V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > A. Global and Comparative Dimensions > 1. European Global Domination, 1800–1914 > c. Major Land-Based Empires
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
c. Major Land-Based Empires
During the 19th century, several European land-based empires emerged as great powers, while large empires in Asia lost territories and influence. However, all of these empires came to an end during World War I, either emerging in significantly different forms or disappearing as political entities.  1
RUSSIAN EMPIRE. In the final years of the Napoleonic era, Russia began a major era of expansion, winning control of areas in the Caucasus in a war with Persia (1804–13) and of Finland in a war with Sweden (1808–9), as well as building forts in Alaska in North America. Expansion in Europe was limited, but the establishment of independent states in former Ottoman territories, especially Serbia (1817) (See 1815–17) and Bulgaria (1878) represented expansion of Russian influence. Complete control in the Caucasus was gained with the conquests of Daghistan (1859), Circassia (1864), and Kars (1878) (See 1875–78). The largest expansions were in the east (See 1848–49), with the conquests and annexations of Kazakhistan by 1854, Uzbekistan (1856–76), and Turkmenistan (1868–85). Expansion in the Pacific northeastern territories was completed with the ceding by China of territories north of the Amur River in the Treaties of Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860) (See 1858–60). By World War I, the Russian Empire was the largest in the world, but during that war the tsarist system of rule was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Baltic and eastern European areas were lost, but imperial control of all of the Asian territories was maintained, although in a form called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  2
PRUSSIAN EMPIRE. The steady expansion of Prussia during the 19th century is a major dynamic of European history, but Prussia did not emerge as a major global power until after the UNIFICATION OF GERMANY under Prussia led by Otto von Bismarck and the Hohenzollern dynasty and the formal establishment of the German Empire under William I in 1871. The new empire actively sought territorial expansion and spheres of influence. By 1914, Germany had gained control in Africa of Togo and Cameroons(1884), Tanganyika (1885), and Southwest Africa (1890); had won concessions in China and economic influence in the Middle East; and was one of the major global naval powers. Its defeat in World War I brought an end to this empire, and it was replaced by a purely European state of considerably reduced size.  3
AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE. During the 19th century, the Habsburg Empire did not expand significantly, although its influence grew in southeastern Europe as Ottoman power declined, and it gained control of Bosnia in 1878. The Habsburg rulers faced serious internal challenges in their multinational empire, and the imperial system was reorganized as a dual monarchy of Austria and Hungary. Although this did not resolve the challenges posed by growing nationalist movements, it allowed the empire to survive major defeats by France and Prussia, and revolutionary threats, especially in 1848. It was not until the defeat in World War I that the empire disappeared and was replaced by a cluster of small, nationally defined states.  4
DECLINING ASIAN EMPIRES. The older major land-based Asian empires experienced serious losses during the 19th century. The Mughal Empire in India came to a formal end with the establishment of direct British colonial rule in 1858.  5
The OTTOMAN EMPIRE undertook major modernizing structural reforms throughout the century, beginning with the attempt to establish a “New System” by Selim III at the end of the 18th century, and reaching a culmination in the regime established by the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 (See 1908, July). Despite significant changes, the Ottoman Empire experienced a steady loss of territories to major European states and to nationalist movements supported by various European powers. Nationalist revolts led to the establishment of independent Serbia (1817) and Greece (1830), and international agreements in 1878, 1908, and 1913 resulted in the loss of all of the rest of the Ottoman territories in the Balkans except for a small area along the Sea of Marmara. European conquests between 1830 and 1912 took all Ottoman territories in North Africa, along with Cyprus (Britain, 1878). The Ottomans joined the losing alliance in World War I, and the empire formally came to an end with the peace settlement, which split the new Republic of Turkey from the Arab territories (See Nov. 1).  6
The CHINESE EMPIRE experienced a steady loss of control within its domain as the European powers and the United States established spheres of influence. The empire lost control of Taiwan (1874) and Korea (1885) to Japan and territories in the Pacific northeast to Russia in 1858–60. The Chinese defeat in the SINO-JAPANESE WAR (1894–95) showed the weakness of the empire in the face of foreign power. The empire also experienced a series of major revolts, which weakened its internal power as well. The Boxer Revolt (1899–1901) showed strong opposition to foreign influence and reform efforts, but it was crushed by a combined military force of foreign troops. The empire came to a formal end with the CHINESE REVOLUTION (1911–13), which forced the abdication of the emperor and the establishment of the Chinese Republic.  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.