For the most part of the history, the most powerful economic powers were simply the countries that housed the most people and controlled the most land. Up until 300 years ago, economies across the world were mainly agricultural. Economic historian Ian Morris says that for the most part of the human history, civilization’s economic strength depended largely on when it experienced an agricultural revolution. Until the industrial revolution upended everything, it would take a nation thousands of years to turn itself into an economic powerhouse.
Here is the list of 5 historically dominant economic civilizations, in chronological order.
Rome, the distant descendant of first agricultural revolution, became dominant global empire in matters of centuries. It at its peak controlled 25 to 30% global production. As trade is vital for economic growth, the Romans were better at it during their height than anybody else. Historical evidence also suggest that they had very well developed financial system that made extensive use of credit and bank notes, hence enabling traders to forgo hauling precious metals across distances.
China under Song Dynasty
China under song dynasty controlled 25 to 30% of global output. Although agriculture reached china later than it did in modern day Middle East but Chinese made good use of the benefits of agricultural society.
One of the most magnificent and economically most powerful civilization, the world has ever seen is India’s Mughal empire. The English word Mogul is derived from the word ‘Mughal’. Even today the signs of their splendor can be seen in form Taj Mahal Agra, Badshahi Mosque,etc. According to late economic historian Angus Maddison, the per capita income of the mughal era india was likely about the same as in England or Britain at the time, but India’s aristocracy’s life style surpassed that of European elites. Mughal era at it its peak produced one-fourth of global output.
Its aptitude of profiteering from its colonies made it the first global economic powerhouse which dominated the world without strictly controlling equally large percentage of population. Another advantage, Britain enjoyed came from huge technological boost of the industrial revolution. It, at its height, produced 21% of total global output out of which 6% came from its colonies.
United States, for about past 140 years, is the largest economy, but its relative power is in decline. It is expected that China’s economy would overtake the United States, by 2018.
After the World War II, there was a brief period when United States, owing to destruction of other industrial economies, produced half of world total economic output.