Cultures of the Ancient World - out of chaos and darkness
last update: 20 Nov. 2019
This is just a short introduction to my website covering ancient civilisations, often seen as beginning with 'recorded history' or the written record, and going through to the early middle ages, but also sometimes limited only to the Greco-Roman world and called classical antiquity. For me, I will look at Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire (ending 476 AD), and I will also include the bronze age in Europe, the early Chinese dynasties, and the Olmec and Maya civilisations of Central America.
I have also included a page on lesser known ancient civilisations.
Strictly speaking ancient civilisations starts with the written word (protoliterate), but I have take some 'artistic license' and also included the Stone Age (pre-history) in my site.
I am going to kick-off this page with an odd looking map. You can kind of see that it is Europe, but not the Europe we know today. It is Europe some 13 million years ago, in the so-called Miocene period. We can see the Alpine orogeny squashed between the Eurasian and African plates, and what would one day become the Atlas, Pyrenees, Alps, and Balkans. And to put that into context, we must remember that the dinosaur disappeared some 66 million years ago, the Mediterranean dried up between 12 million and 5 million years ago, and the very earliest humans (Homo) migrated into Europe some 1.4 million years ago.
This period includes some of the most important moments in human civilisation, namely:
The Stone Age (Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic), the Chalcolithic (copper) Age (ca. 5000 BC) with the Bronze Age (ca. 3200-600 BC), and the Iron Age (ca. 1200 BC to 400 AD), all according to the three-age system
What many people term the ‘cradle of civilisation' with the emergence of the city states of Mesopotamia in the fertile crescent, the Sumer civilisation in the Ubaid period (6500-3800 BC), the Uruk period (ca. 4000-3100 BC), and the rise of the first empire in human history, the Akkadian Empire (2334-2193 BC)
The building of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey (10,000-8000 BC), the megalithic temples complex at Gozo in Malta (ca. 3600-2500 BC), and the great Egyptian pyramids (ca. 2630-2611 BC)
Early writing systems started to emerge (ca. 6000-5000 BC), including the development of “proto-cuneiform” writing in the Uruk period
The arrival of farming on the Atlantic coast (ca. 5000 BC)
In Mesopotamia (in the Uruk period 4000-3100 BC) the foundations of mathematics, astronomy, astrology, civil law, and hydrology were established, and the sailboat, the wheel and the potter’s wheel were invented
The appearance of harps, flutes, lyres and early forms of clarinet (4000-3000 BC)
Indus Valley civilisation (3250-1750 BC), with its new handicraft techniques, metallurgy, urban planning, baked brick houses, and elaborate water supply and drainage systems
Stonehenge construction begins (ca. 3000 BC), and finishes (ca. 2200 BC)
The appearance of the Cycladic, Minoan (Crete), and Helladic cultures (ca. 3000 BC)
The manufacturing in Egypt of papyrus (ca. 2560-2550 BC)
The mammoth becoming extinct (ca. 2500 BC)
The building of Babylon (ca. 2000 BC)
The building of Knossos (first palace in ca. 1900 BC) and Troy (ca. 1334 BC)
The population of the “classical” world exceeded 50 million (ca. 1000 BC)
The founding of the Etruscan civilisation (ca. 800 BC)
The first Olympic Games (776 BC) and the period called ‘classical antiquity' through to the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD)
Rome founded (753 BC) and the Roman Republic established (509 BC)
The birth of Buddha (563 BC)
The institution of democracy in Athens (508 BC)
The Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
Archimedes (ca. 287-212 BC) laid the foundations of hydrostatics, statics, explained the principle of the lever, and was able to calculate the area under an arc, the approximate value of pi, the volumes of solids,….
The building of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (280-247 BC)
The mausoleum of the first Qin emperor and his terra-cotta army (210-209 BC)
The Great Wall of China was completed (ca. 200 BC)
The murder of Julius Caesar (44 BC)
The birth of Christ (1 AD)
The burial of Pompeii (79 AD)
Paper started to be used in China (ca. 100 AD)
And finally the ‘classic' period of the Maya civilisation (ca. 250-900 AD).
Warning - my webpages are a work in progress, so some will be semi-complete, others in a draft form, and others empty and waiting (perhaps forever).
Here are a few pointers to interesting resources:
You have an Ancient History Encyclopedia which is a non-profit educational resource.
The British Museum has a site dedicated to ancient civilisations, for young people between 3 to 16+.
Fordham has an Ancient History Sourcebook, covering Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Israel, Greece, and Rome.
The Perseus Digital Library is an open-access site cataloging research material, collections and texts. There are also academic resources providing access to the more general topic of European history, e.g. The European History Primary Sources. And of course you can check out the early chapters of the WikiBook on European History.
Ancient History is an open directory project which points to articles and resources. The site closed in 2017, but the resources are still available.
And you have a number of archaeology magazines and journals, such as the Archaeological Institute of America, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Open Access Archaeology, British Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, The Archaeologist, Virtual Archaeology Review, PastHorizons, Stone Pages, ...
Palaeontology podcasts are a great source of information presented in an easy to consume format. Here are few: Past Time, Palaeocast, Palaeo After Dark, Dragon Tongues, Tetrapod Zoology Podcast, …
And here are some links to background video material:
From Ape to Man, The European Origins of Behavioural Modernity, Mesolithic Madness, The Rise of Civilisation, The Indus Valley Civilisation, Ancient Mesopotamia, Early Archaeology in Mesopotamia, Great Ziggurat at Ur, Palette of Namer, Ishtar Gate and Processional Way, Queen of the Night - Babylonian Goddess, Statue of Khafre - Rebirth of a King, The Uruk Vase - Vision of an Ordered World, Ancient Egypt, Tomb Painting of Nefertari, Tutankhamun's Mask, The Real Life of an Egyptian, Petra Lost City of Stone, Persian Empire, Greece - Crucible of Civilisation, Hittites, Building the Ancient City of Athens and Rome - 1/2, Building the Ancient City of Athens and Rome - 2/2, Meet the Romans 1/3, Meet the Romans 2/3, Meet the Romans 3/3, Story of Buddha's Life, The Great Chinese History, The Beginning of China's Origins 1/3, The Beginning of China's Origins 2/3, The Beginning of China's Origins 3/3, Byzantium: The Lost Empire 1/4, Byzantium: The Lost Empire 2/4, Byzantium: The Lost Empire 3/4, Byzantium: The Lost Empire 4/4, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Introduction).
Here are a few additional, more in-depth analyses: The National Geographic Birth of Civilisation, Introduction to Archaeology with Hominids, Palaeolithic Europe, …, Archaeology at Work
I personally am a fan of the site Ancient Origins, which actually calls itself a ‘pop archaeology' site.
And if you have heard of the all the ‘discussions’ about alien 'involvement' in our past, check out this Ancient Aliens Debunked.