The Life-Spans of Empires


The Life-Spans of Empires

The collapse of empires is exceedingly difficult to understand. The author examined the distribution of imperial lifetimes using a data set that spans more than three millennia and found that it conforms to a memoryless exponential distribution in which the rate of collapse of an empire is independent of its age. Comparing this distribution to similar lifetime distributions of other complex systems—specifically, biological species and corporate firms—the author explores the reasons behind their lifetime distributions and how this approach can yield insights into empires.

via Taylor & Francis Online :: The Life-Spans of Empires – Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History – Volume 44, Issue 3.


  1. A Country Farmer says:

    "Using the data set of lifetimes of 41 empires from 3,000 BCE to 600 CE (see Appendix), I found that imperial lifetimes can be fit to an exponential distribution, λ = e−λt , with a parameter value of λ = 0.46 and an expected mean imperial lifetime of approximately 220 years (see figure 1)."

  2. Carl Mercurio says:

    Tainter does a pretty good job in The Collapse of Complex Societies in showing that the "lifespan" of an empire isn't analogous to biological lifespans. His theory of collapse is based on the diminishing returns of energy investment in maintaining a complex society. I'd be curious to know if there is a stronger analogy to corporate collapses.


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