History of the. People have probably lived on the earth about 2 million years.
But the story of world history begins only about 5,500 years ago with the invention of
writing. The period before people began to write is usually called prehistory.
Archaeologists have pieced together the story of prehistory by studying what the people
left behind, including artwork, tools, ruins of buildings, fossils, and even their own
skeletons. Such objects provide the main evidence of what prehistoric people were like and
how they lived. For a description of life in prehistoric times.
The first traces of writing date from about 3500 B.C. From then on, people could record
their own history. By writing down their experiences, they could tell future generations
what they were like and how they lived. From these documents, we can learn firsthand about
the rise and fall of civilizations and the course of other important events. The history
of the world--from the first civilizations to the present--is based largely on what has
been written down by peoples through the ages.
The development of agriculture about 9,000 B.C. brought about a great revolution in human
life. Prehistoric people who learned to farm no longer had to roam in search of food.
Instead, they could settle in one place. Some of their settlements grew to become the
world's first cities. People in the cities learned new skills and developed specialized
occupations. Some became builders and craftworkers. Others became merchants and priests.
Eventually, systems of writing were invented. These developments gave rise to the first
For hundreds of years, the earliest civilizations had little
contact with one another and so developed independently. The progress each civilization
made depended on the natural resources available to it and on the inventiveness of its
people. As time passed, civilizations advanced and spread, and the world's population rose
steadily. The peoples of various civilizations began to exchange ideas and skills. Within
each civilization, groups of people with distinctive customs and languages emerged. In
time, some peoples, such as the Romans, gained power over others and built huge empires.
Some of these empires flourished for centuries before collapsing. Great religions and
later science and scholarship developed as people wondered about the meaning of human life
and the mysteries of nature.
About 500 years ago, one civilization--that of western Europe--started to exert a powerful
influence throughout the world. The Europeans began to make great advances in learning and
the arts, and they came to surpass the rest of the world in scientific and technological
achievements. The nations of Europe sent explorers and military forces to distant lands.
They set up overseas colonies, first in the Americas and then on other continents, and
conquered other regions. As a result, Western customs, skills, political ideas, and
religious beliefs spread across much of the world.
Today, the many peoples of the world continue to be separated by different cultural
traditions. But they also have more in common than ever before. Worldwide systems of
communications and transportation have broken down barriers of time and distance and
rapidly increased the exchange of ideas and information between peoples. However far apart
people may live from one another, they are affected more and more by the same political
and economic changes. In some way, almost everyone can now be affected by a war or a
political crisis in a faraway land or by a rise in petroleum prices in distant
oil-producing countries. The separate cultures of the world seem to be blending into a
common world culture. Much of world history is the story of the way different
civilizations have come closer together.
Early centers of civilization
For hundreds of thousands of years, prehistoric people lived by hunting, fishing, and
gathering wild plants. Even small groups of people had to roam over large areas of land to
find enough food. A group usually stayed in one place only a few days. The discovery of
agriculture gradually ended the nomadic way of life for many people. After prehistoric men
and women learned to raise crops and domesticate animals, they no longer had to wander
about in search of food. They could thus begin to settle in villages.
Agriculture was developed at different times in different
regions of the world. People in the Middle East began to grow cereal grasses and other
plants about 9000 B.C. They also domesticated goats and sheep at about that time, and they
later tamed cattle. In southeastern Asia, people had begun raising crops by about 7000
B.C. People who lived in what is now Mexico probably learned to grow crops about 7000 B.C.
The invention of farming paved the way for the development of civilization. As prehistoric
people became better farmers, they began to produce enough food to support larger
villages. In time, some farming villages developed into the first cities. The plentiful
food supplies enabled more and more people to give up farming for other jobs. These people
began to develop the arts, crafts, trades, and other activities of civilized life.
Agriculture also stimulated technological and social changes. Farmers invented the hoe,
sickle, and other tools to make their work easier. The hair of domestic animals and fibers
from such plants as cotton and flax were used to make the first textiles. People built
ovens to bake the bread they made from cultivated grain and learned to use hotter ovens to
harden pottery. The practice of agriculture required many people to work together to
prepare the fields for planting and to harvest the crops. New systems of government were
developed to direct such group activities.
The changes brought about by agriculture took thousands of years to spread widely across
the earth. By about 3500 B.C., civilization began. It started first in Southwest Asia.
Three other early civilizations developed in Africa and in south and east Asia. All these
early civilizations arose in river valleys, where fertile soil and a readily available
water supply made agriculture easier than elsewhere. The valleys were (1) the
Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the Middle East, (2) the Nile Valley in Egypt, (3) the Indus
Valley in what is now Pakistan, and (4) the Huang He Valley in northern China.
While civilization was developing in the four valleys, people in most other parts of the
world were still following their old ways of life. Little cultural progress was being made
in such regions as northern and central Europe, central and southern Africa, northern and
southeastern Asia, and most of North America. In parts of Central and South America, the
people were developing some new ways of life. But advanced civilizations did not appear
there until hundreds of years later.
The Tigris-Euphrates Valley. One of the most fertile regions of the ancient world lay
between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Silt deposited
by the rivers formed a rich topsoil ideal for growing crops. By the 5000's B.C., many
people had settled in villages in the lower part of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, an area
later called Sumer.
The Sumerians lived by farming, fishing, and hunting the wild fowl of the river marshes.
They built dikes to control the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and irrigation
canals to carry water to their fields. By about 3500 B.C., some Sumerian farm villages had
grown into small cities, which marked the beginning of the world's first civilization. A
number of these cities developed into powerful city-states by about 3200 B.C.
The Sumerians produced one of the greatest achievements in world history. By about 3500
B.C., they had invented the first form of writing. It consisted of picturelike symbols
scratched into clay. The symbols were later simplified to produce cuneiform, a system of
writing that used wedge-shaped characters (see CUNEIFORM). Archaeologists have found
thousands of clay tablets with Sumerian writings. These tablets show the high level of
development of the Sumerian culture. They include historical and legal documents; letters;
economic records; literary and religious texts; and studies in mathematics, astronomy, and
The Sumerians used baked bricks to build great palaces and towering temples called
ziggurats in their cities. They believed that their gods lived on the tops of the
ziggurats. Sumerian craftworkers produced board games, beautifully designed jewelry,
metalware, musical instruments, decorative pottery, and stone seals engraved with pictures
and inscriptions. The Sumerians invented the potter's wheel and were among the first
people to brew beer and make glass. Their system of counting in units of 60 is the basis
of the 360-degree circle and the 60-minute hour. For more information on the Sumerian
civilization, see SUMER.
The Sumerian city-states had no central government or unified army and continually
struggled among themselves for power. As time passed, they were increasingly threatened by
neighboring Semitic peoples, who were attracted by the growing wealth of the
Tigris-Euphrates Valley. During the 2300's B.C., a Semitic king, Sargon of Akkad,
conquered Sumer. Sargon united all Mesopotamia under his rule, creating the world's first
empire. The Akkadians combined Sumerian civilization with their own culture. Their rule
lasted more than 60 years. Then invaders from the northeast overran the empire. These
invaders soon left Mesopotamia, and Sumer was once again divided into separate
city-states. One city-state, Ur, briefly controlled all the others.
By about 2000 B.C., the Sumerians had completely lost all political power to invading
Semites. Mesopotamia then broke up into a number of small kingdoms under various Semitic
rulers. The city of Babylon became the center of one kingdom. The Babylonian rulers
gradually extended their authority over all Mesopotamian peoples. The greatest Babylonian
king was Hammurabi, who ruled from about 1792 to 1750 B.C. Hammurabi developed one of the
first law codes in history. The famous Code of Hammurabi contained nearly 300 legal
provisions, including many Sumerian and Akkadian laws. It covered such matters as divorce,
false accusation, land and business regulations, and military service. See BABYLONIA;
The Nile Valley. The civilization of ancient Egypt began to develop in the valley of the
Nile River about 3100 B.C. Agriculture flourished in the valley, where the floodwaters of
the Nile deposited rich soil year after year. Beyond the Nile Valley lay an uninhabited
region of desert and rock. Egyptian culture thus developed with little threat of invasions
by neighboring peoples.
During the 3000's B.C., Egypt consisted of two large kingdoms. Lower Egypt covered the
Nile Delta. Upper Egypt lay south of the delta on the two banks of the river. About 3100
B.C., according to legend, King Menes of Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt and united the
two kingdoms. Menes also founded the first Egyptian dynasty (series of rulers in the same
family). The rulers of ancient Egypt were believed to be divine.
The ancient Egyptians borrowed little from other cultures. They invented their own form of
writing--an elaborate system of symbols known as hieroglyphics (see HIEROGLYPHICS). They
also invented papyrus, a paperlike material made from the stems of reeds. The Egyptians
developed one of the first religions to emphasize life after death. They tried to make
sure their dead enjoyed a good life in the next world. The Egyptians built great tombs and
mummified (embalmed and dried) corpses to preserve them. They filled the tombs with
clothing, food, furnishings, and jewelry for use in the next world. The most famous
Egyptian tombs are gigantic pyramids in which the kings were buried. The pyramids display
the outstanding engineering and surveying skills of the Egyptians. The government
organized thousands of workers to construct the pyramids, as well as temples and palaces,
in the Egyptian cities. The cities served chiefly as religious and governmental centers
for the surrounding countryside. Most of the people lived in villages near the cities.
Over the years, huge armies of conquering Egyptians expanded the kingdom's boundaries far
beyond the Nile Valley. At its height in the 1400's B.C., Egypt ruled Syria, Lebanon,
Palestine, and part of the Sudan. As a powerful state at the junction of Asia and Africa,
Egypt played an important role in the growth of long-distance trade. Egyptian caravans
carried goods throughout the vast desert regions surrounding the kingdom. Egyptian ships
sailed to all the major ports of the ancient world. From other lands, the Egyptians
acquired gems, gold, ivory, leopard skins, fine woods, and other rich materials, which
they used to create some of the most magnificent art of ancient times.
Although the ancient Egyptians had contacts with other cultures, their way of life changed
little over thousands of years. Their civilization gradually declined, and the Egyptians
found it harder and harder to resist invaders who had greater vigor and better weapons.
Egyptian records from the 1200's and 1100's B.C. describe constant attacks by "sea
peoples." These peoples may have come from islands in the Aegean Sea or from lands
along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. After 1000 B.C., power struggles between
rival Egyptian dynasties further weakened the kingdom.
The Indus Valley. Historians have only partly translated the writings left behind by the
ancient civilization that arose in the valley of the Indus River and its tributaries. As a
result, they have had to rely almost entirely on archaeological findings for information
about the Indus culture. The ruins of two large cities--Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled Moen jo
Daro) and Harappa--tell much about the Indus Valley civilization. In addition, the remains
of hundreds of small settlements have been discovered in the valley. Some of these
settlements were farming villages, and others were seaports and trading posts.
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa probably had more than 35,000 inhabitants each by about 2500 B.C.
The people of the Indus Valley had a well-developed system of agriculture that provided
food for the large population. They dug ditches and canals to irrigate their farms. The
Indus cities had brick buildings and well-planned streets laid out in rectangular
patterns. Elaborate brick-lined drainage systems provided sanitation for the towns.
Craftworkers made decorated furniture, fine jewelry, metal utensils, toys, and stone seals
engraved with animal and human forms. Inscriptions on these seals, as well as on some
pottery and a few other objects, provide the only traces of Indus writing known at
Archaeologists have discovered that standardized sizes of bricks and uniform weights and
measures were used throughout the Indus Valley. The Indus settlements traded with one
another and with foreign cultures. Traces of seals used on goods from the Indus Valley
have been found as far away as Mesopotamia. The Indus people probably also traded with
people of central Asia, southern India, and Persia.
Between 2000 and 1750 B.C., the Indus Valley civilization began to decay. Scholars do not
know why this process of decay took place. Changing river patterns may have disrupted the
agriculture and economy of the region. Overuse of the land along the riverbanks also may
have damaged the territory. By about 1700 B.C., the Indus civilization had disappeared.
For more information on what archaeologists have discovered about the ancient Indus Valley
The Huang He Valley. The earliest written records of Chinese history date from the Shang
dynasty, which arose in the valley of the Huang He during the 1700's B.C. The records
consist largely of writings scratched on animal bones and turtle shells. The bones and
shells, known as oracle bones, were used in religious ceremonies to answer questions about
the future. After a question was written on an oracle bone, a small groove or hole was
made in the bone. The bone was then heated so that cracks ran outward from the groove or
hole. By studying the pattern of the cracks, a priest worked out the answer to the
Thousands of oracle bones have been found. They provide much information about the ancient
Chinese. Many of the bones record astronomical events, such as eclipses of the sun and
moon, and the names and dates of rulers. The system of writing used by the Shang people
had more than 3,000 characters. Some characters on the oracle bones closely resemble those
of the present-day Chinese language.
Little remains of the cities of the Shang period. Most of the buildings were made of mud
or wood and have long since crumbled away. However, the foundations of pounded earth
survive and indicate that some of the cities were fairly large and surrounded by high
walls. The people of the Shang period cast beautiful bronze vessels. They also carved
marble and jade and wove silk. The Shang people had many gods. They attached great
importance to ties of kinship and worshiped the spirits of their ancestors. They believed
that their ancestors could plead with the gods on their behalf.
The Shang people were governed by a king and a hereditary class of aristocrats. The king
and the nobility carried out religious as well as political duties. However, only the king
could perform the most important religious ceremonies. The Shang leaders organized armies
of as many as 5,000 men and equipped them with bronze weapons and horse-drawn war
chariots. They used their armies to control the other peoples of the Huang He Valley. The
Shang ruled much of the valley for about 600 years. For more information on the culture of
The advance of civilization
From about 1200 B.C. to A.D. 500, Mesopotamia and Egypt were increasingly affected by the
gradual growth of a new civilization on the islands and shores of the Aegean Sea. The most
magnificent civilization of ancient times--that of the Greeks--eventually developed in the
Aegean region. For a time, the Greeks dominated much of the ancient world. Later, the
lands of the Greeks, as well as Mesopotamia and Egypt, became part of the Roman Empire.
The combined arts, philosophies, and sciences of ancient Greece and Rome provided much of
the foundation of later European culture.
As the civilizations of ancient times grew and spread, they began to have certain features
in common. By about A.D. 500, for example, all the major civilizations had learned how to
make iron. The spread of such knowledge was helped by trade, conquest, and migration.
Traders carried the products of one culture to other cultures. The soldiers of invading
armies often settled in the conquered lands, where they introduced new ways of life.
Groups of people migrated from one region to another, bringing the customs, ideas, and
skills of their homelands with them.
The most important migrations in ancient times were made by peoples belonging to the
Indo-European language groups. The Indo-European peoples once lived in the area north of
the Black Sea, in southeastern Europe. Sometime before 2000 B.C., large numbers of them
began moving into other parts of Europe, into the Middle East, and across the highlands of
Persia to India. Many of the migrations resulted in the destruction of old states and the
creation of new ones.
Middle Eastern civilizations. For several hundred years
following 1200 B.C., various Indo-European and Semitic peoples struggled for power in the
Middle East. One of the Semitic peoples, the Israelites, founded a kingdom in what is now
Israel about 1029 B.C. The Israelites, later called Jews, established the first religion
based on the belief in one God. Their faith, called Judaism, had a lasting influence on
human history. Both Christianity, the most widespread religion of modern times, and Islam,
the religion of the Muslims, developed from Judaism.
During the 700's B.C., much of the Middle East was conquered by the Assyrians, a northern
Mesopotamian people. The cities of Nineveh and Assur on the upper Tigris River were the
chief centers of their empire. The Assyrians were a rough, warlike people who often
treated their subject peoples cruelly. Conquered rulers were replaced by brutal Assyrian
governors who acted on orders from the central government in Nineveh. For more
In 612 B.C., the Babylonians and an Indo-European people called the Medes joined forces
and destroyed Nineveh. The Assyrian Empire thus ended. The Medes then established the
Median Empire, which included the area north of Mesopotamia (see MEDIA). In Mesopotamia
and to the west, the New Babylonian Empire, sometimes called the Chaldean Empire, came
into being. Under its most famous ruler, Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon became one of the most
magnificent cities of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar probably built the Hanging
Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
About 550 B.C., the Persians, led by Cyrus the Great, overthrew the Medes and established
the Persian Empire. Cyrus went on to conquer Babylonia, Palestine, Syria, and all Asia
Minor. Cyrus' son Cambyses added Egypt to the empire in 525 B.C. The Persians built
excellent roads throughout their vast empire. They divided the empire into provinces, each
governed by a Persian official. Unlike the Assyrians, the Persians allowed the conquered
peoples to keep their own religions and traditions..
The Persian Empire lasted more than 200 years. Under Persian
rule, Medes, Babylonians, Jews, and Egyptians were united for the first time. Although
they still had different traditions and customs, they could no longer be thought of as
belonging to separate civilizations. Another people who came under Persian control were
the Phoenicians, who lived along the coasts of what are now Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.
The Phoenicians were great explorers and traders who helped spread civilization among the
peoples living in coastal areas along the Aegean Sea and in what is now Turkey. The
Phoenicians invented an alphabet that became the basis of the Greek alphabet. All other
Western alphabets, in turn, have been taken from the Greek. See PHOENICIA.
The Greeks. The first major civilization in the region of Greece began to develop on
Crete, an island in the Aegean Sea, about 3000 B.C. Scholars call this civilization the
Minoan culture after Minos, the legendary king of the island (see MINOS). The Minoans were
skilled artists and architects and active traders. By about 2000 B.C., they had begun to
build a series of magnificent palaces, the most elaborate of which was the Palace of Minos
in the town of Knossos.
The Minoans traded with peoples in the Middle East, Sicily, and Greece. Their trade routes
provided an important link between Middle Eastern civilizations and mainland Europe.
Minoan culture flourished for about 500 years. It began to decline after 1450 B.C., when
fire destroyed nearly all the towns on Crete. By about 1100 B.C., the culture had
The most important early culture on the mainland of Greece centered on the southern city
of Mycenae. The people of Mycenae were probably descendants of Indo-European peoples who
had been migrating to Greece since about 2000 B.C. By the 1500's B.C., the Mycenaean
culture had become rich and powerful. Mycenae was the leading political and cultural
center on the Greek mainland until it collapsed in the early 1100's B.C. About this time,
barbarian peoples from the north began moving into Greece. Later Greeks called these
people the Dorians. Historians are not sure what part the Dorians played in the fall of
Greek civilization developed between about 800 and 500 B.C. The first recorded Olympic
Games were held for Greek athletes in 776 B.C., and the first surviving Greek inscriptions
date from about 50 years later. The ancient Greeks settled in independent communities
called city-states. Between 750 and 338 B.C., the chief city-states were Athens, Corinth,
Sparta, and Thebes. The city-states were never united politically, and the people were
divided into various groups. However, the Greeks were tied together by a common culture
and language, and they thought of themselves as distinct from other peoples. The first
democratic governments were established in the Greek city-states. Neither slaves nor women
could vote, but more people took part in government in Greece than in any earlier
Greek culture gradually spread to other lands. The Greeks established many towns and
trading posts in Sicily and in what are now southern Italy and Turkey. Greek colonists
also founded settlements as far away as present-day Portugal, France, Libya, and India.
Many Greeks served as craftworkers, teachers, and soldiers in the courts of foreign
In 479 B.C., the Greeks defeated the Persians after a long
war. Greek civilization then entered its Golden Age. Architects constructed masterpieces
of classical beauty. Lasting works of art, literature, drama, history, and philosophy were
produced. Greek scientists made great advances in mathematics, medicine, physics, botany,
and zoology. During this period, Athens became the cultural center of the Greek world.
The achievements and growing power of Athens were the envy of the other Greek city-states.
Hostility between the Athenians and their fellow Greeks led to the bitter Peloponnesian
War (431-404 B.C.). Athens lost the war. The victorious city-states soon started to
quarrel among themselves, and Greece began to decline in power.
In 338 B.C., Philip II of Macedonia conquered the Greek city-states. His son, Alexander
the Great, succeeded him in 336 B.C. Until his death in 323 B.C., Alexander expanded his
empire through conquests of much of the civilized world from Egypt to the Indus River.
Alexander helped spread Greek ideas and the Greek way of life into all the lands he
After Alexander died, his empire was divided among his generals. They continued to
preserve Greek culture. The period after Alexander's death became known as the Hellenistic
Age in Greece and the Near East. It lasted until the Romans took control, ending in Greece
in 146 B.C. Egypt, the last major stronghold of the Hellenistic world, fell to the Romans
in 30 B.C.
The Romans. By the 500's B.C., Greek traders and colonists had established many
settlements in Italy and Sicily. They carried Greek civilization directly to the mixed
group of peoples living there, most of whom were descendants of Indo-European immigrants.
These peoples included the Etruscans, who had settled in west-central Italy during the
800's B.C. In 509 B.C., the people of Rome, one of the cities under Etruscan control,
revolted. The Romans gained their independence and declared Rome a republic.
For hundreds of years, Roman conquerors expanded the
republic. By 290 B.C., Rome controlled most of Italy. It soon became one of the most
powerful states of the western Mediterranean. During the 200's and 100's B.C., Rome
defeated its only major rival, the former Phoenician colony of Carthage, in a series of
struggles called the Punic Wars (see PUNIC WARS). As a result of the wars, Sicily and
Spain became Roman provinces. Rome also expanded into the eastern Mediterranean. In 148
B.C., the Romans made Macedonia their first eastern province. Two years later, they
conquered Greece. In 55 and 54 B.C., the Roman general Julius Caesar invaded Britain.
Other conquests followed until the original city of Rome had grown into an enormous
empire. At its height, in A.D. 117, the empire covered about half of Europe, much of the
Middle East, and the entire north coast of Africa.
Roman territory included all the Greek lands of the Hellenistic Age. The Romans imitated
Greek art and literature, made use of Greek scientific knowledge, and based their
architecture on Greek models. Educated people throughout the Roman Empire spoke Greek. By
imitating Greek accomplishments, the Romans preserved and passed on much Greek culture
that otherwise might have been lost.
The Romans also contributed their own achievements to the civilization they developed.
They were superb engineers who constructed massive aqueducts and bridges, vast systems of
roads, and monumental arches. The Romans developed an excellent legal system. Their legal
code forms the basis of civil law in numerous European and Latin American countries, and
many of its principles and terms are part of English and American common law. Latin, the
language of the Romans, was the official language of the empire. It became the basis of
French, Italian, Spanish, and other Romance languages of today.
The Romans excelled in the art of government. One of their
most important achievements was the empire itself, which provided a stable framework of
government for many peoples with widely different customs. The Romans showed great respect
for these customs and won the good will of many of the peoples they governed. Rome was a
republic until 27 B.C., when Augustus took supreme power. Augustus and his successors
retained republican titles and forms of government, but Rome actually became a monarchy
ruled by emperors.
During the A.D. 100's and 200's, Rome was increasingly threatened by barbarian invaders in
both the east and the west. As a result, the army became more and more powerful and began
to play a major role in choosing Rome's emperors. One of the most important emperors the
army helped bring to power was Constantine the Great, who came to the throne in 306. In
313, Constantine granted Christians of the Roman Empire freedom of worship. Christ had
been born during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and was crucified by the Roman
authorities in about A.D. 30, during the rule of Tiberius. The Romans had at times
persecuted the Christians. However, after Constantine granted Christians legal
recognition, a strong link was formed between the Christian church and the Roman Empire.
Emperor Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the empire in the
A period of great disorder followed Constantine's death in 337. In 395, the Roman Empire
split into two parts--the West Roman Empire and the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. The
West Roman Empire soon fell to Germanic tribes, but the Byzantine Empire was to thrive for
Achievements in India. About 1500 B.C., bands of Aryans, an Indo-European people, began
migrating to India. The Aryans came from the plains of central Asia through the mountain
passes of the Hindu Kush. By 1000 B.C., they had taken over most of the valley of the
upper Ganges River in northern India.
The Aryans never invaded southern India, but their influence
gradually extended over the entire country and greatly affected Indian culture. Sanskrit,
the language developed by the Aryans, is the basis of languages still spoken in India.
Hinduism, the religion of most Indians today, is rooted in Indo-European beliefs. The
Aryans divided their society into four main social classes that remain part of the caste
system of present-day Indian society. These four classes were priests and scholars; rulers
and warriors; merchants and professionals; and laborers and servants.
At various times in its history, the Aryan territory was divided into many states. In one
state, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama was born about 563 B.C. Gautama abandoned a life
of luxury to seek religious enlightenment. He became a great religious teacher known to
his followers as Buddha (Enlightened One). Gautama's teachings are the foundation of
Buddhism, one of the world's major religions.
By about 300 B.C., much of India was united for the first time under one dynasty, the
Mauryan. The Mauryan Empire reached its peak under Emperor Ashoka, who ruled during the
200's B.C. From his capital at Pataliputra (now Patna) in northern India, Ashoka
controlled almost all India and part of central Asia. Ashoka supported Buddhism, which
spread and prospered during his reign. He sent Buddhist missionaries to Ceylon (now Sri
Lanka) and other countries.
The Mauryan dynasty ended with the assassination of its last emperor in 185 B.C. For most
of the next 500 years, India was divided into small political units under no one ruler. In
A.D. 320, a new dynasty, the Gupta, came to power in northern India. The Gupta dynasty
lasted about 200 years. During the Gupta period, Indian civilization enjoyed a golden age
of peace, good government, and cultural development. Beautiful cities arose, and
universities were founded. Sanskrit literature, particularly drama, flourished during the
Gupta era. The Gupta emperors were Hindus, but Buddhism also thrived under their rule.
Achievements in China. About 1122 B.C., the Zhou people of western China overthrew the
Shang and established their own dynasty. The Zhou ruled until 256 B.C. The Zhou kings
introduced the idea that they had been appointed to rule by Heaven. All later Chinese
dynasties adopted that idea. From its beginning, the Zhou dynasty directly controlled only
part of northern China. The rest of the kingdom consisted of semi-independent states. As
time passed, the lords of these states grew increasingly powerful and so weakened the
dynasty. In 771 B.C., the Zhou were forced to abandon their capital, near what is now
Xi'an, and move eastward to Luoyang.
For hundreds of years after the Zhou moved their capital, fighting raged among the states
for control of all China. Efforts to restore order to Chinese society led to the birth of
Chinese philosophy during this period. The great philosopher Confucius stressed the
importance of moral standards and tradition and of a well-ordered society in which people
performed the duties of their stations in life.
In 221 B.C., the Qin (also spelled Ch'in) state in northwestern China defeated all its
rivals. The Qin created the first unified Chinese empire controlled by a strong central
government. The name China came from the name of their dynasty. The first Qin emperor, Shi
Huangdi, standardized weights and measures and the Chinese writing system. He also built
extensive irrigation projects. To keep out barbarian invaders, he ordered major
construction on the Great Wall of China.
The Qin dynasty lasted only until 206 B.C. The Han dynasty gained control of China in 202
B.C. Under the Han emperors, Confucianism became the philosophical basis of government.
Candidates for government jobs had to take a civil service examination based on Confucian
ideals. Art, education, and science thrived during the Han period. By A.D. 1, the Chinese
had invented paper. Sometime before A.D. 100, Buddhism was introduced into China from
Han China expanded southwest to what is now Tibet. Han warriors also conquered parts of
Indochina and Korea and overcame nomadic tribes in the north and west. Political struggles
among the Han leaders led to the dynasty's collapse in A.D. 220. For the next 400 years,
China was again divided into warring states.
The world from 500 to 1500
Various parts of the world gradually came more closely into contact with one another
during the period from 500 to 1500. In fact, some regions came into contact with other
regions for the first time. However, the various regions still remained largely
independent of one another during most of that time, and their histories continued to
progress along separate lines.
Great changes occurred in the old areas of civilization
during the 1,000-year period. In western Europe, a number of separate states eventually
arose from the disorder that followed the fall of the West Roman Empire. The East Roman,
or Byzantine, Empire continued to survive and flourish. A new world religion, Islam,
sprang up in Arabia and spread to many other parts of the world. Meanwhile, China
continued to preserve its special way of life under a series of dynasties. Partly under
influence from China, another Oriental civilization appeared, that of Japan. In the
Americas, civilizations developed without any outside influences.
In European history, the period between about 500 and 1500 is often referred to as the
Middle Ages or the medieval period. The word medieval comes from the Latin words medium,
meaning middle, and aevum, meaning age. The terms Middle Ages and medieval period made
sense to later Europeans who looked back on those years as a distinct period in the middle
of their history between the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome and the start of
modern times. But the terms cannot be applied to world history as a whole because the
histories of many parts of the world have no connection with ancient Greece and Rome.
Medieval Europe. By A.D. 400, many barbarian invaders and immigrants from the east had
settled within the West Roman Empire. In 476, a Germanic chieftain named Odoacer overthrew
the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus. By that time, Germanic conquerors had carved
kingdoms out of all the West Roman provinces. The framework of government created by the
Romans had disappeared.
Roman culture was not completely destroyed, however. Many Germanic rulers adopted some
Roman customs and converted to Christianity. The Christian church became the most
important civilizing force among the Germanic peoples. Its missionaries introduced the
barbarians to Roman ideas of government and justice. Cathedrals and monasteries provided
the main centers of learning and philosophy. The monks and the clergy helped continue the
reading and writing of Latin and preserved many ancient manuscripts.
For hundreds of years after the fall of the West Roman Empire, the Germanic kings had
great difficulty defending themselves against invaders. The invaders included Arabs from
the south, Vikings from the north, and Magyars and Avars from the east. During these
troubled times, a new military and political system known as feudalism developed in
western Europe. Under this system, powerful lords--who owned most of the land--gave some
of their holdings to less wealthy noblemen in return for pledges of allegiance. These
lesser nobles, called vassals, swore to fight for the lord when he needed their help.
Peasants worked the fields of the lords and their vassals. By the 900's, most of western
Europe was divided into feudal states. The feudal lords completely controlled their
estates. Kings ruled only their own lands and vassals.
During the 1000's, many lords established strong governments
and achieved periods of peace under the feudal system. Trade revived along the old land
routes and waterways used by the Romans. Towns sprang up and prospered along the trade
routes. The peasants learned better farming methods and gained new farmland by clearing
forests and draining swamps. The population rose. Learning and the arts thrived as trade
brought increasing contact with the advanced Byzantine and Islamic civilizations. During
the 1100's and 1200's, the first European universities were established.
The people of the medieval towns often supported the kings against the feudal lords. The
townspeople agreed to pay taxes to the kings in return for protection and freedom. During
the 1300's and 1400's, some kings became increasingly powerful and began to extend their
authority over the feudal lords. By 1500, France, England, Spain, and Portugal had become
unified nationstates ruled by monarchs.
The Byzantine Empire was a continuation of the East Roman Empire. Its capital and military
stronghold was Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). The Byzantine rulers kept Roman
governmental and legal traditions. However, the East Roman provinces had always been more
influenced by Greek culture than by Latin culture. As a result, the Byzantines helped
preserve ancient Greek language, literature, and philosophy.
Christianity flourished in the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine church was the chief
civilizing force among the Slavic peoples of southeastern Europe and Russia. Byzantine
missionaries converted the Slavs to Christianity and invented a script in which the Slavic
languages were written down. The church in Constantinople was united with the church in
Rome for many years. But rivalries developed between the churches, and they drifted apart.
The Western church eventually became known as the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern
Orthodox Churches developed out of Byzantine Christianity.
The Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent under Emperor Justinian, who came to the
throne in 527. His empire included Italy, much of southeastern Europe, part of Spain, much
of the Middle East, and lands along the north coast of Africa. At the command of
Justinian, Byzantine scholars collected and organized the many laws of the ancient Romans.
The resulting code of laws, called the Justinian Code, clarified the laws of the times and
is today the basis of the legal systems of many countries (see JUSTINIAN CODE). Art and
architecture flourished during Justinian's reign. The Byzantines constructed domed
cathedrals with ornately decorated interiors. One of these cathedrals is the magnificent
Hagia Sophia built by Justinian in Constantinople.
For hundreds of years, the Byzantine Empire protected western Europe from attacks from the
east by barbarians, Persians, and such Muslim invaders as the Arabs and Ottoman Turks.
Beginning in the 1000's, however, the Byzantine emperors fought a losing battle against
the Muslims. By 1400, the Ottoman Turks had taken much of southeastern Europe and all the
Asian territories of the Byzantines. In 1453, the Ottomans captured Constantinople. This
conquest brought to an end the last remnants of the old Roman Empire.
The Islamic world. In the 600's, Islam, a new religion based on the teachings of Muhammad,
began in Arabia. Muhammad was born about 570 and grew up in Mecca, a major trading center
on the Arabian Peninsula. At that time, most Arabs believed in nature gods and prayed to
idols and spirits. But Muhammad urged the Arabs to worship one God. The Meccans rejected
Muhammad's teachings and persecuted him and his followers. In 622, Muhammad and his
disciples fled to the city of Medina (then called Yathrib). Muhammad's flight, called the
Hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. The people of Medina accepted
Muhammad as God's messenger. By 630, Muhammad and his followers had captured Mecca.
After Muhammad's death in 632, authority to head the Islamic community passed to religious
leaders later called caliphs. The first caliphs were members of Muhammad's family. Under
their leadership, Islam became a great conquering force. The Muslim armies defeated the
tribes of southern Arabia and then spread north to Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and
Persia. In 661, the caliphate passed to another family, the Umayyads, who established
their capital at Damascus. The Umayyad caliphs led the Muslim Arabs to new victories. By
the early 700's, the Arabs had conquered Cyprus, Rhodes, Sicily, northern Africa, and
Afghanistan. Muslim forces had also pushed into Spain and India and reached the borders of
In 750, the Abbasids became the caliphs of the expanding Islamic world. They moved the
capital to Baghdad. Under the Abbasids, Islamic civilization reached its greatest heights.
Baghdad became a huge city, rivaling Constantinople in wealth and population. Islamic art
and architecture flourished, and many Islamic academies and universities were founded.
As a result of their conquests, the Muslims had come into contact with Persian astronomy,
history, and medicine; Indian mathematics; and Greek science and philosophy. The Arabs
became learned in these fields and made significant contributions of their own in
mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and other sciences. They also developed literature of
their own in Arabic. Many ancient Greek texts were translated into Arabic and eventually
introduced into western Europe.
The Abbasid caliphate declined during the 900's as peoples from central Asia began
invading the Middle East. Some of these peoples were Turks who had been converted to
Islam. During the early 1300's, the Ottoman Turks, who had settled in Anatolia (now
Turkey), became the military leaders of the Islamic world. After the Ottomans seized
Constantinople in 1453, they made the city the capital of their empire. By 1700, the
Ottoman Empire covered southeastern Europe, southern Russia, part of northern Africa, and
much of the Middle East.
China. From 500 to 1500, Chinese civilization still owed
little to the outside world. Land travelers found it hard to reach China, and few
travelers came by sea. Isolation helped make Chinese society extremely stable and
self-sufficient. During the Tang dynasty (618-907) and the Song dynasty (960-1279), China
enjoyed great prosperity and cultural accomplishment.
The Tang and Song rulers continued to use the system of civil service examinations based
on Confucianism that had begun hundreds of years earlier during Han times. Successful
candidates for government office thus shared a common body of beliefs and a respect for
traditional ways. Cities and towns grew rapidly during the Tang and Song periods. The Tang
capital at Chang'an (now Xi'an) had a population of more than a million people. The Tang
and Song emperors continued to extend the Grand Canal system, which had already linked the
rice-growing lower Yangtze Valley with the north by the early 600's. Literature, history,
and philosophy flourished under the Tang and Song dynasties. During the Tang period, the
Chinese invented block printing. Chinese inventions during the Song period included
gunpowder and movable type for printing.
During the 1200's, Mongol warriors swept into China from the north. The Mongol leader
Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty, which lasted from 1279 to 1368. The Mongol
period marked the first time that all China had come under foreign rule. Kublai Khan
encouraged commerce and cultural exchange with other civilized peoples. During Yuan times,
Europeans became increasingly interested in China as a result of the reports of travelers
and traders. Rebellions drove the Mongols from China during the mid-1300's. In 1368,
Chinese rule was reestablished under the Ming dynasty, which held power until 1644.
The rise of Japanese civilization. The development of Japanese civilization was greatly
influenced by the neighboring Chinese culture. During the 500's, Confucianism, Buddhism,
and knowledge of ironmaking reached Japan from China. The Japanese borrowed the Chinese
system of writing and adopted some Chinese ideas of government and administration.
Japanese government, like Chinese government, centered on an emperor. Beneath the emperor,
Japanese society was divided into various clans (related families).
During the late 700's and early 800's, the Fujiwaras, an aristocratic clan, rose to power
in Japan. The Fujiwaras gained control over the emperor and his court by intermarrying
with the imperial family. Under the Fujiwaras, the court nobility enjoyed a life of
splendor and luxury. The people of Japan began to cast off Chinese cultural influences.
Some of the first masterpieces of Japanese literature were written during the Fujiwara
era. The Japanese also produced fine ceramics and lacquerware and developed such arts as
flower arranging, landscape gardening, and silk weaving. Japanese exports gradually began
to appear in the markets of China and southeastern Asia. The Fujiwara clan ruled Japan
about 300 years. During that time, the emperors lost all real power, though they still
During the 1000's, civil wars between rival nobles brought an end to Fujiwara rule.
Another powerful clan, the Minamoto, seized control of the imperial court in 1185. The
Minamoto leaders established a form of military government called the shogunate. The
emperor remained in retirement, and a Minamoto shogun (military commander) ruled in his
name (see SHOGUN). The Minamoto shogunate collapsed in the early 1300's, when Japan was
again torn by violent civil wars. The wars slowed the growth of cities and towns and
weakened the nation. But Japan remained safe from attack by foreign powers because of its
isolated island position. The Mongols tried to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281, but both
attempts failed because of typhoons in the Sea of Japan.
The age of invasions of India. After the Gupta Empire fell in about 500, India broke up
into many small kingdoms. From then until the early 1500's, India suffered repeated
invasions from the northwest. In the early 700's, Muslim invaders from Arabia swept across
northwestern India but were eventually overcome by Indian forces. During the late 1100's,
Muslim Turks from central Asia conquered the Indus Valley. By 1206, they had established a
sultanate (government by a sultan) in Delhi. The Delhi Sultanate soon controlled all
northern India. During the sultanate, many Muslims came to India to serve as soldiers,
government officials, merchants, and priests. Muslim holy men converted many Indians to
In 1398, a Mongol army raided India and captured Delhi. The Mongols soon withdrew,
however. The sultanate regained Delhi, but the rest of the sultanate territory was split
into kingdoms. In 1526, Babur, a Muslim prince from central Asia, invaded India and
defeated the forces of the last sultan of Delhi. Babur founded the Mughal Empire and made
himself emperor. By the time Babur died in 1530, the Mughal Empire stretched from Kabul in
Afghanistan to the mouth of the Ganges River in what is now Bangladesh.
African civilizations. The Muslim Arabs completed their conquest of northern Africa by
710. For hundreds of years, the Islamic faith and culture spread to other parts of Africa.
Camel caravans that crossed the Sahara brought northern Muslims into contact with western
Africa. Muslim traders who sailed the Indian Ocean converted the peoples living along the
east coasts of what are now Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Black African empires developed
and prospered along some of the major trade routes.
Islamic records provide information about the Ghana Empire, the first great black empire
in western Africa. The empire existed from the 300's to the mid-1000's. The Arabs called
Ghana the "land of gold" because Ghanaian traders supplied them with gold from
regions south of the empire. During the 1200's, an even bigger empire, the Islamic Mali
Empire, arose as the most powerful state in western Africa. One of Mali's cities,
Timbuktu, became an important center of trade and Muslim culture. The Mali Empire began to
break up during the 1400's. By 1500, most of it had come under the control of the Songhai
Empire. This empire, which was also Islamic, became powerful mainly by controlling trade
across the Sahara. Songhai lasted until 1591.
Islamic influence did not extend into southern Africa. Much of the south was originally
settled by black peoples who spoke Bantu languages. About the time of Christ, these
peoples began migrating southward from what is now the border region between Nigeria and
Cameroon. Their migrations lasted over 1,000 years.
On the east coast of Africa, the Bantu peoples came into contact with traders from the
Persian Gulf region who wanted to buy gold, copper, iron, ivory, and slaves. Several large
trading empires developed in southeastern Africa, but little is known about them. One
empire, the Mwanamutapa Empire, arose during the 1400's in what are now Mozambique and
Zimbabwe. The city of Zimbabwe served as the empire's capital. During the late 1400's, the
Changamire Empire conquered the Mwanamutapa and took over the capital. Massive towers and
walls from a royal residence and burial place built during Changamire times still stand on
the site of the city. See ZIMBABWE (History).
Civilizations in the Americas. The first civilizations in the Americas arose in Central
America and in what are now Mexico and Peru. The Maya Indians of Central America and
Mexico developed one of the most advanced early cultures. Between about 250 and 900, the
Maya built large cities that included religious centers consisting of palaces, pyramids,
temples, and terraces. The Maya studied astronomy, invented an accurate yearly calendar,
and developed an advanced form of writing. For reasons still unknown, Maya civilization
began to decline during the 900's. Many Maya sites were abandoned.
From about 900 to 1200, the Toltec Indians were the dominant people in the central Mexican
highlands. By the early 1400's, the Aztec replaced the Toltec as the most powerful people
in central Mexico. The Aztec built a magnificent capital city, Tenochtitlan, on the site
of present-day Mexico City and established a mighty empire. The Aztec devoted much of
their time to religious practices. Human sacrifice was the central feature of their
religion. The Aztec waged war on neighboring peoples mainly to obtain prisoners to
sacrifice to their gods.
By the 1200's, civilization had made great advances in Peru. Peruvian farmers were using
bronze tools, and Peruvian stonemasons had become master builders. The people used quipu,
a cord with knotted strings of various lengths and colors, to keep records and send
messages. During the 1300's and 1400's, the Inca Indians gained control of the Peruvian
civilization. By the early 1500's, the Inca ruled an empire that stretched between what
are now southern Colombia and central Chile. A vast network of roads linked the distant
provinces of the empire. Conquered peoples were forced to help build and maintain the
roads, to raise crops for the Inca, and to serve in the Inca army.
The spread of Western civilization
Great changes occurred in the course of world history between 1500 and 1900. The world's
population rose dramatically, from about 450 million in 1500 to more than 1 1/2 billion by
1900. Cities and towns grew steadily. Western, or European, civilization began to lead the
world in cultural, economic, and technological progress. A world in which civilizations
developed largely independently of one another gradually gave way to the dominance of
A number of factors contributed to the wide expansion of Western influence. A great age of
European exploration during the 1400's and 1500's led to the founding of European colonies
in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Thousands of Europeans migrated to these colonies.
Industrialization began in Europe during the 1700's, and the continent soon became the
manufacturing center of the world. The European nations established more and more colonies
overseas to serve as markets for their manufactured products and as sources of raw
materials for industry. Growing trade with these colonies brought increasing wealth and
power to the continent. Political rivalries among the European states also encouraged them
to expand their empires abroad. Advances in technology, such as better ships and weapons,
helped the Europeans conquer new territories.
The Europeans often introduced their arts and technology and their systems of law,
government, and education into the areas where they settled. Thus, the ideas and skills of
Western civilization became more widespread than those of any other civilization in
The Renaissance. European culture during the Middle Ages
largely reflected the powerful influence of Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church.
But during the late Middle Ages--between 1300 and 1500--scholars and artists began to
develop a new way of looking at life. They became less concerned with religion and
concentrated, instead, on understanding people and the world. This new outlook became
known as humanism. Humanist scholars pioneered in the revival of classical studies--the
literature, history, and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. They believed that by
returning to the classics, they could begin a new golden age of culture.
The humanist philosophy formed the intellectual core of the Renaissance, a 300-year period
of great advancement in the arts and learning in Europe. The Renaissance began in Italy in
the early 1300's and spread throughout most of Europe during the 1400's and 1500's.
Renaissance thinkers stressed that the duty of intellectuals was to concentrate on human
problems, not to seek an understanding of religious questions. Writers of the period
described human feelings and situations that people could easily understand. Renaissance
artists tried to capture the dignity and majesty of human beings in lifelike paintings and
sculptures. Architects designed many nonreligious buildings that incorporated elements of
classical style. Many world masterpieces of architecture, literature, painting, and
sculpture were created during the Renaissance.
Other changes that occurred during the Renaissance affected the Christian church itself.
During the early 1500's, a religious movement called the Reformation led to the birth of
Protestantism. The Reformation followed many earlier attempts by religious reformers to
correct abuses that had developed within the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning in 1517,
Martin Luther, a German monk and theology professor, became the leader of the reform
movement. Luther's criticisms gradually led him and his followers to break completely with
the Catholic Church.
By the mid-1500's, the Reformation had resulted in the establishment of Protestant
churches in nearly half the European countries. Many Protestant groups developed, which
helped create a mood of religious toleration in many parts of Europe. The Protestant
movement led to the Counter Reformation, a reform and renewal movement in the Catholic
Church. The Counter Reformation removed many bad practices within the church and greatly
strengthened the authority of the pope.
The spread of new ideas during the Renaissance was made faster and easier by the invention
of movable type in Europe in the mid-1400's. Most of the first printed books were classic
Greek and Roman texts or religious books, particularly the Bible. But the Renaissance
stimulated a renewed interest in scientific research and in the study of the natural
world, and so books on scientific subjects began to appear by the late 1500's. During the
1600's, scientists developed the modern scientific method, with its emphasis on
experimentation and careful observation. The invention of such instruments as the
microscope and telescope contributed to a rapid growth in scientific knowledge. By 1700,
new discoveries had revolutionized such fields as anatomy, astronomy, chemistry, and
The great age of exploration. A remarkable wave of European exploration had begun in the
early 1400's. Portuguese explorers in search of an eastward sea route to Asia started to
sail down the west coast of Africa. They gradually developed better navigational charts
and improved the rigging of their sailing ships. By 1473, a Portuguese ship had crossed
the equator, and another one had reached the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of
Africa by 1487. Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator in the service of Spain,
reached America in 1492. In 1497 and 1498, a Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, made the
first voyage from Europe around Africa to India.
During the 1500's and 1600's, Europeans continued to gain geographical knowledge. In the
early 1500's, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, set out
on an expedition to sail around the world. Magellan was killed on the journey, but one of
his ships completed the voyage. Sailors from France, England, and the Netherlands led the
search for shorter routes to Asia--either a Northwest Passage across North America or a
Northeast Passage north of Europe. Explorers slowly began to work their way through the
land mass of America.
The discovery of new territories provided opportunities for the expansion of European
commerce. By 1700, Europeans were trading throughout the world, and some European nations
had acquired colonial empires. The colonies provided Europeans with bananas, coffee,
cotton fabrics, hard woods, spices, and other products. New crops, such as potatoes and
tobacco, were introduced into Europe from America. A flourishing slave trade developed
with Africa. In addition, a continuous flow of gold and silver from the New World enabled
Europeans to increase their trade with India and China, where demand for the precious
metals was high.
The colonization of America. The search for gold drew many of the first Spanish explorers
and conquistadors (conquerors) to the New World. The most famous conquistador was Hernando
Cortes. In 1519, he landed in Mexico, marched his army to the Aztec capital at
Tenochtitlan, and took the Aztec emperor captive. The Aztec rebelled in 1520. They were
finally defeated in 1521. Cortes then claimed Mexico for Spain. In 1533, another Spaniard,
Francisco Pizarro, conquered the wealthy empire of the Inca Indians in Peru.
Except for members of the Spanish clergy, few Spaniards had
respect for the Indians and their ways of life. They made the Indians give them a fortune
in gold and other riches and forced them to work in their mines and on their plantations.
Millions of Indians died of mistreatment or of diseases brought by the Spaniards.
Spanish rule rapidly expanded in the Americas. By 1700, Spain controlled Mexico, Central
America, and most of South America. The Spaniards established cities and universities
throughout their territory. European government, the Spanish language, and the Catholic
Church became dominant in most of Latin America. The population of the colonies rose as
more settlers arrived and the Indians acquired some resistance to European diseases. Many
Spaniards and Indians intermarried, producing the beginning of a population of mixed
ancestry. However, the ruling class of the colonies consisted only of people of unmixed
Much of Latin America had been colonized before the first lasting English settlement was
established at Jamestown, Va., in 1607. By 1733, there were 13 English colonies, with a
total population of about a million, along the Atlantic coast of North America. Many
colonists were drawn to the New World by its economic opportunities, such as the
availability of plentiful land. Some settlers, including Puritans, Quakers, and Roman
Catholics, came to the English colonies to escape persecution for their religious beliefs.
Most of the colonists were English. But other European immigrants also came. In 1624, for
example, the Dutch settled New Netherland, which included parts of what are now
Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Farther north, French colonists settled
throughout the St. Lawrence River Valley.
The English colonists were soon able to grow enough food to support themselves. They also
produced tobacco and other valuable exports to pay for imports from England. But unlike
the Spanish colonies, the English colonies had no silver or gold. In addition, the English
settlers in North America did not find highly advanced Indian societies like those in
Mexico and Peru. At first, the Indians and the settlers had friendly relations. But as
more and more settlers claimed greater amounts of Indian hunting grounds, wars broke out
between the two groups.
The Islamic empires. Parts of Europe and Asia remained under control of the Ottoman Empire
until the early 1900's. The Ottoman Empire never had a strong central government. Ottoman
governors ruled the provinces of the empire. Their chief tasks included collecting taxes
and raising armies. But they interfered as little as possible in the lives of the
conquered peoples. For example, Christians and Jews could practice their faiths as long as
they paid their taxes. The subject peoples thus continued to be divided into separate
communities and felt no loyalty to their Ottoman rulers. This lack of unity weakened the
The Ottomans could not control some areas of their empire. Mesopotamia was especially
difficult to govern. For nearly 200 years, this valley between the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers was the site of warfare between the Ottomans and another Islamic power, Persia. A
new dynasty, the Safavid, had developed in Persia in the early 1500's. The greatest
Safavid king was Shah Abbas, who came to the throne in 1587. He successfully fought the
Ottomans and Uzbek tribes from Turkestan. Shah Abbas and his successors strongly supported
the development of the arts. Isfahan, which became the Safavid capital in 1598, was known
as one of the world's most beautiful cities. The Safavid dynasty began to decline after
Shah Abbas died in 1629. It ended in 1722, when armies from Afghanistan invaded Persia and
In addition to fighting the Ottomans, the Safavid rulers fought another great Islamic
power, the Mughal Empire of India. The Mughal Empire reached its height under Akbar, who
ruled from 1556 to 1605. Akbar controlled most of what are now northern and central India,
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. He ruled wisely, and his religious tolerance won
the loyalty of many Hindus. The empire weakened under Akbar's successors. Serious trouble
developed during the reign of Aurangzeb, who became emperor in 1658. Aurangzeb reimposed a
special tax on Hindus that had been abolished by Akbar and destroyed many of their
temples. He also tried to force non-Muslims to convert to Islam. Partly as a result of
Aurangzeb's policies and costly wars with Persia, the Mughal Empire began breaking up soon
after his death in 1707.
At first, the spread of European influence had little effect on the Islamic world, though
trade gradually increased between the European nations and the Islamic empires. But as the
Islamic powers declined, the Europeans took advantage of the situation and began to assume
control of Islamic lands. By 1900, European nations dominated most of the Islamic world.
The French established themselves in northern Africa, and the Dutch took Indonesia.
Britain occupied Egypt and the Sudan, set up an empire in India, and ruled Malaya. During
the 1900's, Italy seized Turkish territories in northern Africa and along the eastern
shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Developments in China and Japan. The Ming dynasty, which had come to power in China in
1368, began to decline during the 1500's. Rebellions in outlying provinces troubled the
empire, and Indochina and other distant dependencies slipped out of its control. The Ming
emperors looked down on all things foreign and regarded the European traders who visited
China as inferiors. But some rights were granted to the Europeans as the Ming dynasty
weakened. The Portuguese were allowed to establish a permanent settlement at Macao, on the
southeast coast of China, in 1557. A European community later grew up in the port city of
Canton, a major center of foreign trade with China.
In 1644, the Ming asked the Manchus, a barbarian people from Manchuria, for help in
putting down rebellions within the empire. The Manchus then invaded China--but only to
establish their own dynasty, the Qing, on the throne. The Manchus ruled China until 1912.
They had great respect for Chinese civilization and did little to change Chinese life or
government. The Manchu rulers pushed back Russian advances in the Amur River Valley,
established imperial control over Tibet, regained parts of Indochina, and added Korea to
their territory. During the 1700's, the Qing empire enjoyed stability and prosperity.
Contacts with Europeans multiplied, and Christian missionaries were welcomed at the Manchu
capital, Beijing. The Manchus admired the Europeans' scientific knowledge and their skills
in mapmaking and the manufacture of guns, but they did not wish to imitate European ways
of life. Chinese culture remained largely cut off from the rest of the world.
Japan was even more isolated than China. The Tokugawa family seized power in Japan in 1603
and established the Tokugawa shogunate. The Tokugawas ruled for more than 250 years. They
were determined to end the civil wars that had troubled the country for years and restore
order to Japanese society. Under Tokugawa rule, Japan was divided into about 250 regions,
each headed by a lord who swore allegiance to the shogun.
European traders and Christian missionaries had begun arriving in Japan during the 1500's.
But the Tokugawa rulers feared that the missionaries might soon bring European armies with
them to conquer Japan. In the early 1600's, they ordered all missionaries to leave the
country. They also tried to force all Japanese converts to give up their new faith. Those
who refused were persecuted or killed. By 1640, Christianity had been almost eliminated.
The Tokugawa government also believed that contact with the outside world must end to keep
order in Japan. During the 1630's, it therefore cut ties with other nations. All European
traders except the Dutch had to leave the country. The Dutch were permitted a small
trading station on the tiny island of Deshima in the harbor at Nagasaki. The Tokugawa
shogunate allowed one Dutch ship to come to the trading station each year.
The rise of democracy and nationalism. During the 1700's and 1800's, most countries in the
Western world were affected by two powerful political forces--democracy and nationalism.
During this period, many peoples won the right to take part in their governments.
Nationalistic feelings--particularly the desire of people who shared a common culture to
be united as a nation--led to the formation of many new states.
In some areas, the movement toward democracy and nationalism triggered revolts against
existing political systems. One of the most important revolts was the Revolutionary War in
America. Relations between Great Britain and its colonies in America began to break down
in the mid-1700's. The colonists, who had enjoyed a large measure of self-government,
wanted even greater freedom. They deeply resented efforts by the British government to
tighten its control over the colonies. The Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775. On
July 4, 1776, the colonists issued the Declaration of Independence, in which they declared
their freedom from British rule and the formation of a new nation, the United States of
America. The Revolutionary War ended with Britain's defeat. In 1783, Britain acknowledged
the independence of the colonies. The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788,
officially established the new nation as a republic.
Another major revolution occurred in France. The French Revolution lasted from 1789 to
1799. It began when King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates-General, the French
national assembly, to solve the state's financial problems. Commoners in the
Estates-General revolted and seized control of the government, declaring themselves the
legal National Assembly of France. The Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of
Man and of the Citizen. This document set forth the principles of human liberty and the
rights of individuals. The French nobles gave up most of their titles and special
privileges. In 1792, the revolutionaries established the First French Republic.
During the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, a
professional soldier, began to attract notice as a successful general. In 1799, he
overthrew the revolutionary government and seized control of France. Napoleon made himself
emperor in 1804. Under his leadership, the French came to control most of western Europe.
But Napoleon lost much of his army when he invaded Russia in 1812. In 1815, allied
European forces crushed Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, ending his attempt to rule
From late 1814 through early 1815, European leaders held a series of meetings called the
Congress of Vienna. By that time, the ideas of the French Revolution had spread throughout
Europe. The great rulers at the congress feared the effects of these ideas and wanted to
smother liberal and nationalistic feelings among their subjects. They restored monarchies
in Italy, Spain, and several other countries where they had been overthrown by Napoleon.
They also approved the restoration of the French monarchy. But the congress failed to halt
the spread of liberalism and nationalism in the long run.
By 1880, nearly every European nation had a constitution. In some, all adult males had
received the right to vote. Germany and Italy, which had been divided into many small
states, were each united as a nation under a constitutional monarchy. Many new nations
with constitutional governments appeared in southeastern Europe as the Ottoman Empire
began to crumble. The United States had survived the crisis of the Civil War (1861-1865),
when its unity as a nation had been at stake. By 1900, many people believed that democracy
and nationalism would continue to spread and eventually solve all the world's political
problems. But in some areas, these forces had already started to create new problems.
Nationalism posed serious threats for Russia and Austria-Hungary, which governed peoples
of many different nationalities. Quarrels among the new nations of southeastern Europe
also threatened to disrupt peace.
The Industrial Revolution. During the 1700's and 1800's, the spread of power-driven
machinery helped bring about a rapid growth of industry. Large factories replaced homes
and small workshops as manufacturing centers. The use of the new machinery and the
development of factories led to a huge increase in the production of goods. As industrial
nations began exporting manufactured products and importing raw materials for their
factories, a worldwide system of markets took shape. The Industrial Revolution began in
Great Britain. By the mid-1800's, industrialization had become widespread in western
Europe and the northeastern United States. Such countries as Russia and Japan also began
to develop their industries.
The Industrial Revolution transformed human life more dramatically than any other change
since the development of agriculture. Before the Industrial Revolution, most Europeans
lived in farm areas. Towns and villages served chiefly as market centers for the farmers.
But as factories appeared, towns grew into industrial cities. People streamed into the
cities to take factory jobs. Better transportation and communication between cities became
necessary. Many railroads, roads, and waterways were built. By 1837, invention of the
telegraph had furnished fast long-distance communication.
Industrialization brought many social changes. The middle class prospered and grew
rapidly. Members of the middle class owned most of the factories, hired the workers, and
operated the banks, mines, and railroads. They believed that business should be regulated
by supply and demand, largely without government control. This idea forms the basis of
capitalism, an economic system in which the chief means of production are privately owned.
During the early 1800's, Britain began to develop the first capitalist economy. Capitalism
soon spread to other industrial nations.
Often, early factory workers were poorly paid and had to work long hours under unhealthful
conditions. They could not form labor unions, and their working conditions were not
regulated by law. In the growing industrial cities, housing could not keep up with the
migration of workers from rural areas. Severe overcrowding resulted, and many people lived
in extremely unsanitary conditions that led to outbreaks of disease. Unemployed workers
rioted and destroyed machinery in an attempt to gain revenge against the factories they
blamed for their joblessness. Employed workers joined in riots, went on strike, and formed
illegal trade unions to fight for their rights.
Some people believed that the evils of industrialization resulted from capitalism.
Socialism became the chief rallying point for many such people. The socialists wanted to
put all industrial production under the control of the workers. From that basic idea, Karl
Marx, a German writer and social philosopher, developed the theories of communism. Marx
believed that workers would be driven by the march of history to rise up against the
wealthy and to establish socialist economic systems and classless societies. By 1900, many
European socialists had accepted Marx's ideas and belonged to political parties whose aim
was the overthrow of the capitalist system.
During the 1800's, workers in many countries won the right to form labor unions. Laws
regulating working conditions were passed in the United States and Great Britain during
the 1840's. Great Britain and Germany pioneered in social legislation that provided
accident, sickness, and unemployment insurance for industrial employees. By the late
1800's, most industrial nations had laws that regulated working conditions and raised the
workers' standards of living.
Imperialism. The Industrial Revolution contributed to a great rise in imperialism
(colonial expansion) during the 1800's. The industrialized nations acquired more and more
colonies as they eagerly sought raw materials for their factories, markets for their
manufactured goods, and opportunities for investment. Africa was one of the main areas of
colonial expansion. By the late 1800's, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy,
Portugal, and Spain had divided up almost all of Africa. Only Ethiopia and Liberia
European nations also took over large sections of southeastern Asia and many islands in
the South Pacific Ocean. The only major Asian nations that remained independent were
China, Japan, and Siam (now Thailand). However, China's government had weakened, and the
country had given up Indochina and many of its other outlying dependencies to Western
nations. After the British defeated the Chinese in the Opium War in 1842, China lost all
real control over the presence of foreigners in its territory. Many Chinese ports were
opened to foreign residence and trade. Japan began to develop into an industrial and
military power in the 1860's and successfully resisted imperialist interference. By the
early 1900's, Japan had become strong enough to seize parts of Chinese territory and to
win a war against Russia over control of southern Manchuria and Korea.
In Latin America, a series of wars of independence during the early 1800's freed many
colonies from European rule. The United States, backed by Great Britain, acted to protect
the new Latin-American republics against European attempts to reestablish colonial rule.
In 1823, U.S. President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European
powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.
The United States itself expanded into new areas during the 1800's. As a result of the
Mexican War (1846-1848), it gained Mexican territory that now covers California, Nevada,
Utah, and parts of four other states. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from
Russia. Spain surrendered Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States
after losing the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Imperialism affected the colonial peoples in various ways. In some areas, it brought
economic development and raised living standards by introducing Western agricultural,
industrial, and medical techniques. Colonial rule also ended local wars in numerous lands.
However, many imperialist nations took advantage of their colonies by exporting natural
resources without providing economic benefits in return to most of the people. Colonial
administrations often cared little about local customs and destroyed old ways of life. As
time passed, injustices under the imperialistic system triggered nationalistic feelings,
resistance movements, and demands for self-government among the colonial peoples.
The world since 1900
Since 1900, the world has changed faster than ever before. The population has continued to
rise rapidly. The world had about 12/3 billion people in 1900, about 21/2 billion in 1950,
and about 6 billion by the end of the 1990's. Industrial output has soared as more and
more countries have become industrialized, and international trade has expanded
enormously. Advances in science and technology have altered basic ways of life to an
extent that would never have been dreamed possible during the 1800's. In 1957, the space
age began when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite to circle the
earth. In 1969, two United States astronauts became the first human beings to walk on the
The great colonial empires of the 1800's have disappeared, and many new nations have
emerged. Europe no longer dominates international affairs. Between 1945 and about 1990,
the United States and the Soviet Union ranked as the world's superpowers. However, serious
economic problems contributed to a sharp loss of Soviet power after 1985, and the nation
ceased to exist in late 1991. China and Japan have also developed into world powers.
Differences in beliefs and customs continue to divide the many peoples of the world. But
at the same time, people throughout the world increasingly share similar experiences and
problems. Many of the same political and economic forces operate around the globe, and
events in one country can now quickly affect distant nations. The development of one world
culture--which began with the spread of Western culture during the 1700's and
1800's--continues to be an important trend.
The world wars. War--fought on a greater scale than ever before--overshadowed world
developments in the first half of the 1900's. World War I raged from 1914 to 1918, and
World War II from 1939 to 1945.
World War I resulted chiefly from the competition for colonial and economic power among
European nations, the desire of national groups to gain independence, and the secret
military alliances among the nations of Europe. In the war, the Allies, which included
France, Britain, Russia, and Italy, fought the Central Powers, which included Germany,
Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. The United States joined the Allies in 1917. In
November 1917 (October on the old Russian calendar), a revolution in Russia established a
Communist dictatorship there, and Russia withdrew from the war. The Allies gained victory
in 1918. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, ended the war with Germany. The Allies
signed separate treaties with the other Central Powers.
World War I was fought at a terrible cost. Millions of men, women, and children were
killed, and whole cities were destroyed. The economic damage was huge. The war brought
many changes in the political map of Europe. For example, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman
Empire split into national states. In Germany, the monarchy collapsed, and a republic was
Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to disarm, give up much of its
territory, and pay war damages to the Allies. Many of the German people felt that they had
been treated too harshly. Adolf Hitler, head of the Nazi Party, won their support by
promising to rebuild Germany into a mighty empire. In 1933, he became dictator of Germany.
In 1938, German forces seized Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. In March 1939, they took
the rest of Czechoslovakia. On September 1, Germany invaded Poland, and World War II
began. In the war, Germany, Italy, Japan, and other Axis powers fought the Allies, which
included France, Britain, the Soviet Union, Canada, China, and the United States. The
United States entered the war in 1941, after Japan attacked U.S. military bases at Pearl
Harbor in Hawaii. The war in Europe ended with Germany's surrender in May 1945. In August
1945, U.S. planes dropped the first atomic bombs used in warfare on the Japanese cities of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The next month, Japan signed the terms of surrender.
The cost of World War II, both financially and in terms of human suffering and loss of
life, was even greater than that of World War I. The political effects were also more
sweeping. Europe lay in ruins. Germany, once the strongest European nation, was occupied
by Allied military forces. The major European nations were too weak to hold on to their
colonies. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from the war as the world's
leading powers. Out of the horror of World War II came attempts by nations to settle their
disputes peacefully. A new international organization, the United Nations (UN), was
established near the end of the war to provide a meeting place where countries could try
to work out their political differences.
The rise of Communism. The Communist movement, which achieved its first major success in
Russia in 1917, grew quickly after World War II. In the late 1940's, Soviet-controlled
Communist governments were formed in most countries of Eastern Europe. Germany was divided
into West Germany, which was governed by freely elected representatives, and
Communist-controlled East Germany. In 1949, Chinese Communists established the People's
Republic of China. Other Asian nations also came under Communist control.
Alarmed by Communist expansion, the United States and its allies began giving military and
economic aid to non-Communist countries and pledged to help nations threatened by
Communist take-over. The struggle between the Communist world, led by the Soviet Union,
and the non-Communist world, led by the United States, became known as the Cold War.
Tensions between Communist and non-Communist nations increased in the 1950's and 1960's.
The Korean War (1950-1953) began when troops from Communist-ruled North Korea invaded
South Korea. Cold War incidents occurred from time to time in the divided German city of
Berlin. In 1961, for example, the Communists built a wall between democratic West Berlin
and Communist-controlled East Berlin to prevent East Germans from escaping. Probably the
most serious incident was the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Communists had come to power
in Cuba in 1959. In October 1962, the United States learned that the Soviet Union had
installed missiles in Cuba that could launch nuclear attacks on U.S. cities. The crisis
passed after the Soviet Union and President John F. Kennedy agreed that the Soviets would
remove their missiles from Cuba in return for the removal of U.S. nuclear missiles from
Turkey. The Vietnam War, begun in 1957, was a major contest between Communist and
non-Communist forces. The war ended in 1975 in a Communist victory.
The birth of new nations. Large-scale colonialism ended during the 1950's and 1960's.
After World War II, the European nations had neither the money nor the will to continue to
rule their colonies. In addition, nationalistic feelings and demands for self-government
had been growing among colonial peoples in Africa and Asia. Between 1950 and 1980, over 45
African colonies gained their freedom. Most European colonies in Asia and the Middle East
also became independent.
The formation of so many new nations led to a big increase in the membership of the UN and
greatly affected the balance of power in the organization. Many former colonies became
part of a group of economically developing countries called the Third World. The Third
World countries had a majority of the votes in the UN General Assembly.
The end of colonialism has made international politics much less stable. In numerous
cases, the ruling powers had given the colonial peoples too little training in
self-government. As a result, leaders in many new nations have found it hard to handle
crises in political, economic, and social affairs. Large areas of the world once governed
peacefully by imperialist powers have been torn by conflicts among the new nations. For
example, disputes have occurred periodically between India and Pakistan, areas once ruled
by Great Britain.
Many of the new nations had hoped that an end to colonial exploitation would automatically
bring economic well-being. Instead, they continue to face such grave problems as rapid
population growth, poverty, illiteracy, disease, and food shortages. Most of the former
colonies have found it almost impossible to develop their economies without investment
from wealthier countries. But such investment has often led to renewed political
interference from the countries providing aid.
The easing of Cold War tensions. Tensions between Communist and non-Communist nations
began to decrease sharply in the late 1980's. In 1987, top Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
and U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a treaty that called for the destruction of many
U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. Tensions decreased further in 1989, when the Soviet
Union completed withdrawal of its military forces from Afghanistan, which they had invaded
Also, during the late 1980's, Gorbachev worked to decentralize the Soviet economic system
to improve the nation's poor economy. He also worked to increase democracy and freedom of
expression in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev encouraged similar economic and political
changes in Eastern Europe. As a result, non-Communist governments came to power in several
Eastern European nations that had been Communist dictatorships since the late 1940's. In
1990, East Germany and West Germany were reunited. Many people believe these events marked
the end of the Cold War.
The collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost
control of the Soviet government after conservative Communist officials attempted to
overthrow Gorbachev. The attempt failed, and the Soviet parliament suspended all Communist
Party activities. By the end of 1991, most of the republics that made up the Soviet Union
had declared independence, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. A majority of the
republics formed a new, loose confederation called the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Scientific and technological achievements. During the
1900's, advances in science and technology have changed the world in many dramatic ways.
Airplanes, automobiles, communications satellites, computers, lasers, plastics,
refrigerators, and television are only a few of the inventions that have transformed human
life in this century. Research into the structure of the atom has expanded scientists'
view of the universe and led to the discovery of nuclear energy as a source of power.
Unmanned space probes have explored other planets and sent back data on them. Antibiotics
and other new drugs have helped control most infectious diseases. Agricultural output has
soared as scientists have developed better varieties of plants and highly efficient
fertilizers and pesticides. The rapid medical progress and increases in food supplies have
enabled millions of people to live healthier and longer lives.
In a number of cases, the scientific and technological achievements of the 1900's have
created new problems. Breakthroughs in nuclear research, for instance, have led to the
development of powerful weapons of mass destruction. The rapid growth of industrial
technology has created such serious side effects as environmental pollution and fuel
shortages. Increases in life expectancy have contributed to overpopulation in many of the
world's developing countries, where birth rates have remained high as death rates have
The interdependence of nations. In some ways, the world today seems full of divisions. No
war has broken out directly between major world powers since World War II ended in 1945,
but fighting has gone on in some part of the globe almost every day since then. In 1991,
for example, the United States, Britain, and other countries drove Iraq out of Kuwait
after Iraq had invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1990. Since the late 1980's, tensions
between Communist and non-Communist nations have decreased. But the fact that some nations
have nuclear weapons still makes the threat of nuclear war a worldwide concern. In
economics, the gulf between developing and developed countries is much greater than ever
before. About 60 per cent of the people in the Third World live in extreme poverty, while
resources are consumed in huge quantities in developed countries simply to provide
In spite of all the divisions in the world today, peoples and nations are tied together
more closely than ever before. Electronic communications and worldwide systems of
transportation make it possible for ideas and information to be shared quickly by peoples
around the globe. Exchanges between cultures are more rapid and widespread than at any
time in the past. Nations have become increasingly interdependent as such problems as
pollution and the reduction of natural resources have grown too big for any one government
to handle. Many countries belong to international economic or political organizations.
Some developed countries give developing nations financial aid and technical assistance.
The breakdown of barriers between cultures began with the spread of European civilization.
Westernization, more than any other force, has shaped much of the modern world and laid
the foundation for the development of a common world culture. Today, many peoples
throughout the world recognize the interdependence of nations and the need for
international cooperation. The growing unity of human experience offers some hope that
nations can settle their differences peacefully and avoid another world war.
Important Dates (9000 to 1500 B.C.)
c. 9000 B.C. The development of agriculture began with the growing of
crops and the domestication of animals in the Middle East.
c. 3500 B.C. A number of small cities, centers of the world's first
civilization, appeared in Sumer, the lower part of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.
c. 3500 B.C. The Sumerians invented the first form of writing. The
Sumerian system was later simplified to produce wedge-shaped cuneiform writing, which
spread throughout the Middle East.
c. 3100 B.C. King Menes of Upper Egypt united Lower and Upper Egypt.
c. 3000-1100 B.C. The Minoan civilization on the island of Crete rose
c. 2500 B.C. The Indus Valley civilization began to flourish at
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in what is now Pakistan.
2300's B.C. Sargon of Akkad conquered the Sumerians and united all
Mesopotamia under his rule, creating the world's first empire.
1700's B.C. The Shang dynasty began its rule in the Huang He Valley of
c. 1792-1750 B.C. Babylonia flourished under King Hammurabi.
1500's-c. 1100 B.C. The city of Mycenae was the leading political and
cultural center on the Greek mainland.
c. 1595 B.C. The Hittites, a warlike people from what is now central
Turkey, conquered the Babylonians.
c. 1500 B.C. The Aryans of central Asia began migrating to India.
Important Dates (1500 B.C. to A.D. 500)
1020 B.C. The Hebrews founded a kingdom in what is now Palestine.
800's B.C. The Etruscans settled in west-central Italy.
750-338 B.C. Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes were the chief
city-states of Greece.
c. 550 B.C. Cyrus the Great established the Persian Empire.
509 B.C. The people of Rome revolted against their Etruscan rulers and
established a republic.
338 B.C. Philip II of Macedonia conquered the Greeks.
331 B.C. Alexander the Great won the Battle of Arbela, assuring his
conquest of the Persian Empire.
221-206 B.C. The Qin dynasty established China's first strong central
202 B.C. The Han dynasty began its 400-year rule of China.
146 B.C. The Romans conquered Greece.
55-54 B.C. Julius Caesar led the Roman invasion of Britain.
27 B.C. Augustus became the first Roman emperor.
c. A.D. 250 The Maya Indians developed an advanced civilization in
Central America and Mexico.
313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted freedom of
worship to Christians of the Roman Empire.
320 India began its golden age under the Gupta dynasty.
395 The Roman Empire split into the East Roman, or Byzantine, Empire and
the West Roman Empire.
476 The Germanic chieftain Odoacer overthrew Romulus Augustulus, the
last emperor of the West Roman Empire.
Important Dates (500 to 1500)
300's-mid-1000's The Ghana Empire, the first great black empire in
western Africa, existed as a trading state.
527-565 The Byzantine Empire reached its greatest extent under Emperor
622 Muhammad, prophet of Islam, fled from Mecca to Medina. His flight,
called the Hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
732 Charles Martel and the Franks defeated invading Muslims in fighting
in west-central France. The victory prevented the Muslims from overrunning Europe.
750 The Abbasids became the caliphs of the Islamic world.
800 Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, ruler of the Franks, emperor of
c. 988 Vladimir I (also spelled Volodymyr) established Christianity
among the East Slavs, ancestors of the Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian people.
1054 Rivalries between the church in Rome and the church in
Constantinople resulted in their separation as the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern
1192 Yoritomo became the first shogun to rule Japan. Shogun rule lasted
1215 English barons forced King John to grant a charter of liberties
called Magna Carta.
1279 The Mongols gained control of all China.
1300's The Renaissance began in Italy.
1368 The Ming dynasty began its nearly 300-year rule of China.
1453 The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (Istanbul) and overthrew
the Byzantine Empire.
Important dates in world history (1500 to 1900)
1500's The Reformation led to the birth of Protestantism.
1519-1521 Ferdinand Magellan commanded the first globe-circling voyage,
completed in 1522 after his death.
1521 The Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes defeated the Aztec Indians
1526 Babur, a Muslim prince, invaded India and founded the Mughal
1588 The Royal Navy of England defeated the Spanish Armada, establishing
England as a great naval power.
1644-1912 The Manchus ruled China as the Qing dynasty.
1776 The 13 American Colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence,
establishing the United States of America.
1789 The French Revolution began.
1815 Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo, ending
his attempt to rule Europe.
1853-1854 Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan and opened two ports to
U.S. trade, ending Japan's isolation.
1858 Britain took over the rule of India from the East India Company
after the Indaian Rebellion, also called the Sepoy Rebellion.
1865 Union forces defeated the Confederates in the American Civil War
after four years of fighting.
1869 The Suez Canal opened.
1871 Germany became united under the Prussian king, who ruled the new
empire as Kaiser Wilhelm I.
1898 The United States took control of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the
Philippines following the Spanish-American War.
Important Dates (Since 1900)
1914 The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary
started World War I.
1917 The Bolsheviks (Communists) seized power in Russia.
1933 Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany.
1939 Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.
1941 The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered
World War II.
1945 The United Nations was established.
1945 The first atomic bombs used in warfare were dropped by U.S. planes
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
1945 World War II ended in Europe on May 7 and in the Pacific on
1949 The Chinese Communists conquered China.
1950 North Korean Communist troops invaded South Korea, starting the
1957 The Vietnam War started when South Vietnamese rebels attacked the
U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government.
1969 U.S. astronauts made the first manned moon landing.
1989-1990 Democratic reforms spread across Eastern Europe, and several
non-Communist governments replaced Communist dictatorships.
1990 East Germany and West Germany were reunited, ending the division of
Germany that had begun soon after the end of World War II.
1991 The Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost control of the Soviet
government, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.