Persian Empire was older and larger (I am not sure about this) than the Roman Empire. However, when it comes to the title of Superpower, many historians say Rome was the world first true superpower. Why is that?

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    I added a reference for you. Users here are likely to try to close "some people say" questions without any references to actual people saying that.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 26 '15 at 13:26
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    What does being "older and larger" have to do with being a superpower, which is about power in international relations? Not that this is really well defined, s it's largely a matter of perspective and opinions.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 26 '15 at 14:07
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    For one thing, Rome wasn't conquered in just a couple of years by some young Greek upstart and 40,000 of his best friends. I'm not saying you can't call it a superpower, I just don't think it compares with Rome despite being bigger at its peak.
    – Semaphore
    Jun 26 '15 at 14:35
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    I held my tongue given @T.E.D's courteous edit, but I've looked at this question multiple times, and I think that it is impossible to say why many historians believe X unless we know who they are. I don't mean to be obnoxious about this, but I believe in the general case it is impossible to answer why a group of people hold an opinion unless you know who the group of people are. Usually when a group offers an opinion, they tell you why they hold the opinion (usually at greater detail than you want). But if you don't know who holds the opinion, any answers are mere guesses.
    – MCW
    Jun 26 '15 at 16:30
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    @Semaphore - Your calculation might have a sign error in it. 500ishBC to 300ishAD works out to 800 years, not 200.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 26 '15 at 16:30

As the commenters have stated, there are several reasons

  1. "Persia" isn't one empire, but a succession of empires controlling the same area, more or less in the period. Rome under the Republic and Empire was a single continuous government.
  2. The various Persian governments tended to get knocked around in head to head competition with Mediterranean powers. The Greeks beat Cyrus and Xerxes, Alex conquered the entire empire, the Seleucids lost to Republican Rome regularly, as did the Parthians and Sassanids aside from a few notable wins.
  3. Bias, since we just know a lot less about the Persians than the Greek and Roman states.

Rome, on the other hand, did dominate the entire civilized Mediterranean basin for a long time - which nobody has managed to do before or since.

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    I once saw a comparison once between the one government Rome represented and the number of governments that same area "requires" now. It was pretty sobering. (This was back in the 80's, so it would actually be a bit larger now).
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 26 '15 at 20:48
  • Please note that the Parthians and Sassanids are essentially Iranian peoples and so rightfully could be considered a resumption of Persian rule.
    – Safa Alai
    Oct 5 '15 at 4:46

I conjecture that there is one more reason. The historians you mention belong to the "Western European/North American" culture. It is a direct descendant of the Roman empire (in the cultural sense).

Perhaps if you read Persian historians you obtain a different picture.

And I am sure that if you read Chinese historians, you will learn a very different opinion on what the first true superpower was.

EDIT. From reading Herodotus and Xenophon one can indeed conclude that Persian empire was a "superpower". Unfortunately its literature did not survive. And our perception of the ancient history is mainly based on the rich literary heritage of the Greeks and of the Roman empire.


A lot has to do with the successor states that were spawned by the respective countries.

Rome spawned a number of successor states in western Europe (albeit a millennium later) that created the printing press, and one of the offshoots of these western European states was America, which created the Internet.

The Sumerians may have been among the first to create writing in clay and parchment, but later versions of the Persian empire (e.g. Iran) were not nearly as successful at creating means of communications to tell their story as Europe and America.

It's possible that Persian (or Indian or Chinese) historians have a story to tell that is lost in antiquity, because these countries obtained the printing press much later than the Europeans, and failed to create the equivalent of e.g. "The Cambridge History of Europe."

But it remains a truism that "history is written by the victors."

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