Ancient Civilisations



This is just a short introduction to my site covering ancient civilisations, often seen as beginning with 'recorded history' or the written record, and going through to the early middle ages, but also sometimes limited only to the Greco-Roman world and called classical antiquity. For me, I will look at MesopotamiaEgyptGreece, and the Roman Empire (ending 476 AD), and I will also include the bronze age in Europe, the early Chinese dynasties, and the Olmec and Maya civilisations of Central America.


I have also included a page on lesser known ancient civilisations.


Strictly speaking ancient civilisations starts with the written word (protoliterate), but I have take some 'artistic license' and also included the Stone Age (pre-history) in my site. 


I am going to kick-off this page with an odd looking map. You can kind of see that it is Europe, but not the Europe we know today. It is Europe some 13 million years ago, in the so-called Miocene period. We can see the Alpine orogeny squashed between the Eurasian and African plates, and what would one day become the Atlas, Pyrenees, Alps, and Balkans. And to put that into context, we must remember that the dinosaur disappeared some 66 million years ago, the Mediterranean dried up between 12 million and 5 million years ago, and the very earliest humans (Homo) migrated into Europe some 1.4 million years ago. The below image comes from a site entitled “Reconstructing the Ancient Earth” provided by Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.








This period includes some of the most important moments in human civilisation, namely:

The Stone Age (PaleolithicMesolithicNeolithic), the Chalcolithic (copper) Age (ca. 5000 BC) with the Bronze Age (ca. 3200-600 BC), and the Iron Age (ca. 1200 BC to 400 AD), all according to the three-age system

What many people term the ‘cradle of civilisation' with the emergence of the city states of Mesopotamia in the fertile crescent, the Sumer civilisation in the Ubaid period (6500-3800 BC), the Uruk period (ca. 4000-3100 BC), and the rise of the first empire in human history, the Akkadian Empire (2334-2193 BC)

The building of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey (10,000-8000 BC), the megalithic temples complex at Gozo in Malta (ca. 3600-2500 BC), and the great Egyptian pyramids (ca. 2630-2611 BC)

Early writing systems started to emerge (ca. 6000-5000 BC), including the development of “proto-cuneiform” writing in the Uruk period

The arrival of farming at the Atlantic coast (ca. 5000 BC)

In Mesopotamia (in the Uruk period 4000-3100 BC) the foundations of mathematics, astronomy, astrology, civil law, and hydrology were established, and the sailboat, the wheel and the potter’s wheel were invented

The appearance of harps, flutes, lyres and early forms of clarinet (4000-3000 BC)

Linen production, white painted pottery, and stone sculptures (4000-3000 BC)

Indus Valley civilisation (3250-1750 BC), with its new handicraft techniques, metallurgy, urban planning, baked brick houses, and elaborate water supply and drainage systems 

Stonehenge construction begins (ca. 3000 BC), and finishes (ca. 2200 BC)

The appearance of the CycladicMinoan (Crete), and Helladic cultures (ca. 3000 BC)

The manufacturing in Egypt of papyrus (ca. 2560-2550 BC)

The mammoth becoming extinct (ca. 2500 BC)

The building of Babylon (ca. 2000 BC)

The building of Knossos (first palace in ca. 1900 BC) and Troy (ca. 1334 BC)

The population of the “classical” world exceeded 50 million (ca. 1000 BC)

The founding of the Etruscan civilisation (ca. 800 BC)

The first Olympic Games (776 BC) and the period called ‘classical antiquity' through to the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD)

Rome founded (753 BC) and the Roman Republic established (509 BC)

The birth of Buddha (563 BC)

The institution of democracy in Athens (508 BC) 

The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)

Archimedes (ca. 287-212) lays the foundations of hydrostatics, statics, explains the principle of the lever, and is able to calculate the area under an arc, the approximate value of pi, the volumes of solids,....

The building of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (280-247 BC)

The mausoleum of the first Qin emperor and the terra-cotta army (210-209 BC)

The Great Wall of China is completed (ca. 200 BC)

The murder of Julius Caesar (44 BC)

The birth of Christ (1 AD)

The burial of Pompeii (79 AD) 

Paper started to be used in China (ca. 100 AD)

And finally the ‘classic' period of the Maya civilisation (ca. 250-900 AD).


And there is the ancient history timeline and a timeline of human prehistory.


Warning - these pages are a work in progress, so some pages will be semi-complete, others in a draft form, and others empty and waiting (perhaps forever).  



Here are a few pointers to interesting resources:

You have an Ancient History Encyclopedia which is a non-profit educational resource.

The British Museum has a site dedicated to ancient civilisations, for those with an age between 3 to 16+.

Fordham has an Ancient History Sourcebook, covering Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Israel, Greece, and Rome.

The Perseus Digital Library is an open-access site cataloging research material, collections and texts. There are also academic resources providing access to the more general topic of European history, e.g. The European History Primary Sources. And of course you can check out the early chapters of the WikiBook on European History.

Ancient History is an open directory project which points to articles and resources. The site closed in 2017, but the resources are still available.  


And you have a number of archaeology magazines and journals, such as the Archaeological Institute of AmericaCambridge Archaeological JournalOpen Access ArchaeologyBritish ArchaeologyInstitute of ArchaeologyThe ArchaeologistVirtual Archaeology ReviewPastHorizonsStone Pages, ...  


Paleontology podcasts are a great source of information presented in an easy to consume format. Here are few: Past TimePalaeocastPalaeo After DarkDragon TonguesTetrapod Zoology Podcast, …


And here are some links to background video material:

There is a series of video “crash courses” on world history (a bit light-hearted and certainly superficial, but easy to watch) - 1: Agricultural Revolution, 2: Indus Valley Civilisation,  3: Mesopotamia, 4: Ancient Egypt, 5: The Persians and Greeks, 6: Buddha and Ashoka, followed by 2,000 Years of Chinese HistoryAlexander the GreatThe Silk Road and Ancient TradeThe Roman Empire, Or RepublicChristianity from Judaism to ConstantineThe Fall of the Roman Empire, and more but on later periods.


Here are a few additional, more in-depth analyses: The National Geographic Birth of CivilisationIntroduction to Archaeology with HominidsPalaeolithic Europe, …, Archaeology at Work


I personally am a big fan of the site Ancient Origins, which actually calls itself a ‘pop archaeology' site.


And if you have heard of the all the ‘discussions’ about alien 'involvement' in our past, check out this Ancient Aliens Debunked.


bernard.smith@mac.com © Bernard Smith 2017