Let me preface this with stating that the pre-columbian period of mesoamerica and the Andes Mountain regions are my favorite areas of study and I am fully aware of the advanced civilizations that spawned there: The Incans, Mayans, Olmec, Toltec, Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, etc. to name a few. But, if you look at the largest and most influential civilizations in the world, they are mainly contained to the Eurasian continent. To name a few: Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Chinese, Mongolians, Persians, Siam, Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, Ottomans, etc. The Phoenicians did not cover much land, but they were arguably the best seafaring society of their day. Their civilization was partly the basis of the Greeks which did have a very successful empire. The mongols had the biggest empire ever (maybe the British were bigger, but I feel the mongols were much more impressive given the time). The Chinese have historically been the most powerful civilization ever (except for the last ~two centuries).

Do not get me wrong, the Aztec and Incans were amazing civilizations and my two favorite ones to study, but they never covered the same area and had as much influence as civilizations in Eurasia and northern Africa. The Aztecs only took over central mexico. The Inca actually were a decent size, but that is really the only one out of all the Americas.

I think that the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea offer a similar seafaring potential that the Mediterranean offered. I would have expected one or two civilizations to really take advantage of the water and really take over this area like the Romans did in Europe. I just think there are several areas in the Americas that geographically would be ripe for lots of trade and conquest like we saw in Eurasia.

  • Maybe density of population has something to do with it. Lots of territories, very few people to occupy it. Very few people to invent what is needed.
    – MasB
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 21:26
  • 1
    Are you sure you mean preCambrian?
    – AllInOne
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 22:07
  • They didn't have the wheel. That's really bad news when the Age of Sail shows up on your shore. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 23:58
  • @user14394 Considering the terrain (lots of mountains) the lack of wheels is less of a disadvantage.
    – liftarn
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 12:12
  • @user14394 I guess I am trying to get at a deeper answer than "they did not have the wheel". But, here is one point against your argument: aracari.com/the-incas-and-the-wheel
    – user972276
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 13:56

1 Answer 1


From the context of your question I take it that when you say "Developed" you don't mean technologically developed but rather that said civilization "obtained a geographically large empire."

So to answer the question why didn't pre-columbian Americas have as many large empires,

A) The historic records for pre-columbain Americas is almost non-existent compared to the old world. So in fact there may (and in my opinion likely were) just as many large empires, we just don't have any records of them.

B) A lack of faster and easier than walking travel would have limited troop movement, supply lines and exploration. All of which are important for the growth of an empire.

C) Empires by very definition exist to capture new wealth and bring it back to the capital. It could have simply been that any Nations that did arise simply didn't see any opportunities to conquer that wealth. For example the Incas did not value gold and silver as much as they did fine cloth. source wikipedia If you don't see anything nearby that you think is worth conquering then why make the effort.

  • The wheel is not a piece of technology. Nor is the axle or even the suspension system or the pins that hold the wheel to the axle. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 2:35
  • The Romans had a pretty good-sized Empire, and their troops (and merchants &c) generally walked everywhere.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 4:53
  • There were plenty of old world civilizations that got around just fine on foot, so I do not think B is really that relevant. The Incans built a vast road system just like the romans and used llamas to carry everything.
    – user972276
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 14:03
  • As for C, I do not think you are exactly correct either. The Incas tried to conquer further south, but were met with stiff resistance. I believe they also tried to go further east and north too, but by that point disease struck. So, I do not think you can say they had no desire to build a bigger kingdom.
    – user972276
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 14:05
  • The Romans are duly noted as "footmen." Even more interesting though is their disdain for shipping too...which is very odd when one just looks at the Geography of Italy. "Your Men and Women will be strong if they have to walk everywhere in Italy." They also had horses in Roman times...so yes, they had Chariots...but just for show. Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 17:46

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