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2nd millennium BC

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The 2nd millennium BC spanned the years 2000 BC to 1001 BC. In the Ancient Near East, it marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age. The Ancient Near Eastern cultures are well within the historical era: The first half of the millennium is dominated by the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and Babylonia. The alphabet develops. At the center of the millennium, a new order emerges with Mycenaean Greek dominance of the Aegean and the rise of the Hittite Empire. The end of the millennium sees the Bronze Age collapse and the transition to the Iron Age.

Other regions of the world are still in the prehistoric period. In Europe, the Beaker culture introduces the Bronze Age, presumably associated with Indo-European expansion. The Indo-Iranian expansion reaches the Iranian plateau and onto the Indian subcontinent (Vedic India), propagating the use of the chariot. Mesoamerica enters the Pre-Classic (Olmec) period. North America is in the late Archaic stage. In Maritime Southeast Asia, the Austronesian expansion reaches Micronesia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Bantu expansion begins.

World population rose steadily, possibly surpassing the 100 million mark for the first time.[1]

The world in the 2nd millennium BC

Overview map of the world at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, color-coded by cultural stage:
  Palaeolithic or Mesolithic hunter-gatherers
  nomadic pastoralists
  simple farming societies
  complex farming societies (Old World Bronze Age, Olmecs, Andes)
  state societies (Fertile Crescent, China)
Map of the Eastern Hemisphere in 1000 BC, just after the end of the 2nd millennium BC.



See the article on chronology of the ancient Near East for a discussion regarding the accuracy and resolution of dates for events of the 2nd millennium BC in the Near East.

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 governance that was largely popular and approved of among their subjects, 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 Asian plains and swept through Western Asia and Northeast Africa. They were riding fast two-wheeled chariots powered by horses, a system of weaponry developed earlier in the context of plains warfare. This tool of war was unknown among the classical 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 people 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 on 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.

Empires and dynasties

Empires in the Ancient Near East around the end of the 2nd Millennium BC

Prehistoric cultures

Approximate spread of the Bell Beaker culture in Europe

Europe is still entirely within the prehistoric era; much of Europe enters the Bronze Age early in the 2nd millennium.

Central Asia
East Asia
Approximate spread of the Erlitou culture in China
South Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa

The desiccation of the Sahara is complete. Neolithisation of Sub-Saharan Africa is initiated via expansion from the dried Sahara, reaching West and East Africa. Later in the 2nd millennium, pastoralism and iron metallurgy spread to Central Africa via the Bantu migration.


Volcano eruption at Thera, c. 1500 BC. Thera today[3]

Inventions, discoveries, introductions

The gilded side of the Trundholm sun chariot.


The Kadesh peace agreement—on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum—is believed to be the earliest international agreement

In the history of the Egyptian language, the early 2nd millennium saw a transition from Old Egyptian to Middle Egyptian. As the most used written form of the Ancient Egyptian language, it is frequently (incorrectly) referred to simply as "Hieroglyphics".

The earliest attested Indo-European language, the Hittite language, first appears in cuneiform in the 16th century BC (Anitta text), before disappearing from records in the 13th century BC. Hittite is the best known and the most studied language of the extinct Anatolian branch of Indo-European languages.

The first Northwest Semitic language, Ugaritic, is attested in the 14th century BC. The first fully phonemic script Proto-Canaanite developed from Egyptian hieroglyphs, becoming the Phoenician alphabet by 1200 BC. The Phoenician alphabet was spread throughout the Mediterranean by Phoenician maritime traders and became one of the most widely used writing systems in the world, and the parent of virtually all alphabetic writing systems. The Phoenician language is also the first Canaanite language, the Northwest Semitic languages spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region: the Israelites, Phoenicians, Amorites, Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites.

Mycenaean Greek, the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, was used on the Greek mainland, Crete and Cyprus in the Mycenaean period.

Centuries and Decades

20th century BC
19th century BC
18th century BC 1790s BC 1780s BC 1770s BC 1760s BC 1750s BC 1740s BC 1730s BC 1720s BC 1710s BC 1700s BC
17th century BC 1690s BC 1680s BC 1670s BC 1660s BC 1650s BC 1640s BC 1630s BC 1620s BC 1610s BC 1600s BC
16th century BC 1590s BC 1580s BC 1570s BC 1560s BC 1550s BC 1540s BC 1530s BC 1520s BC 1510s BC 1500s BC
15th century BC 1490s BC 1480s BC 1470s BC 1460s BC 1450s BC 1440s BC 1430s BC 1420s BC 1410s BC 1400s BC
14th century BC 1390s BC 1380s BC 1370s BC 1360s BC 1350s BC 1340s BC 1330s BC 1320s BC 1310s BC 1300s BC
13th century BC 1290s BC 1280s BC 1270s BC 1260s BC 1250s BC 1240s BC 1230s BC 1220s BC 1210s BC 1200s BC
12th century BC 1190s BC 1180s BC 1170s BC 1160s BC 1150s BC 1140s BC 1130s BC 1120s BC 1110s BC 1100s BC
11th century BC 1090s BC 1080s BC 1070s BC 1060s BC 1050s BC 1040s BC 1030s BC 1020s BC 1010s BC 1000s BC


  1. ^ Klein Goldewijk, K. , A. Beusen, M. de Vos and G. van Drecht (2011). The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human induced land use change over the past 12,000 years, Global Ecology and Biogeography20(1): 73–86. doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00587.x (pbl.nl). Jean-Noël Biraben, "Essai sur l'évolution du nombre des hommes", Population 34-1 (1979), 13–25 (p. 22) estimates c. 80 million in 2000 BC and c. 100 million at 1200 BC.
  2. ^ The Kuru kingdom of the late Vedic period was most likely established around 1200 BC, although there are no datable contemporary references. Pletcher, Kenneth (2010), The History of India, The Rosen Publishing Group, ISBN 9781615301225
    • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ a b "eruption of Thera | volcanic eruption, Thera, Greece [about 1500 BCE]". Britannica. Retrieved 2022-08-26.
  4. ^ Keys, David (January 2009), "Scholars crack the code of an ancient enigma", BBC History Magazine, 10 (1): 9
  5. ^ Cartwright, Mark. "Bantu Migration". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2022-08-26.
  6. ^ David Hatcher Childress (2000). Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients. Adventures Unlimited Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-932813-73-2.
  7. ^ Jane C. Waldbaum (1978). From bronze to iron: the transition from the Bronze age to the Iron age in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul Astroms Forlag. p. 69. ISBN 978-91-85058-79-2. reviewed in Hood, Sinclair (27 February 2009). "Jane C. Waldbaum: From Bronze to Iron. The Transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Eastern Mediterranean. (Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, LIV.) Pp. 106; 15 text figures. Göteborg: Paul Åström, 1978. Paper, Sw. kr. 150". The Classical Review. 30 (2): 304. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00236007. S2CID 161235445.
  8. ^ Kuznetsov, P.F. (2006-09-01). "The emergence of Bronze Age chariots in eastern Europe". Antiquity. 80 (309): 638–645. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00094096. ISSN 0003-598X. S2CID 162580424.

See also