The Pathos of Politics (52) Empire & International Law

Empire & International Law

The base effeminate Asiaticks and Africans, who for being careless of their liberty, or unable to govern themselves, were by Aristotle and other wise men called slaves by nature, and looked upon as little better than beasts. ~ English politician Algernon Sidney in the 1670s

The ancient world took it for granted that states extended their territories as best they could. Early observers made scant distinction between tribal associations, federations, multiethnic kingdoms, and empires.

 Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedonia (356–232 BCE) (commonly known as Alexander the Great) ascended to the throne of the kingdom Macedonia at the age of 20 upon his father’s assassination. Alexander’s ambition knew no bounds.

Within 10 years, Alexander has conquered his way to an empire stretching from Greece to Egypt and into northwest India. In the process he overthrew the Persian empire, using over 90,000 men, including 120 ships and a cavalry of 6,000.

Incursions into India met resistance, not so much from the natives as his own troops, who were exhausted from years of battle, and longing for home.

Taking respite in Babylon, Alexander planned a series of new campaigns, beginning with an invasion of Arabia. His continuing appetite for destruction was curtailed only by dying at age 32. He may have been poisoned, or years of heavy drinking and war wounds may have taken their toll.


The highest expression of human power is Empire. ~ Benito Mussolini

The term empire derives from the Latin imperium, which initially meant little more than command. Rome was recognized as an empire when it was still a republic, before it descended into tyranny.

History imparts impressions that cling to political labels. The timbre of democracy developed a deeper meaning after the American colonies cast off their British yoke. So too revolution after the French achieved it in 1789, and again in Russia in 1917. The concept of empire evolved with the maritime expansions of European nations that began in the late Middle Ages, as ships rounded the coast of Africa for lands beyond, and then crossed the Atlantic to find a shorter route to India.

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The Athenian “empire” of 5th century BCE incorporated nearby islands, as did the Republic of Venice that extended from its lagoon communities into the Adriatic sea in the 7th century. These were rare exceptions to empires built by overland conquests on the Eurasian landmass.