10 Greatest Countries in the History of the World: 2020 Reboot

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Scott Baradell

Late one night in 2006, I was procrastinating in my home office when I should have been writing a business-to-business technology white paper for one of Idea Grove's public relations clients. I had just read something in the news that was highly critical of Italy's political situation at that time. I thought to myself, "Yeah, but all in all, Italy is probably the greatest country in the history of the world." And then I was off and running on a blog post that would end up receiving more than 500,000 visits over the next 14 years -- and is still clocking in at more than 3,000 visits per month.

I mostly write about PR and marketing topics, because I own a PR and marketing agency called Idea Grove, but I don't think the topic of history is irrelevant to public relations. It pertains to everything we do, in fact.

Much of what we learn in textbooks growing up is the PR of the winners. Do you remember that great ancient civilization of Carthage, which rivaled Rome in importance and affluence? No? Maybe that's because Rome destroyed it and all record of its past after three brutal wars; the little we know about it today is decidedly biased, and from the Roman perspective. And so while I still trust in my list of greatest countries, I recognize that it is at least partially a product of good PR.

Here are the rules I made for this personal parlor game and the resulting post:

    1. By “countries,” I mean current countries based on current boundaries.
    2. Any past accomplishments are credited to the current country; modern Iraq, for example, gets credit for Mesopotamia.
    3. Seminal achievements score the biggest points; however, some points are deducted for long periods of backwardness.
    4. For the descriptions, my own commentary is mixed with direct pulls from Wikipedia in most cases; I didn’t demarcate which was which so it would be easier to read. Just assume it’s all borrowed if you’d like.

I've recently gone back through the list and freshened it up a bit. Not a lot of big changes (we're evaluating all of recorded history, after all), but I did drop a couple countries a slot or two and dropped one country off the list. The original post sparked a lot of debate -- and more than 1,000 comments -- so we'll see how the reboot does.

OK, here we go — the Top 10, starting with the greatest country in the history of the world:

    1. Italy. What can I say? Ancient Rome created what we now call “Western society” — including our laws, our culture and our religion. After Rome fell and Europe spent 1,000 years in darkness, Italy reclaimed it with the Renaissance. To create a civilization is achievement enough — but to save it 10 centuries later is truly remarkable.
    2. United Kingdom. The dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, the United Kingdom is often credited with being the nation that “created the modern world,” by playing a leading role in developing Western ideas of property, capitalism, and parliamentary democracy as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science and technology. At its zenith, the British Empire stretched over one-quarter of the Earth’s surface and encompassed a third of its population.
    3. China. The once and future superpower. China was one of the earliest centers of human civilization. It has one of the world’s longest periods of mostly uninterrupted civilization and one of the world’s longest continuously used written language systems. Today, it is the likely successor to the United States as the most powerful country in the world. Economists have projected that China will be the world's largest economy by 2030.
    4. Greece. Regarded as the cradle of western civilization and being the birthplace of modern democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, political science and drama, including both tragedy and comedy, Greece has a very long and remarkably rich history during which its culture has proven to be especially influential in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. Today, Greece is a developed nation, member of the European Union since 1981 and a member of the Eurozone since 2001.
    5. Egypt. The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s great civilizations. A unified kingdom was founded circa 3200 BC by King Narmer, and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty, known as the Thirtieth Dynasty, fell to the Persians in 343 BC who dug the predecessor of the Suez canal and connected the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Later, Egypt fell to the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Muslim Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the seventh century to the Egyptians, who gradually adopted both.
    6. United States. The U.S. is, by any measure, the wealthiest, most powerful and most influential country in the history of the world. Buoyed by victories in World War I and World War II as the only major power not devastated, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union following the Cold War, the U.S. has emerged as the world’s sole superpower. The real question -- given its current political and economic climate -- is the country's future. The Roman and Egyptian empires each survived for more than 500 years; will the United States have the same staying power?
    7. India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago, and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilisation, a centre of important trade routes and vast empires. India has long played a major role in human history. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Ayyavazhi, and Sikhism — all have their origins in India.
    8. Iran. Iran (formerly Persia) has been inhabited by human beings since pre-historic times, centuries before the earliest civilizations arose in nearby Mesopotamia. Following the Islamic conquest of Persia, the country was at the heart of the Islamic Golden Age, especially during the 9th to 11th centuries.
    9. Iraq. The Republic of Iraq sits on land that is historically known as Mesopotamia, which was home to some of the world’s first civilizations, including the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian. These civilizations produced some of the first writing, science, mathematics, law and philosophy in the world, making the region the center of what is commonly called the “Cradle of Civilization”."
    10. Russia. There is a lot of talk about American Exceptionalism, but it doesn't hold a candle to Russian Exceptionalism, which views Mother Russia almost as a deity. Whatever its faults and eccentricities, Russia has shown a remarkable capacity to survive -- from holding off the Ottoman Turks to defeating both Napoleon and Hitler. And while the U.S.S.R. was ultimately an ideological and economic failure, it certainly had the world's attention while it lasted. 

By our measure, Spain, Japan, France, Germany and a few others just missed out. OK — who did we miss?

Want to read more history with a PR twist? Try some of my other posts:

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