10 Most Long-lived Empires in History

Portuguese Empire

The Portuguese Empire is remembered for having one of the strongest naval fleets the world has ever seen. A lesser-known fact is that it didn't give up its last vestige of land until 1999. The kingdom reigned for 584 years. It was the first global empire in history, spanning four continents. It began in 1415, when the Portuguese took Ceuta, a North African Muslim city. The expansion continued as they moved into Africa, India, Asia and eventually the Americas [source: Abernathy].

After World War II, decolonization efforts began in a number of areas, with many European countries pulling out of their colonies around the world. It wasn't until 1999 that Portugal gave up Macau to China, signaling the end of the empire [source: Landler].

The Portuguese Empire was able to expand because of its excellent weaponry, naval superiority and its ability to rapidly set up ports to trade sugar, slaves and gold. It also had enough manpower to quickly conquer new peoples and gain land [source: Perry]. But, like most empires throughout history, the conquered regions eventually sought to reclaim their land.

The Portuguese Empire crumbled due to several factors including international pressure and economic tension.

Next, we'll take a look at an empire that lasted for centuries despite significant internal differences.