Why Conquer?

Why Conquer?

Whether driven by lust for power, riches, or some other force, for centuries, leaders have used their power to overtake an existing society and bend it into something new.


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Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History


Roman Soldiers Subjugating Germanic People

Wealth was a motivator for many conquests. The promise of wealth motivated Julius Caesar in his conquest of Gaul.

Image by H.M. Herget
Wealth was a motivator for many conquests. The promise of wealth motivated Julius Caesar in his conquest of Gaul.
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For thousands of years, leaders have used their power to conquer other societies. Some have done it to gain even more power. Others have done it to increase their riches.

Over time, many empires have risen and fallen. Men have used large armies to wrestle power away from mighty rulers. Others have rallied the masses behind their cause. What is clear is that history's great conquerors, from Rome's Julius Caesar to Mongolia's Genghis Khan, were special kinds of people. What drove them to conquer?

Similar Motivations

History's greatest conquerors shared similar motivations. For example, many did not conquer new land simply to make their empire larger. They also wanted to develop their empires culturally.

From 336 to 323 B.C.E., Alexander of Macedonia (also known as Alexander the Great) conquered most of the known world. These conquests spread Greek culture from Egypt to India. At the same time, Alexander encouraged cultural exchange within his empire. During the second century B.C.E., the Roman Empire conquered Macedonia, an old Greek kingdom. Later, the Romans absorbed both the Macedonian kingdom and Greek culture into their empire. Between 320 and 550 C.E., the Gupta Empire grew from a small part of northern India into a vast territory. As the empire grew in size, education and the arts thrived.

Wealth can also motivate leaders to conquer new land. In Asia, Genghis Khan led the Mongols into battle in the 1200s C.E. Many of his soldiers wanted to earn their own riches. Julius Caesar was also motivated by wealth. In fact, he conquered Gaul in 58 B.C.E. because of this desire. At the time, Gaul included parts of modern-day France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and northern Italy.

Another long-term motivation was the desire for trade. For example, the Mongols wanted to control the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a set of trade routes that stretched across Asia and into Europe. Early on, attacks by Mongols focused on states that controlled parts of this trade network.

Alexander, Julius Caesar, and William the Conqueror are three legendary conquerors. All three created and then expanded their empires because they desired power and riches. This ambition pushed them to expand their control over more areas. Larger empires meant more land and more people to tax. More taxes gave the leaders greater wealth.

Alexander became the king of Macedonia at 20 years old. He was an ironfisted ruler who crushed rebellions and killed his enemies before they could challenge him. Alexander led his conquests with an unmatched military skill. Julius Caesar first built his political power in Rome. Then, he expanded Rome's influence and wealth through military conquest. William first established the power of Normandy in what is now France. He then took over England and changed English society. As king of England, William transferred power and England's wealth to his people, the Normans.

The Right to Rule

Many of history's conquerors believed it was their right to rule. Alexander thought he was half-god—the son of Zeus. Because of this, he was convinced that power was his natural birthright. William led the Norman Conquest in 1066 because he felt the English throne belonged to him. King Edward had promised William the throne. However, Edward had also made that promise to other men. This caused several battles for the crown after Edward's death. William won in the end and took the throne. Some historians think Genghis Khan also felt it was his fate to rule.

The desire for power is clearly very strong in many of history's leaders. Conquerors faced overwhelming dangers for a chance to rule. They were willing to face these dangers because they believed the rewards were worth more than the risks.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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