Would anyone at the time of the Civil Wars in the Atlantic Isles in the mid 17th Century have imagined the scale, power and authority of the British Empire of just a few generations later? Even after The Restoration of 1660 the Dutch sailed into the Medway in 1667 to inflict a major defeat on the navy.
Going back into antiquity, there was a time when every schoolboy would be expected to know the story of Rome, how it was founded and later became The Glory That Was Rome. How many of these classical notions embedded themselves into our ideas systems is a question of political philosophy but it certainly loomed large.
In the history of mankind in recent millennia there have been many empires of one kind or another that have come and gone. In some cases there is knowledge and awareness of their history, however sketchy. But there are others about which we know little and understand less.
The one certainty is that there have been many and various and now there is endless academic and other debate about some of those past empires, their nature, purpose, function, legacy and how "good" or "bad" they may have been. This will depend on the moral and other perspectives of those doing the debating.
There are other issues which seem certain and that is that the human past in political terms has been rarely peaceful. Empires on the one hand and even mutually dependent tribal societies have been in constant conflict that defy rationality or any moral sense.
The 1914 discussions at present have at their heart the issue of why a handful of European nations who had taken control over much of the world then decided to ruin themselves, begin to lose their empires and inflict disaster on so many peoples.
We do not learn, if anything it is more convenient to forget. Russia having suffered serious damage by 1918 took another World War to reinstate and expand in the shape of the Soviet Union and its satellites. When that empire of the mind and military fell apart it lost much of its territory.
Now we have a European Union, dominated by the same nations that triggered the 1914 debacle, attempting to assert itself by corralling in former Soviet entities into its empire of the mind and money. If President Putin does shut the pipelines for their energy supplies it is the least he can do. The other is to use Russian money flows to disrupt the fragile and vulnerable EU financial systems.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East there is ISIS. It might seem ridiculous to suggest that this grouping of violent, aggressive and believers in an old and severe thought system could ever be more than a threat to civil order, peace and the existing mind worlds of the West. But trawl back through enough of known history it is possible.
Given that there are many political entities; I avoid the word "civilisation" given the violence quotient of so many of them; of the past that began in very small ways and then either slowly or quickly gained control over many peoples and territories anything could happen.
All it needs is for those who are infiltrated, suborned, and made to fear, to be weak, divided, crippled by beliefs and ideas that prevent either a coherent or effective defence and distracted by things that dominate their thinking and lives and they can sooner or later be brought to subjection and made not simply subordinate but in effect enslaved.
In particular, entities which are profoundly divided and muddled in their thinking about those divisions and are more concerned to fight each other rather than the intruders, disregarding them as a real threat and failing to understand their potential for dominance, that can find themselves taken over.
There was a time when the British took over the Sub Continent of India. Just how many men did it take to assert control over such a large part of the earth and so many peoples?