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I get difficulty to understand between the two English words, 'kingdom' and 'empire'. Sometimes I read/heard is said Russian Empire, Roman Empire, Byzantium Empire, British Empire. But we all know the British is associated to kingdom, The United Kingdom (UK), and we all know that the man who is reign in British is called king. In another side, we also heard/read said Kingdom of Heaven, (ancient) Israeli Kingdom, Spanish Kingdom, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), etc. There are another non-English natural such as sultanate, emirate, sheikh, etc. But for now, we leave it. Focus only with the two native English words, the 'kingdom' and 'empire'. What is/are their different?

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  • Ancient Rome, Byzantium, Russia and Britain all, at one time or another, ruled over multiple countries. Queen Victoria was given the title 'Empress of India' when Britain took over direct rule of India from the East India Company, and there were Emperors of Rome, Byzantium and Russia. All these empires no longer exist. Oct 4, 2020 at 8:25

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There are two different distinguishing characteristics, with fuzzy boundaries between them.

Kingdom generally implies that the state is ruled by a single "king" or some other "royal" person, with rule being inherited. Empire does not (necessarily) imply inheritance, nor does it even require a single ruler.

Further, a kingdom is generally a single more-or-less contiguous body of land, not including any distant conquered territories. An empire, on the other hand, may include lands on other continents.

Thus Britain was "The United Kingdom" of (contiguous) England, Scotland, and Wales, while it was at the same time "The British Empire", since it included lands in India, Africa, and elsewhere.

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  • Thus Britain was "The United Kingdom" of (contiguous) England, Scotland, and Wales, while it was at the same time "The British Empire", since it included lands in India, Africa, and elsewhere. Thank you for the easy explanation. Make sense. Oct 4, 2020 at 8:34
  • It's also worth noting that an Emperor is an Emperor in his own domain if he says he is but is only an Emperor outside that domain if other states recognise his Imperial status. Queen Victoria was made Empress of India because Britain controlled India parts of which had been an Empire before the British took over. Napoleon Bonaparte had the French parliament declare him an Emperor and he was still recognised as an Emperor after his deposition. However Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Empire was only ever an Emperor there.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 4, 2020 at 11:43
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I would say that the essential difference is that an empire is ruled by an emperor who is the supreme ruler over several monarchs or nobles who may rule lesser kingdoms or territories within that empire.

OED

2.a. An extensive territory under the control of a supreme ruler (typically an emperor) or an oligarchy, often consisting of an aggregate of many separate states or territories. In later use also: an extensive group of subject territories ultimately under the rule of a single sovereign state.

1917 Crisis May 44/1 King of Wallou, Goudar and Bekember which are subsidiary states in the Abyssinian empire.

This idea of "empire" is thus extended to include areas of autonomous power in commerce, etc. e.g. a business empire:

2008 Independent 20 Mar. 16/1 In London, his empire spans five fine-dining restaurants,..three gastro-pubs and a brasserie.

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