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ARTICLE

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.

Grades

3 - 12

Subjects

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

Image

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 centuries, leaders have used their power to overtake other societies. Some have done it to gain even more power. Others have done it to increase their riches.

Throughout history, many empires have risen and fallen. Conquerers have used large armies to wrestle power away from mighty rulers. Others have relied on their ability to rally the masses behind their cause, noble or otherwise. What is clear throughout history, from Julius Caesar to Genghis Khan, is that it takes a strong personality to be a conquerer.

Cultural Development

Similar motivations connect some of history's greatest conquerors. For example, many did not conquer new territory simply to make their empire larger. They also hoped that growth would help their empire develop culturally.

From 336 to 323 B.C.E., Alexander (the Great) of Macedonia 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. This allowed Greek culture to absorb new influences. During the second century B.C.E., the Roman Empire conquered Macedonia. Macedonia was an old kingdom in what is now Greece. 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 portion of northern India to a vast territory that stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. As the empire grew in size, its culture developed as well, and education and art thrived.

Spoils of War

The spoils of war can be a significant motivation for conquest. When Genghis Khan led the Mongol people into battle in the 1200s C.E., many of his soldiers hoped to win riches of their own. Rome's Julius Caesar also desired wealth. In fact, it was this motivation that led him to conquer Gaul in 58 B.C.E. At the time, Gaul spanned parts of modern-day France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and northern Italy.

Another long-term motivation was the desire to control trade. For the Mongols in Asia, the chance to control the Silk Road was an attractive reason for conquest. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that stretched across Asia and into Europe. Early on, attacks by Mongols focused on states that ruled parts of this network.

Alexander, Julius Caesar, and William the Conqueror are three legendary conquerors. All three created and then expanded their empires because of a desire for both power and riches. This ambition motivated them to expand their control over larger areas. Larger empires meant more land, as well as more people to tax. More taxes and tribute helped these leaders obtain more riches.

Alexander became king of Macedonia at just 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 consolidated his own power within Rome. Then, he expanded Rome's influence and wealth through military conquest. William established the power of the state of Normandy and drastically changed English society through his conquest of England. As king of England, he transferred state power and the country's wealth to his people, the Normans.

Magnetic Personality

Each of these leaders had a great deal of charisma. Their magnetic, inspiring personalities earned essential military support for their conquests. This also protected their positions as rulers.

Beyond the desire to rule, the perceived right to rule also motivated many of history's ancient conquerors. Alexander believed he was half-god. Thinking he was the son of Zeus, he believed he deserved his success. William led the Norman Conquest in 1066 because he believed himself to be the rightful heir to the English throne. King Edward had promised William the throne. However, Edward had also made that promise to others. This caused several battles for the crown after Edward's death. William eventually prevailed, and claimed the throne that he felt was his. Some historians theorize that Genghis Khan also felt it was his fate to rule.

The desire for power is clearly very strong in history's leaders. Conquerors faced overwhelming dangers for a chance to rule, but in their mind the rewards outweighed the risks.

Media Credits

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
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
Producer
Clint Parks
other
Last Updated

June 2, 2022

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