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.


3 - 12


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.
Selected text level

For centuries, leaders have used their power to overtake other societies. Some have done it to expand the extent of their power, others to increase their riches.

Throughout history, many different kingdoms have risen and fallen. Many empires have been born out of nothing and then collapsed to ruin. Men have used large armies to wrestle power away from mighty emperors and kings. 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 distinct personality to be a conquerer.

More Territory, Cultural Exchange

Similar motivations connect some of history's greatest conquerors. For example, many wanted more territory so their empires could grow in size as well as develop culturally. From 336–323 B.C.E., Alexander (the Great) of Macedonia not only conquered most of the known world, he also spread Greek culture from Egypt to India. At the same time, he encouraged cultural exchange within his empire, which allowed Greek culture to absorb new influences. During the second century B.C.E., the Roman Empire conquered Macedonia and absorbed both the Macedonian kingdom and Greek culture into its 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, it also developed culturally, and education and art thrived.

Chance To Win Riches

The spoils of war can be a significant motivation for conquest. When Genghis Khan led the Mongols into battle in the 1200s C.E., many of his soldiers were motivated by the chance to win riches. Julius Caesar was motivated by wealth as well. In fact, it was this motivation that led to his conquest of Gaul in 58 B.C.E. Gaul comprised three territories in Europe that spanned parts of modern-day France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and northern Italy.

Control over Trade

Another long-term motivation was the desire for control over trade. For the Mongols, 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, Mongols targeted states that controlled 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 pushed them to continue to enlarge the areas under their control. Larger empires meant more land, more people, and, by way of taxes and tribute, more wealth.

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 become a threat. Alexander led his conquests with 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. As king of England, he redistributed the state's wealth, transferring power to his people, the Normans.

Charisma Protected their Positions as Rulers

Each of these leaders had a great deal of charisma. Their magnetic, inspiring personalities earned the devotion of their militaries. This support was crucial to their conquests and protected their positions as rulers.

Beyond the desire to rule, the perceived right to rule also motivated history's ancient conquests. Alexander believed himself to be half-god — the son of Zeus. He was convinced that he deserved 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 that William would be his heir. However, Edward had also made this promise to others, causing several battles for the crown after his death. William eventually prevailed, and claimed what he perceived as his rightful place on the throne. Some historians theorize that Genghis Khan also felt he was destined to rule.

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

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

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

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources