2nd millennium BC
The 2nd millennium BC marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age.
Its first half is dominated by the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and Babylonia. The alphabet develops. Indo-Iranian migration onto the Iranian plateau and onto the Indian subcontinent propagates the use of the chariot. Chariot warfare and population movements lead to violent changes at the center of the millennium, a new order emerges with Greek dominance of the Aegean and the rise of the Hittite Empire. The end of the millennium sees the transition to the Iron Age. World population begins to rise steadily, reaching some 50 million towards 1000 BC.
Near East (c. 3300–1200 BC)
South Asia (c. 3000–1200 BC)
Europe (c. 2300–600 BC)
China (c. 2000–700 BC)
Middle Bronze Age
Spending much of their energies in trying to recuperate from the chaotic situation that existed at the turn of the millennium, the most powerful civilizations of the time, Egypt and Mesopotamia, turned their attention to more modest goals. The Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and their contemporary Kings of Babylon, of Amorite origin, brought good governance without much tyranny, and favoured elegant art and architecture. Farther east, the Indus Valley civilization was in a period of decline, possibly as a result of intense, ruinous flooding.
Egypt and Babylonia's military tactics were still based on foot soldiers transporting their equipment on donkeys. Combined with a weak economy and difficulty in maintaining order, this was a fragile situation that crumbled under the pressure of external forces they could not oppose.
Unrest of the 16th century
About a century before the middle of the millennium, bands of Indo-European invaders came from the Central Asia plains and swept through the Near East. They were riding fast two-wheeled chariots powered by horses, a system of weaponry developed earlier within the context of plains warfare. This tool of war was unknown among the classical oriental civilizations. Egypt and Babylonia's foot soldiers were unable to defend against the invaders: In 1630 BC, the Hyksos swept into the Nile Delta, and in 1595 BC, the Hittites swept into Mesopotamia.
Late Bronze Age
The peoples in place were quick to adapt to the new tactics, and a new international situation resulted from the change. Though during most of the second half of the 2nd millennium BC several regional powers competed relentlessly for hegemony, many developments occurred: there was new emphasis on grandiose architecture, new clothing fashions, vivid diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets, renewed economic exchanges, and the New Kingdom of Egypt played the role of the main superpower. Among the great states of the time, only Babylon refrained from taking part in battles, mainly due to its new position as the world's religious and intellectual capital.
The Bronze Age civilization at its final period of time, displayed all its characteristic social traits: low level of urbanization, small cities centered around temples or royal palaces, strict separation of classes between an illiterate mass of peasants and craftsmen, and a powerful military elite, knowledge of writing and education reserved to a tiny minority of scribes, and pronounced aristocratic life.
Near the end of the 2nd millennium BC, new waves of barbarians, this time riding on horseback, wholly destroyed the Bronze Age world, and were to be followed by waves of social changes that marked the beginning of different times. Also contributing to the changes were the Sea Peoples, ship-faring raiders of the Mediterranean.
Civilizations, kingdoms and dynasties
The civilizations, kingdoms and dynasties in this section are organized according to the United Nations geoscheme
The events in this section are organized according to the United Nations geoscheme.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact year or even the correct century for many events of the 2nd Millennium BC.
|20th century BC|
|19th century BC||1877 BC Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed (legendary)|
|18th century BC||c. 1700 BC earthquake damages palaces at Knossos and Phaistos.|
|17th century BC||1686 BC Israelites descend into Egypt (legendary)
c. 1600 BC Shang Dynasty founded in China.
|1627 Minoan eruption|
|16th century BC||c. 1520 BC Egypt conquers Nubia.
c. 1500 BC First Bantu expansion out of West Africa
c. 1575 BC Nubian Kerma sacks Egypt
|15th century BC||1478 BC Battle of Megiddo|1476 BC Israelites leave Egypt (legendary)|
|14th century BC|
|13th century BC||1269 BC Ramses II and Hattusilis III sign peace treaty.||1274 BC Battle of Kadesh
Founding of Judaism
|1235 BC Athens founded.|
|12th century BC||1184 BC Fall of Troy|
|11th century BC||1045 BC Zhou Dynasty founded in China.
1041 David reigns as king of Israel (traditional)
|Austronesian peoples discover Polynesia|
- c. 2000 BC—Seima-Turbino Phenomenon originating in the Altai Mountains leads to rapid and massive migrations westward across the Urals into north-eastern Europe and eastward into China and South-east Asia 
- c. 1700 BC–1300 BC—Palace complex in Knossos, Crete, was built.
- c. 1600 BC–1360 BC Egyptian domination over Canaan and Syria.
Inventions, discoveries, introductions
|Communication||Math and Science||Agriculture||Transportation||Warfare|
The people in this section are organized according to the United Nations geoscheme
|20th century BC|
|19th century BC||Abraham|
|18th century BC|
|17th century BC||Hammurabi|
|16th century BC||Kamose
|15th century BC||Thutmose II
|14th century BC||Amenhotep III
|13th century BC||Ramesses I
|12th century BC||King Wen of Zhou|
|11th century BC||King Wu of Zhou|
- The biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, in the Genesis narrative are set in the early-to-mid-2nd millennium.
- The Exodus and Moses are set in the late 2nd millennium (possibly the Amarna Period, see also Osarseph, Moses and Monotheism).
- The Canadian–American speculative fiction author S.M. Stirling has written a trilogy (the Nantucket series) set in Bronze Age era, circa the 1250s BC. The trilogy describes the conflict between the different factions of the population of the island of Nantucket after an unknown phenomenon ("The Event") transports them into the past—some trying to dominate the world for their own benefit, others trying to better it—and the different Bronze Age civilizations.
Accuracy of dates
Please see the article on Chronology of the ancient Near East for more discussion regarding the accuracy and resolution of dates for events of the 2nd millennium BC in the Near East (Babylon, etc.).
Centuries and Decades