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Mapping the Greatest Empires of History

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Just like the stock market, the history of the greatest empires is cyclical in nature. Even the most powerful empires have crashed and burned – and it is this creative destruction that creates the next opportunity for new civilizations and cultures to rise.

At its height, the Roman Empire spanned across 5,000,000 km² with 70 million people within its borders. Yet, despite massive amounts of riches and its fearsome legionaries, Rome slowly but surely self-destructed. While there are many complex factors involved in this including the debasement the empire’s currency, this collapse set the stage for the next cycle.

The Byzantines would take over in the East, and centuries later the Holy Roman Empire eventually would emerge in the West. The nomadic Huns unified a formidable empire under Attila in the grasslands of the Western Steppe. To the south of the Mediterranean, the Umayyad Caliphate became one of the greatest empires ever formed.

Mapping the Greatest Empires of History

The following infographic from Just the Flight looks at the greatest empires of history, and their geographical and political footprints.

Mapping the Greatest Empires of History

What important lessons for business and investing can we take home from the cyclical nature of empires?

For one, even empires that once seemed impenetrable have fallen apart. We must be vigilant to spot cracks in our investments and business ideas at all times, because even the mightiest companies can bite the dust. The music industry was once a machine: there was an oligopoly of major labels that could produce radio singles and market them to rake in money. Many of these companies did not see the writing on the wall as it happened, and now Apple, Spotify, and other companies are eating their lunch.

Lastly, even in the wake of the worst crash, there are opportunities available to build something great. Things were gruesome for many of the empires that imploded, but there were certainly people that were able to prosper even in spite of the tough times. The “heroes” of The Financial Crisis such as Michael Burry and Steve Eisman were able to recognize a disaster, while making smart decisions to help them build their own empires and legacies.

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Countries

Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

How many democracies does the world have? This visual shows the change since 1945 and the top nations becoming more (and less) democratic.

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Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally

The end of World War II in 1945 was a turning point for democracies around the world.

Before this critical turning point in geopolitics, democracies made up only a small number of the world’s countries, both legally and in practice. However, over the course of the next six decades, the number of democratic nations would more than quadruple.

Interestingly, studies have found that this trend has recently reversed as of the 2010s, with democracies and non-democracies now in a deadlock.

In this visualization, Staffan Landin uses data from V-DEM’s Electoral Democratic Index (EDI) to highlight the changing face of global politics over the past two decades and the nations that contributed the most to this change.

The Methodology

V-DEM’s EDI attempts to measure democratic development in a comprehensive way, through the contributions of 3,700 experts from countries around the world.

Instead of relying on each nation’s legally recognized system of government, the EDI analyzes the level of electoral democracy in countries on a range of indicators, including:

  • Free and fair elections
  • Rule of law
  • Alternative sources of information and association
  • Freedom of expression

Countries are assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating a higher level of democracy. Each is also categorized into four types of functional government, from liberal and electoral democracies to electoral and closed autocracies.

Which Countries Have Declined the Most?

The EDI found that numerous countries around the world saw declines in democracy over the past two decades. Here are the 10 countries that saw the steepest decline in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Lost
🇭🇺 Hungary0.800.46-34
🇵🇱 Poland0.890.59-30
🇷🇸 Serbia0.610.34-27
🇹🇷 Turkey0.550.28-27
🇮🇳 India0.710.44-27
🇲🇱 Mali0.510.25-26
🇹🇭 Thailand0.440.20-24
🇦🇫 Afghanistan0.380.16-22
🇧🇷 Brazil0.880.66-22
🇧🇯 Benin0.640.42-22

Central and Eastern Europe was home to three of the countries seeing the largest declines in democracy. Hungary, Poland, and Serbia lead the table, with Hungary and Serbia in particular dropping below scores of 0.5.

Some of the world’s largest countries by population also decreased significantly, including India and Brazil. Across most of the top 10, the “freedom of expression” indicator was hit particularly hard, with notable increases in media censorship to be found in Afghanistan and Brazil.

Countries Becoming More Democratic

Here are the 10 countries that saw the largest increase in EDI score since 2010:

CountryDemocracy Index (2010)Democracy Index (2022)Points Gained
🇦🇲 Armenia0.340.74+40
🇫🇯 Fiji0.140.40+26
🇬🇲 The Gambia0.250.50+25
🇸🇨 Seychelles0.450.67+22
🇲🇬 Madagascar0.280.48+20
🇹🇳 Tunisia0.400.56+16
🇱🇰 Sri Lanka0.420.57+15
🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau0.410.56+15
🇲🇩 Moldova0.590.74+15
🇳🇵 Nepal0.460.59+13

Armenia, Fiji, and Seychelles saw significant improvement in the autonomy of their electoral management bodies in the last 10 years. Partially as a result, both Armenia and Seychelles have seen their scores rise above 0.5.

The Gambia also saw great improvement across many election indicators, including the quality of voter registries, vote buying, and election violence. It was one of five African countries to make the top 10 most improved democracies.

With the total number of democracies and non-democracies almost tied over the past four years, it is hard to predict the political atmosphere in the future.

Want to know more about democracy in today’s world? Check out our global breakdown of each country’s democratic score in Mapped: The State of Global Democracy in 2022.
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