History of the world
- Not to be confused with Recorded history or History of the Earth. For the study and teaching of world history, see World history and Historiography. For history of life on earth, see Evolutionary history of life. For other uses, see History of the world (disambiguation).
The history of the world (or world history) describes the history of humanity (or human history) as determined by the study of archaeological and written records. Ancient recorded history begins with the invention of writing. However, the roots of civilization reach back to the earliest introduction of primitive technology and culture. Prehistory begins in the Paleolithic Era, or "Early Stone Age," which is followed by the Neolithic Era, or New Stone Age, and the Agricultural Revolution (between 8000 and 5000 BCE) in the Fertile Crescent. The latter period marked a change in human history, as humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals. Agriculture advanced, and most humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. Nomadism continued in some locations, especially in isolated regions with few domesticable plant species; but the relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed human communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.
As farming developed, grain agriculture became more sophisticated and prompted a division of labor to store food between growing seasons. Labor divisions then led to the rise of a leisured upper class and the development of cities. The growing complexity of human societies necessitated systems of writing and accounting. Many cities developed on the banks of lakes and rivers; as early as 3000 BCE some of the first prominent, well-developed settlements had arisen in Mesopotamia ("the Land between the Rivers"), on the banks of Egypt's Nile River, in the Indus River valley, and along the major rivers of China.
The history of the Old World (particularly Europe and the Mediterranean) is commonly divided into ancient history (or "Antiquity"), up to 476 CE; the Postclassical Era (or "Middle Ages"), from the 5th through 15th centuries, including the Islamic Golden Age (c. 750 CE – c. 1258 CE) and the early Italian Renaissance (beginning around 1300 CE); the Early Modern period, from the 15th century to the late 18th, including the Age of Enlightenment; and the Late Modern period, from the Industrial Revolution to the present, including contemporary history.
In the mid-15th century, the invention of modern printing, employing movable type, revolutionized communication, helping end the Middle Ages and ushering in the Scientific Revolution. By the 18th century, the accumulation of knowledge and technology, especially in Europe, had reached a critical mass that brought about the Industrial Revolution. Outside the Old World, including ancient China and ancient India, historical timelines unfolded differently. However, by the 18th century, due to extensive world trade and colonization, the histories of most civilizations had become substantially intertwined (see Globalization). In the last quarter-millennium, the rates of growth of population, knowledge, technology, commerce, weapons destructiveness, and environmental degradation have greatly accelerated, creating opportunities and perils that now confront the planet's human communities.
- 1 Prehistory
- 2 Ancient history
- 3 Post-classical history
- 4 Modern history
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Genetic measurements indicate that the ape lineage which would lead to Homo sapiens diverged from the lineage that would lead to chimpanzees (the closest living relative of modern humans) around six million years ago. It is thought that the Australopithecine genus, which were likely the first apes to walk upright, eventually gave rise to genus Homo. Anatomically modern humans arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago, and reached behavioral modernity about 50,000 years ago.
Modern humans spread rapidly from Africa into the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago. The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent Ice Age, when temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, humans had colonised nearly all the ice-free parts of the globe by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago. Other hominids such as Homo erectus had been using simple wood and stone tools for millennia, but as time progressed, tools became far more refined and complex. At some point, humans began using fire for heat and cooking. They also developed language in the Palaeolithic period and a conceptual repertoire that included systematic burial of the dead and adornment of the living. Early artistic expression can be found in the form of cave paintings and sculptures made from wood and bone, showing a spirituality generally interpreted as animism, or even shamanism. During this period, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, and were generally nomadic. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source populations of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers survived in sparsely wooded areas and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity while avoiding dense forest cover.
Rise of civilization
The Neolithic Revolution, beginning about 8,000 BCE, saw the development of agriculture, which drastically changed the human lifestyle. Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution. It has been identified as having "inspired some of the most important developments in human history including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops and the development of cursive script, Mathematics, Astronomy and Agriculture."
Farming permitted far denser populations, which in time organized into states. Agriculture also created food surpluses that could support people not directly engaged in food production. The development of agriculture permitted the creation of the first cities. These were centres of trade, manufacturing and political power with nearly no agricultural production of their own. Cities established a symbiosis with their surrounding countrysides, absorbing agricultural products and providing, in return, manufactured goods and varying degrees of military control and protection.
The development of cities was synonymous with the rise of civilization. Early civilizations arose first in Lower Mesopotamia (3500 BCE), followed by Egyptian civilization along the Nile (3000 BCE), the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley (in present-day India and Pakistan; 2500 BCE) and Chinese civilization in the Yellow River and Yangtze river (2200 BCE). These societies developed a number of unifying characteristics, including a central government, a complex economy and social structure, sophisticated language and writing systems, and distinct cultures and religions. Writing was another pivotal development in human history, as it made the administration of cities and expression of ideas far easier.
As complex civilizations arose, so did complex religions, and the first of their kind apparently originated during this period. Entities such as the Sun, Moon, Earth, sky, and sea were often deified. Shrines developed, which evolved into temple establishments, complete with a complex hierarchy of priests and priestesses and other functionaries. Typical of the Neolithic was a tendency to worship anthropomorphic deities. Among the earliest surviving written religious scriptures are the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, the oldest of which date to between 2400 and 2300 BCE. Some archaeologists suggest, based on ongoing excavations of a temple complex at Göbekli Tepe ("Potbelly Hill") in southern Turkey, dating from c. 11,500 years ago, that religion predated the Agricultural Revolution rather than following in its wake, as had generally been assumed.
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- Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
- Regions not included in the timeline include: Southern Africa, the Caribbean, Central Asia, Northern Europe,
- Korea, Oceania, Siberia, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan.
Cradles of civilization
The Bronze Age is part of the three-age system (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age) that for some parts of the world describes effectively the early history of civilization. During this era the most fertile areas of the world saw city states and the first civilizations develop. These were concentrated in fertile river valleys: the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in the Indian subcontinent, and the Yangtze and Yellow River in China.
Sumer, located in Mesopotamia, is the first known complex civilization, developing the first city-states in the 4th millennium BCE. It was in these cities that the earliest known form of writing, cuneiform script, appeared c. 3000 BCE. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. These pictorial representations eventually became simplified and more abstract. Cuneiform texts were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed used as a stylus. Writing made the administration of a large state far easier.
Transport was facilitated by waterways—by rivers and seas. The Mediterranean Sea, at the juncture of three continents, fostered the projection of military power and the exchange of goods, ideas and inventions. This era also saw new land technologies, such as horse-based cavalry and chariots, that allowed armies to move faster.
These developments led to the rise of empires. Such extensive civilizations brought peace and stability over wider areas. The first empire, controlling a large territory and many cities, developed in Egypt with the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt c. 3100 BCE, while in Crete the Minoan Civilization had started to flourish at 2700 BCE and is regarded as the first civilization in Europe. Over the next millennia, other river valleys would see monarchical empires rise to power. In the 25th century and 24th century BCE, Assyria and the Akkadian Empire, respectively, arose in Mesopotamia.
Over the following millennia, civilizations would develop across the world. Trade would increasingly become a source of power as states with access to important resources or controlling important trade routes would rise to dominance. In c. 2500 BCE, the Kingdom of Kerma developed in Sudan, south of Egypt. In modern Turkey the Hittites controlled a large empire and by 1600 BCE, Mycenaean Greece began to develop. In India this era was the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society, and ended in the 6th century BCE. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the subcontinent.
As complex civilizations arose in the Eastern Hemisphere, most indigenous societies in the Americas remained relatively simple for some time, fragmented into diverse regional cultures. During the Formative stage in Mesoamerica, (about 1500 BCE to 500 CE), more complex and centralized civilizations began to develop, mostly in what is now Mexico, Central America, and Peru. They include civilizations such as the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Moche, and Nazca. They developed agriculture as well, growing maize and other crops unique to the Americas, and creating a distinct culture and religion. These ancient indigenous societies would be greatly affected by European contact during the early modern period.
Beginning in the 8th century BCE, the so-called "Axial Age" saw a set of transformative religious and philosophical ideas develop, mostly independently, in many different locations. During the 6th century BCE, Chinese Confucianism, Indian Buddhism and Jainism, and Jewish Monotheism all developed. (Karl Jaspers' Axial Age theory also includes Persian Zoroastrianism on this list, but other scholars dispute Jaspers' timeline for Zoroastrianism.) In the 5th century BCE Socrates and Plato made significant advances in the development of Ancient Greek philosophy.
In the east, three schools of thought were to dominate Chinese thinking until the modern day. These were Taoism, Legalism and Confucianism. The Confucian tradition, which would attain dominance, looked for political morality not to the force of law but to the power and example of tradition. Confucianism would later spread into the Korean peninsula and toward Japan.
In the west, the Greek philosophical tradition, represented by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the accumulated science and knowledge, was diffused throughout Europe, Egypt, Middle East and Northwest India starting from 4th century BCE after the conquests of Alexander III of Macedon, more commonly known as Alexander the Great.
The millennium from 500 BCE to 500 CE saw a series of empires of unprecedented size develop. Well-trained professional armies, unifying ideologies, and advanced bureaucracies created the possibility for emperors to rule over large domains, whose populations could attain numbers upwards of tens of millions of subjects. The great empires depended on military annexation of territory and on the formation of defended settlements to become agricultural centres. The relative peace that the empires brought encouraged international trade, most notably the massive trade routes in the Mediterranean, the maritime trade web in the Indian Ocean, and the Silk Road. In southern Europe, the Greeks (and later the Romans), in an era known as "Classical Antiquity," established cultures whose practices, laws, and customs are considered the foundation of contemporary western civilization.
Major regional empires of this period include:
- The Median Empire, from 678 BCE, centered in present-day Iran, but extending west to present-day Turkey and east to present-day India. The Median Empire gave way to successive Iranian empires of the period, up to the Sassanid Empire (224-651 CE).
- The Delian League (from 478 BCE) and the succeeding Athenian Empire (454-404 BCE), centered in present-day Greece.
- Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), of Macedon, founded an empire of conquest, extending from present-day Greece to present-day India. The empire divided shortly after his death, but the influence of his Hellenistic successors made for an extended Hellenistic period (323 – 30 BCE) throughout the region.
- The Maurya Empire (322 – 185 BCE) in present-day India. In the 3rd century BCE, most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the 3rd century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's Golden Age. From the 4th to 6th centuries, northern India was ruled by the Gupta Empire. In southern India, three prominent Dravidian kingdoms emerged: Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. The ensuing stability contributed to heralding in the golden age of Hindu culture in the 4th and 5th centuries.
- The Roman Empire, centered in present-day Italy. Beginning in the 3rd century BCE, the Roman Republic began expanding its territory through conquest and colonization. By the time of Augustus (63 BCE - 14 CE), who would become the first Roman Emperor, Rome had already established dominion over most of the Mediterranean. The empire would continue to grow, controlling much of the land from England to Mesopotamia, reaching its greatest extent under the emperor Trajan (d. 117 CE). In the 3rd century CE, the empire would split into western and eastern regions, with (sometimes) separate emperors. The Western empire would fall, in 476 CE, to German influence under Odoacer. The eastern empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople, would continue for another thousand years, until overthrown by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 CE.
- The Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BCE), the first imperial dynasty of China, followed by the Han Empire (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han Dynasty was comparable in power and influence to the Roman Empire that lay at the other end of the Silk Road. While the Romans constructed a vast military of unprecedented power, Han China was developing advanced cartography, shipbuilding, and navigation. The East invented blast furnaces and were capable of creating finely tuned copper instruments. As with other empires during the Classical Period, Han China advanced significantly in the areas of government, education, mathematics, astronomy, technology, and many others.
- The Aksumite Empire, centered in present-day Ethiopia. By the 1st century CE the Aksumite Empire had established itself as a major trading empire, dominating its neighbours in South Arabia and Kush, and controlling the Red Sea trade. They minted their own currency, and carved enormous monolithic stelae such as the Obelisk of Axum to mark their Emperors' graves.
- Successful regional empires were also established in the Americas, arising from cultures established as early as 2000 BCE. In Mesoamerica, vast pre-Columbian societies were built, the most notable being the Zapotec Empire (200 BCE – 100 CE), and the Maya civilization, which reached its highest state of development during the Mesoamerican Classic period (c. 250 – 900 CE), but continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century CE. Maya civilization arose as the Olmec mother culture gradually declined. The great Mayan city-states slowly rose in number and prominence, and Maya culture spread throughout the Yucatán and surrounding areas. The later empire of the Aztecs was built on neighboring cultures and was influenced by conquered peoples such as the Toltecs.
Some areas experienced slow but steady technological advancements, with important developments such as the stirrup and moldboard plow arriving every few centuries. There were, however, in some regions, periods of rapid technological progress. Most important, perhaps, was the Mediterranean area during the Hellenistic period, when hundreds of technologies were invented. Such periods were followed by periods of technological decay, as during the Roman Empire's decline and fall and the ensuing early medieval period.
Declines, falls and greater rises
The empires faced common problems associated with maintaining huge armies and supporting a central bureaucracy. These costs fell most heavily on the peasantry, while land-owning magnates increasingly evaded centralised control and its costs. Barbarian pressure on the frontiers hastened internal dissolution. China's Han Empire fell into civil war in 220 CE, while its Roman counterpart became increasingly decentralized and divided about the same time. The great empires of Eurasia were all located on temperate and subtropical coastal plains. From the Central Asian steppes, horse-based nomads (Mongols, Turks) dominated a large part of the continent. The development of the stirrup, and the breeding of horses strong enough to carry a fully armed archer, made the nomads a constant threat to the more settled civilizations.
The gradual break-up of the Roman Empire, spanning several centuries after the 2nd century CE, coincided with the spread of Christianity westward from the Middle East. The Western Roman Empire fell under the domination of Germanic tribes in the 5th century, and these polities gradually developed into a number of warring states, all associated in one way or another with the Roman Catholic Church. The remaining part of the Roman Empire, in the eastern Mediterranean, would henceforth be the Byzantine Empire. Centuries later, a limited unity would be restored to western Europe through the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 962, comprising a number of states in what is now Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, and parts of France.
In China, dynasties would rise and fall but, by the sharp contrast to the Mediterranean/European world, the Great Unity would be restored. After the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty and the demise of the Three Kingdoms, nomadic tribes from the north began to invade in the 4th century, eventually conquering areas of Northern China and setting up many small kingdoms. In 581 the Sui Dynasty successfully re-unified the whole China and laid the foundation for the Chinese golden age under the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Over the course of history, polities have tended to develop by accretion or by takeover, variously amicable or hostile, and have often disintegrated. The histories even of now small countries often show earlier periods of imperialist expansion. The Roman Empire is merely one of the more memorable and paradigmatic examples of political expansion and contraction. The Chinese Empire is an example of political expansion and persistence, Empire which recovered from all falls and declines and broke the Eurocentric paradigm of inevitable imperial fall.
The Postclassical Era is named for the more Eurocentric era of "Classical Antiquity," but "the Postclassical Era" refers to a more global outline. The era is commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The Western Roman Empire fragmented into numerous separate kingdoms, many of which would be later confederated under the Holy Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire survived until late in the Middle Ages. The Postclassical period also corresponds to the Islamic conquests, subsequent Islamic golden age, and commencement and expansion of the Arab slave trade, followed by the Mongol invasions in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the founding (1299) of the Ottoman Empire. South Asia saw a series of middle kingdoms of India, followed by the establishment of Islamic empires in India. In western Africa, the Mali Empire and the Songhai Empire developed. On the southeast coast of Africa, Arabic ports were established where gold, spices, and other commodities were traded. This allowed Africa to join the Southeast Asia trading system, bringing it contact with Asia; this, along with Muslim culture, resulted in the Swahili culture. The Chinese Empire experienced the successive Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. Middle Eastern trade routes along the Indian Ocean, and the Silk Road through the Gobi Desert, provided limited economic and cultural contact between Asian and European civilizations. During this same period, civilizations in the Americas, such as the Inca, Maya, and Aztec, reached their height. All would be seriously compromised by contact with European colonists at the beginning of the Modern period.
Western Asia and North Africa
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Prior to the advent of Islam in the 7th century, the Middle East was dominated by the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Sasanian Empire, which constantly fought each other for control of Armenia, Anatolia, the Levant, and other disputed regions. This was also a cultural battle, with the Byzantine Hellenistic and Christian culture competing against the Persian Iranian traditions and Zoroastrian religion. The formation of the Islamic religion created a new contender that quickly surpassed both of these empires. Islam overall greatly impacted the political, economic, and military history of the Old World, especially the Middle East.
From their center on the Arabian Peninsula, Muslims began their expansion during the early Postclassical Era. By 750 CE, they came to conquer most of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe, ushering in an era of learning, science, and invention known as the Islamic Golden Age. The knowledge and skills of the ancient Middle East, of Greece, and of Persia were preserved in the Postclassical Era by Muslims, who also added new and important innovations from outside, such as the manufacture of paper from China and decimal positional numbering from India. Much of this learning and development can be linked to geography. Even prior to Islam's presence the city of Mecca had served as a center of trade in Arabia, and the Islamic prophet Muhammad himself was a merchant. With the new Islamic tradition of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the city became even more a center for exchanging goods and ideas. The influence held by Muslim merchants over African-Arabian and Arabian-Asian trade routes was tremendous. As a result, Islamic civilization grew and expanded on the basis of its merchant economy, in contrast to the Europeans, Indians, and Chinese who based their societies on an agricultural landholding nobility. Merchants brought goods and their faith to China, India, southeast Asia, and the kingdoms of western Africa, and returned with new discoveries and inventions.
Motivated by religion and dreams of conquest, the kings of Europe launched a number of Crusades to try to roll back Muslim power and retake the holy land. The Crusades were ultimately unsuccessful, and served more to weaken the Byzantine Empire especially with the fall of Constantinople in 1204, which began to lose increasing amounts of territory to the Ottoman Turks. Arab domination of the region ended in the mid-11th century with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks, migrating south from the Turkic homelands in Central Asia. In the early 13th century, a new wave of invaders, the Mongol armies of the Mongol Empire, swept through the region, but were eventually eclipsed by the Turks and the founding of the Ottoman Empire in 1299.
Europe during the Early Middle Ages was characterized by depopulation, deurbanization, and barbarian invasion, all of which had begun in Late Antiquity. The barbarian invaders formed their own new kingdoms in the remains of the Western Roman Empire. In the 7th century, North Africa and the Middle East, once part of the eastern empire, became part of the Caliphate after conquest by Muhammad's successors. Although there were substantial changes in society and political structures, the break was not as extreme as once put forth by historians, with most of the new kingdoms incorporating as many of the existing Roman institutions as they could. Christianity expanded in western Europe and monasteries were founded. In the 7th and 8th centuries the Franks, under the Carolingian dynasty, established an empire covering much of western Europe; it lasted until the 9th century, when it succumbed to pressure from new invaders – the Vikings, Magyars, and Saracens.
During the High Middle Ages, which began after 1000, the population of Europe increased greatly as new technological and agricultural innovations allowed trade to flourish and crop yields to increase. Manorialism – the organization of peasants into villages that owed rents and labor service to nobles – and feudalism – a political structure whereby knights and lower-status nobles owed military service to their overlords in return for the right to rents from lands and manors – were two of the ways of organizing medieval society that developed during the High Middle Ages. Kingdoms became more centralized after the decentralizing effects of the breakup of the Carolingian Empire. The Crusades, which were first preached in 1095, were an attempt by western Christians to regain control of the Holy Land from the Muslims, and succeeded long enough to establish some Christian states in the Near East. Intellectual life was marked by scholasticism and the founding of universities, while the building of Gothic cathedrals was one of the outstanding artistic achievements of the age.
The Late Middle Ages were marked by difficulties and calamities. Famine, plague and war devastated the population of western Europe. The Black Death alone killed approximately a third of the population between 1347 and 1350. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. Starting in Asia, the disease reached Mediterranean and western Europe during the late 1340s, and killed tens of millions of Europeans in six years; between a third and a half of the population.
The Middle Ages witnessed the first sustained urbanization of northern and western Europe. Many modern European states owe their origins to events unfolding in the Middle Ages; present European political boundaries are, in many regards, the result of the military and dynastic achievements during this tumultuous period. The Middle Ages lasted until the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, marked by the rise of nation-states, the division of Western Christianity in the Reformation, the rise of humanism in the Italian Renaissance, and the beginnings of European overseas expansion which allowed for the Columbian Exchange.
Medieval Sub-Saharan Africa was home to many different civilizations. The Aksumite Empire declined in the 7th century as Islam cut it off from its Christian allies and its people moved further into the Ethiopian highlands for protection. They eventually gave way to the Zagwe Dynasty who are famed for their rock cut architecture at Lalibela. The Zagwe would then fall to the Solomonic Dynasty who claimed descent from the Aksumite emperors and would rule the country well into the 20th century. In the West African Sahel region, many Islamic empires rose, such as the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire, and the Kanem Empire. They controlled the trans-Saharan trade in gold, ivory, salt and slaves.
South of the Sahel civilisations rose in the coastal forests where horses and camels could not survive. These include the Yoruba city of Ife (noted for its naturalistic art) and the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire of the Edo people centered in Benin city, the Igbo Kingdom of Nri which produced advanced bronze art at Igbo Ukwu, and the Akan who are noted for their intricate architecture.
In what is now modern Zimbabwe various kingdoms evolved from the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in modern South Africa. They flourished through trade with the Swahili people on the East African coast. They built large defensive stone structures without mortar such as Great Zimbabwe, capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, Khami, capital of Kingdom of Butua and Danamombe (Dhlo-Dhlo), capital of the Rozwi Empire. The Swahili people themselves were the inhabitants of the East African coast from Kenya to Mozambique who traded extensively with Asians and Arabs, who introduced them to Islam. They built many port cities such as Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Kilwa, which were known to Chinese sailors under Zheng He and Islamic geographers.
Indian civilization is dated around 1500 BC or more. In northern India, after the fall (550 CE) of the Gupta Empire, the region divided into a complex and fluid network of smaller kingly states. Early Muslim incursions began in the west in 711 CE, when the Arab Umayyad Empire annexed much of present-day Pakistan. Arab military advance was largely halted at that point, but Islam still spread in India, largely due to the influence of Arab merchants along the western coast. Post-classical dynasties in Southern India included those of the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysalas, the Cholas, and the Islamic Mughals, the Marathas and the Mysores. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.
After a period of relative disunity, the Sui Dynasty reunified China in 581, and under the succeeding Tang Dynasty (618–907) China entered a second golden age. The Tang Dynasty eventually splintered, however, and after half a century of turmoil the Northern Song Dynasty reunified China in 982, yet pressure from nomadic empires to the north became increasingly urgent. By 1142, North China had been lost to the Jurchens in the Jin-Song wars, and the Mongol Empire conquered all of China in 1279, along with almost half of Eurasia's landmass. After about a century of Mongol Yuan Dynasty rule, the ethnic Chinese reasserted control with the founding of the Ming Dynasty (1368).
In Japan, the imperial lineage had been established by this time, and during the Asuka period (538 to 710) the Yamato Province developed into a clearly centralized state. Buddhism was introduced, and there was an emphasis on the adoption of elements of Chinese culture and Confucianism. The Nara period of the 8th century marked the emergence of a strong Japanese state and is often portrayed as a golden age. During this period, the imperial government undertook great public works, including government offices, temples, roads, and irrigation systems. The Heian period (794 to 1185) saw the peak of imperial power, followed by the rise of militarized clans, and the beginning of Japanese feudalism. The feudal period of Japanese history, dominated by powerful regional families (daimyō) and the military rule of warlords (shōgun), stretched from 1185 to 1868. The emperor remained, but mostly as a figurehead, and the power of merchants was weak.
Postclassical Korea saw the end of the Three Kingdoms era, the three kingdoms being Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Silla conquered Baekje in 660, and Goguryeo in 668, marking the beginning of the North and South States period (남북국시대), with Unified Silla in the south and Balhae, a successor state to Goguryeo, in the north. About 900 CE, this arrangement reverted to the Later Three Kingdoms, with Goguryeo (then called Hugoguryeo and eventually named Goryeo) emerging as dominant, unifying the entire peninsula by 936. The founding Goryeo dynasty ruled until 1392, succeeded by the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled for the next 500 years.
Starting with the Sui Dynasty (581-618), the Chinese began expansion into eastern Central Asia, and had to deal with Turkic nomads, who were becoming the most dominant ethnic group in Central Asia. Originally the relationship was largely cooperative, but in 630 the Tang Dynasty began an offensive against the Turks., capturing areas of the Mongolian Ordos Desert. The Tang Empire competed with the Tibetan Empire for control of areas in Inner and Central Asia. In the 8th century, Islam began to penetrate the region and soon became the sole faith of most of the population, though Buddhism remained strong in the east. The desert nomads of Arabia could militarily match the nomads of the steppe, and the early Arab Empire gained control over parts of Central Asia.
The Hephthalites were the most powerful of the nomad groups in the 6th and 7th centuries, and controlled much of the region. In the 10th and 11th centuries the region was divided between several powerful states including the Samanid dynasty, that of the Seljuk Turks, and the Khwarezmid Empire. The most spectacular power to rise out of Central Asia developed when Genghis Khan united the tribes of Mongolia. The Mongol Empire spread to comprise all of Central Asia and China as well as large parts of Russia, and the Middle East. After Genghis Khan died in 1227, most of Central Asia continued to be dominated by the successor Chagatai Khanate. In 1369, Timur, a Turkic leader in the Mongol military tradition, conquered most of the region. Timur's large empire collapsed soon after his death, however. The region then became divided among a series of smaller Khanates, including the Khanate of Khiva, the Khanate of Bukhara, the Khanate of Kokand, and the Khanate of Kashgar.
The beginning of the Middle Ages in Southeast Asia saw the fall (550 CE) of the Kingdom of Funan to the Chenla Kingdom, which was then replaced by the Khmer Empire (802 CE). The Khmer's capital city Angkor was the largest city in the world prior to the industrial age and contained over a thousand temples, the most famous being Angkor Wat. The Sukhothai (1238 CE) and Ayutthaya (1351 CE) kingdoms were major powers of the Thai people, who were influenced by the Khmer. Starting in the 9th century, the Pagan Kingdom rose to prominence in modern Burma. Other notable kingdoms of the period include the Srivijayan Empire and the Lavo Kingdom (both coming into prominence in the 7th century), the Champa and the Haripunchai (both about 750), the Dai Viet (968), Lanna (13th century), Majapahit Empire (1293), Lan Xang (1354), and the Ava Kingdom (1364). It was also during this period that Islam spread to present-day Indonesia (beginning in the 13th century), and the Malay states began to emerge.
The Tu'i Tonga Empire was founded in the 10th century CE and expanded between 1200 and 1500. Tongan culture, language, and hegemony spread widely throughout Eastern Melanesia, Micronesia and Central Polynesia during this period, influencing East 'Uvea, Rotuma, Futuna, Samoa and Niue, as well as specific islands/parts of Micronesia (Kiribati, Pohnpei, miscellaneous outliers), Vanuatu, and New Caledonia (specifically, the Loyalty Islands, with the main island being predominantly populated by the Melanesian Kanak people and their cultures). At around the same time, a powerful thalassocracy appeared in Eastern Polynesia centered around the Society Islands, specifically on the sacred Taputapuatea marae, which drew in Eastern Polynesian colonists from places as far away as Hawai'i, New Zealand (Aotearoa), and the Tuamotu Islands for political, spiritual and economic reasons, until the unexplained collapse of regular long-distance voyaging in the Eastern Pacific a few centuries before Europeans began exploring the area. Indigenous written records from this period are virtually non-existent, as it seems that all Pacific Islanders, with the possible exception of the enigmatic Rapanui and their currently undecipherable Rongorongo script, had no writing systems of any kind until after their introduction by European colonists; however, some indigenous prehistories can be estimated and academically reconstructed through careful, judicious analysis of native oral traditions, colonial ethnography, archaeology, physical anthropology and linguistics research.
In North America, this period saw the rise of the Mississippian culture in the modern United States c. 800 CE, marked by the extensive 12th-century urban complex at Cahokia. The Ancient Pueblo Peoples and their predecessors (9th - 13th centuries) built extensive permanent settlements, including stone structures that would remain the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. In Mesoamerica, the Teotihuacan civilization fell and the Classic Maya collapse occurred. The Aztec came to dominate much of Mesoamerica in the 14th and 15th centuries. In South America, the 14th and 15th centuries saw the rise of the Inca. The Inca Empire of Tawantinsuyu, with its capital at Cusco, spanned the entire Andes Mountain Range, making it the most extensive Pre-Columbian civilization. The Inca were prosperous and advanced, known for an excellent road system and unrivaled masonry.
Modern history (the "modern period," the "modern era," "modern times") is history of the period following the Middle Ages. "Contemporary history" is history that only covers events from c. 1900 to the present day.
Early modern period
"Early Modern period" is a term used by historians to refer to the period between the Middle Ages (Post-classical era) and the Industrial Revolution – roughly 1500 to 1800. The Early Modern period is characterized by the rise of science, and by increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics, and the nation-state. Capitalist economies began their rise, initially in northern Italian republics such as Genoa. The Early Modern period also saw the rise and dominance of the mercantilist economic theory. As such, the Early Modern period represents the decline and eventual disappearance, in much of the European sphere, of feudalism, serfdom and the power of the Catholic Church. The period includes the late decades of the Protestant Reformation, the disastrous Thirty Years' War, the Age of Discovery, European colonial expansion, and the peak of European witch-hunting.
Europe's Renaissance, beginning in the 14th century, consisted of the rediscovery of the classical world's scientific contributions, and of the economic and social rise of Europe. The Renaissance also engendered a culture of inquisitiveness which ultimately led to Humanism and the Scientific Revolution. Although it saw social and political upheaval and revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, the Renaissance is perhaps known best for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term "Renaissance man".
During this period, European powers came to dominate most of the world. The most developed regions of classical civilization were more urbanized than any other region of the world until early modern times. This civilization had, however, gradually declined and collapsed; historians still debate the causes.
For example, one of the most advanced civilizations of the Middle Ages was China. It had developed an advanced monetary economy by 1,000 CE. China had a free peasantry who were no longer subsistence farmers, and could sell their produce and actively participate in the market. According to Adam Smith, China has long been one of the richest, that is, one of the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, most urbanized and most prosperous countries in the world. It enjoyed a technological advantage and had a monopoly in cast-iron production, piston bellows, Suspension bridge construction, printing and the compass. However, it seems to have been long stationary. Marco Polo, who visited it more than five hundred years ago, describes its cultivation, industry, and populousness, almost in the same terms as travelers in the 18th century describe them.
One theory of why that happened holds that Europe's geography played an important role in its success. The Middle East, India and China are all ringed by mountains and oceans but, once past these outer barriers, are nearly flat. By contrast, the Pyrenees, Alps, Apennines, Carpathians and other mountain ranges run through Europe, and the continent is also divided by several seas. This gave Europe some degree of protection from the peril of Central Asian invaders. Before the era of firearms, these nomads were militarily superior to the agricultural states on the periphery of the Eurasian continent and, if they broke out into the plains of northern India or the valleys of China, were all but unstoppable. These invasions were often devastating. The Golden Age of Islam was ended by the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. India and China were subject to periodic invasions, and Russia spent a couple of centuries under the Mongol-Tatar yoke. Central and western Europe, logistically more distant from the Central Asian heartland, proved less vulnerable to these threats.
Geography contributed to important geopolitical differences. For most of their histories, China, India and the Middle East were each unified under a single dominant power that expanded until it reached the surrounding mountains and deserts. In 1600 the Ottoman Empire controlled almost all the Middle East, the Ming Dynasty ruled China, and the Mughal Empire held sway over India. By contrast, Europe was almost always divided into a number of warring states. Pan-European empires, with the notable exception of the Roman Empire, tended to collapse soon after they arose. Another doubtless important geographic factor in the rise of Europe was the Mediterranean Sea, which, for millennia, had functioned as a maritime superhighway fostering the exchange of goods, people, ideas and inventions.
Nearly all the agricultural civilizations have been heavily constrained by their environments. Productivity remained low, and climatic changes easily instigated boom-and-bust cycles that brought about civilizations' rise and fall. By about 1500, however, there was a qualitative change in world history. Technological advance and the wealth generated by trade gradually brought about a widening of possibilities.
Many have also argued that Europe's institutions allowed it to expand, that property rights and free-market economics were stronger than elsewhere due to an ideal of freedom peculiar to Europe. In recent years, however, scholars such as Kenneth Pomeranz have challenged this view. Europe's maritime expansion unsurprisingly — given the continent's geography — was largely the work of its Atlantic states: Portugal, Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Initially the Portuguese and Spanish Empires were the predominant conquerors and sources of influence, and their union resulted in the Iberian Union, the first global empire on which the "sun never set". Soon the more northern English, French and Dutch began to dominate the Atlantic. In a series of wars fought in the 17th and 18th centuries, culminating with the Napoleonic Wars, Britain emerged as the new world power.
Persia came under the rule of the Safavid Empire in 1501, succeeded by the Afsharid Empire in 1736, and the Qajar Empire in 1796. Areas to the north and east were held by Uzbeks and Pashtuns. The Ottoman Empire, after taking Constantinople in 1453, quickly gained control of the Middle East, the Balkans, and most of North Africa.
In Africa, this period saw a decline in many civilizations and an advancement in others. The Swahili Coast declined after coming under Portuguese (and later Omani) control. In west Africa, the Songhai Empire fell to the Moroccans in 1591 when they invaded with guns. The South African Kingdom of Zimbabwe gave way to smaller kingdoms such as Mutapa, Butua, and Rozwi. Ethiopia suffered from the 1531 invasion from neighboring Muslim Adal Sultanate, and in 1769 entered the Zemene Mesafint (Age of Princes) during which the Emperor became a figurehead and the country was ruled by warlords, though the royal line later would recover under Emperor Tewodros II. The Ajuran Empire, in the Horn of Africa, began to decline in the 17th century, succeeded by the Geledi Sultanate. Other civilizations in Africa advanced during this period. The Oyo Empire experienced its golden age, as did the Benin Empire. The Ashanti Empire rose to power in what is modern day Ghana in 1670. The Kingdom of Kongo also thrived during this period. European exploration of Africa reached its zenith at this time.
In the Far East, the Chinese Ming Dynasty gave way (1644) to the Qing, the last Chinese imperial dynasty, which would rule until 1912. Japan experienced its Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 – 1603), followed by the Edo period (1603-1868). The Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) ruled throughout this period, successfully repelling 16th- and 17th-century invasions from Japan and China. Japan and China were significantly affected during this period by expanded maritime trade with Europe, particularly the Portuguese in Japan. During the Edo period, Japan would pursue isolationist policies, to eliminate foreign influences.
On the Indian subcontinent, the Delhi Sultanate and the Deccan Sultanates would give way, beginning in the 16th century, to the Mughal Empire. Starting in the northwest, the Mughal Empire would by the late 17th century come to rule the entire subcontinent, except for the southernmost Indian provinces, which would remain independent. Against the Muslim Mughal Empire, the Hindu Maratha Empire was founded on the west coast in 1674, gradually gaining territory – a majority of present-day India—from the Mughals over several decades, particularly in the Deccan Wars (1681-1701). The Maratha Empire would fall to the British in 1818, under the control of the British East India Company, with all former Maratha and Mughal authority devolving to the British Raj in 1858.
In 1511, the Portuguese overthrew the Sultanate of Malacca in present-day Malaysia and Indonesian Sumatra. The Portuguese held this important trading territory (and the valuable associated navigational strait) until overthrown by the Dutch in 1641. The Johor Sultanate, centered on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, became the dominant trading power in the region. European colonization would affect the whole of Southeast Asia – the British in Burma and Malaysia, the French in Indochina, the Dutch in the Netherlands East Indies, and the Spanish in the Philippines. Only Thailand would successfully resist colonization.
The Pacific islands of Oceania would also be affected by European contact, starting with the circumnavigational voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, who landed on the Marianas and other islands in 1521. Also notable were the voyages (1642–44) of Abel Tasman to present-day Australia, New Zealand and nearby islands, and the voyages (1768-1779) of Captain James Cook, who made the first recorded European contact with Hawaii. Britain would found its first colony on Australia in 1788.
In the Americas, the western European powers vigorously colonized the newly discovered continents, largely displacing the indigenous populations, and destroying the advanced civilizations of the Aztecs and the Inca. Spain, Portugal, Britain, and France all made extensive territorial claims, and undertook large-scale settlement, including the importation of large numbers of African slaves. Portugal claimed Brazil. Spain claimed the rest of South America, Mesoamerica, and southern North America. Britain colonized the east coast of North America, and France colonized the central region of North America. Russia made incursions onto the northwest coast of North America, with a first colony in present-day Alaska in 1784, and the outpost of Fort Ross in present-day California in 1812. In 1762, in the midst of the Seven Years' War, France secretly ceded most of its North American claims to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Thirteen of the British colonies declared independence as the United States of America in 1776, ratified by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the American Revolutionary War. Napoleon Bonaparte won France’s claims back from Spain in the Napoleonic Wars in 1800, but sold them to the United States in 1803 as the Louisiana Purchase.
In Russia, Ivan IV ("the Terrible") was crowned (1547) the first Tsar of Russia, and by annexing the Turkic Khanates in the east, transformed Russia into a regional power. The countries of western Europe, while expanding prodigiously through technological advancement and colonial conquest, competed with each other economically and militarily in a state of almost constant war. Often the wars had a religious dimension, either Catholic versus Protestant, or (primarily in eastern Europe) Christian versus Muslim. Wars of particular note include the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years' War, and the French Revolutionary Wars. Napoleon came to power in France in 1799, an event foreshadowing the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.
Late Modern period
The Scientific Revolution changed humanity's understanding of the world and led to the Industrial Revolution, a major transformation of the world's economies. The Scientific Revolution in the 17th century had made little immediate impact on industrial technology; only in the second half of the 18th century did scientific advances begin to be applied significantly to practical invention. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and used new modes of production — the factory, mass production, and mechanisation — to manufacture a wide array of goods faster and using less labour than previously. The Age of Enlightenment also led to the beginnings of modern democracy in the late-18th century American and French Revolutions. Democracy and republicanism would grow to have a profound effect on world events and on quality of life.
After Europeans had achieved influence and control over the Americas, the imperial activities turned to the lands of the Asia and Oceana. In the 19th century the European states had social and technological advantage over Eastern lands. Britain gained control of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt and the Malay Peninsula; the French took Indochina; while the Dutch cemented their control over the Dutch East Indies. The British also colonized Australia, New Zealand and South Africa with large numbers of British colonists emigrating to these colonies. Russia colonised large pre-agricultural areas of Siberia. In the late 19th century, the European powers divided the remaining areas of Africa. Within Europe, economic and military challenges created a system of nation states, and ethno-linguistic groupings began to identify themselves as distinctive nations with aspirations for cultural and political autonomy. This nationalism would become important to peoples across the world in the 20th century.
During the Second Industrial Revolution, the world economy became reliant on coal as a fuel, as new methods of transport, such as railways and steamships, effectively shrank the world. Meanwhile, industrial pollution and environmental damage, present since the discovery of fire and the beginning of civilization, accelerated drastically.
The advantages that Europe had developed by the mid-18th century were two: an entrepreneurial culture, and the wealth generated by the Atlantic trade (including the African slave trade). By the late 16th century, silver from the Americas accounted for the Spanish empire's wealth. The profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to 5% of the British economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution. While some historians conclude that, in 1750, labour productivity in the most developed regions of China was still on a par with that of Europe's Atlantic economy (see the NBER Publications by Carol H. Shiue and Wolfgang Keller), other historians like Angus Maddison hold that the per-capita productivity of western Europe had by the late Middle Ages surpassed that of all other regions.
The 20th century opened with Europe at an apex of wealth and power, and with much of the world under its direct colonial control or its indirect domination. Much of the rest of the world was influenced by heavily Europeanized nations: the United States and Japan. As the century unfolded, however, the global system dominated by rival powers was subjected to severe strains, and ultimately seemed to yield to a more fluid structure of independent nations organized on Western models. But soon it appeared that the global system dominated by rival powers yielded to a system dominated by one power, a system organized like Eastern rather than Western models.
This transformation was catalysed by wars of unparalleled scope and devastation. World War I destroyed many of Europe's empires and monarchies, and weakened Britain and France. In its aftermath, powerful ideologies arose. The Russian Revolution of 1917 created the first communist state, while the 1920s and 1930s saw militaristic fascist dictatorships gain control in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere.
Ongoing national rivalries, exacerbated by the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, helped precipitate World War II. The militaristic dictatorships of Europe and Japan pursued an ultimately doomed course of imperialist expansionism. Their defeat opened the way for the advance of Socialism into Central Europe, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, China, North Vietnam and North Korea.
After World War II ended in 1945, the United Nations was founded in the hope of allaying conflicts among nations and preventing future wars. The Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and China were recognized as the Allied "Big Four" during the war and considered as the primary victors of World War II. With the addition of France, these five countries became the permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council. The war had, however, left two nations, the United States and the Soviet Union, with principal power to guide international affairs. Each was suspicious of the other and feared a global spread of the other's political-economic model. This led to the Cold War, a forty-five-year stand-off between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies. With the development of nuclear weapons and the subsequent arms race, all of humanity were put at risk of nuclear war between the two superpowers. Such war being viewed as impractical, proxy wars were instead waged, at the expense of non-nuclear-armed Third World countries.
The Cold War lasted to the 1990s, when the Soviet Union's communist system began to collapse, unable to compete economically with the United States and western Europe; the Soviets' Central European "satellites" reasserted their national sovereignty, and in 1991 the Soviet Union itself disintegrated. The United States for the time being was left as the "sole remaining superpower". After the 1970s, the United States' superpower status came into question as that country's economic supremacy began to show signs of slippage.
In the early postwar decades, the African and Asian colonies of the Belgian, British, Dutch, French and other west European empires won their formal independence. These nations faced challenges in the form of neocolonialism, poverty, illiteracy and endemic tropical diseases.
The 20th century saw explosive progress in science and technology, and increased life expectancy and standard of living for much of humanity. As the developed world shifted from a coal-based to a petroleum-based economy, new transport technologies, along with the dawn of the Information Age, led to increased globalization. Space exploration reached throughout the solar system. The structure of DNA, the template of life, was discovered, and the human genome was sequenced, a major milestone in the understanding of human biology and the treatment of disease. Global literacy rates continued to rise, and the percentage of the world's labor pool needed to produce humankind's food supply continued to drop.
The technologies of sound recordings, motion pictures, and radio and television broadcasting produced a means for rapid dissemination of information and entertainment. In the last decade of the twentieth century, a rapid increase took place in the use of computers, including personal computers. A global communication network emerged in the Internet. The century saw several global threats emerge or become more serious or more widely recognized, including nuclear proliferation, global climate change, deforestation, overpopulation, deadly epidemics of diseases such as Ebola virus, near-Earth asteroids and comets, supervolcano eruptions, and the dwindling of global natural resources (particularly fossil fuels).
The 21st century has been marked by growing economic globalization and integration, with consequent increased risk to interlinked economies, and by the expansion of communications with mobile phones and the Internet. The period has also been marked by growing military globalization and unipolarity, with consequent stabilization of peace and the spread of democracy.
Worldwide demand and competition for resources has risen due to growing populations and industrialization, especially in India, China and Brazil (see List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita). This increased demand is causing increased levels of environmental degradation and a growing threat of global warming. That in turn has spurred the development of alternate, renewable sources of energy (notably solar energy and wind energy), proposals for cleaner fossil-fuel technologies and expanded use of nuclear energy (somewhat dampened by nuclear-plant accidents), and, conversely, calls to eschew the indiscriminate large-scale employment of the "fissile-fossil complex" of fissile- (nuclear) and fossil-fuel (coal, petroleum, natural-gas) energy generation.
|↑ before Homo (Pliocene epoch)|
- Economic history of the world
- Historical powers
- Medieval demography
- Historic recurrence
- History of science
- History of technology
- Technological singularity
- Development criticism
- Deluge (mythology)
- List of millennia
History by period
History by region
- History of Africa
- History of Asia
- History of Europe
- History of the Middle East
- History of Oceania
- History of the Americas
- History of Antarctica
- See also: Historical demography.
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