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This chapter discusses the meaning of empire and examines the shifting forms of European imperialism and colonialism. Empire as a form of rule had established itself long before 1500. The ancient Greeks and Romans had left legacies that Byzantium and Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire were keen to build on and develop. Religious orders such as the Teutonic Knights and commercial configurations such as the Hanseatic League also colonised distant shores.This chapter aims to explore what changed after 1500. What was different about early modern European empires? However, while tracking their peculiarities, the chapter will also show the diversity of empire, its appeal and abhorrence. To do justice to local complexities, the chapter examines three exemplary clusters: the Russian Empire, the Iberian empires, and north-western Europe.