Both kingdom and empire are human socio-political societies ruled by a king or an emperor. The difference between the two societies is their political structure, leadership, control, and territorial size.

A kingdom is a society controlled by a monarch, which can either be a king or queen and have a common culture and historical heritage. What determines the title of the political head in a kingdom is norms, values, and culture. I

An empire is a society ruled by an emperor or an empress. Compared to a kingdom, an empire has broader territorial control, cultural diversity, and multilayer political structure than a kingdom.

What is a Kingdom?

Kingdom is usually a reference used to societies, states, regions, or countries ruled by a king or queen. The political institution used in the kingdom is known as a monarchy.

In most cases, the ascension of the king or queen is mostly through heredity amongst members of the royal family. In some kingdoms, the heir to the throne is the crown prince or the eldest son or daughter of the reigning monarch. However, in some regions, a woman only becomes the queen when there is no male heir to the throne.

Royal flag of France
Royal flag of France

The Monarchy in a kingdom can be further divided into an oligarchy, which refers to a kingdom ruled by many kings. In contrast, a kingdom with two people serving as rulers with equal power is a biarchy. However, a king or queen can rule as a sovereign without their authority being subject to any other authority. So, when this happens, it means the kingdom will retain its political structure as a kingdom. Nonetheless, the power to rule by the king or queen will be controlled by the empire.

Furthermore, in classical periods, traditional monarchies ruled by divine right, which means the king or the queen is above the law. However, modern monarchy is different as most existing kingdoms now adopt constitutional monarchy. For example, the United Kingdom and Spain have a constitutional monarchy. Nevertheless, kingdoms like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still maintains traditional monarchies.

What is an Empire?

While a kingdom is within a given territory, an empire on the other has a widespread territory. This implies that an empire is a group of states and countries ruled by one ruler. An empire usually has spread which not necessarily together within a territory. For example, the former British empire has territories in other continents like Asia, America, Africa, and Australia. All these territories are scattered across different territories. 

Great imperial arms of France of the Napoleons (1804-1815)
Great imperial arms of France of the Napoleons (1804-1815)

An empire is usually headed by a ruler known as the emperor or empress. When a male leads the empire, he will be addressed as emperor. In contrast, the emperor's wife is usually addressed as empress. But when a female heads the empire, the title remains empress, while the husband to the empress will be addressed as consult.

An empire is considered powerful because it is big, multicultural, multilingual, has economic acumen, military might, and control over a vast array of land. 

The process of becoming an empire can be an agreement between different kingdoms, or it could be military conquest to expand territory. So, when the kingdom conquers another kingdom, the conquering kingdom absolves the defeated kingdom into its fold. Thus, empire building under this arrangement allows a kingdom to expand its influence by conquering other nations both around and distant lands.

In classical times down to the late twentieth century, there were different empires and emperors such as the Persian empire, Hellenistic empire, Roman empire, Ottoman empire, and the British empire. However, due to civilization and the emergence of different states, the concept of empire building has declined, while Japan is the only country still clinging to the title of emperor.

Differences Between a Kingdom and an Empire 

Often time, some people find it difficult to differentiate between kingdom and empire. While the two may look alike due to factors like the political arrangement and administration system, there are differences between the two.

Political head title 

In a kingdom, the political system is known as a monarchy. Under this system, the head of the monarchy is either a king or queen. Also, some kingdoms grant their monarch absolute powers, reserve powers, or veto powers. In some kingdoms, the power of the monarch is constituted, and there are checks and balances to prevent absolute monarchy. However, an empire is different because the political head of the empire is known as the emperor or empress. 

Furthermore, in most empires, the empire maintains absolute power. The emperor or empress enjoys a privilege that makes them above the law.

Territorial control

A kingdom control limited territory when compared to an empire. This is because the territory of a kingdom is concentrated in a particular territorial space. At the same time, an empire is more prominent in landmass. Sometimes, some empires do have overseas territory. 

Social-cultural structure

A kingdom can be made up of people of the same cultural beliefs, lingua franca, religion, and shared culture. However, an empire is different because it usually comprises people with different languages, religions, and economic resources. So, while a kingdom is homogenous, an empire, on the other hand, is a heterogeneous society.

Comparison Chart: Kingdom Vs Empire


KingdomEmpire 
Political headA kingdom is ruled by a King or Queen.An empire is ruled by an emperor or empress.
Territorial controlLand control is within a definite region and mainly within a specific location.Large territorial control which is bigger when compared to a kingdom. Also, the territory of the empire can be scattered across different regions.
Decision makingIn a kingdom, the power to make decisions lies in the king or queen. However, when it is a constituted or parliamentary monarchy, the king or queen will have to seek the approval of parliament before making certain decisions.The power to make decisions lies in the emperor or empress. However, in some empires, the emperor will seek the approval of some oligarchies or aristocrats before making certain decisions that affect the empire. 
Number of rulersIn a kingdom, the number of rulers varies. Some kingdom has one monarch, and when there is more than one monarch, then such kingdom is known as diarchy. The number of rulers in an empire is one, which is the emperor or empress.
Emergence Kingdom usually emerges when different settlements, villages, or towns with shared culture and norms decide to come under one ruler known as a king or queen. Empire emerges when an independent kingdom expands its territory and influence by annexing other kingdoms through conquest or assimilation. 
To ensure proper administration in conquered territory, the emperor usually appoints representatives to govern the area according to the empire's interests.

Frequently Asked Questions

🧐 Is an empire a monarchy?

The fact that an empire is controlled by an individual (emperor/empress) does not mean a monarchy heads an empire. Before an empire emerges, it will pass through different stages. Now, this stage starts from it being a kingdom. So, when the kingdom begins to dominate other kingdoms, its influence will expand over conquered kingdoms and territory. At this stage, the king or queen of the conquering kingdom title will be elevated to emperor or empress because they now have other kings and queens under their control. 

So, while an empire can start from the stage of the monarchy, when the kingdom increases in size to the point of annexing other territories, it becomes an empire. While the head of the empire becomes emperor/empress, a title higher than king/queen. For example, Queen Victoria of Britain is also addressed as Empress of India when the latter was under British control. 

Do empires still exist?

In today's modern world, empires no longer exist. The last known empire got dissolved towards the mid-20th century. Empires dissolved include Ottoman Turkey, the British empire, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Mandarin China, Japan, and Tsarist and Soviet Russia. Although Japan still maintains the title of emperor for the nation head of state, notwithstanding, in reality, Japan does not have control over areas other than its own territory. 

👑 Is the emperor higher than the king?

There is a clear line of difference between an emperor and a king. While a king heads a kingdom, an emperor heads territorial space bigger than a kingdom. An emperor necessarily doesn't need to be a king, e.g., Bonaparte Napoleon of France was emperor of France with no royal bloodline. However, a king can rise to become an emperor by conquering other territories around and beyond to expand his kingdom to the stage of becoming an empire, e.g., Alexandre the Great of Macedonia expand the Hellenistic Kingdom by conquering the whole of Greece before expanding his kingdom down Asia, thus becoming both a king and emperor.  

🌍 What is the biggest empire recorded in human history?

While many empires had existed in the past, each having its own fair shares of landscape, like the Hittite Empire, Phoenicia, Carthaginian Empire, Roman empire, Mongolia empire, and British empire, the biggest empire to date is the British empire. At the peak of its power in 1913, the empire covered an astonishing 13.71 million square miles, a figure close to a quarter of the world's landmass, and has a population of 412 million spread across different regions living under the empire. 

🛡 Do monarchies still wield much power?

No doubt, the powers and influence of monarchies in today's modern world are not the same as classical and medieval times. While monarchies still exist today, their authority has been limited. Most countries have either become a federation or republic. Countries still using the monarchical system have converted their monarchical institution to the constitutional monarchy from absolute monarchies. Examples are Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom.

Conclusion

While kingdom and empire are sometimes used interchangeably, we've given you an idea of how different these concepts are.