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Historical Period: Ancient History

Updated on April 18, 2018
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Overview

Regarded by historians as the era between the first writing systems and the Early Middle Ages, ancient history is considered to have begun around 3,200 BCE (Before Common Era) with the invention of writing. There is no agreed upon end date for Ancient history in Europe, with most scholars using the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE (Common Era). In China, historians consider Ancient history to have ended with the country’s unification by King Zhuangxiang of Qin in 221 BCE and in India, most believe it to have ended with the collapse of the Gupta Empire in 550 CE.

Knowledge of the ancient world comes through archaeological study of the era’s artifacts as well as the ruins of its cities along with the accounts of ancient historians. Notable writers include Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus,, Sima Qian, and Ban Zhao. Though few historical documents have survived to the modern era as literacy was not widespread, ancient civilizations have had a long-lasting legacy.

There were many prominent civilizations throughout ancient history. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Neo-Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Incan, and Mayan Empires, the Han Dynasty, Egypt, Greece, and Rome are just a few of those societies.


Culture

The ancient world saw massive advancements in culture, especially with the introduction of writing. Historians date the earliest written literature to approximately 2,600 BCE and believe a Sumerian high priestess named Endehuanna to be the first author. The Epic of Gilgamesh is regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature, written on clay tablets dated to approximately 2,100 BCE. Numerous other works were written during this time, such as the Code of Hammurabi, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Iliad, Odyssey, Old and New Testaments, and The Art of War. Aristotle, Plato, Homer, Hesiod, Sun Tzu, Ovid, and Augustine of Hippo are among the various authors of note who lived and wrote in this era.

Additionally, art flourished in this era from the Egyptians who had the first recognizable artistic style to the Greeks whose style of sculpture eventually became a standard upon rediscovery. This period is further known for Hellenistic art, which replaced earlier realism with heroicism, and Roman art, where artists imitated Greek style. In Asia, China was also becoming more artistically active. Not only did calligraphy become a highly respected medium, but the famous Terracotta Army was created during the Qin Dynasty.

As music evolved, it became an important part of life for ancient civilizations, just as much for entertainment as it was for religious and social functions. Moreover, each civilization had its own musical contributions. As examples, Egyptians developed primitive lutes and harps as early stringed instruments, Greeks discovered the use of numbers in music and developed much of what is known today as music theory, Romans established the usage of brass instruments and The Chinese wrote music on a five-note pentatonic scale.


Science & Technology

The growth of ancient civilizations led to advancements in technology and engineering, the effects of which are still felt in the modern world. In Egypt, the invention of simple machines helped make construction and shipbuilding easier. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization applied knowledge of engineering, sanitation and hydrology to how they planned cities. Likewise, a multitude of inventions arose out of China, Greece, and Rome. Cast iron, paper, cranes, winches, piston pumps, concrete, glass blowing, aqueducts and public baths are only some of the developments from these societies.


Sociological Timeline

  • 3,200 BCE - Earliest evidence of Sumerian cuneiform writing; Cycladic civilization begins in Greece; Norte Chico civilization begins in Peru; Rise of Proto-Elamite civilization in Iran; Ancient history begins
  • 3,100 BCE - Skara Brae settled in Scotland; First dynasty of Egypt begins
  • 3,000 BCE - Egyptian calendar created; Jiroft civilization begins in Iran; first known use of papyrus in Egypt
  • 2,800 BCE - Kot Diji phase of Indus Valley Civilization begins; Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors period begins in China
  • 2,700 BCE - Rise of Elam in Iran: Old Kingdom begins in Egypt
  • 2,600 BCE - Date of oldest known surviving literature in Sumer: 500 tablets and fragments containing Instructions of Shuruppak, the Kesh temple hymn and others; Mature Harappan phase of Indus Valley Civilization begins
  • 2,560 BCE - Great Pyramid of Giza completed
  • 2,334-2270 BCE - Akkadian Empire begins
  • 2,200-2,100 BCE - Old Kingdom & Akkadian Empire collapse
  • 2,200 BCE - Stonehenge completed
  • 2,070 BCE - Xia Dynasty begins in China
  • 1,800 BCE - Alphabetic writing begins
  • 1,780 BCE - Oldest record of Code of Hammurabi
  • 1,700 BCE - Indus Valley Civilization ends; Poverty Point civilization begins in North America
  • 1,600 BCE - Minoan civilization on Crete destroyed
  • 1,600 BCE - Mycenaean civilization begins in Greece; Shang Dynasty begins in China; Earliest evidence of fully developed Chinese writing system; Hittite dominance begins in Eastern Mediterranean region
  • 1,500 BCE - Rigveda composed
  • 1,400-400 BCE - Olmec civilization flourishes in Mexico
  • 1,200 BCE - Hallstatt culture begins in Western and Central Europe
  • 1,200-1,150 BCE - Bronze Age collapses
  • 1,180 BCE - Hittite Empire collapses
  • 1,100 BCE - Use of iron spreads
  • 1,046 BCE - Zhou Dynasty begins in China
  • 890 BCE - Earliest evidence of composition of Iliad and Odyssey
  • 832 BCE - Temple of Jerusalem constructed
  • 800 BCE - Greek city-states begin
  • 753 BCE - Rome begins
  • 745-727 BCE - Neo-Assyrian Empire begins
  • 722 BCE - Spring and Autumn period begins in China
  • 612 BCE - Neo-Assyrian Empire falls
  • 600 BCE - Pandyan Kingdom begins in South India; Earliest evidence of writing by Zapotec civilization in Oaxaca
  • 653 BCE - Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, born
  • 551 BCE - Confucius, founder of Confucianism, born
  • 550 BCE - Persian Empire begins
  • 549 BCE - Mahavira, founder of Jainism, born
  • 539 BCE - Babylonian Empire falls
  • 512 BCE - Persian Empire at largest extent
  • 509 BCE - Roman Republic begins
  • 508 BCE - Democracy begins in Athens
  • 500 BCE - Classical Sanskrit standardized; earliest evidence for use of zero and binary numeral system
  • 499-449 BCE - Greco-Persian Wars
  • 490 BCE - Battle of Marathon
  • 483 BCE - Death of Gautama Buddha
  • 480 BCE - Battles of Thermopylae & Salamis
  • 479 BCE - Death of Confucius
  • 475 BCE - Warring States period begins in China
  • 470-469 BCE - Socrates born
  • 465 BCE - Xerxes murdered
  • 432 BCE - Parthenon completed
  • 431-404 BCE - Peloponnesian War between Greek city-states
  • 427 BCE - Plato born
  • 424 BCE - Nanda dynasty begins in India
  • 422 BCE - Temple of Jerusalem destroyed
  • 399 BCE - Death of Socrates
  • 384 BCE - Aristotle born
  • 331 BCE - Alexander the Great completes conquest of Persia
  • 323 BCE - Death of Alexander the Great
  • 300 BCE - Chola Empire begins in South India; Great Pyramid of Cholula constructed in Mexico
  • 273 BCE - Ashoka becomes Mauryan Emperor
  • 261 BCE - Kalinga War
  • 264-241 BCE - First Punic War
  • 240-238 BCE - Mercenary War
  • 257 BCE - Thục Dynasty begins in Vietnam
  • 232 BCE - Mauryan Empire collapses
  • 221 BCE - Qin Dynasty begins in China
  • 218-202 BCE - Second Punic War
  • 206 BCE - Han Dynasty begins in China
  • 200 BCE - Paper invented in China; Chera dynasty begins in South India
  • 185 BCE - Shunga Empire begins in India
  • 149-146 BCE - Third Punic War
  • 111 BCE - First Chinese domination of Vietnam
  • 49 BCE - Roman Civil War
  • 27 BCE - Roman Empire begins
  • 18 BCE - Three Kingdoms period begins in Korea; Temple of Jerusalem reconstructed
  • 6-4 BCE - Birth of Jesus Christ
  • 26-34 - Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
  • 70 - Jerusalem destroyed
  • 76 - First recorded Olympic Games begin
  • 79 - Pompeii destroyed
  • 192 - Kingdom of Champa begins in Central Vietnam
  • 200s - Srivijaya Empire begins in Southeast Asia
  • 220 - Three Kingdoms period begins in China
  • 226 - Parthian Empire falls; Sassanian Empire begins
  • 280 - Jin Dynasty begins in China
  • 325 - First Council of Nicaea
  • 354 - Augustine of Hippo born
  • 476 - Western Roman Empire falls

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