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The Introduction to our volume starts by delineating changing attitudes towards the word “empire” in Western scholarship from the 20th to the 21st century. It then explains our concept of an empire as an entity with strongly pronounced aspirations to attain universal rule and with clear hegemonic position in its macro-region. We continue with a brief outline of the three waves of the empires’ formation in five Eurasian macro-regions (Near East, South Asia, Europe, East Asia, and the Inner Asian steppe belt). The second half of the Introduction deals with the factors that influenced spatial dimensions of Eurasian empires — from ideological and religious commitment to attaining universal rule to a variety of ecological, military, economic, and administrative considerations that prevented the empires’ leaders from realizing this goal. The multiplicity of these factors suffices to caution against any attempt to create a neat uniform scheme that would explain the empires’ expansion and contraction.
All major continental empires proclaimed their desire to rule 'the entire world', investing considerable human and material resources in expanding their territory. Each, however, eventually had to stop expansion and come to terms with a shift to defensive strategy. This volume explores the factors that facilitated Eurasian empires' expansion and contraction: from ideology to ecology, economic and military considerations to changing composition of the imperial elites. Built around a common set of questions, a team of leading specialists systematically compare a broad set of Eurasian empires - from Achaemenid Iran, the Romans, Qin and Han China, via the Caliphate, the Byzantines and the Mongols to the Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals, Russians, and Ming and Qing China. The result is a state-of-the art analysis of the major imperial enterprises in Eurasian history from antiquity to the early modern that discerns both commonalities and differences in the empires' spatial trajectories.