Analyzing which governments in world history lasted the longest amount of time is a harder question than you might expect.
It depends on what you're counting: Does a nation get disqualified for being occupied by a foreign power for a time? What if a nation joins together with another, like in the case of the United Kingdom? What about cultures that have never formed formal states or nations? How does the United States compare to other long-lived nations in history?
In this article, we discuss some of the oldest forms of government and nations in world history with a focus on the most interesting stories.
[And if you’re interested in history and government, check out the Brainscape’s history flashcards!]
The Pandyan Empire (1850 years)
This society of Southern India is considered the longest-lasting empire in history. It dominated trade and was extremely wealthy due to agriculture and control of fisheries and pearl beds. A series of kings ruled the region during this period, which lasted from about 500 BC to 1350 AD.
Byzantine Empire (1123 years)
Also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine culture based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) dominated much of Europe and the Levant between 330 and 1204 AD. By the 13th century, the empire was in decline, and although it was re-established in 1261, it was never a major power. The empire was finally overthrown by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Silla (992 years)
This kingdom, originally established in 57 BC, eventually covered much of the Korean peninsula. By 527, Silla was officially a Buddhist nation—although this did not discourage its frequent wars with the other Korean kingdoms. Nevertheless, the nation enters history as one of the oldest of all time.
Ethiopian Empire (837 years)
One of the few African nations to hold out against European colonialism, the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia) lasted from 1137 until 1975 (it may have continued, but the government was overthrown in a coup). Multiple European nations (including Italy and Britain) attempted to colonize Ethiopia during the late 1800’s, but were defeated by Ethiopian forces.
Roman Empire (499 years)
The classic Roman Empire that we know most about, the society that was based on Rome and counted Julius Caesar among its first rulers, lasted for nearly 500 years. This followed the period of the Roman Republic, which also lasted nearly 500 years, but civil war and instability led to the dissolution of the Senate and the founding of the Empire. At the end of its life, in the 5th century, Rome began to collapse under the weight of invasions, and eventually broke up.
San Marino (415+ years)
Perhaps the oldest government still in operation today, more or less unchanged, is the Italian micro-state of San Marino. With a land area of less than 30 square miles, the nation has been able to maintain its boundaries and integrity of government for more than 400 years.
Aboriginal Australian Cultures (50,000 years)
This is a special case, since aboriginal Australians have never formed empires or states in the same sense as the other known nations. But it is believed that Aboriginal culture has remained intact, with largely continuous religious and political structure, for more than 50,000 years (and possibly 65,000 or more). That’s some serious stability.
United States of America (239+ years)
As of 2015, the United States has been in existence for 239 years, since the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That seems like a long time—11 or 12 generations. But it pales in comparison to the other cultures and governments listed above!