This article places empires as interlocking parts of a broader global regime, a term invoked as an alternative to a world system. By focusing on connective processes and political contingencies, it presents a strategy that avoids rendering empires as radial hubs of a European-centred arrangement. Two features lie at the core of the approach: the way in which empires competed with each other, and the way in which they imitated, borrowed, and learned from each other. Instead of looking at the cyclical rise or fall of great powers, the accent here is on the tensions and intervisibilities between the parts that make up a whole. The regime was, therefore, inherently unstable and integrative at the same time. The article looks in particular at European empires embedded in the broader, unstable, yet increasingly integrated global context that shaped them. The period at stake covers the fifteenth century to the nineteenth and concludes by pointing at some longer-term legacies. It suggests an alternative political economy to the familiar models of ‘European world system’.