The impact left upon history by its most prominent ruling families can far outlast their own bloodline and the legacy of any one member. But which ruling family would be most appealing to belong to? Every great house enjoyed certain perks, but these would be balanced by the great responsibilities and challenges each era posed.
- 188 VOTES
The Romanovs Ended The 'Time Of Troubles' And Ruled Russia For More Than 300 Years
Years Active: 1613-1917 CE
Titles Held: Czar of Russia
Notable Members: Michael I, Peter I, Catherine II, Nicholas II
Pros: Overseeing a vast empire with a vibrant and distinctive culture
Cons: Angry peasants
In A Nutshell: The Romanovs brought much-needed peace to a land beset by internal strife in the 17th century. The ascension of Michael I in 1613 ended the 15-year "Time of Troubles," a series of coups, royal pretenders, and conflicts that brought the kingdom to the brink of collapse. Michael's grandson Peter I (pictured) turned Russia into an expansive empire.
Peter the Great's reign represented one of the high points of the Romanov dynasty. Peter enjoyed military successes over Sweden and introduced key reforms in politics, education, and the economy. By the time of his passing in 1725, Russia had grown into one of Europe's foremost powers. Late that century, the Russian Empire would be blessed with another formidable leader in the form of the Polish-born Catherine II. Like Peter, she was also known as "the great." Catherine's long reign saw victories over the Ottomans, expansions in territory and trade, and promotion of Russian culture and literature.
Russian and Romanov fortunes dipped in the 19th century, and by the reign of Nicholas II, the last Czar, the end was nigh. A disastrous war with Japan almost toppled the regime in 1905. Less than a decade later, entry into World War I spelled doom for the Romanovs. Revolution not only ended the regime but also the lives of the ruling family.
- 298 VOTES
The Nerva-Antonine Dynasty Comprised The Five Good Emperors of Rome
Years Active: 96-192 CE
Titles Held: Emperor of Rome
Notable Members: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus
Pros: Being the master of Rome during its peak
Cons: Barbarians, watching Commodus ruin it all
In A Nutshell: One of the interesting features of this distinguished Roman dynasty is that succession passed by adoption rather than birth due to a lack of male heirs. Commodus was the first natural-born heir of the dynasty to actually become emperor. His chaotic reign interrupted an unusually successful run of Roman emperors. Sometimes referred to as the "five good emperors," the era represented a high point of Roman territorial and economic expansion. Each brought something to the table.
Nerva was the voice of reason; Trajan expanded the empire; Hadrian consolidated Trajan's gains; Antonius Pius built up the economy; and Marcus Aurelius was noted for his philosophy. The run of successful Roman rulers came to an ignoble end with the ascension of Commodus and the chaos of his despotic rule.
Despite its unfortunate end, the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty remains perhaps the most successful of all Roman dynasties and ushered in an unusually stable period of Roman history.
- 374 VOTES
The Tudors Emerged From The Wars Of The Roses To Change England Forever
Years Active: 1485-1603 CE
Titles Held: Kingdom of England, Wales, Ireland
Notable Members: Mary, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII
Pros: Outstanding literature and music, a front-row seat to the English Renaissance
Cons: Difficulties in carrying on the bloodline, dysfunctional marriages
In A Nutshell: The Tudors might not have had the staying power of some of the other dynasties featured here, but what they lacked in longevity, they made up for with big personalities. Two of England’s most iconic rulers, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, came from this famous house.
With victory in the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII brought more than three decades of civil war to a definitive end. Henry’s second-born, also named Henry, ascended to the throne in 1509 and his 36 years in power would leave a lasting mark upon the kingdom. The first post office was formed in 1512, and the beginnings of the Royal Navy and British naval dominance began during Henry VIII’s reign. But perhaps his most significant legacy was the break from the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England.
After Mary Tudor’s brief and difficult rule, Elizabeth I enjoyed a long and prosperous reign as Queen of England. Under Elizabeth, England began to colonize the Americas and greatly expand trade. Closer to home, the English Renaissance was experienced in the form of music and literature rather than art or sculpture. Neither of Henry VIII’s surviving children managed to produce children of their own, and the passing of Elizabeth I saw the extinction of the Tudors in 1603. The family's impact on history far outlasted their bloodline.
- 465 VOTES
The Ming Oversaw One Of China’s Most Prosperous Eras
Years Active: 1368-1644 CE
Titles Held: Emperor of China
Notable Members: Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu Emperor), Zhu Di (Yongle Emperor)
Pros: All the books you can read, luxury trade goods, the world's greatest palace
Cons: Endless enemies at the borders, internal strife only a flood away
In A Nutshell: There's a pretty credible argument to make for early Ming China being the world's foremost power. Although great treasure fleets sailed the world under Zheng He, a eunuch admiral in the service of the third Ming emperor, later emperors soon realized there wasn't a pressing need to go out into the world, as the world was more than happy to come to them. Vast riches and exotic foods flowed into the ports of medieval China.
The Ming rulers enjoyed lives of unfathomable luxury in the Forbidden City, a huge complex in Beijing built during the reign of Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor. The nearly 10,000 rooms of the complex contained priceless art and furniture. Only those with the emperor's permission were permitted to enter the Forbidden City. The Ming's strength wasn't simply in its military or grand architecture, but in the empire's gigantic agricultural and economic base. Under Ming rule, the written word came to the masses, as books were affordable and widely available. The Ming also restored the Great Wall of China to its former glory as a bulwark against raiders at the empire's fringes.
Being top dog meant no shortage of enemies, and the empire's gigantic populace was always perilously close to famine. The strain of those pressures, along with a cycle of ill-boded floods of the Yellow River, culminated in the Ming's 17th-century collapse.
- 5104 VOTES
The Habsburgs Had A Wide Collection Of Crowns But A Narrow Family Tree
Years Active: c. 1020-1918
Titles Held: Holy Roman Emperor; Kingdoms of Austria, Bohemia, England, Hungary, Spain, Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples; various holdings in Germany, France, and Northern Italy; Emperor of Mexico
Notable Members: Maximillian I, Charles V, Philip II, Maria Theresa, Franz Ferdinand, Karl I
Pros: All the crowns you can handle
Cons: An unfortunate jawline, the Ottomans
In A Nutshell: The Habsburg name comes from an 11th-century castle in Switzerland. From this fortress, Habsburg influence grew steadily across Europe in the Middle Ages. The house had a stranglehold on the title of Holy Roman Emperor for 300 years. At the height of their power, the Habsburgs ruled Austria, Bohemia, Naples, the Netherlands, Sardinia, and Sicily, as well as expansive overseas territories and part of the Spanish empire. One Habsburger was a king of England while another briefly ruled Mexico in the mid-19th century. Charles V (pictured) had the key Habsburg traits - many royal titles and a prominent chin.
To prevent their numerous titles from falling into the hands of rival houses through marriage, the Habsburgs increasingly kept their weddings in-house from the 16th century onward. Intermarriage led to inbreeding, and members of the house were prone to having the Habsburg jaw, a prominent jutting jawline stemming from so much shared ancestry.
By the 18th century, the house’s dominant position had slipped, but the Habsburgs still maintained a powerful presence in central Europe that wasn’t fully eroded until the 20th century. There are still surviving members of the Habsburg line in public life in Austria.
- 662 VOTES
The Fourth Egyptian Dynasty Built The Pyramids
Years Active: c. 2613 to 2494 BCE
Titles Held: Pharaohs of Egypt
Notable Members: Khufu, Kafre
Pros: You'll leave behind magnificent monuments
Cons: An overly close family
In A Nutshell: If the Persians and Macedonians are included, ancient Egypt had no fewer than 32 royal dynasties across its extremely long existence. Of these many royal houses, one of the earliest truly stands out: the Fourth Dynasty.
Ancient Egyptian history is usually divided into three distinct eras of Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, which are separated by intermediate periods. The Fourth Dynasty represented the pinnacle of the Old Kingdom. It was an era defined by peace and prosperity, but most remarkably, the Great Pyramid of Giza rose during this time. Evidence of the construction of a harbor during the reign of Khufu also suggests trade with foreign powers.
Because they kept it in the family, Egyptian dynasties typically lasted a little more than a century before chronic inbreeding took its toll and a new house rose. The Fourth Dynasty lasted around 120 years, with the final ruler, Shepseskaf, breaking the tradition of pyramid-building with his own unique design.