Empire is often seen as ‘multi-ethnic’ or ‘non-national’ by definition, yet countless pre-modern and modern imperial polities are characterised as the projects of particular ‘peoples’, and were also fundamental in ethno-national construction of subject populations. This round table, organised by the TORCH research network ‘The long history of identity, ethnicity and nationhood’, directly addressed these apparent paradoxes through comparative discussion of empire’s role in identity formation across time and place. Our discussion pursued two main goals. First, we wanted to get away from the simplistic understanding of imperial identity as ‘civic’ by definition and examine ethnic notions and discourse in the construction of imperial polities and identities. Second, we wanted to understand how imperial languages created ethnic and national identities both within and outsides imperial borders. This podcast includes Ilya Afanasyev’s thematic introduction to the round table, longer papers on Ancient Rome, late medieval and early modern Iran and early modern Russia by Emma Dench (Harvard University), Florian Schwarz (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna) and Michael Khodarkovsky (Loyola University Chicago), and shorter interventions on Late Antiquity, medieval Britain, Spanish colonialism, and post-colonial African nationalism by Bryan Ward-Perkins, Eliza Hartrich, Elisabeth Bolorinos Allard and Miles Larmer (all – University of Oxford).