Summary of the Fate of Empires

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Sir John Glubb summarizes his own Fate of Empires:

As numerous points of interest have arisen in the course of this essay, I close with a brief summary, to refresh the reader’s mind.

(a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

(b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.

(c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?

(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

  • The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
  • The Age of Conquests
  • The Age of Commerce
  • The Age of Affluence
  • The Age of Intellect
  • The Age of Decadence.

(e) Decadence is marked by:

  • Defensiveness
  • Pessimism
  • Materialism
  • Frivolity
  • An influx of foreigners
  • The Welfare State
  • A weakening of religion.

(f) Decadence is due to:

  • Too long a period of wealth and power
  • Selfishness
  • Love of money
  • The loss of a sense of duty.

(g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.

(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.

(i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The 250-year duration may be questioned. As a continuous state, the Roman Monarchy, Republic, Empire lasted 2,200 years from about 750 BC to 1453 AD. The western branch lasted from the Eighth Century BC to the Fifth Century AD (1,300 years), although the capital had been moved to Constantinople in the early Third Century AD.

    There is also the question as to whether the British and American Empires should be counted separately or as phases of a single continuous unit. The French and others do so. If that’s the case, we are already at the 250-year limit and seem to be good for a while longer. Sacre bleu!

  2. The Fourth Doorman of the Apocalypse says:

    I cannot imagine what you are talking about.

  3. Zhai2Nan2 says:

    The case of Rome is bizarre.

    In the original book, I think Glubb lists Rome as two separate empires — one from about 200 BC to about Caesar, and another from Caesar to some point in the decadence of the Empire.

    However, even if Rome is considered a continuous state, that is because a state is a propagandistic fiction. The Roman monarchy was not the same society as the Roman Republic; the Roman Republic was not the same society as the Byzantine Empire. The fictions of international law may pretend otherwise, but that is because international law exists primarily as propaganda.

    When Henry Kissinger is hanged by the neck for genocide, then I might start believing that “international law” means something other than a sick joke whereby war mongers are given the Nobel Peace Prize for “preventing” wars.

  4. Rollory says:

    The 250-year duration may be questioned.

    This has been discussed in previous comment threads on this topic. The questions may themselves be questioned.

  5. This work is quite interesting. Although it might be questionable in a statistical sense, much like the “10,000 hour rule” by Malcolm Gladwell, i think it has value in understanding the signs during the life cycle of an empire.

  6. Don Edwards says:

    I would sort of dispute “(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.”

    External causes are usually what pushes an empire into the pit – but the pit was usually dug by internal factors, and there’s always *something* (and often several somethings) trying to push any given empire into a pit.

  7. Lucas Austin says:


    I would posit that Sir Glubb and the essay author agree with you. The state of decadence and the arrival to it represent the internal downfall, or digging the pit as you pit it. While external factors after this push the nation over the cliff.

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