I thought that I would be refreshing my knowledge for this blog post. But, it would be much more than that. The Great Powers blog post took me back to the depths of organized civilization. I mused, “that’s history in a nut-shell – it goes very far back.”

That is a very obvious thing to think.

Personally, I’ve read about the great powers, most notably in Paul Kennedy’s classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Amazon US | Amazon UK), but what I didn’t realize were the sheer number of Great Powers over the centuries, especially in the pre-European age (by which I mean, the age before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas). Sure, I was aware of the Mongols and the great Ancient Empires, but there are so many powerful empires in history.

The history of the Great Powers is truly a history of the world. Even in a world as disconnected as that of 100AD. Of course, in 100AD it was hard for leaders to control territory as effectively as they do now, or to quickly send armies to far flung parts of the globe, but nonetheless there were Great Empires that controlled large parts of the densely populated parts of the earth.

There were great Ancient Empires in many parts of Asia, from Babylonia in the Middle East to China in the Far East, while there were also several great African Empires amongst others.

And then I remembered

Ethiopia 2 069.JPG

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit to some of the lesser visited regions of the globe. And soon enough, it hit me. I remembered learning about some of these kingdoms. Take the Axumite Kingdom (or the Kingdom of Aksum). It consisted of parts of several modern-day countries in Africa and the Middle East, and came into being sometime around 100AD. I visited the town of Axum, in northern Ethiopia, the former capital. The main site that remains from the days of the Axumite Kingdom is a series of stelae in many fields within and around the town. While there I was told about Axum’s Ancient glories, but it was hard to recognize that this was the center of a truly Great Power. It was only when I started to read more about it that I understood its importance as a base between modern-day Egypt and India.

The same thing happened when I visited Georgia (the country, not the state!). While there I was told of it’s (albeit quite brief) glorious age, but again I found myself surprised on finding out about its regional influence during the Georgian Golden Age around the year 1200.

Not truly Great Powers, but..

A great power can be defined as a country that has significant extra-territorial influence, but there is a problem that I have when thinking about countries such as Georgia in the year 1200 as Great Powers. And this is in spite of being well-read in the European Great Powers over the past centuries.

The problem is the Cold War. I compare such powers to the USSR and USA, and think of how little influence they actually had outside of their own regions. But, that is why the USA and USSR were known as super-powers, not merely Great Powers.

There’s most certainly a lesson here. History stretches back a very long way and just because things are as they are now, it doesn’t mean they’ve always been that way. By which I mean, the word super-power was coined for a reason.

Anyway, the point of this blog post was to provide an introduction to the two powers in the Cold War as an introduction to some posts covering topics in the Cold War. I guess that I will have to do a post on the super-powers first now.

“Oh, why must history go so very far back?”, I just lamented.

Is there a Great Power that intrigues you?

If so, please tell us a little about it so that we can learn something from you!

George Levrier-Jones


This post was written as part of a regular series of (sometimes) humorous introductions to topics in history as part of ‘117-second History’.

We discuss how the USA and USSR emerged as Great Powers (or super-powers), in our book, “Cold War History - To the brink of nuclear destruction - From World War 2 to the Cuban Missile Crisis - Part 1: 1945-1962 (Required History)” - available by clicking here.