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What were the ancient civilizations?
When we talk about ancient civilizations, we refer to the different human communities that emerged in the Ancient Age . This period extends from the invention of writing until the fall of the Western Roman Empire (6,000 BC – 476 AD, approximately).
However, we must note that the very concept of “Ancient Age” has diffuse temporal boundaries, depending on which part of the world geography we focus on. Therefore, the date limits should be taken at best as a convention or just an approximation.
In any case, the ancient civilizations all preceded the European Middle Ages and the period of mass Christianity . They are a constant source of surprises and knowledge. They were so numerous that even today some are still being discovered from time to time.
Many met their end in great wars and conflicts , absorbed by other stronger civilizations leaving little evidence of their passing. Others grew, developed, and reached major cultural, technological, or military peaks in their time, before fading into something entirely different and unrecognizable over the centuries.
However, some aspects remain valid. It is amazing how many elements of our school teaching or our current ways of thinking come directly from the Ancient Ages and their early philosophers, naturalists and mathematicians. Even many of the religions that we practice today have their birth in this era.
Although a complete list of ancient civilizations would be endless and cumbersome, below we will find a list with some of the best known.
India is one of the world’s oldest existing civilizations . The culture of the Valley of the Indian has its beginning around 6000 C.E Its influence in the Western world has reached unprecedented limits, leaving valuable contributions even though he comes from a complex culture that is very different from the Western one.
One of the cradles of humanity arose in the Yellow River Basin, in central-eastern present-day China, some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago , with the rise of the first local dynasties, the Xia, Shang, and Zhou. According to their myths , this civilization was the work of three original emperors: Fuxi, Shennong and Huang, of whom there is not much historical record.
For the rest, the history of this region is very well known because documents from 3,500 years ago still survive, which is understandable if we consider that the Chinese were among the first to invent writing . In addition, their millennial exchanges with the peoples of the region spread their pictographic alphabet (as in Japan).
This civilization supported by the cultivation of rice was the first to know ceramics and was the inventor of gunpowder . It ruled itself through a dynastic system that lasted for thousands of years.
Another of the regions in which humanity emerged during prehistory was known as Mesopotamia, equivalent to our current Near East, located between the fluvial cradles of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers .
This territory was populated by different civilizations that followed one another over time and that, despite having different ethnic origins, formed a common culture and came to dominate the region in their successive empires. These civilizations were:
- the sumerians. They were the first to populate southern Mesopotamia, developing a powerful agriculture and founding the mythical cities of Uruk, Eridu, Ur and Kish, many of which appear in biblical texts, since they were the powers of the region in the epoch. There a cuneiform writing of pictographic and ideographic characters was born, which differentiated the Sumerians from their neighbors and ethnic relatives, the Semites. In addition, the Sumerians were famous for their ziggurats, ascending circular temples, almost in the shape of a pyramid, where they carried out their rituals, and because they were the authors of the myth of the universal flood, present in the first epic in history: The Epic of Gilgamesh .
- the akkadians They were a Semitic people that emerged in the heart of Sumer that, from 2350 a. C., come to control the entire kingdom, under the command of Sargon I of Acadia. This would be a brief and unstable period, of firm political centralism, in which the Mesopotamians established trade networks with the Indus Valley Civilization, with Egypt, and with Anatolia.
- The Babylonians. They arrived later, originating from the Persian Gulf, around 1800 a. C., and founded what we know today as the Paleo-Babylonian Empire, which lasted until 1590 BC. C., renaming the entire region as Babylon. They were towns of Semitic origin and their famous king was Hammurabi, author of the Code of Hammurabi , a kind of code of laws made up of 282 royal decrees. The Babylonians founded a social class society , dependent on slaves for cultivation. They were the authors of the Enuma Elish , the second best-known epic of ancient Mesopotamia.
- The Assyrians. For their part, they were a Mesopotamian people whose name comes from the deity Asur, and who present enormous syncretisms with Akkadians and Sumerians, since they lived under their kingdoms for millennia. After the fall of the last dynasty of Ur (Sumeria) the Assyrians had the chance to create their independent kingdom, Assyria, from which they emerged around 1000 BC. C. to conquer the rest of the region. Thus they created the Neo-Assyrian Empire (1000-605 BC), of a religious-military nature, which fell to the revival of the Babylonians (the Neo-Babylonian Empire, 612-539 BC) and its new and famous king, Nabopoassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar II.
Finally, all of Mesopotamia was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire, that is, by the Persians.
In the middle and lower reaches of the Nile River, at some point in prehistory, various human populations arose that learned to farm this fertile region, giving rise to two separate kingdoms: Upper Egypt ( Ta Shemau ) and Lower Egypt ( Ta Mehu ).
Both kingdoms began to unify around the year 3150 a. C., united under the same pharaonic government the powerful cities along the Nile . This is how one of the great powers of antiquity was forged , as was the Egyptian Empire.
Celebrated for their monumental engineering feats, such as the pyramids and sphinxes, tombs for their mummified kings, the Egyptian civilization developed a vast hieroglyphic script , of which there are abundant archaeological remains, as well as its complex and rich polytheistic religion.
The Egyptian Empire controlled much of North Africa, Syria, and the Middle East, eventually declining into easy targets for Libyan, Assyrian, and Persian invasions. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. C., and then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 31 a. C., a year before the death of the famous Cleopatra.
The Greek is the ancient civilization to which we owe our Western culture the most , so much so that it has been dubbed the “Cradle of the West”. Its most interesting ancient history begins with the end of the Dark Ages of Greece (1200 to 1100 BC), the result of the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization that flourished in its territory during the Bronze Age .
The ancient customs of the region were then replaced by those of the Dorians, giving rise to Hellenic Greece, which was one of the most fertile, well-known and relevant civilizations in the entire Mediterranean.
The Greeks led a maritime life, with a commercial and expansive economy, south of the current Balkan peninsula. During its classical period (500 BC – 323 BC) Greek culture flourished and developed artistically, literaryly, linguistically, and architecturally.
He left a gigantic legacy in terms of dramatic and epic works (the latter are the most important in the West, such as the Iliad or the Odyssey ), philosophical (especially the legacy of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, among many others), Mathamatics, science, sculptural. The influence of his vast mythological tradition on him is still palpable today in Western literature , cinema and the arts .
The Greek civilization confronted great powers like the Persian Empire and the Egyptian Empire militarily. It eventually succumbed to the Roman Empire , after having been greatly weakened by internecine warfare.
Its great cities: Athens, Corinth, Sparta, Thebes, etc., still bear witness to its greatness. Its cultural heritage reached regions as far away as the Middle East, during its Alexandrian period (323 BC-146 BC), named after the conqueror Alexander the Great.
Born in the ancient city of Rome and the state founded there around the eighth century BC. C., was the result of the grouping of the Latin peoples who lived in the current territory of Italy .
Its importance in Western history is gigantic. On the one hand, they were the conquerors of all of Europe , North Africa , and part of the Near East . On the other hand, they were the founders of a robust legal tradition, which we know today as Roman Law .
In addition, their language (Latin) imposed by blood and fire in the colonized territories, gave rise to a whole family of modern languages called Romance languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Galician, Catalan, among others.
The history of Ancient Rome is diverse and complex. It goes through different periods of order and instability, generally oscillating between the Empire and the Republic (directed by the Roman Senate). Its history is divided into four stages: the monarchy, the republic, the principality and the dominated .
Much of their culture was inherited directly from the Greek civilization, which they conquered in 146 BC. C., after defeating the Achaean League in the Battle of Corinth.
Much of the Greek lore , philosophy , and mythology was assimilated by the Romans, who simply proceeded to change the Greek names to Latin ones: Zeus became Jupiter, Hermes became Mercury, Heracles became Hercules, Aphrodite became Venus, Odysseus became Ulysses etc…
As if that were not enough, Christianity was born in the heart of the Roman Empire , a religion that determined the history of the West and that largely contributed to the fall of the Empire, after Emperor Theodosius established it as the official religion of the State.
However, it was the barbarian invasions of northern Europe and its previous division into two sections (the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire) in the year 395, the factors that determined its fall. On the other hand, the eastern section of the Empire survived for almost 1000 more years, under the name of the Byzantine Empire .
The Phoenician or Phoenician-Punic civilization was a maritime Semitic people, born in the eastern Mediterranean. It developed on the coasts of present-day Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine , a region formerly called Canaan, as it appears in biblical texts.
Although they called themselves “Canaanites” ( kena’ani ), the name by which we know them comes from the one given to them by the Greeks: phoinikes , that is, “red” or “purple”, because they were mainly dedicated to the trade of dyes and wines.
The Phoenicians did not leave much evidence of their passage through the world, perhaps because they were a civilization of maritime traders with little roots except for their ships. They founded different outposts along the Mediterranean coast, such as Tangis, Utica and Lixus. Their commercial might eventually drew the attention or envy of their neighboring Empires.
They served as mediators between the distant populations with which they traded, through a pastiche culture that combined features of all the others, without being precisely original in itself. However, his alphabet was adopted by the Greeks for themselves, and served as the basis for the Latin, Arabic, and Cyrillic traditions as well.
The Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire was the largest and most successful of the Persian or Farsi Empires, whose borders stretched across much of Central Asia , the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. From its beginnings, with the annexation of the Median Kingdom during the reign of Cyrus II (559-530 BC), it proved to be a military power.
Its heyday occurred around 500 B.C. C. and its fall occurred in front of the troops of Alexander the Great in 330 a. C. , when King Darius III was defeated. The Greeks were their eternal rivals, and they clashed with them during the Medical Wars (490-449 BC).
This empire owed its name to a semi-legendary hero named Achaemenes, who possibly lived around 700 BC. C. He was a clan chief of the Pasargada tribe.
Coming from the Iranian plateau, the Persians were especially dedicated to livestock . They were vassals of their neighbors, the Medes, until the king of Anshan, Cyrus “the Great” (555-529 BC) built an army and conquered not only their former lords, but also Babylon, Syria, Judea and part of Asia Minor.
Its main city was Persepolis (founded between 518 and 516 BC), and it was connected to the different corners of the Empire by an extensive network of roads called the “royal road”.
The Persians spoke an Old Persian dialect that initially had no script, although it coexisted with many different languages in the body of society. After the conquest of Mesopotamia, Aramaic became a lingua franca between the different parts of the territory .
The Khmer Empire
The Khmer Empire or Angkor Empire developed in Southeast Asia , particularly in the territory of present-day Cambodia, also encompassing Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and part of Burma and Malaysia.
This Empire was born from the separation of the ancient kingdoms of Chenlá and Funán , of which very little is currently known, and having the sacred city of Angkor, today Siem Reap, as its capital. The Khmers reached such a cultural and architectural splendor that many of their palaces and temples still survive.
Heir to the culture of India, the Khmer Empire practiced Brahmanical Hinduism , although later it also recognized Buddhism. It arose in the 7th century out of the need to resist the invasion of the Indonesian tribes in the region.
Its founding leader was Jayavarman II (c. 770-835), the “god-king” of the Khmer, although its heyday came under Suryavarman II around 1113. Its decline is a matter of speculation, with theories ranging from plagues or climate change, to the invasion of Chinese Siamese fleeing from the Mongols.
Timeline of Ancient Civilizations
3000- 100 BC
500 d. c.
In the year 130,000 C. E Modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) appears in eastern and southern Africa.
The political history of ancient Egypt is divided into 5 periods:
Archaic Empire (4000-3100 BC) The period of Archaic Egypt began around 4000 BC. It was characterized by the settlement of agricultural communities in the Nile Valley, which later formed two kingdoms: Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt.
Tinite Empire (3100-2800 BC) Around 3100 BC, Upper Egypt prevailed over Lower Egypt and unified the territory under a single government. This moment coincides with the beginning of a writing system that makes use of a type of pictograms called hieroglyphics.
Old Kingdom (2800-2200 BC) The capital of the Old Kingdom was Memphis, it is identified by the construction of pyramids to preserve the mummified bodies of the pharaohs.
Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 BC) It was created by the princes of Thebes, who once again unified Egypt after the atomization of power suffered at the end of the Old Kingdom. There was a major revival of culture, architecture, art, and literature.
New Empire (1530-1070) It constitutes the period of greatest power of Egypt, which became a power in the Mediterranean thanks to the conquests made by Tutmosis I, Tutmosis III and Ramses II. The royal necropolis of Thebes known as “The Valley of the Kings” is also due to this Empire, a place that served as a cemetery for the pharaohs of this period and for some of their successors. One of its most outstanding processes was the episode of the religious revolution, in which Amenhotep IV tried to impose monotheism.
based on the cult of the solar disk (Aton).
Zulu (1787 BC) They were organized in a simple way with an absolute monarchy, dominated by the Inggonyama
The history of ancient India is divided into four periods:
Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro (2600-1500 BC)
it arose from the peasant villages settled on the banks of the Indus. Characterized by the transport of goods, urban development: aqueducts, irrigation canals, defensive constructions, main streets, administrative buildings, sewage systems, shops and workshops. The development of a writing system and its delicate bronze statuettes are other aspects that show the development of this culture.
Vedic period (1500-1000 BC)
This period began with the Aryan invasion of the Indus plain. Their invasion led to the rise of the Hinduism, a religion that collects the autochthonous Vedic religious habits and integrates them into the beliefs of the invading people.
Brahmanical period (1000-321 BC)
it prevented the political unification of the territory, which was divided into sixteen mahajanapanadas (great kingdoms) that coexisted with various States governed by princes and assemblies of nobles. However, the writing of the Brahmanas, the sacred texts of Hinduism, and the emergence and consolidation of Buddhism, a welcome alternative to Brahmanism, took place.
Mauryan Empire (322-180 BC)
origin in the invasion of peoples from Central Asia, who again divided the territory into principalities, and by the attempt of Emperor Pushyamitra to reestablish the practices of Vedic sacrifices, against Buddhism.
The region of Mesopotamia (“land between rivers”, in Greek) geographically corresponds to the alluvial plain located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in present-day Iraq. In its history it contains:
Sumerian civilization (3600-2350 BC) The Sumerian people were the first to show cultural and intellectual achievements, typical of a civilization.
Akkadian Empire (2350-2000 BC) The invasion of the Akkadian people, of culture
Semitic, started around 2350 BC
Babylonian Empire (1894-1595 BC) The Babylonian Empire was established
by the Amorites, a town of Semitic origin that settled in the city of Babylon, located in the lower reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris, around 2000 BC
Assyrian Empire (1360-612) The Assyrians were a warrior people who lived in northern Mesopotamia and imposed their power by force.
Neo-Babylonian Empire (612-539) The Neo-Babylonian Empire was imposed
by the Chaldeans who, tired of the Assyrian regime, rebuilt Babylon to make it their capital and built a similar empire.
Characterized by: the differentiation between stars and planets, the invention of a 12-month lunar calendar and writing, their main contribution to humanity. the first traces
of writing date back to 3200 BC, at the height of the Sumerian civilization. Wedge-shaped (cuneiform) written signs were made with pointed blades on sheets of clay.
China forms a political and cultural unit, when the Xia Dynasty imposes its rule. The historical periods of ancient China are:
Hsia or Xia Dynasty (2000-1765 BC) According to tradition, the Hsi or Xia Dynasty was the first to exist in China.
Shang Dynasty (1765-1025 BC) China’s first imperial dynasty was founded by the Shang, a people from Central Asia who conquered the North, quickly adopting the culture of their subjects.
Zhou or Chou Dynasty (1027-221 BC) This dynasty arose when Prince Wu of the Zhou kingdom imposed himself on the others by means of arms and extended his power over almost all the territory that corresponds to present-day China.
Ch’in or Qin period (221-206 BC) Zheng, king of Qin, a feudal state in western China, proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Qin or Ch’in dynasty (from which the name China comes), with the name of Qin Shi Huangdi.
Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) In 206 BC, Gaozu, who was an army officer in the Ch’in Dynasty, proclaimed himself emperor and inaugurated the Han Dynasty, which would rule for nearly four hundred years under Confucianism. , officially imposed as a state ideology.
The Silk Road to the year 100 BC
China is characterized by developing philosophical religions, paper, the compass, gunpowder, ideoraphic writing and the great medical technological inventions made by itself.
CRETE: The first European civilization arose on the island of Crete, in the Aegean Sea; It receives the name of the Minoan civilization after the legendary King Minos who, according to the Greek chronicles, dominated the Aegean at the command of a powerful fleet. This civilization was born around the year 2000 BC and lasted for approximately 550 years. Like Greece, these civilizations have been characterized by the Minoan economy
It was based on agriculture and livestock. Olive cultivation, vines, palms
dates, wheat, barley and legumes; and the breeding of cattle and sheep, not
only allowed feeding the population but also trade
with neighboring towns. At the same time there was an outstanding development
of the minor arts, examples of which are seen in decorated ceramic objects
with plant and marine animal motifs.
Top 10 oldest civilization in the world?
Archaeologists and historians have allowed us to understand the events and cultures that have shaped our society today through the discovery of fossils, artifacts, and ruined cities that are linked to our ancestors. Through their findings, the origin and growth of civilization has been established. Although some civilizations like Atlantis and Rama are surrounded by myth and legend, others actually existed in the world.
It is nearly impossible to rank civilizations based on their importance, as each was important in shaping the world. However, it is possible to rank them in chronological order .
Below are 10 of the oldest civilizations in the world.
2. ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIANS
4. INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION
7. SMALL NORTH
8. ROMAN CIVILIZATION
9. ANCIENT EGYPT
Also Read: Top 10 oldest civilization in the world