Historical Chronology

Figure 1.--DNA evidence suggests that Australian aborginees have descended from the first wave of humn migration out of Africa. They followed the coast of Asian on theier way to New Guinea and Australia. They left no trace that archeologusts have found. A DNA trace has been found in India. This early portrait of Australian aboriginal children was probably taken by John William Lindt (1845-1926). Lindt was born at Frankfurt on Main, Germany and emigrated to Australia in 1862.

CIH is building a chronology describing the development of human society. Our focus is on the modern era. Yet it is not possible to fully understand the modern era without an assessment of earlier periods. Thus we have decided to delve into earlier historical eras to provide some basic background on human civilization from the dawn of man. Of course the information available on the stone age is limited, but with the development of civilization we begin to learn much more, especially about the civilizations of the classical world which invented history. We will not pursue these early epochs in the same detail as the modern era, but we believe that it is essential to look at man's evolution and ancient civilizations to begin our assessment of human society. We think that a basic historical perspective is essential to understand the wider cultural context needed to understand history, economics, and many other disciplines. We have been very concerned in recent years over the politicization of so much of the history appearing in the media and popular culture. Here we will endeavor to provide a fact-based assessment of the historical experience without the fog of ideology and political correctness. We invite readers to comment on our text, especially if they think we have diverged from our stated purpose.


Man has stared up and wondered about the Cosmos since the dawn of time. Only in our modern age have we begun (and we stress the term begun) to understand the Cosmos which is now called the universe. Human life constitutes a miniscule time in the history of the universe. While not directly related to our study, cosmology is of interest because it places human history in a useful perspective. For a time after cosmologists debated the origins of the universe. There were two important theories, the steady-state concept and the Big Bang, a term once derisively created to denigrate the concept. Today cosmologists universally accept the Big Bang as the point of creation of the universe. It is an event which occurred about 14 billion years ago. Many astronomers now even offer a more specific time--13.7 bullion years ago. At this time matter, energy, and space exploded out of an unimaginably dense and poorly understood "singularity". It is not know how long this singularity existed or what caused it to become unstable. I have been somewhat confused, because there commonly is no discussion of what occurred before the Big Bang and what the eventual outcome will be. Many cosmologists appear to believe that ours is the only universe and time itself began with the Big Bang creating our universe. It appears more likely, however, that our universe is one of many--probably and infinite number. Our Big Bang is probably just one of the Big Bangs that have occurred over time in cycles that occur regularly, albeit over billions of years. They may involve the collision of processes generated by unidentified and unseen dimensions that are not yet known. Two scientists describe this as the Endless Universe. [Steinhart and Turok]

Life on Earth

Scientists are providing increasingly precise concepts and dates about the origins of our planet and life on earth. The earth appears to be about 4.5 billion years old. We note more precise estimates of 4.55 billion years. The oldest known minerals are about 4.0-4.2 billion years old. Next to nothing of the early earth's surface (crust), however, still exists as a result of plate tectonics. The earth's surface is constantly being recycled. Amazingly, life appears to have originated fairly quickly in the earth's existence. The earth as late as 4.0 billion years ago was a hellish place, a witch's caldron of erupting volcanoes. lava flows, meteor constant strikes, occasional comets, and an atmosphere of noxious gasses. It was not an environment in which life could exist. Yes shortly after, 3.8-3.9 billion years ago, a blink in galactic time, life had begun to form and was soon literally teeming with primitive organisms. While we know when life appeared, there are no proven theories about just how life appeared. Many scientists claimed for some time that chemical processes began which can be called life. Early primitive organisms without hard parts left no fossil record. It is virtually certain that organisms existed earlier that did not leave fossilized remains as evidence of their existence. The earliest fossils have been dated to about 3.5 billion years ago. These estimates can be tinkered with, but the dates are more or less settled science. What is not settled and still hotly debated by scientists is the origins of life. Some believe life spontaneous generated on earth. Scientists do not, however, understand the process through which this occurred and have been unable to replicate it. This has led some scientists to postulate that life as well as large quantities of water were delivered to the early earth by extraterrestrial bodies, probably comets. Many religious groups tend to prefer creation as an explanation of life. The origins of life is a subject that man has wrestled with from the very beginnings of his development as a thinking, sentient being with a concept of self. It has certainly been a subject that has obsessed religion from the very beginning of the civilization. We know much more about the religious concepts in civilized society because there are records and more archeological artifacts. Every religion has developed the concept of a creation and a creator god. This appears to be a concept that virtually defines man. And with this concept fanciful creation stories were developed to describe the act of creation. As many modern religions are related, there are great similarities in the creation stories. And the creation stories of modern religions are not particularly less fanciful than the creation stories of ancient religions. This is because our modern religions are centuries old and were influenced by the religions prevalent in the cultures in which they developed. The development of science has for the first time created a basis for believing that life and man developed through natural processes and were not created. This process has come to be widely accepted in the modern world and even many religious people see no conflict with their religious belief. There has been, however, a historic conflict between science and some religions. The conflict between science and Western Christendom is best known with the Catholic Church's trial of Galileo (16th century) and only recently has the Church exonerated Galileo. The conflict flared again with Darwin's publication of Origin of the Species (1859). And evolution continues to be a source of conflict between religion and science today. Christian Fundamentalists in America insist on dragging evolution into the political arena. (This is of course because they can not compete in the scientific arena.) There is an even stronger anti-science strain in Islam which has resulted in the virtual elimination of serious science in the Muslim beginning even before the fall of the Caliphate. This is one of the great historical tragedies as Muslim thinkers and technicians were on the verge of inventing science and toward a theoretic mindset more than any other matter explains why Muslim countries today tend to be poor and backward, unless like Saudi Arabia they sit on vast oil resources. Yet there need be no conflict between religion and science. Religion is a matter of faith and morality. And these are not subjects open to scientific inquiry. Very important science has been conducted by both moral and evil individuals. Only when religious adherents insist on literal interpretations of religious texts describing natural events does conflict develop with science. But who is to say that God does not work through the laws of nature which religious people believe that he himself created. That evolution occurred is demonstrable in the fossil record. And science does not address the question of WHY these scientific processes exist. Science is concerned with understanding HOW they operate.

Mass Extinctions

After life appeared on earth (3.8-3.9 million years ago) it took considrable time for complex organisms to develop. After that, scientists have found there have been five mass extinctions. The first occured (439 million years ago). The last one is the best known because it was the one that killed off the dinosaurs -- the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction (65 million years ago), leading to the rise of the mammals. It killed off nearly half of all marine life and over 20 percent of land vertebrates.

Evolution of Man

The widely accepted modern theory concerning the origins of man postulate that modern man as well as other advanced species are the result of a long line of evolution beginning with life in the ancient seas. We can see that the basic template of early animals can be found in modern animals such as right and left sides that are roughly similar, spinal cords, four appendages, binocular vision, and other similarities. The most famous proponent of evolutionary theory is Charles Darwin (1809-82) who authored The Origin of Species (1859) describing the theory of evolution which operated through selection of species. His work was based largely on observations which he made during his 5-year voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle (1831-36). It was a theory that revolutionized man's outlook and biological science. Darwin was aware that the basic theory was unsettling enough. Thus he focused on finches, tortoises, and other non-controversial species and avoided addressing apes and humans in any detail. The religious community understood instantly, however, just where Darwin's evolutionary theories led. Humans and modern apes (orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees) are highly similar which suggests a common ape-like ancestor. Modern DNA work shows that they are even more similar genetically than generally believed. Humans diverged from orangutangs (about 15 million years ago) and gorillas (about 10 million years ago). The final break with our most closely related ape ancestors (chimpanzees) came about 6 million years ago. Many scientists were generally astounded when DNA research has found how little modern man differs genetically from chimpanzees. Humans through a combination of environmental and genetic factors, emerged as a species with an unparalleled capacity to create and use tools to both utilize resources as well as to modify the environment. This began about 2 million years ago with the stone age. This meant that early hominids for some 4 million years was just another ape-like species. Despite the intensity of the debate which has not yet ended, mankind's origin has generally been explained from Darwin's evolutionary perspective. Darwin made some mistakes, but the basic outline of his monumental work remains unshaken and is part of the foundation for for modern biological science. Evolution like other major theoretical processes continued to be studied and modified as new findings are reported, revisions to the theory are accepted, and earlier concepts disproven are discarded.


One of the questions associated with human evolution is when language developed. One plausible theory is that it developed as hominids achieved a critical technological breakthrough--they began to craft advanced stone hand axes (Acheulean tools). These required more planning and precision than had been used in the earliest tool-making processes. It may be that prehistoric people began to talk rather than just making noises and calls (1.75 million years BP). The theory is that tool-making skills and language skills developed concurrently reflecting the advance cognitive capabilities of early man. [Uomimi and Meyer] This, however, is a difficult question. Other evolutionary issues like bipedalism can be assessed with fossilized skeletal material. Speech organs in contrast don't fossilize. There are no artifacts that can be linked to speech. We know that there were several Hominid species and populations separated by long distances. Thus we have no idea about the ability of the different species and population groups to communicate. Only with migration of Humanoids out of Africa so we begin to acquire information about language. There were two major migrations. the first went along the southern coat of Asia ending in Australia. Thus the study of aboriginal languages and other residual populations provide some insights into language. The second great migration went north into central Asia, presumably following animal migrations. Most modern languages have evolved from this group and it is entirely different from the first group. There may have been more than one wave with linguistic differences. But some linguistics believe that one basic language about 150,000 years ago eventually evolved into some 6,000 different languages. This along with DNA, pottery, tools, and other items are being used to reconstruct the lost population movements of pre-history..

Pre-history/Stone Age

The stone age was the longest epic of human history. It is essentially synonymous with pre-history. Archeologists have divided the stone age into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The terms and time frame have changed over time as archeologists have improved our understanding of early people. The Paleolithic was the early stone age. It is the earliest and by far the longest period of human existence. There is no precise date for the beginning of the Paleolithic period, but about 2 million years ago is a good rough estimate. It approximately marks the point at which people became human. Paleolithic people were nomadic hunter gatherers. Major advances such as tool work, the use of fire, and language developed in the Paleolithic. The Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age is a relatively recent term. Other terms have been used. The term represents the need felt by archeologists to better describe the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic. During this period ground stone tools appeared they were much more finely fashioned than those used in the Paleolithic. The tools were commonly used for cutting and smoothing. Some may have been used for ornamentation. The people involved were still hunter-gathers. The Neolithic was the late stone age. This was when man began to settle down to form agricultural communities and has been called the Neolithic Revolution because of the dramatic accomplishments in laying the ground work of early agriculture. Many people mixed foraging with agriculture, but the groundwork for agriculture and animal husbandry was made during this period. There is considerable difference of opinion concerning the chronology of the stone age. A factor here is that the chronologies varied in different geographic areas.

Historical Human Eras or Ages

Early archeologists began classifying ancient civilizations into eras describing their technological level. The eras were based on their tool making abilities: stone, bronze, and iron ages. Some added the copper age, but this is more reasonably considered as part of the bronze age. The earliest surviving tools were stones. Sticks, twigs, and other natural items were also used, but have not survived like stone items. Advances in metallurgy made possible magnificent bronze tools. Bronze tools appeared first because of the relatively low melting point of copper and tin. Iron developed much later because the high melting point required much more advanced metal working skills. While the stone age or pre-history has continued to be used by modern archeologists, a system based on the stone, bronze and iron age have gone out of fashion as more evidence has come to light showing a much more complex development of metal working technology than previously understood. In addition, other archeologists have questioned the focus on technological advances in understanding ancient peoples. Yet there are some basic insights available here that we think important to mention.

Neolithic Revolution (10,000/7,000-4.500-2,000 BC)

The Neolithic was the Late Stone age, an ever shorter period of time. The difference in dating reflects the differences at which neolitic technolog spread to different areas. The short period reflects the spiuraling affect of developing technology. And it can be date more precuisely than the other periods because of the much greater availability of archeological evidence. The Neolitic Era was when man began to settle down to form agricultural communities. Many people mixed foraging with agriculture. The Neolithic Revolution is a term introduced by Gordon Childe (1941). He used it to describe the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. It is during this period that the beginnings of civilization appear in the great River Valleys where the first steps toward agriculture were taken. This meant that people began manipulating their environment. People domesticating plants and animals. Some of the most imporant early plants were wheat and barley. The most important animals were sheep and goats. This was a critical step and very complex. It including selecting crops and seeds, finding the best sites suitable for each crop, planting and harvesting at the proper time. Similar methods needed to be developed for animal husbandry. And the development of such complex methods and the social structure necessary to persue them meant in effect the rise of civilization. The results were harvests on a level never before experienced. The wealth produced was another factor in the rise of civilization as it supported a class of people who did not have to labor daily to fulfill their basic needs. This first occurred in the Middle East. The climate and geography were factors. The availability of suitable crops and animals that could be domesticated were also important. One problem in describing the Neolithic period is that the time period varied so widely in different areas and in fact there are even to this day Neolitic peoples such as the Native Americans in the Amazon such as the Yanomano.

Bronze Age (2500-500BC)

The Bronze Age is the last era of pre-history. Early humans began working with copper first because its low melting point and abundance made it the easiest metal to work with. Eventually it was discovered that by adding small quantities of tin (a more difficult metal to find and mine) or other metals that much harder tools and weapons could be fashioned. The important early river valley civilizations emerged during the bronze age and it is here that bronze was first developed. Bronze tools and weapons first appeared in Mesopotamia and Egypt (closely linked to Mesopotamia) about 2500 BC. The Broze Age began somewhay later in other areas. Humans existed in other areas of course during the Bronze Age and bronze technology gradually spread around the world. A factor here was that metals were not abundant in the river valleys where the great civilizations rose. Thus metals like copper and tin had to be obtained through war or trade. Thus there was an underlying dynamic promoting the spread of technology. The Bronze Age reached the outlaying regions with the metal metal resources. The Bronze Age reached Britain soon after bronze was developed. Britain of course had important tin mines. Because of the still primitive technology of most Bronze Age people, there are a limited number of monumental archeological sites outside the great river valleys. One of the best known such site is Stonehenge. Many important advances were made during the Bronze Age, including the use of draft animals, wheeled vehicles, and the potter's wheel. Bronze technology was adopted by both primitive agricultural societies as well as pastoralists which tended to be more war like. Some of these peoples used bronze weapons to press in on rich civilizations of the river valleys. One of the interesting historical processes is how barbarian groups could at times successfully confront the technologically more advanced and more populated civilizations. This is a process which continued into the modern world and was not finally ended until the invention of fire arms. The late Bronze age was the formatuve period for Judaism and is chriicled in the Old Testament.

Iron Age (1200/500- BC)

The coming of the iron age brought fundamental change in human civilization. Iron was known to civilized society during the Bronze Age. Iron is the fourth most common element on earth, much more common than the bronze elements, copper and tin, I was not, however, commonly used for centuries because it was so difficult to use. The basic problem was h because of the higher smelting temperatures needed and which ancient metal workers fond difficult to achieve. Advances in metallurgy eventually enabled iron tools to be fashioned. Iron gradually replaced bronze over a broad time-line (bout 1100-500 BC). This occurred as metallurgical technology improved. Iron may have been used at a very early period (about 3000 BC). This was because the metal was so common, but for two millennial the usage was very limited because it was so difficult to work with. The time line for the more intensive use of iron varies geographically, primarily because of varied technological capabilities. The process seems to have first developed in the Middle East and southeastern Europe (about 1200 BC). For unknown reasons it developed in China much later (about 600 BC). Suddenly metal workers as technology developed began to realize the superior capabilities of iron (1200-1100 BC). It is at this time that we begin to see large numbers of iron tools and weapons and the rapid spread of iron working technology. As iron was so plentiful, ancient civilizations could make far greater use of metal. Even common people could have iron implements and tools. There were immense cultural consequences. New patterns of more permanent settlement developed. And iron weapons put military arms in the hands of the masses for the first time. Until the iron age, only very wealthy societies could afford the bronze weapons needed to arm warriors. And even wealthy societies, because of the basic agricultural methods, could only afford relatively small armies. It meant that ancient civilizations were commonly dominated by a small warrior elite. It also meant that settled agrarian states while rich, because of their small armies were vulnerable to the poorer, less civilized, nomadic steppe people. Iron created a new dynamic. Much larger armies could raised and armed. This made ancient civilization more secure from outside invasion, but also meant that the ruling elite needed more popular domestic support which was managed in variety of ways. It is for this reason that iron is sometime called the 'democratic' metal. It is no accident that democracy in ancient Greece first appeared during the Iron Age. And iron gave even relatively poor small states, like the Greeks the ability to arm themselves and stand up to the great Persian Empire.


An important part of the development of civilization is animals and man's ability to both use them and shape them through selective breeding significantly affected the march of civilization. Animals appeared in cave paintings at the dawn of humanity. They were mostly animals to be hunted before the idea of domestication developed. Animals were first domesticated to assist hunter-gathering people and than much later by agriculturists and pastoralists as they subsequently developed. The role of animals in human development is more important than often recognized. The dog became important to hunter/gathers both in hunting and security. The dog's sense of smell and hearing helped to extend human senses. This made it easier to hunt. The donkey was vital in the spread of commerce and trading which also meant the spread and sharing of ideas. Horses became vital in warfare, especially after the rather small Steppe ponies were bread to create larger animals with greater size and stamina. And horses bred with donkeys created the mule, a more robust beast of burden than the smaller donkey. Sheep, cattle, and pigs once domesticated proved animals of great value and utility. Domesticating these animals provided sources of protein that was much easier to obtain than hunting as well as essentially available when the owner wanted. Camels greatly increased the carrying capacity of caravans and the ability to cross deserts. This lead to opening the historic Silk Road. Cats helped agriculturists control rodent populations. One anthropologist points out that the Native American people without suitable animals to assist with trade were thus handicapped in their development. [Diamond] Limited trade mean limitations on the exchange of ideas.

Civilization Collapses

There have veen several civilization collapses. The earlirst ones are poorly documented. The more recent ones are better understood. Some historimns speculaste that the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt was a collapse of civilization (2100 BC). This early period, however, is not well understood. Mutiple Bronze Age civilizations (Egyptians, Hittites, Mycenaeanns, and Mesopotamians disappeared (1200 BC) leading to what is often called a dark age. The darl age here (1000-700 BC) would eventull lead tothe clories of Greek clasical civilization. The Romam Empire fell (about 400 AD). It is generally see as the transition from the ancient to the medievel era and the onset of the dark ages with a gebral collapse of civilization. The resulting dark ages is the best known of these periods of decline (500-800 AD). Only with Charlemagne did civilization begin its assent again.

Ancient Era

The longest historical era is the Stone age. The next longest era was the Ancient Era. This began in the Stone Age with the Neolithic Revolution meaning the advent of agriculture and the Bronze and Iron Ages. This all began in the great river valleys, both in tne Middle East and Asia. It was here that agriculture and civilization developed, fundamental steps of humanity. Some of these civilizations were in contact, especially Mesopotamia and Egypt. China developed in isolation. All of these civilizations faced fundamental conflicts with nomadic pastoralists. As technology improved, agriculture became possible away from the river valleys. Recent archaeological work suggests that some agriculure began at about the same time of the river valley civilizations, but for the most part this came after the river valley civilizations. We gradually see the appearance of a multiplicy of ancoent civilizations around the world. All achieved aide range of cultural achievements. Only in the West, however, did the idea of freedom emerge and the political mznifestation of democracy.

Ancient Civilizations

The dawn of civilization has come to be labeled the Neolithic Revolution. Stone-age nomads began to settle down in river valleys. They began developed agriculture and domesticate animals. With these developments came stunning advances in technology, especially in metallurgy and writing. One of the technologies and economic activities affect was the increasingly sophisticated production of textiles and clothing. Although the ancient world is not the focus of HBC, some information has been collected on clothing in ancient civilizations. It is only basic information as HBC has not yet been able to devote much attention to this topic. We are collecting some information on the history and clothing technology of several important early civilizations. The first major civilizations arose along fertile river valleys which supported the first primitive agriculture. Recent archaeological work suggests that some agriculure began at about the same time of the river valley civilizations, but for the most part this came after theriver valley civilizations. We gradually see the appearance of a multiplicy of ancoent civilizations around the world. All achieved aide range of cultural achievements. Only in the West, however, did the idea of freedom emerge and the political mznifestation of democracy.

Chronological trends

The ancient era is generally approached through the study of the various ancient civilizations. This is probably the best approach. We thought it might be useful to set up a century chronology summarizing what civilizations were contemporary, who has risen or fallen, and what major technological and cultural developments had occurred. Will help create a basic outline for our ancient history discussions. Ancient history began in Sumner and gradually new civilization occurred in the Fertile Crescent and other great river valleys. These civilizations rose an fell in relative isolation, especially China. The greatest contact was between Mesopotamia and Egypt. As neither could project military power to permanently dominate the other. But gradually city states became territorial states and with Sargon the Great in Akkad, empires begin to rise and fall. We realized that it is rather difficult to piece together chronological trends except when the various civilizations come together in combat such as the Egyptians and Hittites at Qadesh (1274 BC), the Greeks and Persians at Marathon (490 BC), and Rome and Carthage at Cannae (216 BC).

Medieval Europe

The Medieval Era is the longest major period in European history. It is also exceedingly complex. There are, however, some key elements that separate Medieval Europe from the classical civilization of Greece and Rome that it replaced and our modern world today. Life in Medieval Europe was ruder or more primitive than that of Imperial Rome. There were barbarian elements. Society was dominated by a single, militant, and exclusive religion which discouraged or prevented the development of a secular society. The medieval era is generally defined as the period of European history from the fall of Rome (5th century) to the Renaissance (15th century). The Medieval era is often given only limited attention in histories of the West. In fact, the Medieval era by far is the longest period of European history--spanning a millennium. The impact on the Western mind and our modern society was enormous. There were three preeminent cultural influences affecting Medieval Europe. The old civilization of imperial Rome left a powerful cultural footprint. The Church became the dominant influence during much of the Medieval period. The Church provided an ethical dimension that involved moral responsibilities lacking in classical society. The asceticism of the early Church, however, rejected the worldliness of pagan culture. While commonly denigrated as barbarian, the German invaders inculcated concepts of individuality and personal freedom that are today hallmarks of Western civilization. HBC has noted references in fairly recent literature to Aries' dual thesis that the medieval period neither had a sense of childhood as a distinct developmental period nor did medieval parents emotionally value their children. HBC hasn't addressed fashion in the eras before the 1500s yet. One thing we can tell you is that specialized boys' clothes did not exist in the 12th century. There was specialized children's clothing in the Roman era, but after the fall of Rome, the convention of specialized boys' clothing appears to have disappeared in Western Europe. Boys after breaching wore the same styles as their fathers. HBC hopes to eventually address earlier historical eras, but it will be some time before this is possible in any detail.

Middle East

Arab Bedouins burst out of the Arabian desert in 7th century AD. The Arabs were followers of the prophet Mohammed. They swept through the Holy Land and Mesopotamia, driving back the Byzantines and defeating the Persians in 637 AD. At the time most in the people in the region were Christians and Zoroastrians. The Arabs set about spreading the Islamic faith, but allowed much more religious diversity than was the case of Christian Europe. Despite the overwhelming military victories, the force of Islam was imperiled in 661 in a fight over succession. It was at this time that the schism between the Shiites and Sunni's developed. The Bedouin Arabs by the 8h century had acquired the civilization of the people they conquered. They founded a new capital at Baghdad in 762. This was the golden age of Islam. While Christian Europe after the fall of Rome descended into a dark age, there was an outpouring of learning and culture in the Islamic world. Baghdad in particular became a renowned center for learning, including science, mathematics, philosophy and literature--especially poetry. Arab rule extended west to Spain. Only gradually did Spanish Christians begin the recounts in Spain. For centuries the major contact between the Islamic Arabs and Christian Europeans was in Spain. Crusaders launched efforts to retake the Holy Land, bringing Europe in contact with the advanced civilization of the Arabs. These contact were to fuel the revival of learning in Europe. The Mongols swept out of trackless plains of central Asia to destroy Baghdad and massacre its people in 1258. The leading figure in the Arab world, the Caliph was executed. Baghdad and the civilization of the Arabs was devastated. Never again would Arab civilization be such a center of earning and enlightenment. Gradually the Ottoman Turks became the dominate power in the Islamic world. The Ottomans pressed on the Byzantines, taking Constantinople in 1452. They then conquered the Balkans, driving deep into Europe, only being stopped at the gates of Vienna. The Ottomans conquered Mesopotamia in 1533, ruled until 1918 when the British with help of T.H. Lawrence and the Arab Army expelled them from the Holy Land in the west and Mesopotamia in the east.

Medieval Asia

The medieval era in Europe lasted for about a millennium--a thousand years. A similar period engulfed Asia. During this period empires rose and fell. Of course the major Asian country was China which remained united, although under different dynasties. China became a cultural and technologcal powerhouse. Perhaps because of itsachievements China in contrast with the west turned inward. One of the great questions of history is why China with all its riches, cultural accomplishments, and technological innovations was not where mankind achieved modernity. Science, capitalism, and democracy were all invented in the West. Although basically isolated from Europe, China had a powerful impact on the West. During periods of weakness the barbarian Steppe people concentrated on China. During periods of strength, the Steppe people were deflected west and people like the Huns, Avars, and Mongols drove deep into Europe and had a powerful impact on European development. It was barbarian Steppe people that drive the Germans across the Rhine and Danube into the Roman Empire. China is of course only one part of Asia. Other peoples and empire flourished in Asia. Ankor dominated Southeast Asia for several centuries. The Chola Empire was one of the most important and dominated southern India (10th-13th centuries). The Mongol Empire was one of the greatest of the largest of all times (13th century). An offshoot was the Mughal Empire in India (16th-18th centuries).

Medieval Africa

Several large empires appeared in sub-Saharan Africa. The Askum Empire was the first important empire in sub-Saharan Africa, appeared in the Ethiopian highlands (about 500 BC). It continued to be an important trading center for about a millennium into the European medieval period. The most important African empire appeared at the end of the European medieval era--the Songhai Empire (15-17th centuries).

Native American Civilizations

Developments in Asia and Africa were little known to Europeans--but Europeans did know that other people existed in far away lands and visa versa. This was not the case with the Americas. Europeans had no idea that the Americas and Native Americans existed. Native American civilizations are difficult to arrange chronologically. The best known civilizations (Maya, Aztec, and Inca) are contemporaneous with Medieval Europe. There are civilizations that were ancient at the time these and other civilizations flourished. Teotihuacan was an ancient ruin at the time of the Aztec. While the chronology of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca are fairly well developed, the dating of the early civilizations and the early history of human settlement of the Americas is a matter of some controversy. The Native Americans civilizations of the New World are unique in that they developed in isolation from the other great world civilizations. Some of the great Old World civilizations had extensive contacts. Others had only minimal contact, but contact nevertheless. The contact with the Europeans beginning in 1492 was in many ways to Native Americans like visitors from outer space would seem to our modern world. [West]

Modern History

Most historians agree that the modern age began about the 16th century. Several events came together at about this time. The Renaissance had fostered profound changes in the outlook of Europeans. In the East, The Mongols were in eclipse so there was no danger from the Steppe. This allowed the Ottoman Turks to consolidate their power and seize Constantinople (1453) and drive into Europe. In the West, the Spanish completed the Reconquista and the great Voyages of Discovery began with Portuguese navigators sailing south along the African coast (mid-15th century). Ottoman naval power was broken at Diu (1509), although land armies continued to threatened Vienna for more than a decade. Luther launched the Protestant Reformation (1519) leading to more than a century of religious wars. Although a small country, the Netherlands invented capitalism and was able to stave off conquest attempts by Spanish and French Catholic absolutists. England also a small power was able to use capitalism and naval supremacy to emerge as a major European power. The Enlightenment under cut the traditional foundations of Europe (18th century). This was followed by the Industrial and French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution remade Europe in the 19th century and provide Europe the means of projecting power. Socialism challenged the foundations of capitalism and acquired many devotees. European capitalism was buttressed by the rise of America. Several hegemonic powers attempted to supplant the Anglo-American world system (Wilhelmite Germany, NAZI Germany, Imperial Japan, and finally the Soviet Union). Despite many advantages, each failed. And a series of Revolutions (Mexico, and China) challenged the Western view of modernity. There is less agreement as to just what modernity meant. It might be defined as the rise of the West. This is somewhat misleading. It is true that modernity first occurred in the West. We see it better defined as economic capitalism, political democracy, and pluralism). European countries first adopted modernity and were well rewarded. America and Britain embraced modernity (capitalism, democracy, and pluralism) most fervently and were the best rewarded. Here Protestantism seems to have played a role. Other non-Western countries have also been well rewarded (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore and most recently India). The rise of China after market reforms raises the question of whether the same success can be achieved with capitalism, but without democracy and pluralism.


Diamomd, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997).

Steinhardt, Paul J. and Neil Turok. Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang (Doubleday, 2007), 284p.

Uomini, Natalie Thais and Georg Friedrich Meyer."Shared Brain Lateralization Patterns in Language and Acheulean Stone Tool Production: A Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound Study," Plos One (August 30, 2013).

West, Rbecca. Survivors in Mexico (Yale University Press, 2003), 264p.


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Created: October 10, 1998
Spell check: 5:07 PM 8/27/2016
Last updated: 5:49 PM 5/24/2017