These notes follow on from the section on Prehistory, which dealt with the biological evolution of human beings, and their spread and settlement, to the formation of the first civilisations. We now come to a period of further population growth, conflict between different regions, development of more hierarchical political organisations, covering larger areas, forming nations and empires. We also consider the broad outlooks on life that have been adopted, as shown in cultures, religions, worldviews and customs. Prehistory can only study humans en masse. History begins to study individuals, although at the earliest times these tend to be those who became prominent as rulers, war leaders, law-givers or those who promoted ethical and religious worldviews, i.e. philosophers and prophets.
As for Prehistory, almost all of the evidence for this early history comes from the methods of Archaeology: the study of physical remains of human activities, such as buildings, pottery, and waste and from the study of human remains such as burials and bones. This is a matter of piecing together, often literally, very small traces by careful detective work. Methods of doing this forensic work have greatly advanced in recent years thanks in part to improved knowledge in chemistry, physics and biology. W
What I call Palaeohistory covers a period of 3200 years, that is 8 Ages of 400 years, from −4000 to −800. Thus Palaeohistory takes us from the discovery of bronze and the beginnings of writing to the beginnings of literature. The rest of human history covers another 8 Ages of 400 years each covering 3200 years from −800 to +2400 i.e. to the end of the Present Age that is just beginning. The acceleration of events in the last 3200 years makes it impossible to cover the whole Era adequately in a single section. Each Age is given its own web page, which shows clearly the contrasts in amount of creative activity. Looking back through Prehistory from −4000 in Eras of 3200 years, −7200 marks the beginning of domestication and founding of Jericho. Another 3200 takes us to −10400 near to the end of the last ice age. So the whole of History since the ice age is covered by just Four 3200-year Eras, or 128 centuries, or 32 Ages of 400 years.
Colour coding: China India Egypt and Africa Persia, Mesopotamia and Near East Greece and Europe America, Australia and Pacific
Farming spreads to Britain and southern Scandinavia;
ice era conditions in northern Europe delayed the beginnings of agriculture
until much later than in southern climes.
First colonisation of the Pacific islands.
Horses domesticated, Ukraine.
Migration into North America from Siberia.
−3,800 Bronze alloys, copper hardened with arsenic (or later tin), invented in Mesopotamia.
−3,650; Wheeled vehicles invented, Middle East, S Asia, Europe.
−3,500 Hierarchical organisation develops. Where settled communities prospered the food production allowed the population to increase, and efficient production required people to specialise in particular jobs - the principle of "division of labour". This also resulted in a more elaborate hierarchy, with the leaders and organisers tending to become a self-perpetuating ruling class, controlling the wealth in the form of grain and livestock, and others dependent on them. As settlements developed into cities, the hierarchical organisation became characteristic of what we now call "civilization" and "society".
−3,500 Origin of Writing. Sumeria: The need to record the amount of grain and livestock and bartering exchanges led to the invention of methods of accounting and number systems, which eventually led to beginnings of writing. System using pictographs developed in Uruk, S Mesopotamia. Hieroglyphic writing developed in Egypt. @
−3,400 Start of Minoan civilisation on Crete.
South America: Potatoes harvested. Pottery-using cultures develop in Andes. Fishing villages on Pacific coast of S America.
Copper in use in Thailand.
−3,372 First date in Mayan calendar! See 300.
−3,200 Longshan hierarchical society develops in China.
Sumerians invent cuneiform writing.
The term 'civilisation' refers of course to the development of the culture necessary for living in cities. Cities developed first in the Sumerian civilisation, in lower Mesopotamia, −3500, followed by Egyptian civilisation along the Nile, −3300, and Harappan civilisation in the Indus Valley, −3300. Elaborate cities grew up, with high levels of social and economic complexity. Each of these civilizations was so different from the others that they almost certainly originated independently. It was at this time, and due to the needs of cities, that writing and extensive trade were introduced.
The earliest known form of writing was cuneiform script, created by the Sumerians from c.−3000. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. Over time, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract. Cuneiform was written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a reed stylus.
Regrettably there seems to be no fully agreed chronology of ancient Egypt. The dynasty numbers don't help much since at times they seem to have ruled in parallel. For dates in the Egyptian chronologies I have relied on a listing from University College London in the following link. It is admitted that: "Dates are only certain after 664 BC. The earliest dates are often very unsecure." @
King Narmer, unified Upper (south) with Lower (north) Egypt, and founded capital at Memphis. Some identify him with the legendary King Menes, recorded in Greek sources as the first King of Egypt, others identify him with King Aha. First dynasty (−3,000 to −2,750) Kings: Aha, Djer, Djet, Queen Merytneit, Kings: Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet, Qaa. The earliest surviving religious scriptures, the Pyramid Texts, produced by the Egyptians. Egyptian "Old Kingdom" period (−2,780 to −2,181). Africa: Lake Chad begins to dry up. Sahara becomes a desert. @
−3000: The stone circle, Stonehenge, in southern Britain, together with the long known Avebury stones, and the recently excavated (2013) Durrington Walls is now thought to be all part of one large ceremonial site. It is thought it began as circular earthwork with post holes for wood, with the stones being erected later from −2600 and modified over centuries. W W W
Middle East: Cuneiform script alphabet of some 600 signs developed from earlier pictograph system, Sumeria. Complex diet of meat cooked with herbs, cultivation of figs, grapes, honey, cucumbers. Copper smelting and potter's wheel introduced to China from Middle East.
India: Cotton weaving developed in the Indus valley.
South America: Potatoes grown, alpacas and llamas domesticated in Andes. Agriculture develops in Mexico. Towns built on the coast of Peru.
Copper mines in Sinai (−2,920;). Sumer: Cuneiform script formalised in its final form (−2,900;). Sumeria: Rich burials with human sacrifice in the 'Royal Cemetary' at Ur. (−2,600;)
Egypt: Second dynasty (−2,750 to −2,686) Kings: Hotepsekhemwy, Raneb, Ninetjer, Sekhemib (= Peribsen?), Sened, Weneg, Khasekham (= Khasekhemwy?), also possibly Sneferka and Ba.
China: −2700 shell, bone, bronze, wood, silk, bamboo used for art. Chinese yang and yin theory applied to acupuncture and herbal medicine.
−2,700; Olive trees grown in Crete, exports olive oil.
Egypt: Third Dynasty: (−2,686 to −2,600) Kings: Netjerkhet (= Djoser), Sekhemkhet, Khaba, Sanakht, Huni. @
Djoser was the builder of the step pyramid at Saqqara, whose architect, physician and advisor was Imhotep (−2,630). @ W W
Preservation of fish and poultry by sun-drying (−2,600;).
−2,600; India: Urban civilisation develops in Indus valley, with pictographic writing.
S. America: Pacific coast, monumental ceremonial centres of Aspero tradition.
−2,600 to −2,450; Egypt conquers Nubia and Lybia. Fourth Dynasty: Snefru, Khufu, Djedefre, Khafre, Nebka (= Bikheris), Menkawre, Shepseskaf, Thampthis. @
Pyramids were built by pharaohs for 1000 years, over 100 are known. The founder of the 4th dynasty Snefru built at least four. The three great pyramids at Giza were built for other rulers of the 4th dynasty. W
−2,580; Khufu, aka Cheops, becomes ruler of Egypt, builder of the Great pyramid around −2560. At 450 ft it remained the tallest building in the world until the 19th century (?). W @
−2,560; Djedefre built a pyramid but on a different site, now poorly preserved.
−2,540; Khafre, aka Chephren (fl.c.−2525), builder of the second of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and possibly of the Great Sphinx, although this may still be uncertain. @ W
−2,510; Menkaure becomes ruler of Egypt, builder of the third and smallest of the Great Pyramids at Giza. Papyrus first used c.−2500, continued to +900.
−2450 to −2300; Egypt: Fifth Dynasty: Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare, Shepseskare, Neferefre, Niuserre, Menkawhor, Djedkare, Unas. @
−2400; Four-wheeled wagons are used for warfare in Mesopotamia.
"In Lothal (c. −2400), the ancient port city of the Harappan civilization, shell objects served as compasses to measure the angles of the 8-12 fold divisions of the horizon and sky in multiples of 40-360 degrees, and the positions of stars." [source?]
−2350; Ptahotep, was an advisor at the court of Isesi (or Izezi) of Egypt, the 8th king of the 5th Dynasty (ruled −2388 - −2356), though dates given vary considerably. The Prisse papyrus, now in the Louvre Paris, contains the Maxims of Ptah Hotep (also termed the 'Precepts' or 'Instruction') which is a short manual of moral counsels, written in his old age to advise his son and successor on principles of good, and politic, conduct, and based on traditional sayings. W F
−2350; Earliest known code of laws by King Urukagina of Lagash, Sumer.
−2300 to −2181; Egypt: Sixth Dynasty: Teti, Pepy I, Merenre, Pepy II. @
−2334; Sargon I of Akkad, conquers Mesopotamia, Akkadian empire dominates for 150 years. Sargon of Akkad Legend c.−2,300 (similar to Moses basket story). F @
−2300; China: Rice introduced to N. China from the Indus valley.
Mesoamerica: Permanent farming villages and pottery appearing.
India: Indus valley civilisation flourishes until −1,750).
−2250; Babylonian Laws and Contracts F F
c.−2,200 Akkadian Precepts (similar to Ptahhotep) F F.
−2200; China: Domestication of dogs, goats, pigs, oxen and sheep; milling of grain. Start of Xia (Hsia) dynasty (−2205) ruling most of Chinese territory.
−2193; Collapse of Akkadian empire, due to invasion of Gutian tribes from Zagros Mts.
−2181 to −2,025; Egypt: First Intermediate Period. Dynasties 7 to 11. Many minor Kings. Egypt suffers famine and unrest as Nile flood fails for several years in succession. −2150; (?biblical?)
−2160: Egyptian Calendar. "Representations of the earliest calendars in history have been found on tomb ceilings and sarcophagus lids from the 9th Dynasty [−2160] onwards." [BBC]
−2136; Chinese astronomers record a solar eclipse. @
−2134; Egypt: Collapse of power ends the Old Kingdom period. First Intermediate Period of local struggles.
−2125; King Utukhegal of Erech (Uruk), Sumerian King List. @
Sumer: −2100; Ur-Nammu founds 3rd dynasty of Ur (−2112).
First ziggurats built at Ur, Eridu, Uruk, Nippur. Sumerian renaissance.
Legend: dates ranging from −2100 to −1700 are suggested for when Abraham, first Hebrew patriarch, left Ur to found new nation in Canaan (between Syria and Egypt); monotheism; son Isaac, grandson Jacob.
−2,040: to −1,786 (or −2025 to −1,700) Egypt: Middle Kingdom.
Dynasties 11 and 12. Mentuhotep II (11th dynasty) reestablished unity of Egypt.
Literary composition: The Prophecy of Nerferty @ set in the reign of Shefru.
Egyptian heiroglyphs and demotic script develop −2000. Abortive attempts to domesticate the gazelle, antelope and oryx. Arabia: Figs. Africa: Watermelons. Migration of Bantu south from Central Africa. First settlers reach New Guinea.
−2004 to −1,950: Empire of Ur goes into decline after attack by the Elamites.
Sumer: −2000: The Epic of Gilgamesh the first written myth, survives in fragmentary form on Sumerian tablets c.−2000, but in its most complete form on Assyrian tablets c.−650. @ @ @ @
Sumerian Proverbs, Hymns and Poems c.−2000 and earlier. F, @ @ @
India: Tea, Bananas, Apples, cultivated.
Crete: −2000: Emergence of the Minoan palace civilisation; ships with single square sails. Greece: Merchants from Phylakopi on the island of Milos trade in the local volcanic glass obsidian. Britain: Stonehenge megalithic circle completed.
China: States appeared in the late −3 and early −2 millennia. Urban societies may have developed from −2500, but the first dynasty to be identified by archaeology is the Shang Dynasty.
−1982; Egypt: Death of King Amenemhet (Ammenemes) II, succeeded by his son Senusret I.
−1900; Babylon: Plimpton 322 clay tablet of Old Babylonian period −1900/−1600 showing figures relating to the right triangle rule (now known as 'Pythagorean triples'). @ @
−1872 to −1,853; Egypt: Reign of King Senusret III (Sesostris). Digs canal through the first cataract of the Nile. Egyptian forces invade Palestine and Syria to protect trade. @
−1842; Egypt: King Amenemhet III, reigns 45 years (to −1,797;). Develops mines in Sinai, and irrigation systems.
−1813; Assyria: Emerges as major power under King Shamshi-Adad I (to −1,781).
−1800; India: Indus valley civilisation declines; cities of Mahenjo-daro and Harapa collapse (c.−1,750).
S. America: Pacific coast irrigation agriculture begins. U-shaped ceremonial centres built.
−1800 Middle East: Prohibitions against eating pork develop. Babylonian script developed.
−1797; Egypt: Amenemhet IV rules 10 years as last King of the 12th (Theban) dynasty.
−1792; Babylon: Hammurabi (−1810 - −1750) 6th King of the 1st dynasty, accedes, makes Babylon capital, codifies system of law. The Code of Hammurabi W F W.
−1766; China: King Tang founds the Shang dynasty (to −1,122), overthrowing Xia rule.
−1700; Crete: Knossos becomes dominant centre of Minoan civilisation. W
−1700; Europe: Rye, grown in E. Mediterranean, becomes main bread grain for Celts, Slavs and Teutons of Northern Europe where growing season is shorter.
Middle East: Two-wheeled horse-drawn chariot invented. Babylon: The Ludlul Bel Nimeqi c.−1700 (similar to the Hebrew Book of Job). F
Egypt: −1700 Leavened or raised bread invented. Moscow papyrus, contains results on volume of truncated pyramid. @
Egypt: −1650; Ahmes or Rhind papyrus papyrus, scribed by Ahmes (aka Ahmose) and collected by Rhind, copied from an earlier work (c.−2,000?), our chief source of information on Egyptian mathematics. A;so Edwin Smith papyrus −1650, oldest known medical document (based on earlier work c.−3,000?). M W W
−1640; Egypt: Hyksos tribesmen from Syria and Palestine invade and conquer lower Egypt, starting Second Intermediate Period; introduce wheel and bronze.
−1626; Crete: Minoan civilisation seriously affected by eruption on Thera (Santorini).
−1600: The Nebra Sky Disk is a bronze disk of 30 cm diameter, inlaid with gold symbols of sun, moon and stars, discovered in 1999, now in the Halle museum. The Trundholm Sun Chariot sculpture found in 1902 in Denmark may date from a similar period. W W
−1600, or earlier. Emergence of Mycenaean civilisation in northern Greece, a culture of heroes and warfare.
Middle East −1600: Canaanites (modern Lebanon and Israel) invent the first alphabet;
syllabic script of 28 letters.
Babylon: Babylonian Proverbs F.
China −1600: There is evidence of a fully developed pictographic Chinese writing system.
Egypt −1600: Cat domesticated.
−1595; Babylon: sacked by the Hittites (Indo-Europeans from Turkey) under King Mursilis I (d.−1,590). The beginning of Hittite dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
−1557; China: Shang dynasty makes Zhengzhou its capital.
−1550; Egypt: Hyksos driven out by Kamose and his brother Ahmose, aka Ahmosis I who was the last pharaoh to build a pyramid, and is first king of the 18th dynasty. Start of New Kingdom Period. (also dated −1,567 to −1,085). Literature: Book of the Dead earliest c.−1,550, describes initiation ceremonies into the mystery of the supposed afterlife. @ W
−1500; Egypt: Djehutymes (Thutmose or Tuthmosis) I becomes ruler (−1,504). Extends conquests to Palestine, Syria, Upper and Lower Nubia. Development of geometry for reestablishing field boundaries after annual floods.
India: Aryan nomads from Eurasian steppes enter India. Rig Veda.
China: Use of horse-drawn vehicles. Silk-weaving. Shang dynasty based at Anyang on the Yellow river (Huanghe); royal burials there include human sacrifice.
Central America: Stone temples built in Mexico.
−1492; Egypt: Thutmose II becomes King and reigns with his wife/half-sister Hatshepsut; successful military campaigns aganst the Syrians and Nubians. Egypt: −1479; Hatshepsut rules as regent for Thutmose III; builds two obelisks at Karnak and great temple near Thebes, portraying an expedition to the Land of Punt. W
−1458; Egypt: Tuthmosis III rules. The title pharaoh meaning great house becomes established. Defeats the rebel ruler of Kadesh in Syria at the battle of Megiddo (c.−1,456). Fought 17 campaigns in Palestine and Syria, built temple at Karnak (and 'Cleopatra's needle'). @
−1450; Crete: Conquered by the Mycenaeans bringing Minoan period to an end. Linear B script used (Minoan/Greek).
−1440; South America: Waywaka, Peru, metalwork tools and ornaments of beaten gold.
−1425; Egypt: Amenhotep (Amenophis) II is new ruler. Campaigns in Judea and on the Euphrates.
fl.−1,400 - −1,390 Tuthmosis IV, allies Egypt with Babylon and the Mittani by marriage, campaigns in Phoenicia and Nubia.
Mesoamerica: Olmec civilisation, farming maize.
Middle East: industrial smelting of iron in Asia Minor, beginning of 'Iron Age'.
−1391 Amenhotep III, builds temple of Amun in Luxor, Egypt, development of Thebes.
Pharaoh Akhenaten aka Amenhotep IV, ruled −1379 - 1362 [CBD]; and his queen Nefertiti, built new capital at Amarna, c.−1373; and tried to institute a new religion of sun-worship; but the project was abandoned under their successors. W @ W
Asia Minor: Hittite king Suppiluliumas expands empire from Anatolia to borders of Lebanon.
−1350; China: war chariot introduced.
c.−1358 - c.−1340 [CBD] Tutankhamun 18th dynasty), tomb discovered 1922 by Carnarvon and Howard Carter. W
−1323(?); The priest Ay, vizier and advisor to the Tutankhamun, marries his widow and becomes pharaoh. −1319(?); The soldier Horemheb becomes pharaoh, by military coup, and marrying the sister of Nefertiti. Returns capital to Thebes and restores the old religion.
−1317(?); Rameses I, 1st king of 19th dynasty, Egypt.
c.−1318 - c.−1304 Seti I aka Sethos, 2nd king of 19th dynasty. Built the temple of Abydus and the hypostyle hall at Karnak, Egypt.
−1304 - 1237 [CBD] Rameses II, 3rd king (−1292) of 19th dynasty, King Lists narrowly avoids defeat by Hittites under Muwatalli II at battle of Kadesh in Syria (−1285) and makes peace by marriage. The treaty of Kadesh is the world's oldest recorded peace treaty. Enhances Luxor, Karnak, Thebes, builds the rock temples at Abu Simbel. It is thought by some historians that during his reign the Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt to settle in Canaan (c.−1200), led by Moses according to "Exodus" in the Pentateuch. W @ @
−1300: First settlers reach Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
c.−1236 - c.−1223 Merneptah, Egyptian paharaoh, quells uprisings in Syria and Palestine. He is succeeded by a series of relatively insignificant pharaohs, ending the 19th dynasty. The last of these is a woman, Tausat (Tawsert).
−1200; Egypt: Sethnakhte begins 20th dynasty. Making of fine linen from stalks of flax.
−1200; Mesoamerica: Olmec ceremonial centre built at Tres Zapotes (S. Veracrux) featuring huge stone heads (excavated 1930s). Olmecs continued to −600.
−1200 Early Phoenician script developed.
Scientific ideas in medicine begin to replace magic.
Babylonian star catalogues.
−1198 - −1166 Rameses III, 2nd pharaoh of 20th dynasty, 32-year reign. Repels invasions by Lybians and 'Sea Peoples' (−1187).
−1184; Traditional date for the sack of Troy by the Mycenaean Greeks under Agamemnon.
−1125; Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar I becomes king.
−1122; China: King Wu of Zhou overthrows chinese emperor Di-xin.
Zhou (Chou) dynasty founded, lasts until −256. Chinese calligraphy develops.
−1115; "In −1115, the Chinese invented the first geared mechanism, the South Pointing Chariot, which was also the first to use a differential gear." (??)
−1100 - −612: (Neo)-Assyrian empire. Tiglath-Pileser I conquers Hittites, confronts Phoenicians, conquers Bablylon −1116.
−1100 Greece: Early alphabet developed. Legend of Cadmus.
End of Minoan civilisation on Crete. Dorians invade Greece.
−1070 End of New Kingdom Period in Egypt; 21st-23rd dynasties struggle against internal disorder for 350 years (?).
−1020; Israel: Hebrew leader Saul (11th century) first king of Judea.
−1006; Saul killed in battle with Philistines at Mt. Gilboa. David (died between −1018 and −993) king of Israel until c.−965.
−965; Solomon (c.−1015 - −977) king of Judea until −928; Queen of Sheba. Rehoboam succeeds, but Judea splits, Jeroboam king of Israel.
−1000; South and Central America: Maya settle the Yukatan peninsular; Maize introduced in the Andes. Civilizations such as the Maya, Zapotec, Moche, and Nazca emerged in Mesoamerica and Peru at the end of the −1 millennium.
Europe: Iron Age reaches Hallstatt region (Austria).
−945 Shoshenq I the first of nine pharaohs of Lybian origin [22nd dynasty −935 - −730], may be the pharaoh Shishak mentioned in the Bible; −924 invades Judea and loots Jerusalem. W
c.−900 Zarathustra Spitama aka Zoroaster (some still argue for a later date c.550) founder of the Zoroastrian religion or Parsi, which teaches of a struggle between forces of Good and Evil, personified as Ahura Mazda (Ormazd) and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), as set out in their sacred text the Zend Avesta. W @ @ @ @ @ @
−900: Etruscans settle in Italy.
−850 Chavin culture appears in Peru.
−814: Phoenicians found Carthage.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are sometimes ascribed to the Assyrian queen Semiramis −810 or more usually associated with Nebuchadnezzar II, −605. The temple to Marduk at Babylon is sometimes identified with the mythical Tower of Babel. Herodotus in −450 described the splendour of Babylon, though did not specifically mention the hanging gardens. W @