebellion? Were there any long-term affects of it on China?
    (6 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Andre de Bruin
      Basically these guys only wore yellow turbans and they hated the Hans, who only wore purple turbans.

      Just kidding, what happened was that many agrarian people from the north had to move south to escape drought, and landowners made use of this to get cheap labor, and then the peasants were burdened even more by the government building fortifications on the silk road, causing taxes to skyrocket. Then at that point peasants, unemployed soldiers and even some landowners made bands of about 170 and started the rebellion. Soon private armies got into it, and the rebellion was a serious threat for the Hans. The Han government was already weakening with eunuchs using their position to enrich themselves. Further making this rebellion more deadly, the Taoists (a philosophy/religious group) secretly organized the rebellion, and even got some workers in the imperial palace to help rebel. Before the rebels were completely ready, the plan got betrayed and the rebels had to act early. Despite being early, the rebellion did pretty well, however eventually the rebels fell. The rebellion did cause the start of many other rebel groups to rise up and destroy the Hans.

      The main impact on china was that the Han fell more quickly than they would have without it.
      (10 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user V Ananya
    I have a question regarding the fall of the Roman Empire.

    From my understanding, I think that over-expansion and bad leadership should also be included in the causes. Because, the Romans expanded from Europe to ancient Asia Minor, which eventually led to the division of leadership between the Eastern Emperor and the Western Emperor of Rome. So, there were two Emperors of Rome, who eventually turned on one-another. As in, one accepted Christianity, while the other didn't, for instance.

    So, shouldn't these two factors also be considered?
    (6 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Andre de Bruin
      Rome needed slaves from the land they were capturing to help their economy do well, as Sal said. Rome stopped expanding, causing them to lose that economic source. so in fact, Rome had to expand to survive, so you may say under expansion is a cause.

      The division in Rome started as an administrative policy by Constantine. it was not until after he died that Rome's administrative divisions became separate countries. The emperors of the divided Roman empire actually had few to no wars, as the west was concerned by the Germanic peoples and the east was concerned by Parthia.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Brayan Ospina
    How does over expansion cause a fall? I thought the more you expanded the more power you will have? And can someone explain to me the division also? How can that cause a fall? Thanks
    (4 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The more one expands an empire, the thinner one's power is spread, and the more enemies one acquires. If an empire is multi-lingual and multi-cultural, individuals seeking personal power can use feelings of resentment against the center to divide portions off from the margins. When the margins fall, the center is threatened. Consider the Soviet Empire that lasted from 1917 to 1991.
      (6 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Anish
    Why didn't bad leadership play a role in the fall of Rome?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user xixing
    "Succession" is listed as one of the factors which leads to fall of an empire, but it is not selected for the 4 empires in the video.
    How succession leads to fall of an empire? And what are the examples?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Thank you for sending me on the quest to respond.I looked at the video (which I hadn't before) and found the list of factors as you said, and again, as you wrote "succession" was on the list. I had to deal with a personal confusion between "succession" and "secession", so I went to dictionary.com to get those cleared up. Succession is when one imperial ruler or dynasty follows another. This will happen in the UK within a decade or two. The Queen will pass on, and someone from among her descendants will succeed her. This will likely do no harm to the British Empire, such as it is now. "Secession", in contrast, is what happens when one part of an empire decides to leave that empire. In very contemporary terms, that happened in the early 1990s when several of its constituent units left the Soviet Union and that empire collapsed. Now, back to succession. If one considers the territory conquered by Alexander the Great and his armies to have constituted an empire, then the breakup of the same into 5 different "nations" could be considered to have resulted from succession gone bad, couldn't it?
      (5 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user MasterOFEarth
    i'd put over expansion as a reason Rome fell.
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user kaylin.s.charlton
    At , didn't Julius Caesar's BAD leadership play a huge role in leading to the Roman Civil War and ,subsequently, Rome's downfall?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Andre de Bruin
      Not at all. The civil war that resulted after his death was fairly mild (for a war), and Augustus's pretty good leadership helped Rome become the dominant empire.

      There is pretty much no way that the war after Caesars death could have been a cause to Rome's downfall, as Rome had 200 years of prosperity after it. Julius was also a very good leader who was extremely powerful and popular, and it was his murder by angry politicians that started the war, so blame them, not Caesar.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Mia Zamudio
    How does over expansion cause a fall?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf yellow style avatar for user Jacob.Ellie
    I need to know WHO led ancient Indian empire to its fall. Do you know who did?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user hidalgohan
    What happened as a result of the Yellow Turban Rebellion?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Sal] Steve, what are doing here? - [Steve] Hey, Sal. We're gonna look at this question of, why do empires fall? - [Sal] And for those of you who don't know Steve Schraeder, he is a World History Fellow here at Khan Academy and also a former World History teacher. - [Steve] So what we want to do here is use this big ideas, these big factors that are somewhat common across empires, to sort of understand how specific empires fell. - [Sal] Let's start in Achaemenid Persia. So, Achaemenid Persia, it's an empire that lasts for roughly 200 years. And I guess the obvious thing about Achaemenid Persia, it gets taken over by Alexander the Great. So I'll just go ahead and throw invasion on that list for Achaemenid Persia. So, outside of invasion, if we go through the rest of this list, it clearly was a large empire, so maybe there was an element of over expansion. It was governed in a fairly federated way through these satraps. You might have had bad leadership be a role. Darius III, famous for deserting his troops on the battlefield. - [Steve] Yeah, and on top of that, we might throw in economics as well, because as Alexander conquers bits and pieces of the empire, he's also depriving them of the resources that those areas would provide. - [Sal] So, now let's move on to Maurya India. Once again, a significant empire, lasts definitely over 100 years and it's actually the largest unified empire over the Indian subcontinent. And it starts with three fairly strong rulers and it's known, especially with Ashoka the Great, for spreading of the Buddhist religion. So why, in your mind, Steve, did it fall? Which of these factors played most strongly? - [Steve] Well, the first one that jumps out is over expansion. Once Ashoka dies, you see the empire really lose a lot of that northwestern territory. What we did see is some religious strife. You mentioned that Ashoka worked really hard to spread Buddhism and he did follow that in some of his policies which led to some tension between some of the Hindu population in the empire. - [Sal] And so you could also call that division as well. So, moving on. Go to Han China. It began to fall the end of the second century CE and then falls in the third century CE. Which of these factors led to its eventual demise? - [Steve] Right. So I think we want to start looking at the fall of Han China from the lens of the Yellow Turban Rebellion. And that is partly a religious movement and it also is partly sparked by environmental factors leading to food shortages. - [Sal] And food shortages might affect the economy. - [Steve] Absolutely. And there's a lot of internal migration to look for better jobs within Han China because of this. - [Sal] Do you think leadership played a role? - [Steve] Yeah. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Han emperor and how he was sort of dealing with some of these problems. And over time, efforts to defeat the rebellion led to regional warlords gaining more power and then they eventually carve out their own kingdoms from the Han domain. - [Sal] Okay. And then, overlapping in time with Han China, we of course have the famous Roman Empire. And on my timeline here, this first section is the Roman kingdom, then Roman republic, and then you have the formal Roman empire that collapses at the end of the fifth century. So which of these factors do you think played... In the Western Roman empire is collapsed, the Byzantine empire, the Eastern Roman empire continues on for roughly a thousand years more. - [Steve] Well, let's start with the obvious point there that there is a division. There's a formal political division that's gonna weaken both halves of the empire in terms of the resources available. We also have, at the same time as that division, religious issues going on. We have Christianity being declared the official religion of the Roman empire at this time and that leads to internal conflicts between those who are Christians and those who are not. - [Sal] You have migrations and invasions. You have famously the Huns migrating into Eastern Europe and then putting pressure on the Germanic tribes to oftentimes come into the Roman empire, but that led to... So that was both migrations and invasion. - [Steve] Yeah, and in this case, it's sometimes hard to separate invasion from migration. - [Sal] And I would throw in economy since the Roman empire, in its expansionary period, was constantly getting new territory which would add tax revenues to Rome's coffers. It allowed for more and more slaves who could work for Rome. Once you get into the third, fourth century CE, that expansion starts to stop and so it stops that ever-growing pile of money and ever-growing pile of labor. So, I'd argue economy played a role. You can never point to just one factor. Empires are these very complicated things but there are these general themes and as a student, it's valuable to think about them in a framework something like this. - [Steve] So all these factors won't apply to every single empire you look at. They're a good starting point when you start thinking about those questions of why did this particular empire fall? - [Sal] Awesome. Thanks, Steve. - [Steve] Thanks, Sal.