Empires—large, expansionist polities that govern different people differently—have a long history, compared with which the nation-state appears as a short-term formation with an uncertain future. Examining the trajectories of empires—their creations, conflicts, rivalries, successes, and failures—reminds us of something overlooked in recent decades: that sovereignty in the past and in many areas today is complex, divided, layered, and configured on multiple founding principles and practices. This article points to the varied repertoires of power used by empires as they extended control into culturally diverse regions. We draw attention to tensions between incorporation and differentiation, to strategies for managing local elites and other intermediaries, and to the competitions and conflicts among empires that shaped world history from antiquity until the present.

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