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C O U R S E 
A Brief History of Humankind
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Historical Definition of Empire
Notes taken on November 10, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
the main direction of humanity since the agricultural revolution has been global unity
during the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, the world was divided up into small societies each of which was relatively small and simple
as time went by these small and simple societies combined to make larger, more complex societies until today, the entire world became a single, global, interconnected system
this unification of humankind was driven forward by three main forces:
1. money
2. empires
3. religions
an empire is a political order with two characteristics:
1. rules over a significant number of distinct peoples, each possessing a different cultural identity and separate territory
if you rule only two or three different peoples, you're not an empire, if you rule thirty or forty, then you are an empire
2. has flexible borders and a potentially unlimited territorial appetite which can adsorb new societies without altering their basic structure or identity
it's can't annex new territories without changing its structure
if it began conquering Cuba and Greenland, it would have to change its constitution to do so and hence alter its structure
an empire, on the other hand, is a political system that can conquer other countries without changing its basic nature, i.e. it is set up politically to conquer and absorb other societies
so empires are (1) culturally diverse, and (2) can continue expanding without changing their basic identity
these two features have given empires a central role in the unification of humanity
have united diverse ethnic groups
empires are defined by only cultural diversity and flexible borders
an empire does not need an emperor
not defined by type of government
the British Empire was the largest empire that ever existed was ruled by a democracy
other democratic and republican empires in the modern age were: Dutch, Belgium, French and American empires all ruled by democracies
the ancient world you had the empires of Rome, Carthage, and Athens which were governed by republican elites
not defined by size
can be small, such as the Athenian empire, which is smaller than modern day Greece
the Aztec empire was much smaller than modern Mexico
what's important to be labeled an empire is that the Athenian and Aztec empires rules dozens and hundreds of different peoples and they could easily expand
modern Mexico and modern Greece rule a much smaller number of different people and the cannot expand without changing their basic character
how was it possible in ancient Greece to fit dozens of peoples into a space that today is a small nation-state like Greece?
it's possible because in the past, there were many more different people in the world than there are today
one of the causes responsible for the transition from having thousands and tens of thousands of different kinds of peoples and societies to having only a few hundred
empires have been historical steamrollers which have obliterated cultures and forged them together into larger, less diverse groups
taking into acount prejudices of modern cultures
in our time, empires have gotten a bad reputation
politicians will often insult other politicians by calling them imperialists
two arguments against empires:
empires are inefficient
in the long run it is not able to rule effectively over a large number of conquered people, that empires are therefore doomed to failure and collapse
empires are evil
even if you can build an empire, you shouldn't, because they are ethically wrong, they corrupt both the conquered people who are not able to develop their societies naturally, and they also corrupt the conquerors by putting them into situations in which it is easiest to make bad choices
against the belief in the last few centuries that every people in the world has a right to self-determination and so there should be as many independent states in the world as there are peoples and that no people should be governed by an empire
however, from a historical perspective, both of these statements are not true:
1. empires were inefficient and don't work
in fact, empire is the most common form of political organization for the past 2500 years
in the past 2500, most people have lived in empires, not in independent states
from a macro perspective, empires work much better than independent states
compared to other forms of government throughout history, empires have been quite stable over centuries
empires throughout history have found it alarmingly easy to put down rebellions within their borders and to maintain control of dozens of different peoples
all empires eventually collapse, but rarely because of internal revolts, usually because of (1) external invasion, or (2) a split within the ruling elite
conquered people within empires have a pretty lousy record of managing to free themselves from imperial rule, most conquered people in history never freed themselves from the empires which conquered them
most conquered peoples in history simply remained part of the empire that conquered them and were slowly transformed over generations to reflect less their original structure and more and more the structure of the empire which conquered them, and eventually these conquered peoples lost their unique identity, their unique culture, and they simply disappeared
so when the Western Roman Empire fell to the invading Germanic tribes in the 5th century, the conquered tribes and nations whom the Romans had conquered did not arise and revert back to how they were, since they simply didn't exist anymore, they were now Romans
the destruction of one empire simply transitioned to the formation of a new empire, as was the case particularly in the Middle East throughout history
the last time that the Middle East was a relatively stable collection of nation-states as it is now, was the 8th century B.C.
from the rise of the Assyrian Empire when it countered all the states of the Middle East in 900BC to the fall of the British and French Empires in the mid 20th century, the Middle East has passed from one Empire to the next: first the Babylonian Empire, then the Persian Empire, and then Alexander the Great, then the Romans, then the Byzantines, then the Arabs and so forth, you never had a situation where there was no empire in the Middle East and the local people simply managed their affairs by themselves
hence it is simply not historically true to think that empires are inefficient or doomed to fail from internal strife
2. empires are evil
empires, will violent and suppressive, also used profits of conquests for improving the life style of citizens, philosophy, art, as well as financing justice, law, education and charity
much of the art and architecture that we have from antiquity owes its existence to the conquest of other peoples
the profits and prosperity of the Greek and Roman empires is what provided philosophers and mathematicians to have time to think about the world and write their masterpieces
the Taj Mahal could not have been built without the wealth accumulated from the Mughal emperors exploiting millions of their Indian subjects
the music of Bach, Hayden and Mozart was in large part made possible by the exploitation by the Hapsburg Empire of Slavic populations
today most of us speak, think and dream in languages that were forced upon our ancestors by conquest
most people in China today speak in the language of the Han Empire of 2000 years ago
in the Americas, from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan, people generally speak one of four imperial languages: English, French, Spanish or Portuguese
in Egypt they speak Arabic and they think of themselves as Arabs and they identify with the Arab Empire which conquered Egypt by brute force in the 7th century, Egyptians today are the descendants of people conquered by the Arabs
similarly in South Africa, there are about 10 million people that call themselves Zulu and use the Zulu language but most of these Zulus are descendents of tribes who fought against the Zulu Empire
in this course, I'm talking to you in English although it is not my mother tongue and it is not the native language of many of you, even those of you in the United States, you probably descend from people who did not speak English is because English was the language of the biggest empire in history
So when looking at empires in a historical context, it is important to realize that they were actually quite effective in maintaining power, and that they did not only leave in their path death and destruction but also positive legacies of art, architecture, philosophy, literature, inventions, technology, and languages which we use today.