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Before reading this imperial perspective on human history a more general perspective is discussed in History in 10,000 words. For an animated year-by-year overview of the history of urban empires see

The West

The universal nature of the hunter-gatherer mode of existence makes geographic distinctions between hunter-gather groups of limited value. It is only with the advent of centres of domestication and civilization that analytical categories like ‘West’ and ‘East’ become meaningful.

After the last Ice Age and across limited latitudes and regions certain conditions arose in combination – the presence of fertile soils, domesticable plants and animals, and suitable bioclimatic conditions – the circumstances were now available for the uptake of agriculture.

Given these conditions, it would appear that certain general paths of social organization were probable outcomes across the world (agriculture, writing, improved technology, urbanization, state organization) while the form that these developments took in each civilization depended on their worldview and mode of adaptation to local conditions. It is these independent, though broadly similar, patterns of social organization and material culture that make the distinction between ‘West’ and ‘East’ meaningful, before the Mediterranean and Asian worlds were linked, over 2000 years ago, by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean that propelled the first ocean-going ships.

The ‘West’ included interconnected civilizations derived ultimately from the Mesopotamian core. By 4500 BCE this encompassed most of Europe, extending over the last 500 years to include the Neo-Europes created by European colonial expansion. The ‘East’ then becomes those civilizations descending from the core of plant domestication in China that began around 7500 BCE. To these may be added traditions emerging from Africa, South Asia, New Guinea, and the New World.

There is also an important distinction to be made between primary civilizations (those of independent origin) and secondary civilizations (derived from other civilizations which is discussed elsewhere.

The settled communities of Agraria could support larger families, increasing in both population number and the land surface that they occupied. New cities, sometimes with tens of thousands of citizens, were surrounded by a zone of urban civilization, beyond which was a trading hinterland, then wild nature.

This development of Agraria resulted in a new physical and psycho-linguistic distinctions: a general distinction between nature and culture and more specific distinction between wild and cultivated plants. We see the emergence of functional physical spaces (often bounded) now discernable as gardens, parks and fields and the urban spaces we still recognize today. Domestic, or urban, gardens were a development of Bronze Age trade, diplomacy, and military conquest in the third to second millennium BCE in the cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Aegean.

Divergence from the Mesopotamian core

In the years around 3500 to 3000 BCE rival civilizations under dynastic rulers flourished in the crop-supporting rich soils of fertile river valleys in Egypt (Nile River) and Mesopotamia (Tigris and Euphrates Rivers).

Sumeria was situated near the confluence of the Mesopotamian rivers and, lacking the stone available in Egypt its buildings were constructed of wood and mud brick with little remaining today.

In Egypt the dynastic rulers were treated as gods while in Mesopotamia the rulers of the city-states implemented the divine wishes of local gods.

Bronze Age

Near East c. 3300-1200 BCE
Europe c. 3200-600 BCE
E Asia c. 2000-300 BCE

Mesopotamia was the river-valley cradle of western civilization usually divided into the southern regions of Akkad and near-coastal Sumer and, later, the northern and all-conquering Assyria.

Sumer – c. 2900-2300 BCE



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Jue D.Cron-Accessed 26 October 2017
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Sumerian city states rose to power during the Ubaid and Linuk periods from 6500-2900 BCE, remaining independent and therefore never uniting to form an empire. Though the historical reccrd remains obscure until the 23rd century BCE Sumerian written history reaches back to abcut the 27th century BCE when a now deciphered sylabary writing system was developed Classical Sumar ended when conquered by Sargon and the semitic-speaking kings of the Akkadian Empire around 2270 BCE, but Sumerian contnued as a sacred language. This was a major cradle of civilization situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The ancient non-Semitic-speaking inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia (today’s S Iraq), the Sumerians were suceeded by the northern Semitic-speaking Akkadans. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BCE while the early cuneiform script arose c. 3000 BCE.

By the 4th millennium BCE in Mesopotamia there was writing (hieroglyphics and cuneiform), the wheel, metal-work, walled cities, large-scale irrigated agriculture, the mental and physical domination of the cultural environment over the natural environment – natural spaces replaced by cultural spaces, and cultural evolution superimposed on biological evolution. The grand days of Mesopotamia were swept aside when in 538 BCE Babylon fell to the Persian Cyrus the Great. The Mesopotamian empires were testing laboratories for developing the skills of imperial governance. They extended the former Assyrian royal roads, introduced conscription and regular pay, standardized weights and measures, traded through the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean, and commissioned a canal to connect the Nile and Red Sea.

The first true cities and city states were Sumerian, arising c 3500 BCE at about the same time as those in Syria and Lebanon. Walled cities had their own gods, laws, cities, dynastic rulers and armies. Benefits emanating from Sumer included the domestication and irrigation mainly of Emmer wheat and barley with sheep (mouflon), and cattle (aurochs). Other innovations included wheeled vehicies (mid 4th millnnium, but also N Caucasus & C Europe), cuneiform script (oldest but after Egyptian hieroglyphs) and 3D stele. Sumerians were among the first recorded astronomers mapping the stars into constellations and awareness of the five planets visible to the naked eye. They invented and developed sexagesimal arithmetic using base 10 and base 6 in a tradition that continued into Babylonia; they had libraries and schools. About 2600 BCE writing was used to express more than business contracts, inventories, and exchanges to be applied to all knowledge as the first schools were established. Bronze was used in the production of chariots, weapons, shields, and helmets. There was trade with Egypt and the Indus Valley by the 3rd millennium BCE.

Akkadian Empire – 2334-2154



Akkadian empire & military action
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Semhur – Accessed 7 October 2017
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The first semitic-speaking empire of Mesopotamia which united Akkadian and Sumerian speakers under one rule, Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere between the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BCE. The empire carried influence across Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia, sending military expeditions as far south as Dilmun and Magan (modem Bahrain and Oman) in the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadian Empire reached its peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BCE after campaigns by its founder Sargon of Akkad who imposed the Akkadian language an conquered states such as Elam and Gutium. Following the fall of the Akkadian Empire Mesopotamia merged into two major Akkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south.
The first semitic-speaking empire of the city and region called Akkad which united Akkadian and Sumerian speakers into an Empire trading across the Levant and Anatolia. The empire reachec its height around the 24th and 22nd centuries with the conquests of Sargon of Akkad into Elam and Gutium as he briefly united cities into the empire of Agade before they fragmented again.
After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the people of Mesopotamia eventually coalasced nto two major Akkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south.

Built roads with a postal service, clay seals used as stamps, astronomical observations wore stored in Sargon’s library. Year names became part of a calendrical system. Military innovations included divisions of infantry, cavalry, and archers, the first codified legal and administrative systems with courts, jails, taxation and government records

Babylonian Empire – c. 2004-1595 BCE



Ancient Mesopotamia & Egypt c. 1450 BCE
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Babylonia was an ancient Akadian state of central to southern Mesopotamia which in about 1894 BCE contained the small administrative town of Babylon (near today’s Baghdad) but during the reign of Hammurabi in the first half of the 18th century it became a major capital city embattled with the older Akkadian-speaking Assyria to the north and Elam to the east. Hammurabi (fl. c.1792-1752 BCE created a short-lived empire which disintegrated upon his death. King Hammurabi who portrayed himself as a shepherd of men developed the first systematic code of laws.

The Babylonian state retained the written Akkadian language for official use and the Sumerian language for religious use (as did Assyria). The earlier Akkadian and Sumerian traditions played a major role in Babylonian and Assyrian culture, and the region would remain an important cultural center. The city of Babylon was mentioned on tablets of the reign of Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BCE) dating back to the 23rd century BC. Babylon was merely a religious and cultural centre at this point. After the collapse of the Akkadian empire, the south Mesopotamian region was dominated by the Gutian people for a few decades before the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur, which, apart from northern Assyria, encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, including the town of Babylon. Babylonia and its capital was regarded by the Abrahamic religions as a place of decadence.

Babylon was a flourishing cultural and intellectual centre adjacent to the Euphrates River. Here developed the art of glass making in about 1500 BCE and advancing the arts and sciences especially astronomy astrology, early physics, mathematics, law (Hammurabi Code set out citizen rights and responsibilities including the right of women to own property), literature, architecture, and sculpture. King Hammurabi surrounded Babylon with walls in 1792 BCE and built a temple complex dediceted to the god Marduk (the Esagila) which included a zigguret, a stepped tower. Babylon reached its height during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II who lived 634-562 BCE and reigned from 605-562 BCE, who further ringed the city three times with walls nearly 15 m tall and so thick that it was said they could support chariot races. The 10-mile-long walls of Babylon, including the magnitficent Ishtar Gate, were considered by some as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


The period 1600 to 1200 was one of alternate diplomacy (which included peace treaties and dynastic intermarriage) and warfare between segregates of the Mesopotamian core segregates of the Mesopotamian core – Assyria, Babylonia, Hittites, Cyprus, Egypt, and the Mitanni. Akkadian was the most widely used language.


Hittite Empire – 1600-1178 BCE


Hittite Empire

Hittite Empire c. 1300 BCE
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Semhur – Accessed 7 October 2017
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Hittites (those of the kingdom of Hatti) were an ancient Anatolian people to the north of Mesopotamia where there were only minor rivers They built an empire around its capital cily of Hattusa (today’s Bogazkoy) which was a walled city with five temples (much larger than ancient Athens). The empire reached its height in the md-14th century BCE under Suppiluliuma I when it encompassed most of Anatolia, the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. The Hittite empire was shorter-lived than its neighbours, as it only existed from about 1800 1200 BCE. From the 15th to the 13th centuries there were clashes with Egypt, the Middle Assyrian Empire, and the Mitanni over control of the Near East.

In about 1600 Babylon is destroyed and in the 14th century the empire is extended into northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, and along the Mediterranean coast to confront the Egyptians. A bloody but inconclusive battle (over the possession of today’s region of Syria end Lebanon) at Kadesh (a fortress city on the Orontes river of today’s Syria) in 1275 BCE resulted in the later truce as the Treaty of Kadesh and the marriage of the daughter of the Hittite king Hattusilis III (Hattusilis, man of Hattiusa) to the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II. This was the world’s first fully recorded battle, both sides using chariots and both sides with heavy losses.

In later battles the Assyrians prevailed and what remained of the Hittite empire was, taken over by Phrygians. The Hittites spoke an Indo-European language distinct from the Afro-Asiatic and Semitic groups around them and probably the oldest language of the Indo-European group. Their records were assembled in a state archive. Though they called themselves Hatti they should be distinguished from the Hattians, an earlier people of the same region who spoke an unrelated language called Hattic. In 1915 the Hittite language was deciphered. Although located in the Bronze Age they produced iron artifacts from as early as the 18th century BCE. The written legal system consisted of 200 articles, 40 of which dealt with agriculture. In the early 12th century Hattusa was burned to the ground.

Hittites were the first people to work iron c. 1500 BCE. In simple formit is softer than bronze but it has the property of change by heating and hammering. It was known by Hittites as coming from the Gods (meteorites). Hittites were also master masons and hydraulic engineers, building clay water pipes, end sewers. The many Hittite peace treaties that have survived testify that the Hittites were a people who could make peace as well as war and that they desired to be humane, rulers emphasising trade and cooperation rather than military conquest. Industries included weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry and pottery.

Kingdom of Mitanni – c. 1475-1275 BCE

Mitanni were a Hurrian-speaking state around today’s N Syria and SE Anatolia becoming powerful after the Hittite destruction of Amorite, Babylon and Assyrian fell into decline. The main rival was Egypt under the Thutmosids. However, with the ascendancy of the Hittites an agreement to protect common interests was forged with Egypt.

At its height in the 14th century BCE, the Mitanni capital was Washukanni on the headwaters of the Khabur River so the Mitanni dynasty ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region between c. 1475 and c. 1275 BCE eventually crumbling under Hittite and later Assyrian attack to become a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire.

Mitanni kings were Indo-Iranians who used the language of the local people, a non Indo-Iranian language called Hurrian. Mitanni becamefully Assyrianized and linguistically Aramaized, and use of the Hurrian language was discouraged throughout theNeo-Assyrian Empire.

Distinctive Mitanni pottery is found in both Syria and the Levant.


By the 7th century BCE cuneiform and Aramaic languages coexisted with Aramaic subsequently becoming the lingua franca of the Near East.



Kingdom of the Mitanni c. 1400 BCE
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Javierfv121 – Accessed 19 October 2017
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Assyria & Palestine – c. 1000-609 BCE

Assyria was a major kingdom and, arguably, created the first empire in the 25th century BCE centred on the Assur city-state, lasting from the Early Bronze Age to late Iron Age in about 612-609 BCE. The first cities possibly arose in near-coastal Sumeria. With a culture dependent on the Tigris river the Assyrians ruled in a series of powerful empires that incorporated much of the Mesopotamian ‘cradle of civilization’ which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Babylonia together with parts of Egypt and Asia Minor. Assyria led the technological, scientific and cultural achievements of its day and at its height extended from Cyprus and E. Mediterranean to Iran, and from today’s Armenia to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and eastern Libya, the large empire eventually becoming too large to control.

The capital Aššur dates to c. 2600 BCE and from c. 2400 Assyrians were subject to Sargon of Akkad who united AkkadiaandSumeria under the Akkadian Empire (c. 2334 -2154 BCE), but after its demise becoming a province of other empires, although between the mid-2nd century BC and late 3rd century CE a patchwork of small independent Assyrian kingdoms arose in the form of Ashur, Adiabene, Osroene, Beth Nuhadra, Beth Garmai and Hatra.
Over its long history the territory of Assyria was subsequently taken over by many empires: the Median Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, the Parthian Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Sasanian Empire until the Arab Islamic Conquest c.750 CE dissolved Assyria, the remnants of the Assyrian people (now Christians) gradually became an ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minority in the Assyrian homeland.
Babylonian and Assyrian archaeology began with excavations in Nineveh in 1845 which revealed the Library of Ashurbanipal, deciphering the cuneiform script taking over a decade.

Noted for its military expertise, especially siege warfare using the battering ram.

Neo-Assyrian Empire – 911-612 BCE



Neo-Assyrian Empire 911-612 BCE
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Ningyou – Accessed 19 October 2017
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The Neo-Assyrian Empire was an Iron Age empire that lasted from 911 and 612 BCE.

Over its long history the territory of Assyria was subsequently taken over by many empires: the Median Empire, the Achaemend Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Seleucid Empire, the Parthian Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Sasanian Empire until the Arab Islamic Conquest c.750 CE dissolved Assyria, the remnants of the Assyrian people (now Christians) gradually became an ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minority in the Assyrian homeland.

Babylonian and Assyrian archaeology began with excavations in Nineveh in 1845 which revealed the Library of Ashurbanipal, deciphering the cuneiform script taking over a decade.

The greatest legacy of the Assyrians is in the area of brutal military might -the first civilization to utilize a large professional standing army that skilfully employed military strategy, horses and siege weaponry like battering rams. At Nineveh ther were grand palaces that displayed the first bas-relief sculptures. Water was fed along fine aqueducts. Their accomplished techniques of imperial rule were emulated by subsequent empires.

Neo-Babylonian Empire – 626-539 BCE


Neo-Babylonian Empire

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Accessed 19 October 2017
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The Neo-Babylonian Empire reached its height under Nebuchadnezzar II at the time of the construction of the Hanging Gardens of ‘old’ Babylon.

In 539 BCE the region was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus of the Persians, later incorporated by Macedonian Alexander in 332 BCE into the Seleucid Hellenistic Empire but, after his death, falling to the Parthians in about 150 BCE and a region contested by the Roman Empire. Division of Mesopotamia between Roman (Byzantine from 395 CE) and Sassanid empires lasted until the 7th century Muslim conquest of Persia and the Sassanid empire and Muslim conquest of the Levant from the Byzantines.

With the Neo-Babylonians came the use of slavery, writing (and therefore history), military expertise and technology, a legal system, epic literature, the wheel, mathematics and astronomy. Economically there was the use of taxes (state stability), imperial trade, metal and copper-working, glass, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, irrigation. One of the first Bronze Age societies using copper, bronze, gold and iron. Weapons included swords, daggers, spears, and maces. Possibly the Archimedes’ screw used by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, for irrigation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon at Nineveh in the 7th century BCE.

Egyptian Empire – 3150-30 BCE




Following the defeat of ancient Egyptian kingdoms by Macedonian Greeks Ptolemaic Egypt lasted from 332-30 BCE followed by Roman Byzantine Egypt from 30 BCE-641 CE.

Ancient Egypt was a civilization extending along the Nile River that emerged from prehistoric origins in about 3150 BCE as the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. Egyptian history is divided into three stable kingdoms separated by unstable intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom (Early Bronze Age 3100-2023 BCE), Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age 2023-1550 BCE) and the New Kingdom (Late Bronze Age 1550-1069), its long history culminating in the New Kingdom when it rivalled with and fought the opposing Hittite, Assyrian and Mitanni Empires. Trade with Nubia included gold and amethyst, and with Afghanistan lapis-lazuli, with Lebanon cedar wood. The Nile delta region was compared to the lotus blossom and here a rebellious immigrant people, the Hyksos introduced the harnessed horse, lyre, and other musical instruments. From 525 BCE Achaemenid Persians gradually took control of Egypt followed in 332 BCE by Macedonian Alexander. After the death of Alexander the Great the Ptolemaic kingdom was established unti 30 BCE when Cleopatra was defeated by the
Romans and Egypt became a Roman province. These invaders all adopted Egyptian ways.

The Egyptian civilization lasted for 31 dynasties, about 2500 years. There was an early hieroglyphic writing system, army, monuments, and wide trade with the Levant, Sinai, the East, and Nubia, overseen by a bureaucracy of elite scribes, priests, and administrators ruled by a pharoah. Egyptians excelled at stonemasonry – pyramids (like the 4th dynasty (2613-2498) Great Pyramids
at Giza, temples, medicine, glassware, art and architecture, surveying and mathematics, literature, the peace Treaty of Kanesh with the Hittites. Ship building (pharoah Khufu’s (2589.-2566 BCE) excavated royal sailing barque was 43 m long). To the Egyptians can be attributed the modern solar calendar of 365 days and timekeeping using the obelisk as a sundial and the water clock, a written language (with notable literature of the Middle Kingdom), and mathematics, especially geometry (Rind Papyrus). Of lesser note is the concern with personal appearance and hygiene – the use of toothpaste, eyeliner, shaving, condoms, and mints to freshen the breath. There were also doors locked using keys.

Indus Valley Civilization, Early Phase – 3300-2600 BCE

The early civilization of the Indus River developed out of Harappan settlements dating back to 7000 BCE. Three major centres arose – in Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and Dholavira with evidence of work in stone, metal, pottery, shell, and beads. There was trade with Mesopotamia via the Persian Gulf while tin and lapis-lazuli was obtained from Afghanistan and C Asia. The cereals were wheat and
bariey with some rice while the domesticated animals included humped cattle, sheep, goats, Indian boar, and elephants. An ancient writing script remains undeciphered.

During the Late Harappan period (c.1900-1300 BCE) the Harappan culture of the Indus disintegrated spread east across the Indo-Gangetic plain[1] to the highly fertile Ganges delta (the largest delta in the worid), settling on the west bank of the Ganges to create a hew centre of Indian civilisation. During the early Vedic Age (c. 1500- c. 600 BCE) the Indus and the Sarasvati Rivers were the major sacred rivers but gradually the Ganges increased in religious significance, the Gangetic Plain becaming the centre of powerful
empires from the Maurya to the Mughals.”

Phoenician Empire – 1500-539 BCE

Phoenician Empire

Phoenician trade routes and major coatal trading hubs
Courtesy Wikimedia commons Accessed 8 October 2017


Phoenicians were an ancient Semitic civilization of seafaring merchants that originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and western Fertile Crescent. The empire consisted of a network of coastal trading hubs in today’s Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Syria, and SW Turkey later extended into the central and western Mediterranean (most notably the trading city of Carthage on the north African coast
opposite Sicily) to the Atlantic. It was famed for its Tyrian purple cloth dyed using the crushed seashells of the mollusc Murex. The empire consisted of politically independent city-states, notably Tyre, Sidon, Arwad, Berytus, Byblos and Carthage loosely organised into a single polity. The culture and religion was similar to that of other countries in the Levant.

Phoenicians are known for their advancement of seafaring, exploration, and coastal trade throughout the Mediterranean. They were also craftsmen adept at metalwork and weaving but best known for the development, in about 1050 BC, of a consonantal phonetic Phoenician alphabet that was widely adopted across the Mediterranean world and forming the basis of today’s English alphabet.

Minoans & the Mycenaean Empire – 1400-1100 BCE

Mycenaean World

Mycenaean Empire – 1400-1100 BCE

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Alexikoua – Accessed 7 October 2017
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Migrations & invasions at the end of the Bronze Age (c. 1200 BCE)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Alexikoua – Accessed 29 September 2020

Bronze Age collapse

The Late Bronze Age collapse was a mysterious and violent obliteration of civilizations in the Near East, Anatolia, the Aegean region, North Africa, the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean extending into the Early Iron Age. The palace economy of the Aegean region and Anatolia that characterized the Late Bronze Age disintegrated, transforming into the small isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages. Historians are still undecided about this period but it is generally associated with invasions by sea peoples. One possibility (see Media Gallery – Fall of Civilizations) is that this was a period of devastating climate change brought on by the eruption of Mount Hekla. This resulted in crop failures and large and desperate refugee populations equipped with Iron Age chariots, tools, and weapons.

Around 2300 BCE mainland towns of Greece and the Cyclades islands (but not Crete) were mysteriously destroyed and replaced by villages in a Middle Bronze Age recession or Dark Age. Aegean culture was now centred on the Minoan culture on Crete where, in about 2000 BCE palaces were built at Knossos and there was a centralized redistributive command economy and high living standards with its height in the 18th and 17th centuries BCE, the art derived from that of Egypt, Syria and Israel, influences also evident in the buildings and artefacts found on Cycladic island Akrotiri (modern-day Santorini) preserved by volcanic ash from an eruption in 1628 BCE. Products used for exchange included pottery and stored in the palace pithoi (urns) were barley, perfume, pomegranates, wine, and olive oil. Minoans used hieroglyphics called Linear A (undeciphered) but Myceneans introduced Linear B (a form of the Greek alphabet deciphered in 1950) when they overran Crete.

Minoans elevated women in their society as depicted in their paintings. They were peaceable without evidence of military expeditions, no weapons in burial sites, no warrior tombs or paintings of war. They were mostly traders and merchants in Greece, Ionia, the Levant and Egypt. The bull featured in religious and ceremonial life.

Minoan culture declined with the rise of the mainland warlike Mycenaean civilization which was probably the inspiration for Homer’s Aecheans in the lliad and the Odyssey. The Mycenaean civilization disintegrated around 1100 BCE during the Bronze Age Collapse. A period when most of the Mediterranean civilizations came to an end producing an ancient Dark Age.

The warrior culture of the Mycenaean civilization in southern Greece built their dwellings as hilltop citadel fortifications as a culture that flourished from about 1500 BCE. They used the accounting script Linear B but again ending abruptly c. 1200-1150 BCE. Linear B tablets recovered from Mycenean palaces mention roses used for the production of perfume. Following the end of Minoan and Mycenean civilizations there followed a Dark Age (c. 1150-800 BCE) when writing ceased leaving only an oral tradition of story-telling. some of which was eventually recalled in the epic stories written by the bard Homer in about 800 BCE at about the time when it is thought that the Phoenicean alphabet first arrived in Greece.

The Minoans were self-sufficient in agriculture and timber but acted as a maritime trading centre for Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and the Aegean. They produced the first known paved roads and some enjoyed a country villa lifestyle.

The Achaemenid Empire – 550-330 BCE




The Achaemenid Empire was a West Asian divergence from the Mesopotamian core, also known as the First Persian Empire, established the cultural tradition of modern-day Iran. Founded by Cyrus the Great it spread from the Balkans in the west to the Indus Valley in the east to become one of the largest empires in history and the largest to that date: frequently portrayed in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.

By the 7th century BCE Persians had settled in the SW Iranian Plateau, Cyrus the Great advancing to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire to establish the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great, who admired and emulated Cyrus the Great and Persian culture, conquered most of the empire by 330 BCE marrying into the Persian dynastic line, Greeks adopting Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange. On Alexander’s death most of the region fell under Ptolemaic rule and the Seleucid Empire. However Iranian elites of the central plateau regained power from 200-100 BCE as the Parthian Empire.

Noted for: effective centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings); spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China; infrastructure of roads and postal system; official language across its territories; civil services; and a professional army.

Parthian Empire – 247 BCE – 224 CE



Parthian Empire at its greatest extent
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Keeby101 – Accessed 2 January 2018


The Parthian (Arsacid) Empire was an ancient pecursor of Iran and Iraq founded by Arsaces I in the mid-3rd century BCE when he conquered the region of Parthia, a satrapy (province) rebelling against the rule of the Seleucid Empire. Mithridates I (r. c. 171–138 BC) expanded the empire by recovering Media and Mesopotamia from the Seleucids.

A mixed culture including the art and religions of Persian, Hellenistic, and regional cultures, the early court influenced by Greek culture and appoint a few small satraps. Later central government shifted from Nisa to Ctesiphon along the Tigris (south of modern Baghdad, Iraq).

Parthians fought Seleucids to the west and Scythians to the east and later Armenia in the West and eventually the late Roman Republic. The Parthians soundly defeated Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE, and in 40–39 BCE Parthian forces captured the whole of the Levant (except Tyre) from the Romans. Rome and Parthia competed with each other to establish subservient kings of Armenia, Mark Antonyheading a counterattack with some success under the leadership of Ventidius. The cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon were under Roman occupation many times but were never secured. Civil war was a constant threat and Parthian power ceased when Ardashir I revolted against the Arsacids and killed Artabanus V in 224 BCE, Ardashir establising the Sassanid Empire which ruled Iran and much of the Near East until the Muslim conquests of the 7th century CE, although Arsacid dynastic influence continued in Armenia, Iberia, and Caucasian Albania.

Native Parthian records (written in Parthian, Greek and other languages) are scarce and Parthian history largely derived from external sources including Greek, Roman and Chinese histories.

Important trader on the Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin and the Han Empire of China.

Ancient Greece (c. 1200-600 BCE) & the Macedonian Empire (500-323 BCE)

The ancient Greek civilization lasted from the Greek Dark Ages (c.1200-900 BCE) to the end of antiquity (c. 600 AD). About 300 years after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BCE that signalled Archaic Greece and the colonization of the Mediterranean, followed by Classical Greece which began with the Greco-Persian Wars (c. 400-300 BCE). Following Alexander’s campaigns Hellenistic civilization was introduced to Central Asia and the western Mediterranean the Hellenistic period ending with the conquest of the eastern Mediterranean by the Roman Republic.

The kingdom of Macedon during 25 years (359 and 336 BCE) of military campaigns assumed the Hellenic world under the influence of Philip II (r. 359–336 BCE) and his marriage alliances fighting first the Thracians and Illyrians then Athens and other city-states in the Aegean but agreed to a Peace Treaty of 346 BCE becoming allies before again falling out, the Greeks being defeated in 338 BCE eventually forming the League of Corinth as an alliance between the parties to plan an invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. When Philip was assassinated this duty fell to his son Alexander the Great.

Macedonian phalanx, siege engines,

The vibrant artistic, literary, scientific, and philosophical civilization of Ancient Greece had a profound influence on the language, politics, and education systems of ancient Rome which were passed on to Europe and thence the ‘Neo-Europes’ (later European colonies). For this reason Classical Greece became the seminal culture of the west, ancient Athens being regarded as the cradle of Western civilization.

Classical Greek culture passed directly to the Roman Byzantine Empire influencing Slavic culture, the Islamic Golden Age, and the European Renaissance, followed by the revival of Classical Greek learning known as Neoclassicism in 18th- and 19th-century Europe later passing to much of the European-influenced modern world.

Among the many achievements of ancient Greece can be cited the mathematics of Euclid, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Eratosthenes calculation of the circumference of the Earth, Aristarchus the heliocentric system and Hipparchus other major advances in astronomy, Hippocrates in Medicine, the origin of logic and biology of Aristotle, the origin of plant science in Theophrastus, the resistance to tyrants and hereditary rulers inherent in Athenian democracy. The epic stories of Homer were followed by the works of many others including Sappho, Aristophanes, Hesiod, and Sophocles. Herodotus is regarded as the father of history.

Etruscans – c. 900-400 BCE

Etruscan people of central Italy had, from the 9th century BCE built city states populated by tens of thousands of people linked by roads and trading with the Greeks, Phoenicians (especially the Carthaginians) using a version of the Greek alphabet written left to right (but not yet fully deciphered) until the rise of Rome in the 4thcentury BCE. At about the same time (c. 750-330 BCE), on the island of Sicily there was an uneasy relationship between colonists in the east from Greece, and Phoenicians in the west.

Roman Empire – 27 BCE-395 CE

The history of Rome and its empire can be divided into four periods, the formative reign of seven kings (753-509 BCE) followed by two periods marking the height of Roman civilization, the Roman Republic (509-27 BCE) and the Roman Empire (27 BCE-395 CE) followed by a phase of decline in Late Antiquity when the legacy of Rome persisted in the Western Empire until 480 and in the Eastern Byzantine Empire until 1453 (the sack of Constantinople by the Turks). Around the year 500 the population of the empire totalled 50-90 million about 20% of the world’s population at the time Rome was at its height in the Augustan Age when Rome was the largest city in the world with a population of about 1 million.

Romans respected the Greek intellect, readily absorbing Greek mythology, philosophy, and arts into the Rorman way of life. Roman leaders were frequently tutored by Greek mentors (often slaves). Physical remains of Roman architecture are scattered across Europe as castles, villas, city walls and walls like Hadrian’s Wall. The Latin language that was passed on through the Rome-endorsed Christianity of the Catholic Church developed into the Romance lenguages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian). Roman numerals facilitated dealing in large numbers. English today is a fusion of Anglo-Saxon (a West Germanic language) and Latin, about 60% of the English vocabulary is derived from Latin (see writing) e.g. words with ‘chester’ caster’ or cester’ derive from the Latin word ‘castra meaning a camp. The Gregorian calendar was a modification of the Roman Julian calendar. There was a legacy of literature from Cato, Cicero, Citrullus, Juvenal, Livy, Lucretius, Ovid, Propertius, Seneca, Tacitus, and Virgil. The Codex as a bound book was compiled well before the invention of printing along with a daily news report or ‘newspaper, the Acta Diurna made available in Rome’s Forum during the years 59 BCE-220 CE.

There were some contributionswere made to the intellectual foundation left by the Greeks: though uninterested in botany, modern agriculture learned much from Columella, Palladius, and Varro. Astronomy and geography of Ptolemy. However it was in engineering that Romans really left their mark: roads (paved and signposted) networking across Europe and Britain, sewers and sanitation, baths, aqueducts that carried weter from more than 60 miles, central heating as a hypocaust, concrete (which incorporated larve tuff that resisted decay and would set underwater) was of a quality unsurpassed today, concrete domes, monumental architecture. Technologies: armour, siege machines, medical instruments. Law and Republican politics. Romans extended Greek sculpture. Though capable of ruthless cruelty, Rome provided stability for its imperial colonies (Pax Romana), allowed former slaves to rise to the highest offices, and for many years demonstrated concern for the welfare of Roman citizens by providing a free or subsidized bread ration (lex frumentaria), education, together with care for orphans and the unfortunate.

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For an outline of the history of the Earth and humanity on a universal scale see Big History and for a brief human history see ‘A history of the world in 10,000 words

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First published on the internet – 1 March 2019
. . . revised 29 September 2020

The Roman Empire, indicating its greatest extent at the time of Trajan’s death in 117 CE. Vassal states in pink.

About 60 million inhabitants occupied over 2 million square miles of imperial territory
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Tataryn – Accessed 13 September 2020

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