The term "great power" has only been used in historiography and political science since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, first used the term in its diplomatic context in 1814 in reference to the Treaty of Chaumont. Use of the term in the historiography of the Middle Ages is therefore idiosyncratic to each author. In historiography of the pre-modern period, it is more typical to talk of empires.
Gerry Simpson distinguishes "Great Powers", an elite group of states that manages the international legal order, from "great powers", empires or states whose military and political might defined an era.
The following is a list of empires that have been called great powers during the Middle Ages:
- China (throughout)
- Persia (Sasanians, 500–600; Samanids, 900–950; Timurids, 1400–1450)
- Byzantine Empire (500–1050)
- Göktürk Khaganate (550–600)
- Tibetan Empire (650–1250)
- The Caliphate (650–850)
- Carolingian Empire (751–843)
- Turks (Onoq, 650; Seljuks, 1050–1100; Ottomans, 1450–1500)
- Vikings (800–1050)
- First Bulgarian Empire (803–963)
- Pratihara Empire (850)
- Khazar Khaganate (850–900)
- Kievan Rus' (900–1050)
- Buyid Dynasty (950)
- Fatimid Caliphate (950–1050)
- Liao Dynasty (950–1150)
- Holy Roman Empire (950–1200)
- Almoravid Dynasty (1040-1147)
- Ghaznavid Dynasty (1050)
- Almohad Caliphate (1150–1250)
- Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (1250–1450)
- Mongol Empire (1250–1450)
- Khmer Empire (1250)
- Mali Empire (1300, 1450)
- Kingdom of France (since 1300)
- Chagatai Khanate (1350)
- Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1450)
- Spanish Empire (since 1479)
- Incan Empire (1500)
- Grand Duchy of Moscow (1500)
- Fueter, Eduard (1922). World history, 1815–1930. United States of America: Harcourt, Brace and Company. pp. 25–28, 36–44. ISBN 1-58477-077-5.
Great Powers Congress of Vienna.
- Gerry Simpson, Great Powers and Outlaw States: Unequal Sovereigns in the International Legal Order (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 68, uses the Vikings as an example of a great power that was not a Great Power.
- William Eckhardt, Civilizations, Empires, and Wars: A Quantitative History of War (McFarland, 1992), p. 113: "Medieval Great Powers included China throughout, Persia (500-600, 900-50, 1400-50), Byzantium (500-1050), Tu Chueh (550-600), Tibet (650- 1250), Muslim (650-850), Turkey (650, 1050-1100, 1450-1500), Prati (850), Khazar (850-900), Kiev (900-1050), Bujid (950), Fatimid (950-1050), Liao (950-1150), Ghaznavid (1050), Al-mohad (1150-1250), Egypt (1250-1450), Mongolia (1250-1450), Khmer (1250), Mali (1300, 1450), Chagatai (1350), Lithuania (1450), Inca (1500) and Russia (1500)."
- Szabolcs József Polgár, "The Character of the Trade between the Nomads and their Settled Neighbours in Eurasia in the Middle Ages", Studia Uralo-altaica 53 (2019): 253, contrasts "the nomads of the Eurasian steppe with their settled neighbours", calling the former "steppe empires (that is, the greatest nomadic confederations)" and the latter "medieval great powers". He gives China, Sassanian Persia, the Caliphate and the Eastern Roman Empire as medieval great powers.
- Henry Davis: Medieval Europe. Williams and Norgate, London 1911, p. 55: "These crowded years of war leave the Frankish Empire established as the one great power west of the Elbe and Adriatic."
- Thomas Hodgkin: The life of Charlemagne (Charles The Great), London 1897, p. 11
- Daniel Ziemann: Das Erste bulgarische Reich. Eine frühmittelalterliche Großmacht zwischen Byzanz und Abendland. (German: An early medieval great power between Byzantium and the Occident) In: Online handbook on the history of South-East Europe. Volume I Rule and politics in Southeastern Europe until 1800. Published by the Institute for East and Southeast European Studies of the Leibniz Association, Regensburg 2016
- Frank Rexroth: Deutsche Geschichte im Mittelalter. C.H. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 978-3-406-48007-2, p. 22 ("The special proximity of the Ottonian and early Salian rulers to the Imperial Church was to contribute quite considerably to the rise of the East Frankish Empire to a European great power, as was already noticeable in the 940s".)
- Johannes Haller and Heinrich Dannenbauer: Von den Karolingern zu den Staufern: Die altdeutsche Kaiserzeit (900–1250). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1970, p. 129 ( “It became apparent that the German leadership in the West“ [after the year 1200] “had ceased to exist and that the new French great power was rising in its place.” )
- Jürgen Miethke: Philipp IV. der Schöne (German: Philip IV of France) 1285 – 1314 In: Joachim Ehlers, Heribert Müller, Bernd Schneidmüller: Die Französische Könige des Mittelalters von Odo bis Karl VIII. (German: The French kings of the Middle Ages: from Odo to Charles VIII 888 – 1498), C. H. Beck Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-406-54739-3, p. 184: “France finally grew into a European great power, even defining in the first place what it means to be a European great power”
- Jack S. Levy: War in the Modern Great Power System 1495 – 1975. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington 1983, ISBN 978-0-8131-5339-1, p. 20
- Cooper, F. (2008). Empires and Political Imagination in World History. Princeton [u.a.]: Princeton University Press.
- Doyle, M. W. (1986). Empires. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.
- English, Edward D. ed. Encyclopedia Of The Medieval World (2 vol. 2004).
- Farrington, K. (2003). Historical Atlas of Empires. London: Mercury.
- Harrison, T., & J. Paul Getty Museum. (2009). The Great Empires of the Ancient World. Los Angeles, Calif: J. Paul Getty Museum.
- Khan, A. (2004). A Historical Atlas of India. New York: Rosen Pub.
- Jordan, William Chester. (1996) The Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia for Students (4 Volumes)
- Labberton, R. H. (1884). An historical atlas: A chronological series of one hundred and twelve maps at successive periods. New York.
- Litwin, H. (2016), Central European Superpower, BUM Magazine, October 2016.
- Loyn, H. R. (1989) The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopedia. (1989)
- Morris, I., & Scheidel, W. (2009). The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State power from Assyria to Byzantium. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Pella, John & Erik Ringmar, History of International Relations Open Textbook Project, Cambridge: Open Book, forthcoming.
- Petitjean, P., Jami, C., Moulin, A. M., & Equipe REHSEIS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France)). (1992). Science and Empires: Historical Studies about Scientific Development and European Expansion. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
- Shepherd, W. R., & C.S. Hammond & Company. (1911). Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
- Stearns, Peter N. ed. The Encyclopedia of World History (2001).