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The 5 Most Powerful Empires in History

历史上最强大的五个帝国



These powerful empires all fell. Will America fall, too?

这些强大的帝国都衰落了。美国也会衰落吗?

Of all the empires that arose and thrived on the face of this earth, which were the five most powerful? And how is it even possible to select five empires from among the hundreds that have flourished over the past five thousand years? Truth be told, any formulation of the “five most powerful empires” will always be subjective, because all empires were glorious and influential in their own ways.

在所有在地球上兴起并繁荣的帝国中,哪一个最强大?在过去五千年里繁荣昌盛的几百个帝国中,怎么可能能够选出五个来呢?说实话,任何关于“最强大的五个帝国”的提法都是主观的,因为所有帝国都曾以自己的方式荣耀辉煌并拥有影响力。

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The Persian Empire existed at a unique time in history, when most of the oikumene, or civilized, settled, populated world was concentrated in or near the Middle East. As a result, the Persian Empire, which dominated most of the Middle East, ruled over a greater percentage of the world’s population than any other empire in history. Indeed, in 480 B.C.E., the empire had a population of approximately 49.4 million people, which was 44 percent of the global population at that time. The Persian Empire was the first empire to connect multiple world regions, including the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India, Europe, and the Mediterranean world. It jumpstarted the concept of empires in places like Greece and India.

波斯帝国存在于历史上一个独特的时期,当时大部分的文明中心,或者说文明的、定居式的、人口稠密的世界,都集中在中东或中东附近的地区。结果,掌握着中东大部分地区的波斯帝国统治的人口占世界人口的比例超过了历史上的任何一个帝国。事实上,在公元前480年的时候,这个帝国的人口约为4940万,占全球人口的44%。波斯帝国是第一个连接世界多个不同地区的帝国,包括中东、北非、中亚、印度、欧洲和地中海地区。它在希腊和印度等地也推动了帝国概念的发展。

Such a large empire could only have been put together by military might, and the Persian Empire’s military achievements were significant, though they are often forgotten by its sudden demise at the hands of Alexander’s armies. Various Persian campaigns succeeded at subjugating most of the world’s advanced civilizations at the time including the Babylonians, Lydians, Egyptians, and the northwestern Hindu region of Gandhara, in today’s Pakistan. It should not be forgotten that, notwithstanding exaggeration and misinterpretation, the Persians believed that they achieved their goals in Greece and that more Greeks lived in the empire than not. The Persian Empire ushered in a period of harmony and peace in the Middle East for two hundred years, a feat that has seldom been replicated.

这样一个庞大的帝国只有通过军事力量才能建立起来,波斯帝国的军事成就是巨大的,尽管它们常常因为被亚历山大军队突然毁灭而遭人遗忘。波斯人通过各次战役成功地征服了当时世界上大多数的先进文明,包括巴比伦人、吕底亚人、埃及人,以及位于今天巴基斯坦西北部地区的印度教王国犍陀罗。不应忘记,尽管存在夸大和误解,但波斯人相信他们在希腊实现了目标,而且在这个帝国中生活的希腊人比那些没有生活在这个帝国中的希腊人还多。波斯帝国在中东开创了一个两百年来的和谐与和平时期,这一功绩很少得以复制。

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Several important features of the modern world are the result of the Roman Empire. The Romans took over and expanded upon the Hellenistic (Greek) culture, passing down Greek architecture, philosophy and science to future generations. Later, the Roman embrace of Christianity helped elevate that religion from a minor cult to one of the world’s great religions.

现代世界的几个重要特征就是罗马帝国的产物。罗马人接管并扩张了希腊文化,将希腊的建筑、哲学和科学传给了后代。后来,罗马人信奉基督教,这有助于把基督教从一个小教派提升为世界上最伟大的宗教之一。

Roman Law also influenced all subsequent legal systems in the West. Roman institutions also helped inspire the governance systems of modern democracies. Despite Greece’s reputation as the “birthplace of democracy,” the American Founding Fathers were primarily influenced by British and Roman practices. In fact, many of them frequently spoke of their distaste for the Athenian experiment in democracy and their admiration for the Roman form of mixed government, where monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements shared power. The American political system— with its separate branches of government— approximate this Roman institutional division. Once the Roman Republic transitioned into the Roman Empire, the idea and majesty of Caesar served as an inspiration for future rulers.

罗马法也影响了西方后来所有的法律制度。罗马体制也帮助启发了现代民主政体的治理体系。尽管希腊享有“民主诞生地”的美名,但美国的开国元勋们却主要是受到英国和罗马人的影响。事实上,他们中的许多人经常谈到他们对雅典民主实验的厌恶,以及他们对罗马混合政府形态的钦佩,在这种混合政府中,君主、贵族和民主分子共享权力。美国的政治体系——有其独立的政府部门——近似于罗马的制度划分。一旦罗马共和国过渡到罗马帝国,凯撒的思想和威严就成为未来统治者的灵感来源。

The Romans were a tenacious people. They were able to bounce back from numerous setbacks against improbable odds to pull together and defeat their enemies. Though the Carthaginian general Hannibal almost destroyed the Romans after the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C.E., the Romans were able to land an army at Carthage to defeat it a mere fourteen years later. The Roman legions were militarily dominant for centuries, enabling Rome to rule over nearly all other civilized peoples in the Mediterranean and Near East except the Persians for hundreds of years and facing only minor raids by disorganized tribes. When the empire did collapse, it was due more to continued crisis and civil war rather than its invasion by Germanic tribes. And the Eastern Empire lasted until 1453 C.E., giving the political history of the Roman state a whopping two millennia span.

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Nonetheless, in its own time the Arab Empire was extraordinary, both because of its military successes, and because of its legacy. It is amazing that a loosely organized, tribal people on the fringes of world civilization defeated the Byzantine Empire and overthrew the Sassanid Persian Empire, both of whose populations and resource bases dwarfed the Arabian Desert. The Arab conquests are a good example of how ideological zeal can sometimes make up for technological and organizational deficiencies, and Arab generals from this period deserve to be ranked among the world’s greatest military geniuses, especially the third Caliph Omar, who conquered the region from Egypt to Persia in ten years. In a hundred years, the Arab Empire grew to be several times larger than the Roman Empire at its height.

尽管如此,阿拉伯帝国在它自己的时代仍然是非凡的,这不仅因为它的军事成就,也因为它所留下的遗产。令人惊讶的是,一个组织松散的部落民族在世界文明的边缘击败了拜占庭帝国,推翻了萨珊波斯帝国,这两个国家的人口和资源基础都令阿拉伯沙漠相形见绌。阿拉伯的征服行动是证明意识形态的狂热有时可以弥补技术和组织管理上的不足的很好的例子,而来自这一时期的阿拉伯将军也足以跻身世界上最伟大的军事天才之列,尤其是第三位哈里发奥马尔,他在十年时间里征服了从波斯到埃及的一大片地区。在一百年里,阿拉伯帝国发展到比罗马帝国鼎盛时期还大好几倍的程度。

Because of its location, the Arab Empire, like the Persian Empire before it, connected the other centers of world civilization in Africa, Europe, Central Asia, India and China. As a result, goods and knowledge from all these regions were able to mix for the first time, giving rise to new concepts like algebra.

由于它所处的地理位置,阿拉伯帝国和之前的波斯帝国一样,连接起了非洲、欧洲、中亚、印度和中国等世界文明中心。结果,所有这些地区的商品和知识第一次得以融合,产生了代数等新概念。

The ultimate legacy of the Arab Empire, of course, is the religion of Islam, followed by more than a billion people today.

当然,阿拉伯帝国的最终遗产是伊斯兰教,今天有10多亿人信奉伊斯兰教。

The Mongol Empire

蒙古帝国

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The Mongol conquests killed millions of people but afterwards established a brief era of peace and prosperity as trade spread across their large expanse. In the long run, however, the Mongols proved inefficient at administering their empire, which eventually split into four khanates before each one eventually fell apart or further split.

蒙古人的征服行动夺去了数百万人的生命,但随着贸易在蒙古广袤地区的扩张,蒙古人随后建立了一个短暂的和平与繁荣时代。然而,从长远来看,蒙古人在管理他们的帝国方面效率低下,帝国最终分裂成四个汗国,然后每个汗国最终都陷入了分崩离析或进一步分裂的局面。

The British Empire

大英帝国

The British essentially made the modern world. British institutions of representative democracy inspired French Enlightenment philosophers such as Montesquieu to devise theories of modern government that influenced other modern European states. The main characteristics of the United States— a commitment to liberalism, the rule of law, civil rights, and trade— were inherited from the British and spread throughout the world. Most of these characteristics evolved organically throughout the long history of England, rather than being the result of some master plan.

基本上可以说是英国人创造了现代世界。英国代议制民主制度启发了如孟德斯鸠等法国启蒙哲学家,让他们设计出了影响其他现代欧洲国家的现代政府理论。美国的主要特征——致力于自由主义、法治、民权和贸易——便是从英国人那里继承下来的,并传播到了世界各地。在英国漫长的历史长河中,这些特征大多是有机进化而来的,而不是某种总体规划的结果。

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For all these reasons, America has a long future ahead of it as a great power. Yet, America also needs to keep in mind the faults of previous empires if it is not to repeat them. Despite its overwhelmingly strong military, Rome fell. Internal divisions and squabbling can kill even the most powerful empires. The Persians were conquered not because they were weak but because their leadership failed. Although the Mongols could win wars, they could not win the peace and ultimately they failed to establish themselves permanently anywhere. The Arabs spawned a successful civilization, but the positive aspects of it were taken over by newcomers who relegated the Arabs to subservience. And finally, the British were exhausted in trying to uphold their interests, global order, and European system, trying to do too many things at once, while also burning themselves out.

基于所有这些原因,美国作为一个大国还有很长的路要走。然而,如果美国不想重蹈覆辙,它也需要牢记之前这些帝国的错误。尽管军队强大无比,罗马还是沦陷了。内部分裂和争吵甚至可以毁灭最强大的帝国。波斯人被征服不是因为他们软弱,而是因为他们的领导层失败了。虽然蒙古人可以赢得战争,但他们无法赢得和平,最终也无法在任何地方永久地建立自己的国家。阿拉伯人创造了一个成功的文明,但它的积极方面被新来者所取代,他们把阿拉伯人贬为了奴隶。最后,英国人在维护自己的利益、全球秩序和欧洲体系方面疲惫不堪,他们试图同时做太多的事情,同时也耗尽了自己的精力。

In the triumphs and faults of previous empires, there are lessons for America today.

今天的美国可以在以往帝国的成功与失败中吸取教训。