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The History Book

The History Book is a fascinating journey through the most significant events in history and the big ideas behind each one, from the dawn of civilization to the lightning-paced culture of today. One hundred crystal-clear articles explore the Law Code of Hammurabi, the Renaissance, the American Revolution, World War II, and much, much more, bringing the events and people of history to life.

As part of DK's award-winning Big Ideas Simply Explained series, The History Book uses infographics and images to explain key ideas and themes. Biographies of key leaders, thinkers, and warriors, from Julius Caesar to Barack Obama, offer insight into their lives and further historical insight into these world-changing episodes.

The History Book makes the past 4,000 years of history accessible and provides enlightenment on the forces that shaped the world as we know it today, for students and history buffs alike.

Series Overview: Big Ideas Simply Explained series uses creative design and innovative graphics, along with straightforward and engaging writing, to make complex subjects easier to understand. These award-winning books provide just the information needed for students, families, or anyone interested in concise, thought-provoking refreshers on a single subject.

Year: 2016
Edition: 1
Publisher: DK
Language: english
Pages: 352
ISBN 10: 1465445102
ISBN 13: 9781465445100
Series: Big Ideas Simply Explained
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THE

HISTORY
BOOK

THE

HISTORY
BOOK

DK LONDON

PRODUCER, PRE-PRODUCTION
Robert Dunn

PROJECT EDITORS
Alexandra Beeden, Sam Kennedy

SENIOR PRODUCER
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SENIOR EDITOR
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ILLUSTRATIONS
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US EDITOR
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DESIGNER
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MANAGING ART EDITOR
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MANAGING EDITOR
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ART DIRECTOR
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ASSOCIATE PUBLISHING DIRECTOR
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PUBLISHING DIRECTOR
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JACKET DESIGNER
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DK DELHI

Copyright © 2016
Dorling Kindersley Limited
DK, a Division of Penguin Random House
LLC

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Published in Great Britain by Dorling
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A WORLD OF IDEAS:
SEE ALL THERE IS TO KNOW
www.dk.com

CONTRIBUTORS
REG GRANT, CONSULTANT EDITOR

PHILIP PARKER

R. G. Grant has written extensively in the fields of military
history, general history, current affairs, and biography.
His publications have included the DK books Flight:
100 Years of Aviation, Battle at Sea, and World War I:
The Definitive Visual Guide.

Philip Parker is a historian specializing in the classical
and medieval world. He is the author of the DK Companion
Guide to World History, The Empire Stops Here: A Journey
Around the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, The Northmen’s
Fury: A History of the Viking World, and general editor
of The Great Trade Routes: A History of Cargoes and
Commerce Over Land and Sea. He was a contributor to DK
History Year by Year and DK History of the World in 1000
Objects. He previously worked as a diplomat and a publisher
of historical atlases.

FIONA COWARD
Dr. Fiona Coward is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and
Anthropology at Bournemouth University, UK. Her research
focuses on the changes in human society, from the very
small social groups of our prehistory to the global social
networks that characterize people’s lives today.

THOMAS CUSSANS
Thomas Cussans, writer and historian, has contributed
to numerous historical works. They include DK’s Timelines
of World History, History Year by Year, and History: The
Ultimate Visual Guide. He was previously the publisher
of The Times History of the World and The Times Atlas
of European History. His most recent published work
is The Holocaust.

JOEL LEVY
Joel Levy is a writer specializing in history and the history
of science. He is the author of more than 20 books, including
Lost Cities, History’s Greatest Discoveries, and 50 Weapons
that Changed the World.

SALLY REGAN
Sally Regan has contributed to over a dozen DK titles
including History, World War II, and Science. She is also
an award-winning documentary maker for Channel Four
and the BBC in the UK.

PHILIP WILKINSON
Philip Wilkinson has written many books on historical
subjects, heritage, architectural history, and the arts. As
well as bestsellers such as What The Romans Did For Us
and widely-praised titles such as The Shock of the Old
and Great Buildings, he has contributed to numerous
encyclopaedias and popular reference books.

6

CONTENTS
10 INTRODUCTION

HUMAN ORIGINS

200,000 YEARS AGO–3500 BCE
20

22

28

30

32

At least as important as
Columbus’s journey to
America or the Apollo
11 expedition
The first humans arrive
in Australia
Everything was so
beautiful, so fresh
Cave paintings at Altamira
The foundations of
today’s Europe were
forged in the events
of the late Ice Age
The Big Freeze
A great civilization arose
on the Anatolian plain
The settlement at Çatalhöyük

6000 BCE–500 CE

38

42

To bring about the rule
of righteousness
in the land
The Law Code of Hammurabi
All the lands have fallen
prostrate beneath his
sandals for eternity
The temples of Abu Simbel

Attachment is the
root of suffering
Siddartha Gautama
preaches Buddhism
A clue to the existence
of a system of picturewriting in the Greek lands
The palace at Knossos

44

In times of peace, sons
bury their fathers, but
in war it is the fathers
who bury their sons
The Persian Wars

46

Administration is in
the hands of the many
and not of the few
Athenian democracy

52

54

Further events

ANCIENT
CIVILIZATIONS
36

40

58

66

By this sign conquer
The Battle of Milvian Bridge

68

The city which had
taken the whole world
was itself taken
The Sack of Rome

70

Further events

THE MEDIEVAL
WORLD
500–1492
76

Seek to enlarge the
empire and make it
more glorious
Belisarius retakes Rome

78

If the Qin should ever get
his way with the world,
then the whole world
will end up his prisoner
The First Emperor unifies China

Truth has come and
falsehood has vanished
Muhammad receives the
divine revelation

82

A leader in whose
shadow the Christian
nation is at peace
The crowning of Charlemagne

Thus perish all tyrants
The assassination of
Julius Caesar

84

The ruler is wealthy but
the state is destroyed
The An Lushan revolt

86

A surge in spirit and an
awakening in intelligence
The founding of Baghdad

94

Never before has such a
terror appeared in Britain
The Viking raid on Lindisfarne

96

The Roman church
has never erred
The Investiture Controversy

There is nothing
impossible to he
who will try
The conquests of Alexander
the Great

7
112 Give the sun the blood

156 War has become
very different
The Battle of Castillon

118 Scarce the tenth person

158 As different from ours

of enemies to drink
The foundation of Tenochtitlan

of any sort was left alive
The outbreak of the Black
Death in Europe

120 I have worked to discharge

heaven’s will
Hongwu founds the
Ming dynasty

128 Cast down the

adversaries of
my Christian people
The fall of Granada

98

A man destined to become
master of the state
Minamoto Yoritomo
becomes Shogun

100 That men in our kingdom

shall have and keep all
these liberties, rights,
and concessions
The signing of the
Magna Carta

102 The most potent man,

as regards forces and
lands and treasure, that
exists in the world
Kublai Khan conquers
the Song

104 I did not tell half of

what I saw, for I knew
I would not be believed
Marco Polo reaches Shangdu

106 Those who until now

have been mercenaries
for a few coins achieve
eternal rewards
The fall of Jerusalem

108 The work of giants

The construction of Angkor Wat

110 He left no court emir nor

royal office holder without
the gift of a load of gold
Mansa Musa’s hajj to Mecca

as day and night
The Columbian Exchange

160 My conscience

is captive to the
Word of God
Martin Luther’s 95 theses

164 He began war in Bohemia,

which he subjugated and
forced into his religion
The Defenestration
of Prague

130 I have newly devised

170 Royalty is a remedy

132 Further events

172 They cherished a great

THE EARLY
MODERN ERA

174 We will cut off his head

28 letters
King Sejong introduces
a new script

1420–1795

138 As my city falls, I shall

fall with it
The fall of Constantinople

142 Following the light

of the sun we left
the Old World
Christopher Columbus
reaches America

148 This line shall be

considered as a
perpetual mark
and bound
The Treaty of Tordesillas

152 The ancients never raised

their buildings so high
The beginning of the
Italian Renaissance

for the spirit of rebellion
The conquests of
Akbar the Great

hope and inward zeal
The voyage of
the Mayflower

with the crown upon it
The execution of Charles I

176 The very being of the

plantations depends
upon the supply of
Negro servants
The formation of the Royal
African Company

180 There is no corner where

one does not of talk shares
The opening of the
Amsterdam Stock Exchange

184 After victory,

tighten the cords
of your helmet
The Battle of Sekigahara

186 Use barbarians to

control barbarians
The Revolt of the
Three Feudatories

8
188 I have in this treatise

243 Better to abolish serfdom

cultivated mathematics so
far as it regards philosophy
Newton publishes Principia

from above, than to wait
for it to abolish itself
from below
Russia emancipates the serfs

189 As far as I think it

244 Government of the people,

possible for man to go
The voyages of Captain Cook

by the people, for the
people, shall not perish
from the earth
The Gettysburg Address

190 I am the state

Louis XIV begins personal
rule of France

248 Our manifest destiny

191 Don’t forget your

great guns, the most
respectable arguments
of the rights of kings
The Battle of Quebec

192 Assemble all the

knowledge scattered on
the surface of the earth
Diderot publishes
the Encyclopédie

196 I built St. Petersburg

as a window to let in
the light of Europe
The founding of St. Petersburg

198 Further events

CHANGING
SOCIETIES
1776–1914

204 We hold these truths to

be self-evident, that all
men are created equal
The signing of the
Declaration of Independence

208 Sire, it’s a revolution

The storming of the Bastille

214 I must make of all

the peoples of Europe
one people, and of Paris
the capital of the world
The Battle of Waterloo

216 Let us lay the cornerstone of

American freedom without
fear. To hesitate is to perish
Bolívar establishes
Gran Colombia

220 Life without industry is guilt

Stephenson’s Rocket
enters service

226 You may choose to look the

other way, but you can never
again say you did not know
The Slave Trade Abolition Act

228 Society was cut in two

The 1848 revolutions

230 This enterprise will

return immense rewards
The construction of the
Suez Canal

236 Endless forms most

beautiful and most
wonderful have been
and are being evolved
Darwin publishes On the
Origin of Species

238 Let us arm. Let us fight

for our brothers
The Expedition of the
Thousand

242 These sad scenes of death

and sorrow, when are
they to come to an end?
The Siege of Lucknow

is to overspread
the continent
The California Gold Rush

250 America is God’s

crucible, the greatest
melting pot
The opening of Ellis Island

252 Enrich the country,

strengthen the military
The Meiji Restoration

254 In my hand I wield the

universe and the power
to attack and kill
The Second Opium War

256 I ought to be jealous of the

Eiffel Tower. She is more
famous than I am
The opening of the
Eiffel Tower

258 If I could, I would annex

other planets
The Berlin Conference

260 My people are going to

learn the principles of
democracy, the dictates
of truth, and the
teachings of science
The Young Turk Revolution

262 Deeds not words

The death of Emily Davison

264 Further events

9

THE MODERN
WORLD
1914–PRESENT

270 You often wish you

were dead
The Battle of Passchendaele

276 History will not forgive

us if we do not assume
power now
The October Revolution

280 This is not peace.

This is an armistice
for 20 years
The Treaty of Versailles

281 Death is the solution to

all problems. No man—
no problem
Stalin assumes power

282 Any lack of confidence

in the economic future
of the United States
is foolish
The Wall Street Crash

284 The truth is that men

are tired of liberty
The Reichstag Fire

286 In starting and waging

a war, it is not right that
matters but victory
Nazi invasion of Poland

294 The Final Solution of

the Jewish Question
The Wannsee Conference

296 All we did was fly

and sleep
The Berlin Airlift

298 At the stroke of the

midnight hour, when the
world sleeps, India will
awake to life and freedom
Indian independence
and partition

302 The name of our

state shall be Israel
The establishment of Israel

304 The Long March is a

manifesto, a propaganda
force, a seeding-machine
The Long March

306 Ghana, your beloved

country, is free forever
Nkrumah wins
Ghanaian independence

308 We’re eyeball to eyeball,

and I think the other
fellow just blinked
The Cuban Missile Crisis

310 People of the whole

world are pointing
to the satellite
The launch of Sputnik

311 I have a dream

The March on Washington

312 I am not going

to lose Vietnam
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

314 A revolution is not a

bed of roses
The Bay of Pigs invasion

316 Scatter the old world,

build the new
The Cultural Revolution

318 We shall defend it with

our blood and strength,
and we shall meet
aggression with
aggression and evil
with evil
The Suez Crisis

322 The Iron Curtain

is swept aside
The fall of the Berlin Wall

324 All power to the people

The 1968 protests

325 Never, never, and

never again
The release of Nelson Mandela

326 Create an unbearable

situation of total
insecurity with no hope
of further survival or life
The Siege of Sarajevo

327 Today, our fellow citizens,

our way of life, our very
freedom came under attack
The 9/11 attacks

328 You affect the world by

what you browse
The launch of the first website

330 A crisis that began in

the mortgage markets
of America has brought
the world’s financial
system close to collapse
The global financial crisis

334 This is a day about our

entire human family
Global population
exceeds 7 billion

340 Futher events

342
344
351
352

GLOSSARY
INDEX
QUOTE ATTRIBUTIONS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

INTRODU

CTION

12 INTRODUCTION

T

he ultimate aim of history
is human self-knowledge.
In the words of 20th-century
historian R. G. Collingwood: “The
value of history is that it teaches
us what man has done and thus
what man is.” We cannot hope to
understand our lives without it.
History itself has a history. From
earliest times, all societies—literate
or pre-literate—told stories about
their origins or their past, usually
imaginative tales centering around
the acts of gods and heroes. The
first literate civilizations also kept
records of the actions of their rulers,
inscribed on clay tablets or on the
walls of palaces and temples. But
at first these ancient societies made
no attempt at a systematic inquiry

Those who cannot
remember the past are
condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana
The Life of Reason (1905)

into the truth of the past; they did
not differentiate between what had
really happened and the events
manifest in myth and legend.

Ancient historical narrative

It was the Ancient Greek writers
Herodotus and Thucydides in the
5th century bce who first explored
questions about the past through
the collection and interpretation of
evidence—the word “history,” first
used by Herodotus, means “inquiry”
in Greek. Herodotus’s work still
contained a considerable mixture of
myth, but Thucydides’ account of
the Peloponnesian War satisfies
most criteria of modern historical
study. It was based on interviews
with eyewitnesses of the conflict
and attributed events to human
agency rather than the intervention
and actions of the gods.
Thucydides had invented one
of the most durable forms of history:
the detailed narrative of war and
political conflict, diplomacy, and
decision-making. The subsequent
rise of Rome to dominance of the
Mediterranean world encouraged
historians to develop another genre
of broader scope: the account of
“how we got to where we are today.”
The Hellenic historian Polybius
(200–118 bce) and the Roman
historian Livy (59 bce–17 ce) both

sought to create a narrative of the
rise of Rome—a “big picture” that
would help to make sense of events
on a large timescale. Although
restricted to the Roman world, this
was the beginning of what is
sometimes called “universal history,”
which attempts to describe progress
from earliest origins to the present as
a story with a goal, giving the past
apparent purpose and direction.
At the same period in China,
historian Sima Qian (c.145–86 bce)
was similarly tracing Chinese
history over thousands of years,
from the legendary Yellow Emperor
(c.2697 bce) to the Han dynasty
under Emperor Wu (c.109 bce).

Moral lessons

As well as making sense of events
through narratives, historians in
the ancient world established the
tradition of history as a source of
moral lessons and reflections. The
history writing of Livy or Tacitus
(56–117 ce), for instance, was in part
designed to examine the behavior
of heroes and villains, meditating
on the strengths and weaknesses
in the characters of emperors and
generals, providing exemplars for
the virtuous to imitate or shun. This
continues to be one of the functions
of history. French chronicler Jean
Froissart (1337–1405) said he had

INTRODUCTION 13

written his accounts of chivalrous
knights fighting in the Hundred
Years’ War “so that brave men
should be inspired thereby to follow
such examples.” Today, historical
studies of Lincoln, Churchill,
Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr.
perform the same function.

The “Dark Ages”

The rise of Christianity in the late
Roman Empire fundamentally
changed the concept of history in
Europe. Historical events came to
be viewed by Christians as divine
providence, or the working out of
God’s will. Skeptical inquiry into
what actually happened was usually
neglected, and accounts of miracles
and martyrdoms were generally
accepted as true without question.
The Muslim world, in this as in
other ways, was frequently more
sophisticated than Christendom
in Medieval times, with the Arab
historian Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406)
railing against the blind, uncritical
acceptance of fanciful accounts of
events that could not be verified.
Neither Christian nor Muslim
historians produced a work on the
scale of the chronicle of Chinese
history published under the Song
dynasty in 1085, which recorded
Chinese history spanning almost
1,400 years and filled 294 volumes.

Renaissance Humanism

Whatever the undoubted merits
of other civilizations’ traditions of
history writing, it was in Western
Europe that modern historiography
evolved. The Renaissance—which
began in Italy in the 15th century,
then spread throughout Europe
lasting until the end of the 16th
century in some areas—centered
upon the rediscovery of the past.
Renaissance thinkers found a fertile
source of inspiration in classical
antiquity, in areas as diverse as
architecture, philosophy, politics,
and military tactics. The humanist
scholars of the Renaissance period
declared history one of the principal
subjects in their new educational
curriculum, and the antiquary

To live with men of
an earlier age is like
travelling in foreign lands.
René Descartes
Discourse on Method (1637)

became a familiar figure in elite
circles, rummaging among ancient
ruins and building up collections
of old coins and inscriptions. At the
same time, the spread of printing
made history available to a much
wider audience than ever before.

The Enlightenment

By the 18th century in Europe, the
methodology of history—which
consisted of ascertaining facts by
criticizing and comparing historical
sources—had reached a fair level of
sophistication. European thinkers
had reached general agreement on
the division of the past into three
main periods: Ancient, Medieval,
and Modern. This periodization
was at root a value judgment, with
the Medieval period, dominated
by the Church, viewed as a time
of irrationality and barbarism and
separating the dignified world of
the ancient civilizations from the
newly emerging, rational universe
of modern Europe. Enlightenment
philosophers wrote histories that
ridiculed the follies of the past.

The Romantic spirit

In stark contrast, the Romantic
movement that swept across Europe
from the late 18th century found
an intrinsic value in the difference
between the past and the present. ❯❯

14 INTRODUCTION

The Romantics drew inspiration from
the Middle Ages, and instead of
seeing the past as a preparation for
the modern world, as had previously
been the case, Romantic historians
tried the imaginative exercise of
entering into the spirit of past ages.
Much of this was associated with
nationalism. The German Romantic
thinker Johann Gottfried Herder
(1774–1803) burrowed into the past
in search of roots of national identity
and an authentic “German spirit.”
As nationalism triumphed in Europe
in the 19th century, much of history
became a celebration of national
characteristics and national heroes,
often veering into myth-making.
Every country wanted to have its
sacred heroic history, just as it had
its flag and its national anthem.

Philosopher and social revolutionary
Karl Marx (1818–83) later adapted
Hegel’s scheme into his own theory
(“historical materialism”), in which
he claimed that economic progress,
which caused conflict between the
social classes, would inevitably one
day result in the proletariat seizing
power from the bourgeoisie, while
the capitalist world order collapsed
under its own inner contradictions.
Arguably, Marxism was to prove
the most influential and durable
of all historical “grand narratives.”
Like other areas of knowledge,
in the 19th century history underwent professionalization and it
became an academic discipline.
Academic history aspired to
the status of a science, and the

The “Grand Narrative”

In the 19th century, history became
increasingly important and took on
the quality of destiny. Arrogantly,
European civilization saw itself as
the goal to which all history had
been progressing and constructed
narratives that made sense of the
past in those terms. The German
philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
Hegel (1770–1831) articulated a
grand scheme of history as a logical
development, which culminated in
the end point of the Prussian state.

History is little more than
the crimes, follies, and
misfortunes of mankind.
Edward Gibbon

The History of the Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire (1776)

accumulation of “facts” was its
avowed purpose. A gap opened up
between “serious” history—often
heavy on economic statistics—
and the colorful literary works of
popular historians, such as Jules
Michelet (1798–1874) and Thomas
Macaulay (1800–59).

The rise of social history

In the 20th century, the subject
matter of history—which had
always focused on kings, queens,
prime ministers, presidents, and
generals—increasingly expanded
to embrace the common people,
whose role in historical events
became accessible through more
in-depth research. Some historians
(initially those in France) chose to
disregard the “history of events”
altogether, preferring instead to
study social structures and the
patterns of everyday life, beliefs,
and ways of thinking (“mentalités”)
of ordinary people in different
historical periods.

A Eurocentric approach

Broadly speaking, until the second
half of the 20th century, most world
history was written as the story of
the triumph of Western civilization.
This approach was as implicit in
Marxist versions of history as in
those histories that celebrated the

INTRODUCTION 15

progress of technology, enterprise,
and liberal democracy. It did not
necessarily imply optimism—there
were numerous prophets of decline
and doom. But it did suggest that
essentially history had been made,
and was still being made, by Europe
and European offshoots further
afield. For instance, it was deemed
acceptable for respected European
historians to maintain that black
Africa had no significant history at
all, having failed to contribute to
the onward march of humanity.

Postcolonial revisionism

In the course of the second half
of the 20th century, the notion of a
single, purposeful, historical “grand
narrative” collapsed, taking Eurocentrism with it. The postcolonial,
postmodernist world was seen as
requiring a multiplicity of histories
told from the point of view of many
different social identities. There
was a surge of interest in the study
of black history, women’s history,
and gay history, as well as histories
narrated from an Asian, African, or
American Indian standpoint. The
marginal and oppressed in society
were reassessed as “agents” of
history rather than passive victims.
A riot of revisionism upturned
much of the history of the world
as commonly known to educated

people in the West, although often
without putting any satisfactory
alternative version in place of the
old. For example, the puzzlement
that resulted can be seen in the
response to the 500th anniversary
in 1992 of Christopher Columbus’s
first voyage to the Americas. It
would once have been expected
to excite widespread celebration
in the United States, but was in
practice acknowledged with some
embarrassment, if at all. People are
no longer sure what to think about
traditional history, its Great Men,
and its epoch-making events.

A 21st-century perspective

The content of The History Book
reflects this abandonment of “grand
narratives” of human progress. It
aims to present a general reader
with an overview of world history
through specific moments, or events,
which can act as windows upon
selected areas of the past. In line
with contemporary concerns, this
book also reflects the long-term
importance of key factors such as
population growth, climate, and
the environment throughout human
history. At the same time, it gives
an account of matters of traditional
popular historical interest, such as
the Magna Carta, the Black Death,
and the American Civil War.

The book begins with the origins
of humans and “pre-history” and
then progresses through different
historical ages to the present day.
In reality of course there were no
such clear breaks between epochs,
and where there is an overlap on
dates, entries are included in the
most appropriate ideological era.
As this book illustrates, history
is a process rather than a series of
unconnected events. We can only
speculate on how the events we
experience today will shape the
history of tomorrow. No one in the
early 21st century can possibly
claim to make sense of history, but it
remains the fundamental discipline
for anyone who believes, as the poet
Alexander Pope did, that “the proper
study of Mankind is Man.” ■

We are not makers of history.
We are made by history.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength to Love (1963)

HUMAN O
200,000 years

RIGINS

ago–3500 bce

18 INTRODUCTION
The first humans (Homo
sapiens) emerge in East
Africa; Neanderthals
(Homo neanderthalensis)
are living in Europe
and West Asia.

Paleolithic people start to
create art (sculptures
of animals and cave
paintings) and artifacts
(jewelry and decorative
tools and weapons).

c.200,000 years ago

c.40,000 years ago

c.45,000 years ago

Humans have spread
across the globe and
inhabit most of Eurasia
and Australia, which they
have reached by boat
from Southeast Asia.

I

t is widely believed that the
origins of the human race lie in
Africa. By the usual processes
of biological evolution and natural
selection, the genus Homo evolved
in East Africa over millions of years
alongside the chimpanzees, its near
relatives. By the same biological
processes, Homo sapiens—modern
humans—evolved alongside other
hominins (the relatives of humans,
including Neanderthals, who died
out 40,000 years ago).
About 100,000 years ago or so,
the scattered bands of hunting and
foraging humans would have been
almost indistinguishable from the
other great apes. But at some point
(precisely when is hard to define)
humans began to change in a new
way, not by the process of biological
evolution but by cultural evolution.
They developed the ability to alter

A period of intense cold,
known as the “Big
Freeze,” occurs. People
and animals in northern
regions die out or
migrate southward.

Jericho (in the
modern-day West Bank)
is settled; to this day it
remains one of the oldest
continuously inhabited
towns in the world.

c.23,000 years ago

c.35,000 years ago

The first examples of
human figurines emerge,
usually representing
women and carved or
sculpted from bone, ivory,
terracotta, or stone.

c.15,000 years ago

c.7500 bce

Humans start to arrive in
North America, either
across the land bridge
connecting Asia and
North America (now the
Bering Strait) or by sea.

A settlement at
Çatalhöyük, central
Turkey, is established;
evidence of complex
rituals indicates
social cohesion.

their way of life through the creation
of tools, languages, beliefs, social
customs, and art. By the time they
were painting exquisite pictures of
animals on the walls of caves and
carving or sculpting figurines out
of stone or bone, they had marked
themselves out uniquely from other
animals. Their transformation was
slow in the early years, but it was
set to gather incredible momentum
over millennia. Humans had become
the only animals with a history.

Discovering history

c.9000 bce

The early development of human
cultures and societies presents a
particular problem to historians.
The first writing was not invented
until quite late in the human story—
about 5,000 years ago. Traditionally,
the period before writing tended to
be dismissed as “pre-history,” since

it left no documents for historians
to study. However, in recent years
a wide range of new scientific
methods—including the study of
genetic material and radiocarbon
dating of organic remains—have
been added to the long-established
techniques of archaeology, enabling
scholars to shine at least a flickering
light upon the pre-literate era.
The narrative of the distant
human past is under constant
revision as new discoveries and
research—its findings frequently
disputed—create radical shifts in
perspective. The fresh investigation
of a single cave, a burial site, or a
human skull can still throw large
areas of accepted knowledge into
question. However, in the 21st
century much of the history of early
humans can be described with a
reasonable degree of confidence.

HUMAN ORIGINS 19
There is evidence of copper
smelting in Serbia and the
wheel is invented in the
Near East, probably for the
production of pottery rather
than for transport.

The Bronze Age
begins in the Near
East, and the Indus
Valley Civilization
emerges on the
Indian subcontinent.

Cuneiform script, one
of the world’s oldest
writing system, is
invented in Sumer, in
southern Mesopotamia
(modern-day Iraq).

c.3300 bce

c.3000 bce

c.5000 bce
c.4000 bce

Civilizations develop
in Mesopotamia, in the
Tigris–Euphrates valley
(modern-day Iraq, Syria, and
Kuwait), where irrigated
agriculture is established.

Nomadic hunter-gatherers

All historians agree that until about
12,000 years ago humans were
hunter-gatherers, using stone tools
and living in small, mobile groups.
This period is referred to as the
Paleolithic Era (or Old Stone Age).
Humans were a successful species,
expanding their numbers to perhaps
10 million and spreading to most
parts of the Earth. Generally, they
adapted well to the major natural
climate changes that occurred over
tens of thousands of years, although
they were temporarily driven out of
northerly areas, such as Britain and
Scandinavia, during the coldest
phase of what is popularly known
as the Ice Age.
Humans existed in an intimate
relationship with their natural
environment, but their effect on
that environment even at this early

c.3100 bce

Narmer unifies Upper
and Lower Egypt,
becoming king of
the First Dynasty;
Egyptian hieroglyphs
are prevalent.

Stones are raised at
Britain’s Stonehenge, at
the center of an earthwork
enclosure constructed 500
years previously; the stones
are later rearranged.

c.2500 bce

c.2700 bce

The first stone pyramids
are constructed as
monumental tombs
in Egypt; the Great
Pyramid of Giza is built
two centuries later.

stage was not necessarily benign.
There is a disturbing coincidence
between the spread of human
hunters across the planet and the
extinction of megafauna such as
woolly mammoths and mastodons.
Although human hunting is far
from being identified as the sole
cause of these extinctions—natural
climate change may well have been
a contributing factor—from our
modern perspective they can seem
to set a troubling precedent.

The farming revolution

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which
can reasonably be described as
“natural” to human beings, appears
to have had much to recommend
it. Examination of human remains
from early hunter-gatherer societies
has suggested that our ancestors
usually enjoyed abundant food,

c.1800 bce

Alphabetic writing
(Proto-Sinaitic script,
based on hieroglyphs)
emerges in Egypt; it
is the ancestor of most
modern alphabets.

obtainable without excessive effort,
and suffered very few diseases.
If this is true, it is not clear what
then motivated so many human
beings all over the world to settle
in permanent villages and develop
agriculture, growing crops and
domesticating animals: cultivating
fields was grindingly hard work,
and it was in farming villages that
epidemic diseases first took root.
Whatever its immediate effect
on the quality of life for humans,
the development of settlements and
agriculture indisputably led to a
high increase in population density.
Sometimes known as the Neolithic
Revolution (or New Stone Age), this
period was a major turning point in
human development, opening the
way to the growth of the first towns
and cities, and eventually leading
to settled “civilizations.” ■

20

AT LEAST AS IMPORTANT
AS COLUMBUS’S JOURNEY
TO AMERICA OR THE
APOLLO 11 EXPEDITION

THE FIRST HUMANS ARRIVE IN AUSTRALIA
(c.60,000–45,000 YEARS AGO)
IN CONTEXT

Homo sapiens evolves in Africa.

FOCUS
Migration
BEFORE
c.200,000 years ago Homo
sapiens (modern human)
evolves in Africa.
c.125,000–45,000 years ago
Groups of Homo sapiens
expand out of Africa.
AFTER
c.50,000–30,000 years ago
Denisovan hominins are
present in south-central Russia.

Homo sapiens spreads
into the Near East but
retreats to Africa, only later
reaching Europe and
western Asia.

After moving into southern
Asia, Homo sapiens groups
follow the coastline to
Southeast Asia.

In western Eurasia, Homo sapiens
encounters other hominin species,
the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Homo sapiens
arrives in
Australia.

45,000 years ago Homo
sapiens arrives in Europe.
c.40,000 years ago The
Neanderthals die out. Their
last known sites are on the
Iberian peninsula.
c.18,000 years ago Homo
floresiensis fossils date from
this time.
c.13,000 years ago Humans
are present near Clovis, New
Mexico, but may not be the
continent’s first humans.

All hominin species except Homo sapiens die out.

M

odern humans are the
only truly global mammal
species. Since evolving
in Africa around 200,000 years ago,
Homo sapiens has rapidly expanded
across the world—testament to
our species’ curiosity in exploring
its surroundings and creativity in
adapting to different habitats. In

particular, many researchers think
that humans’ ability to exploit
coastal environments was key
to their rapid spread along the
southern coasts of Asia.
Even the radically different flora
and fauna of Australia proved no
barrier; humans may have arrived
on the continent as early as 60,000

HUMAN ORIGINS 21
See also: Cave paintings at Altamira 22–27

Remains of Homo floresiensis were
found on the Indonesian island of Flores
in 2003. Some studies suggest that its
small size was due to disease rather
than indicating a new species.

years ago, although the earliest
dates are controversial. Small
groups may have visited much
earlier, but the bulk of the evidence
suggests widespread colonization
of Australia only around 45,000
years ago, at much the same time
as Homo sapiens arrived in Europe.

Other hominin species

Homo sapiens was the first hominin
to arrive in Australia. However, in
parts of Eurasia, humans did face

■

The Big Freeze 28–29

■

The settlement at Çatalhöyük 30–31

competition. By the time humans
reached Europe, Neanderthals
had already been there for around
250,000 years, having evolved
from an ancestor they shared
with modern humans, Homo
heidelbergensis, and they were
well adapted to life in the region.
Further east, at Denisova Cave
in Russia’s Altai Mountains, there is
evidence of a mysterious species—
the Denisovans—known only from
their DNA. And on the island of
Flores in Southeast Asia, fossils of
another possible species—the short,
small-brained Homo floresiensis—
date from just 18,000 years ago,
although some researchers believe
these were simply modern humans
afflicted with some form of disease.
Of all these species, Homo
sapiens is the only one to have
survived and gone on to colonize
the New World. Beringia, a landbridge between Russia and Alaska,
exposed when sea levels dropped
as a result of the Ice Age, allowed
humans to reach the Americas
from northeast Asia. The exact date
remains controversial: stone tools

Homo sapiens : the only remaining hominin
There is no evidence of violence
between humans and other
species. Indeed, modern human
DNA shows small traces of
Neanderthal and Denisovan
genes, suggesting that a few
individuals from each species
interbred, albeit rarely.
Although Neanderthals were
skilled manufacturers of stone
tools and excellent hunters,
modern humans may have been
quicker to adapt, and therefore
better able to cope with the
rapid climatic changes occurring

as the Ice Age progressed.
They developed new stone
tools, as well as techniques
that made use of resources such
as bone and antler. They also
established extensive networks
of support, enabling various
groups to pool resources across
large distances, enhancing
their chances of survival. This
cultural adaptability may have
been what allowed humans
to outcompete their cousins
for access to increasingly
unpredictable resources.

The human blitzkrieg across
America testifies to the
incomparable ingenuity and
the unsurpassed adaptability
of Homo sapiens.
Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens (2011)

from the c.13,000-year-old “Clovis
culture” were once thought to have
belonged to the earliest humans
in the New World. Older sites are
now known, but many of the earlier
dates, particularly in South America,
remain highly contentious.

The social network

Until more evidence is found, the
fates of the Denisovans and Homo
floresiensis remain unknown, while
the most recent research suggests
Neanderthals died out around 40,000
years ago. Many researchers believe
the resourcefulness of Homo sapiens
was crucial to its success in other
species’ home territories in the face
of climate change around the time of
the Last Glacial Maximum. In
particular, it is thought that they
could also rely on more extensive
social networks than those other
species—an asset that would have
proved crucial both to survival in
lean times and to helping them
colonize the unfamiliar environments
they encountered as they expanded
across the globe, perhaps following
animal herds. ■

EVERYTHING WAS SO

BEAUTIFUL

SO FRESH
CAVE PAINTINGS AT ALTAMIRA
(c.40,000 YEARS AGO)

24 CAVE PAINTINGS AT ALTAMIRA

T

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
Paleolithic culture
BEFORE
c.45,000 years ago Modern
humans arrive in Europe.
c.40,000 years ago The
earliest currently known
examples of art in Europe are
made, such as the sculpture of
the Lion Man of HohlensteinStadel, Germany.
AFTER
c.26,000 years ago
A triple burial is carried out
at Dolní Věstonice, in the
Czech Republic.
c.23,500 years ago The
Arene Candide “prince” is
buried in Italy, richly adorned
with dentalium shell jewelry.
c.18,000 years ago The last
Ice Age reaches its height.

he Altamira cave complex,
near Santander on the
northern coast of Spain,
comprises a series of passages
and chambers extending for nearly
984ft (300m) that boast some of
the best examples of Stone Age, or
Paleolithic, cave art yet discovered.
So impressive are the paintings that
when the cave was discovered in
1880, they were widely considered
fakes and took nearly 20 years to be
accepted as the genuine creations
of prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
Some of the early artistic activity
here may date from more than
35,000 years ago, although most of
the famous paintings were probably
created much later, around 22,000
years ago. These include the images
in the famous Bison Chamber:
here the low ceiling is covered in
representations of animals including
multicolored, lifelike images of
bison, expertly painted across the
natural undulations of the rock in
such a way as to make them appear
almost three-dimensional.

The artistic impetus

Other stunning displays of cave
art are also known, concentrated
in southwest France and northern

Foraging lifestyles
rely on the hunting and
gathering of natural
resources.

Humans develop an
intimate knowledge
of animal and plant
species and their
environment.

The need
to exchange
information with
other groups grows
stronger.

Spain. They include not only
finely detailed images of animals,
but also engraved and painted
signs, symbols, and handprints.
Archaeologists remain divided over
the meaning and function of Stone
Age art. One explanation is simply
that these people appreciated the
aesthetic qualities of art—just as
their descendants do today. Others
suggest that the incredible detail of
some of the images—the sex of the
animal or the season in which it was
observed can still be determined, for
example—may mean the paintings
were a means of conveying vital
survival information, such as which
animals to hunt, and when and how
they could be found and targeted.

Hunting rituals

Alternatively, cave art might
be linked to the world views or
religions of Paleolithic people.
Even today, many societies still
living mainly by hunting and
gathering share animistic beliefs,
meaning they believe entities such
as animals, plants, and parts of the
landscape have spirits with which
humans interact during their daily
life. Many such societies’ religious
specialists, or shamans, believe

Beliefs and practices
emphasizing
connectedness and
communication
start to develop.

The first examples
of art, such as the
cave paintings at
Altamira, appear.

HUMAN ORIGINS 25
See also: The first humans arrive in Australia 20–21

■

The Big Freeze 28–29

■

The settlement at Çatalhöyük 30–31

The undulating structure of the rock
cave at Altamira enhances, rather than
detracts from, the art, with the animals
in the Bison Chamber acquiring an
almost three-dimensional quality.

with only a lamp filled with animal
fat might have been a form of
initiation test for young people—
one that would have required a
great deal of courage to endure.

Burials and the afterlife

they are able to communicate
with these spirits to help sick or
injured people, and historically,
rock art has been created by
shamans during states of altered
consciousness, or trances, as part
of this communication, leading
some researchers to suggest that
Paleolithic societies may have
had similar beliefs. Shamans are

also often thought to be able
to transform themselves into
animals to encourage them to
give themselves up to the hunter,
which could also explain depictions
combining human and animal
characteristics, such as the Lion
Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel, in
Germany, or the Sorcerer of Les
Trois Frères Cave in France, a
human-like figure with antlers.
Creating images of animals
may have also been part of “magic”
rituals designed to improve the
chances of success during hunting.
For societies dependent on animal
resources for a significant part of
their diet, the importance of such
rituals cannot be overstated.

Initiation ceremonies

Handprints in the cave of Fuente del
Salín, in Spain’s Cantabria region, were
probably left by youngsters, suggesting
that venturing underground might have
been a coming-of-age ritual.

Other researchers have noted
that many of the handprints and
footprints found beside the
art in the caves seem to belong
to quite young individuals.
Traveling down into dark, damp,
and potentially dangerous caves

More evidence of human beings
engaging in religious or ritual
practices at this time comes
from burials. At the site of Dolní
Věstonice, in the Czech Republic,
for example, three bodies were
buried together in a sexually
suggestive pose, with one of the
male individuals flanking a female
skeleton reaching toward her
pelvis, and the male on the other
side buried face down. A red
pigment known as ochre had
been sprinkled across their heads
and across the female’s pelvis.
Interestingly, all three individuals ❯❯

People everywhere
and throughout time have
shared the basic instinct
to represent themselves
and their world through
images and symbols.
Jill Cook
Ice Age Art (2013)

26 CAVE PAINTINGS AT ALTAMIRA
share the same rare skeletal
deformities and may therefore have
been related. Although the reasons
why these bodies were arranged
this way will probably always be a
mystery, it is clear that there was
more to this burial than just the
functional disposal of remains.
At other sites, some individuals
were buried with many “grave
goods”—for example, the complex
jewelry made from dentalium shells
at Arene Candide, in Italy, and the
striking spears fashioned from
mammoth ivory at the burial site
of two young children in Sunghir,
in Russia. Some researchers have
suggested that these richly adorned
individuals—especially the young
ones, who would not have had
time in their short life to establish
a reputation that might account
for special treatment in death—
imply that hierarchies and status
distinctions were beginning to
develop in some groups. However,
they do not appear to have become

widespread until much later. It is
clear, however, that for the first
time, people were now increasingly
concerned with what happened
after death, and about how the dead
should enter into the afterlife.

Marking territory

Other researchers note that most
“classic” Paleolithic cave art is
concentrated in southwest France
and northern Spain. This region
would have been a relatively
favorable place to live: even at the
height of the Last Glacial Maximum,
more southerly, warmer climates
and hence more productive habitats
attracted dense herds of animals.
As a result, people may have lived
here in fairly large numbers, packed
closely together, leading to greater
social tensions among groups vying
for territory and resources.
Just as human groups today—
whether it be football supporters
or nation states—use symbols such
as flags, costumes, and markings of

Historians are still unsure whether or not there are precise
meanings behind the majority of cave art. Their best guesses are
that they may relate to any one or more of several possibilities: art
for art’s sake; spirituality; initiation rites; the marking of territory;
and a method of imparting valuable information about hunting.

Hunting
information
Spirituality

Marking
territory

Art for
art’s sake
Initiation
rites

People thought of themselves
as part of a living world, where
animals, plants, and even
landmarks and inanimate
objects had lives of their own.
Brian Fagan
Cro-Magnon (2010)

borders, territories, and group
identities, so European Paleolithic
groups may have decorated caves
for similar reasons at a time when
there was the potential for intense
competition for resources.

Cooperation to survive

Such complex social interactions
may help explain how Homo sapiens
was able to survive in the harsh
environments of Ice Age Europe.
Hunter-gatherers probably lived in
small groups scattered at relatively
low densities across the landscape.
Most archaeological sites from
this time do not demonstrate any
evidence of complex buildings or
structures, suggesting that people
moved around a lot, according
to the weather and the local
environment, often following large
herds of animals like reindeer as
they migrated with the seasons.
Homo sapiens’ ability to forge
new relationships readily allowed
groups of hunters to combine as and
when necessary. When resources
were plentiful, they would hunt
together—for example, intercepting
migrating herds of reindeer at
places in the landscape where they
were most vulnerable, such as in

HUMAN ORIGINS 27
Hunting tools, such as this spearthrower, were often carved in the shape
of the animals they were used to kill,
probably as a sort of “magic ritual” to
improve chances of success in the hunt.

narrow valleys or at river crossings.
In leaner times, these groups would
split up again and range far across
the landscape to find enough wild
resources to sustain themselves.

Early technologies

These hunter-gatherers expended
considerable effort on hunting
technology, since it could spell
the difference between life and
death. They hafted elaborately
worked stone tips on to spears that
were then launched at the target
using atlatls, or spear-throwers,
designed to increase the distance

Venus figurines

Delicately worked bone awls and
needles suggest Stone Age humans
also made warm clothes out of

animal skin and fur with much more
care than their predecessors, and
they made many other items—from
jewelry finely crafted from animal
teeth and shell, to figurines carved
from stone or sculpted from clay.
Many of these may also have been
traded, gifted, or exchanged with
individuals from other groups as
part of large-scale social networks.
The unpredictable environments
of Europe during the Last Glacial
Maximum meant sharing resources
with other groups in times of plenty
could pay off significantly at a
later date: if a group struggled to
find resources in one area, others
elsewhere who had previously
benefited from their generosity
would be more inclined to return
the favor. These kinds of exchange
relationships probably linked even
very far-flung groups together into
complex networks of individual
and group relationships that were
fundamental to survival in such
a tough environment. ■

Figurines of women carved or
sculpted from stone, ivory, or
clay are a type of Paleolithic
art found widely across Europe.
These figurines share many
striking similarities. While
details such as facial features
and feet are largely ignored,
feminine sexual characteristics
(breasts, belly, hips, thighs, and
vulva) are often exaggerated.
The focus on features related to
sexuality and fertility, and the
round body shapes depicted
(during the Ice Age fat would
have been a precious commodity)
suggest that the figurines may

have played a symbolic role as
a charm relating to childbirth
or, more generally, fertility.
Some researchers believe
that the figures represent a
“mother goddess,” but there
is no real evidence for such
an interpretation. Others have
focused instead on the fact
that the figurines demonstrate
widely shared cultural ideas
and symbols. These would
have been crucial to social
interactions and exchanges
of resources, information, and
potential marriage partners
in the Ice Age world.

over which a spear could travel
and the force with which it hit its
target. These tools were crucial to
hunting success, so it is no surprise
that some of these atlatls were
beautifully carved and decorated,
often with representations of the
animals being hunted. Similarly,
they also painstakingly carved
complex barbed harpoons from
bone and antler for fishing.

First seeds of a society

28

THE FOUNDATIONS OF
TODAY’S EUROPE WERE
FORGED IN THE EVENTS
OF THE LATE ICE AGE
THE BIG FREEZE (c.21000 bce)

IN CONTEXT

Climate change results from shifts in the earth’s
position and orientation relative to the sun.

FOCUS
Climate change
BEFORE
c.2.58 million years ago
The Pleistocene, or Ice Age,
begins.
c.200,000 years ago Homo
sapiens emerges as a species.
AFTER
c.9700 bce The Pleistocene
ends, marking the beginning
of today’s relatively warm and
stable climates—the Holocene.
c.9000–8000 bce Agriculture
becomes established in the
Near East.
c.5000 bce Sea level reaches
near-modern levels; low-lying
land is submerged.
c.2000 bce The last
mammoths are thought to
have died out, on Wrangel
Island, Russia.

The Big Freeze
expands ice caps,
lowering sea levels.

Animals and humans
colonize newly exposed
low-lying land, only to be
isolated when sea levels
rise again.

S

cientists have only recently
begun to appreciate how
the two-way relationship
that exists between humans and
our environments has affected
the development of our societies.
Humans evolved during the last
Ice Age, living through periodic
shifts between very cold climatic
conditions (glacials) and warmer
periods more like those of today

Habitats change,
and plant and animal
species’ ranges alter
for survival.

Human groups are
faced with new
opportunities
and constraints.

(interglacials). However, toward
the end of the Ice Age, these shifts
became more pronounced and
occurred at shorter intervals,
culminating around 21000 bce in
a “Big Freeze,” a period of intense
cold known as the Last Glacial
Maximum. People and animals
living in northern regions died
out or retreated south as ice caps
expanded to reach southern

HUMAN ORIGINS 29
See also: The first humans arrive in Australia 20–21 ■ Cave paintings at Altamira 22–27
The settlement at Çatalhöyük 30–31 ■ The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37

An entire mammoth was unearthed
in Siberia, Russia, in 1900—the first
complete example ever found. A cast
of it is on display in St. Petersburg’s
Natural History Museum.

England. Such huge amounts of sea
water froze that sea levels dropped,
exposing low-lying land such as
Beringia, the continental shelf that
connects North America and
Asia—and the route by which
humans first reached the Americas.

Rising temperatures

Temperatures eventually rose
again, and today’s relatively warm
and stable climate had become
established by around 7000 bce.
The ice caps melted, and rising sea
levels separated Eurasia from the
Americas, turned Southeast Asia
into an archipelago, and made
islands out of peninsulas such as
Japan and Britain, thereby isolating
many human groups. The impact
on ecosystems was particularly
severe for the large animals known
as megafauna—mammoths, for
example. The open glacial steppe
grasslands in which megafauna
thrived were replaced by expanding
forests, and across the globe the
combination of environmental
change and human hunting drove
many species to extinction.

The forests and wetlands of the
new post-glacial world offered
humans many new opportunities.
They hunted large forest animals
such as red deer and wild boar,
as well as smaller mammals like
rabbits, and they foraged for a
range of aquatic and coastal food
sources. Migratory fish like salmon,
sea mammals such as seals, and
shellfish, seasonal wildfowl, and
a range of fruits, tubers, nuts,
and seeds all became important
dietary staples.

■

Few humans have ever
lived in a world of such
extreme climatic and
environmental change.
Brian Fagan
Expert in human prehistory

Changing lifestyles

In areas that were particularly
rich in natural resources, human
groups may not have settled in
one place, sending small bands
on forays further afield to target
specific resources. The Natufian
communities of the Eastern
Mediterranean, for example, were
able to exploit abundant stands
of wild cereals in the Near East.
Some groups began to manipulate
their environments, burning
vegetation and cutting down
trees to encourage their preferred

plant and animal species to thrive.
They started to select and care for
productive plant species and sowed
the seeds of favored strains, while
managing and controlling certain
animals. This manipulation led to
these species becoming ever more
reliant on human input—and to
the development of agriculture, a
radical change in the human way
of life that has since resulted in
even more dramatic human impact
on the environment. ■

Ice cores and past environments
Paleoclimatologists study the
elemental composition of the
sediments laid down over time
on ocean floors to understand
how climates have changed in
the past. Tiny sea creatures
known as foraminifera absorb
two different forms of oxygen,
16
O and 18O, from sea water.
Because 16O is the lighter of the
two, it evaporates into the air
more easily, but during warmer
periods it falls as rain and drains
back to the sea. So 16O and 18O
exist in sea water and appear

in the shells of foraminifera, in
roughly equal ratios. However,
in cold conditions most of the
evaporated 16O does not return
to the ocean but freezes as ice,
so sea water contains more 18O
than 16O. When foraminifera die,
their shells sink to the ocean
floor, building up over time.
Paleoclimatologists drill into
the ocean floor to extract cores
of sediment and study the
changing proportions of 16O and
18
O in different layers to see how
climates have changed over time.

30

A GREAT CIVILIZATION
AROSE ON THE
ANATOLIAN
PLAIN
THE SETTLEMENT AT ÇATALHÖYÜK

(10,000 YEARS AGO)

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
Neolithic revolution
BEFORE
11000–10000 bce There is
evidence of cultivation of crops
and domestication of animals
in West Asia.
c.9000 bce Maize farming
begins in Mesoamerica.

Hunter-gatherers interact
closely with animal and
plant species.

Humans start to manage
and control some
animals and plants,
domesticating them.

The climate and
environment stabilize
after the Ice Age.

Human populations
begin to grow.

c.8800 bce Farming lifestyles
are well established across
West Asia.
AFTER
8000 bce Cultivation and
domestication begin in
East Asia.
7400–6000 bce The town of
Çatalhöyük is established.
7000–6500 bce Agriculture
spreads west into Europe
via Cyprus, Greece, and
the Balkans.
3500 bce The earliest cities
are built in Mesopotamia.

The cultivation of land
and crops and the
stockpiling of harvests
reduce mobility.

T

he Neolithic town of
Çatalhöyük on the Konya
Plain in Turkey was
discovered by James Mellaart in
the 1960s. It has become one of the
most famous archaeological sites
in the world due to its size, density
of settlement, spectacular wall
paintings, and evidence of complex
religious and ritual behavior.

People build larger
settlements, such
as the one at
Çatalhöyük.

Since its discovery, several other
large settlements across West Asia
have been found that attest
to the growing scale of human
communities during the shift from
foraging to agricultural lifestyles,
or “Neolithic revolution,” that
occurred between around 10000 bce
and 7000 bce. Whether rising
populations forced people to find

HUMAN ORIGINS 31
See also: The first humans arrive in Australia 20–21
The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37

■

Cave paintings at Altamira 22–27

■

The Big Freeze 28–29

■

This illustration shows the way
in which humans lived and worked
close to each other at the Çatalhöyük
site, with their domesticated animals
also kept nearby.

more stable means of subsistence
or farming allowed people to have
more children, the sizes of many
settlements increased substantially
and became more permanent. New
ways had to be found to resolve
social stresses such as disputes
between neighbors.
Early villagers invested time and
effort in planting and cultivating
crops, then in storing the harvest
to last the year, so they could no
longer simply move as foragers had.

Community cohesion

It is thought that the development of
more formal religious organization
and group ritual practices may have
helped community cohesion. At
many sites, buildings were set
aside for such purposes; these were
larger than domestic structures,
with unusual features such as lime
plaster benches and more evidence
of symbolic and representational
art: Çatalhöyük boasts murals and
figurines of a range of subjects
including wild animals such as
bulls, leopards, and vultures. At
many sites, some inhabitants

remained in the community even
when they died; they were buried
under the floors of the houses.
Sometimes they were later dug up
and their skulls removed; facial
features were molded on some in
plaster and painted with ochre for
display. At sites like Ain Ghazal in
Jordan, large statues made of lime
plaster have been found, and there
are many examples of clay figurines
of animals and (mainly female)

Farming and health
The adoption of farming
established a plentiful and
stable long-term source of food,
allowing for population growth.
However, there were negative
consequences, too. Farmers
may have had to work harder
at times than hunter-gatherers
did, and their more limited
diets—focused on just a few
crops and animal species—led
to nutritional deficiencies.
The health of early farmers
also suffered in other ways.
Living at close quarters with

humans. It is not clear whether
these decorated skulls, statues,
and figurines represent specific
individuals or heads of households
or lineages, or perhaps mythical
ancestors or gods, but they may
have been part of the communal
ideologies, rituals, and social
practices that helped smooth over
tensions between individuals and
broader regional groups, who were
establishing more formal links with
one another for long-distance trade
and exchange of goods. Some of
the success of Çatalhöyük may
have been due to its role as a center
for the large-scale trade of items
made from the obsidian, or volcanic
glass, of Hasan Daǧ.
The many dramatic social and
economic changes that came with
the Neolithic revolution have helped
shape both human history and the
world’s ecosystems ever since. ■
animals meant that some animal
diseases spread to humans—for
example, smallpox, anthrax,
tuberculosis, and the flu. Larger
communities living at higher
densities allowed for such
diseases to be more easily
passed around. It also caused
problems in disposing of human
and animal waste and thus a
rise in intestinal complaints
and waterborne diseases such
as cholera and typhoid, while
irrigation created breeding
grounds for mosquitoes and
parasites, infecting humans
with diseases like malaria.

ANCIENT
CIVILIZATI
6000 BCE–500

IONS
CE

34 INTRODUCTION
Hammurabi, one of
the great kings of
Mesopotamia, writes
a law code—the
earliest known written
legal system in history.

Egyptian pharaoh
Ramesses II builds two
vast temples at Abu
Simbel to glorify the
pharaohs and assert
dominance in Nubia.

Democracy is
introduced in Athens
by Cleisthenes. All
Athenian citizens are
allowed to vote directly
on Athenian policy.

1780 bce

1264 bce

507 bce

1700 bce

Knossos palace is built
on Crete by the Minoans—
the first civilization in Europe
to produce a system of
writing (known as the
Linear A syllabary).

A

bout 5,000 years ago,
humans began to form
societies of unprecedented
complexity. These “civilizations”
typically had state structures and
social hierarchies, they built cities
and monuments such as temples,
palaces, and pyramids, and used
some form of writing. The basis for
the development of civilizations was
progress in agriculture. When only
part of the population was required
to work in the fields to produce food,
the rest could inhabit towns and
palaces, performing a range of
specialty functions as bureaucrats,
traders, scribes, and priests. The
invention of civilization undoubtedly
raised human life to a new level in
many ways—in technology, the
arts, astronomy, the measurement
of time, literature, and philosophy—
but also established inequality and

650 bce

The high point of a Celtic
culture, which developed
around Halstatt, Austria,
and spread to France,
Romania, Bohemia,
and Slovakia.

490 bce
c.500 bce

c.334 bce

Siddartha Gautama
(known as Buddha)
rejects material life to
seek enlightenment
and preach
Buddhism in India.

Macedonian king
Alexander the Great
invades Asia Minor
and creates a vast
empire; Greek culture
spreads eastward.

exploitation as the basis of society,
leading to larger-scale warfare as
states expanded into empires.

Emerging civilizations

The start of the Persian
Wars between Greece
and the Persian Empire;
military successes
influence the development
of classical Greek identity.

The earliest civilizations developed
in areas where it was possible
to practice intensive agriculture,
usually involving use of irrigation
systems—for instance, along the
rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates
in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), the
Nile in Egypt, the Indus in northern
India and Pakistan, and the Yangtze
and Yellow rivers in China. Although
these civilizations of Eurasia and
North Africa seem to have been
founded independently of one
another, they developed multiple
contacts over time, sharing ideas,
technology, and even diseases. All
followed a pattern in which stone
tools (the Stone Age) were replaced

by bronze (the Bronze Age) and
then predominantly iron (the Iron
Age). In the Americas, where the
Olmec and Maya developed the
civilizations of Mesoamerica, the
use of stone tools persisted and
most of the epidemic diseases that
plagued Eurasia were unknown.

Writing and philosophy

From around 1000 bce, Eurasian
civilizations found an innovative
momentum. The use of writing
evolved from practical recordkeeping to the creation of sacred
books and classic literary texts that
embodied the founding myths and
beliefs of different societies, from
the Homeric tales in Greece to the
Five Classics of Confucianism
in China and the Hindu Vedas in
India. Forms of writing using an
alphabet developed in the eastern

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 35
Qin Shi Huangdi unites
China, previously a
region of warring states,
and begins major projects,
including building the
Terracotta Army.

Julius Caesar is
assassinated in
Rome by senators
who believe he is
becoming increasingly
power-hungry.

The Maya Classical
Period begins; many
cities, temples, and
monuments are built
throughout Mexico
and Guatemala.

Rome falls to the
Visigoths; the Roman
Empire shrinks
and much of Europe
is invaded by
Barbarian tribes.

221 bce

44 bce

250 ce

410 ce

218 bce

Military commander
Hannibal, from Carthage
(north Africa), crosses the
Alps to invade Italy.
Unable to capture Rome,
he returns to Africa.

43 ce

A Roman army led by
General Aulus Plautius
invades southern
England; later, Roman
rule extends to Wales
and the Scottish border.

312 ce

Roman emperor
Constantine adopts
Christianity after victory
at the Battle of Milvian
Bridge; Christianity rapidly
gains popularity.

Mediterranean region and were
spread by the Phoenicians—a race
of traders and sailors.
The Greek city-states became
a test-bed for new forms of political
organization, including democracy,
and the source of new ideas in the
arts and philosophy. The influence
of Greek culture spread as far as
northern India, while India itself
was the birthplace of Buddhism—
the first “world religion,” winning
converts beyond its society of origin.

number were under the governance
of the Roman Empire, which had
extended its rule to the shores of
the Atlantic and the borders of
Persia. In large part, the empires
were successful because of efficient
communications by land and water,
and the ruthless deployment of
military power. Long-distance trade
routes linked Europe to India and
China, and cities had expanded to
a great degree—Rome’s population
was estimated at over 1 million.

Growing populations

Civilizations in decline

The ancient world reached the peak
of its classical period around 2,000
years ago. The world’s population
had grown from around 20 million
at the time of the first civilizations
to an estimated 200 million. About
50 million of these lived in a united
Han China, while about the same

The causes of the decline of these
powerful classical empires from
the 3rd century ce have long been
disputed among historians. Bred in
overcrowded cities and transmitted
along trade routes, epidemic
diseases certainly played a part.
Internal power struggles were also

486 ce

Clovis, leader of the
Salian Franks, defeats
the Romans in Gaul
and unites France
north of the Loire
under his dynasty.

a major factor, leading to political
fragmentation and a decline in the
quality of government. But perhaps
most crucial was the geographical
limitation of the civilized areas of
Eurasia. Both the Roman and Han
empires built walls to mark and
defend the borders of their empires,
beyond which lived mostly nomadic
or semi-nomadic “barbarian” tribes.
The civilized societies had little or
no military advantage over these
peoples, who increasingly raided or
settled within their territories. The
eastern part of the Christianized
Roman Empire survived until 1453,
and Chinese civilization revived to
full vigor under the Tang dynasty
from 618, but Western Europe
would take centuries to recover the
levels of population and organization
that it had known under the rule
of Rome. ■

36

TO BRING ABOUT
THE RULE OF
RIGHTEOUSNESS
IN
THE
LAND
THE LAW CODE OF HAMMURABI (c.1780

bce)

IN CONTEXT
Agriculture,
population, and
urbanization
increase.

FOCUS
Origins of civilizations
BEFORE
c.5000 bce Copper and
gold smelting is common in
Mesopotamia and beyond.
c.4500 bce Uruk in
Mesopotamia is the first
settlement large enough
to be called a city.

Hammurabi writes a new code of law
to cement his control over the region.

c.3800 bce Upper and Lower
Kingdoms of Egypt established
along the Nile Valley.

Need grows for
tools of governance:
laws, permanent records,
and judiciary.

c.3500 bce Development of
the Indus Valley civilizations.
c.3350 bce Stone circles
erected in west and
north Europe.
c.2000 bce Shang dynasty
builds the first cities in China.
AFTER
c.1500 bce Rise of Olmec
culture in Mesoamerica.
c.600 ce Emergence of the
Mayan civilization.

Local networks
break down and
mechanisms for dispute
resolution weaken.

I

n 1901, a six-foot-tall slab of
black stone was found in the
ruins of the city of Susa. Carved
onto its face were 280 “judgments,”
or laws, constituting the earliest
known written legal code in history.
The slab had originally been erected
in Babylon, in around 1750 bce, by
Hammurabi, one of the greatest
kings of ancient Mesopotamia.

Cylinder seals (to control
transactions), writing, judicial
institutions, and written
laws develop.

Bronze Age Revolution

Mesopotamia, which means
“between two rivers,” lies between
the Euphrates and the Tigris, and it
is considered to be the first human
civilization ever. Its writing, math,
and astronomy were also the first
known, and its cities arguably the
world’s first true examples. Growth
of its population and wealth led to

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 37
See also: The settlement at Çatalhöyük 30–31 ■ The temples of Abu Simbel 38–39 ■ The palace at Knossos 42–43 ■
The conquests of Alexander the Great 52–53 ■ The founding of Baghdad 86–93 ■ The foundation of Tenochtitlan 112–17

Hammurabi the
Law-Giver

the emergence of a hierarchy in
society, led by rulers, courtiers,
and priests at the top, through
merchants and artisans, to servants
and laborers at the bottom. This is
often referred to as “specialization”:
members of society having different
tasks, rather than all producing
food as had been the case in
previous subsistence societies.
Mesopotamian communities
coordinated manpower to build
large structures such as defensive
walls and huge temples, and to
mobilize armies. They utilized
hydrological engineering to divert
river water and irrigate the alluvial
floodplains. Administrative needs
such as bookkeeping led to the
development of cuneiform writing,
the first known script, and of
complex mathematical concepts
such as fractions, equations, and
geometry. Sophisticated astronomy
developed for calendric purposes.
Sometimes called the Bronze Age
Revolution, this great step forward
can be seen as the most important
change in the human world before
the Industrial Revolution.

In around 2000 bce, the Amorites
(Westerners), a semi-nomadic
people from Syria, swept across
Mesopotamia, replacing local
rulers with Amorite sheikh
dynasties in many of the citystates. By the early 18th century
bce, the three most powerful
Amorite kings were pre-eminent
Shamshi-Adad in the north,
Rim-Sin in Larsa in the south,
and Hammurabi in Babylon in the
center. Over the course of his long
reign, Hammurabi consolidated all
of southern Mesopotamia into his
kingdom and eventually extended
his power as far up the Tigris as

Nineveh, and as far up the
Euphrates as Tuttul, on the
junction with the river Balikh.
He personally supervised the
construction of many temples
and other buildings.
The prelude to his code, a
tribute to Hammurabi, and
a long historical record of his
conquests, boasts that his
leadership was divinely
sanctioned by the gods who
passed control of humanity to
Marduk (deity of Babylon), and
so to its king. It also reveals he
saw his role as the guarantor
of a just and orderly society.

Mesopotamian unification

distinguished by the reach of his
empire, and by the fact that they
were inscribed on stelae (stone
slabs), and so recorded in perpetuity.
Hammurabi’s laws and their
detailed prelude reveal much about
life in what is known as the Old
Babylonian Period. They contain
judgments on matters ranging from
property disputes and violence
against the person, to runaway
slaves and witchcraft.

For much of the 4th to the 2nd
millennia bce, Mesopotamia was
a mosaic of competing kingdoms
and city-states such as Uruk, Isin,
Lagash, Ur, Nippur, and Larsa.
Hammurabi, the Amorite king of
Babylon, unified the region through
a combination of guile, diplomacy,
opportunism, military might, and
longevity. As was traditional with
conquering kings, Hammurabi
used previous edicts as the basis
for his laws, but these laws were

When Marduk sent me
to rule over men... [I] brought
about the well-being
of the oppressed.
Hammurabi

Hammurabi’s legacy

Although Hammurabi’s laws seem
to have carried little weight and
were rarely followed at the time,
and despite the fact that his empire
disintegrated soon after his death,
his reign was a turning point for
southern Mesopotamia. He firmly
established the ideal of a unified
state, centered in Babylon, and his
laws were copied by Mesopotamian
scribes until at least the 6th century
bce. They show many points of
similarity with, and may have
influenced, laws of the Hebrew
Bible, which in turn influence laws
in many societies today. ■

38

ALL THE LANDS HAVE
FALLEN PROSTRATE
BENEATH HIS SANDALS
FOR ETERNITY

THE TEMPLES OF ABU SIMBEL (c.1264 bce)

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
Pharaonic Egypt
BEFORE
c.3050 bce Narmer unifies
the kingdoms of Upper and
Lower Egypt.
c.2680 bce Khufu begins
construction of the Great
Pyramid in Giza— it is the
largest pyramid in history.
c.1480 bce Thutmose III
conquers Syria, extending his
empire as far as the Euphrates.
AFTER
c.1160 bce Ramesses III
fights off invasions of Egypt
by Libyans and raiding tribes
known as the Sea People.
c.1085 bce Collapse of the
New Kingdom; Egypt is
divided with Libyan rulers in
the north and Theban priestkings ruling in the south.
7th century bce Egypt is
invaded by Assyrians and
then Persians.

A

round 1264 bce, the
Egyptian pharaoh
Ramesses II (c.1278–1237
bce) had two mighty temples hewn
out of the cliffs on the west bank
of the Nile in southern Egypt. The
entrance was guarded by four vast
statues of the pharaoh, seated in
glory and wearing the symbols
of divine kingship, including the
double crown that signified his
authority over Upper and Lower
Egypt. The temples were designed
to signify and embody the unique
status, ambition, and power of the
ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

pharaohs for the next three
millennia. For instance, Narmer
is shown holding an enemy by
the hair, about to smite him, and
Ramesses II was often depicted
in the same way—military might
and supernatural strength were
hallmarks of Egyptian kingship.
The pharaoh, like the gods, was
frequently shown much larger
than ordinary mortals.
The geographical situation of
Egypt—with its stark contrasts
between the fertile Nile Valley and
its delta, which empties in the

The pharaonic tradition

Ramesses II inherited a tradition
that was already very ancient:
about 1,800 years earlier, King
Narmer (called Menes by the
ancient Greek historian Herodotus)
first unified the kingdoms of the
Upper (southern) and Lower
(northern) Nile. Narmer’s deeds
were recorded on a stone palette,
which was recovered from a temple
at Hierakonpolis in the 19th century
and provides one of the earliest
known depictions of an Egyptian
king. The palette is inscribed with
many of the symbols and traditions
that would come to typify the

The magnificent temple complex at
Abu Simbel was, remarkably, moved
656 ft (200 m) inland and 213 ft (65 m)
higher up in 1964–68 to rescue it from
the rising waters of the Nile during the
construction of the High Aswan Dam.

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 39
See also: The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37 ■ The palace at Knossos 42–43 ■
The conquests of Alexander the Great 52–53 ■ The assassination of Julius Caesar 58–65

I, [the creator], give you
Ramesses II, constant
harvests... [your] sheaves
are as plentiful as the sand,
your granaries approach
heaven and your grain
heaps are like mountains.
Inscription in temple at
Abu Simbel, c.1264 bce

north into the Mediterranean Sea,
and the surrounding expanses of
uninhabitable desert—gave rise to
the kingdom’s unique culture and
civilization. The pharaoh was
viewed as a living god who could
control the order of the cosmos,
including the annual flooding of the
Nile, which brought fertilizing silt
to replenish the soil. Pharaohs were
also often depicted as farmers in
agricultural scenes, representing
their role as guardians of the land.

The Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom that followed
Narmer was ruled by a succession
of dynasties that were led by
powerful pharaohs, who channeled
the bureaucratic and economic
might of the unified kingdom into
monumental building projects, such
as the construction of the pyramids.
These, in turn, stimulated scientific,
technological, and economic
development, increasing trade with
other kingdoms in the Near East

and the Mediterranean. In the Old
Kingdom the predominant gods
were Ra, the sun god; Osiris, the
god of the dead; and Ptah, the
creator. In the Middle and New
Kingdoms that followed, which
were ruled by families from Thebes,
Amon became the main deity. As
supreme ruler, the pharaoh was
closely associated with the gods,
and was believed to be the living
incarnation of certain deities.

The New Kingdom

In the 23rd century bce, the Old
Kingdom collapsed. After what is
known as the Intermediate Period,
the Middle Kingdom dynasties
restored unified control of Egypt
from 2134 bce until around 1750 bce,
w hen they were invaded by the
Hyksos (probably Semites from
Syria). The Hyksos, in turn, were
expelled from Egypt in about

1550 bce, with the XVIII dynasty—
arguably the greatest and most
important—coming to power and
establishing the New Kingdom. By
this time, immortality was believed
to be available not just to the
pharaoh, but to priests, scribes, and
others who could afford offerings,
spells, and mummification, and
many tombs were dug into the
Valley of the Kings to be filled with
extraordinarily rich grave goods.
Under expansionist pharaohs,
such as Thutmose III and Ramesses
II, Egyptian control was extended
into Asia as far as the Euphrates
River, and up the Nile into Nubia.
It was no coincidence that
Ramesses built Abu Simbel in
Nubia: as well as representing the
divine glory of Egypt’s pharaohs
generally, the temple was a symbol
of Ramesses’ control over the
recently conquered territory. ■

The Nile Valley is bordered by inhospitable desert,
but is highly fertile because the longest river in
the world flows through it and irrigates it.

A sophisticated,
coherent, and unified
civilization develops over a
vast stretch of terrain.

Trade and conquest
boost the economy and
population levels.
A large, prosperous
kingdom emerges.

Vast monuments, such as the Abu Simbel temple
complex, are constructed, reflecting Egypt’s
power, wealth, and belief systems.

40

ATTACHMENT IS THE
ROOT
OF
SUFFERING
SIDDARTHA GAUTAMA
PREACHES BUDDHISM (c.500 bce)

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
The spread of Buddhism

Siddartha rejects
material life and preaches
Buddhist philosophy.

BEFORE
1200 bce Vedic (aka Aryan)
culture extends across
northern and central India.

Ashoka makes Buddhism the state religion
and spreads it across South and East Asia.

1200–800 bce Oral Vedic
traditions are written down
in Sanskrit as the Vedas.
c.600 bce The
Mahajanapadas, the 16
competing kingdoms of Vedic
India, emerge.
AFTER
322 bce Chandragupta Maurya
founds the Mauryan Empire.
3rd century bce Sri Lanka
converts to Buddhism.
185 bce The Mauryan Empire
collapses.
1st century ce Buddhism
arrives in China and Japan.
7th century Buddhist
missionaries are invited to
establish a monastery in Tibet.

Ashoka the
Great conquers
India and unifies
the empire.

After the collapse
of the Mauryan Empire,
Buddhism declines
in India.

S

iddartha Gautama, better
known as the Buddha, was
born at the end of the Vedic
Age (1800–600 bce) into a South
Asia in transition. In the country’s
caste system, the priestly Brahmins
and the warrior-elite Kshatriyas
ranked highest, and it was into
this latter group that Siddartha
Gautama was born.
India was then a ferment of sects
and new ideologies, some of which
espoused a philosophy renouncing

Buddhism flourishes
in Sri Lanka, Southeast
Asia, China, Japan, Tibet,
and Central Asia.

the material world. Siddartha
developed a similar philosophy
based on mystical Hinduism, but
he also rejected the increasingly
rigid strictures of Vedic ritual and
the inherited piety of the Brahmins.
Renouncing material possessions,
he sought and eventually found
enlightenment, and became the
Buddha. He preached in northeast
India and founded the Sangha—the
monastic order of Buddhism—to
continue his ministry.

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 41
See also: The conquests of Alexander the Great 52–53 ■ The Indus Valley Civilization collapses
The construction of Angkor Wat 108–09 ■ The conquests of Akbar the Great 170–71

■

He extended Mauryan control and,
his Buddhism proving a powerful
unifying force, succeeded in joining
all of India, except the southern tip,
into an empire of 30 million people.

Given that separation
is certain in this world,
is it not better to separate
oneself voluntarily for
the sake of religion?
Siddartha Gautama

For the next two to three centuries,
Buddhism remained one among
several minor sects but, under the
Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great
(304–232 bce), it became India’s
state religion. Ashoka’s reign had
proceeded initially through bloody
conquest, but in around 261 bce he
had a change of heart. From then he
embraced a new model of kingship
and religious philosophy based on a
creed of tolerance and non-violence.

The Buddha

A world religion

Having established Buddhism as
the state religion, Ashoka founded
monasteries, and sponsored
scholarship. He sent Buddhist
missionaries to every corner of the
subcontinent and abroad as far as
Greece, Syria, and Egypt. His
missions established Buddhism
initially as an elite pursuit, but the
religion went on to take root at all
levels of society in Sri Lanka,
Southeast Asia, along the Silk Road
in the Indo–Greek kingdoms (in
modern-day Pakistan and
Afghanistan), and later in China,
Japan, and Tibet. In India—its
birthplace—Buddhism started to
decline after Ashoka’s death in 232
bce, affected by a resurgence of
Hinduism and then the arrival of
Islam. Outside India, however, its
tradition and scholarship flourished,
evolving into multiple strands

including Zen Buddhism, Theravada
or Hinayana Buddhism, Mahayana
Buddhism, and Varayana Buddhism.
The first religion to have spread
widely beyond the society in which
it originated—so the first “world
religion”—Buddhism is also one of
the oldest, having been practiced
since the 6th century bce. ■

The life history of Siddartha
Gautama is obscured by the myth
and legend that has grown up
around him. Different traditions
give different chronologies for his
birth and death, but many agree
on 563–483 bce. Said to have been
born miraculously through the
side of his mother, Siddartha was
raised in luxury in the palace of
his father, King Suddhodana
Tharu, leader of the Shakya clan.
Aged 29, Siddartha rejected
this luxurious life and left his wife
and child, renouncing material
things to seek enlightenment
through asceticism. Having spent

six years wandering and
meditating, he achieved
enlightenment and became
the Buddha, but instead of
ascending to nirvana, the
transcendent state that is the
goal of Buddhism, he chose
to remain and preach his new
message, the dharma.
Gathering followers who
formed the Sangha, a monastic
order, the Buddha pursued his
ministry until he died, at age 80.
He urged his disciples to follow
the dharma, instructing them:
“All individual things pass
away. Strive on, untiringly.”

Stone reliefs depicting the life of
Buddha decorate gateways of The Great
Stupa at Sanchi, commissioned by the
emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century bce.

42

A CLUE TO THE
EXISTENCE OF A SYSTEM
OF PICTURE-WRITING
IN THE GREEK LANDS
THE PALACE AT KNOSSOS (c.1700 bce)

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
Minoan Crete

Minoan society becomes
highly prosperous through
agriculture and trade.

BEFORE
c.7000 bce Initial colonization
of Crete.
c.3500 bce Beginning of the
Bronze Age in Crete.
AFTER
c.1640 bce Massive eruption
of volcano Thera devastates
Minoan colonies and coastline.
c.1500 bce Deeper
stratification of Minoan
culture; local administration
is devolved to large villas.
c.1450 bce The Mycenaean
invasion of Crete.
c.1100 bce The Sea Peoples
terrorize the Mediterranean
world, leading to the final
decline of Minoan civilization.
1900 ce Arthur Evans begins
the excavation of Knossos.
1908 Italian archaeologist
Luigi Pernier discovers the
Phaistos disc.

Social stratification
develops, with a wealthy
elite controlling trade.

Elaborate palace
complexes are built
to store commodities
for redistribution.

The need for recordkeeping gives rise to
“writing” in the form of
hieroglyphs.

I

n the 1890s, British historian
Arthur Evans came across
some ancient clay seals for sale
in Athens. They originated from the
relatively unexplored Mediterranean
island of Crete, and for Evans they
offered a tantalizing hint at the
existence of the first writing system
in Europe.
Following the seals to their
Cretan source, Evans decided to
excavate a promising parcel of
land at Knossos, in the north of the
island, where he uncovered a vast
palace complex. The iconography
of the palace centered on a bull-cult,
including frescoes that depicted the
sport of bull-leaping. Evans named
the civilization “Minoan” after the
mythical Cretan King Minos, who—
according to Greek legend—built a
labyrinth to contain the Minotaur: a
fearsome half-man, half-bull creature.
In the process, Evans discovered
that the Minoans had indeed
invented an early type of alphabet,
which he called Linear A.

The Palatial Period

Hieroglyphs evolve
into Linear A
syllabary at Knossos.

The Minoans were a people of
unknown origin (possibly from
Anatolia), who settled on Crete in
the Neolithic era, in about 7000 bce.
They farmed crops, herded sheep,

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 43
See also: The settlement at Çatalhöyük 30–31 ■ The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37 ■ The Persian Wars 44–45
Athenian democracy 46–51 ■ King Sejong introduces a new script 130–31 ■ The fall of Constantinople 138–41

and worshipped in caves, on top of
mountains, and at springs, but by
2400 bce they had begun to build
large palace complexes. By 1900 bce,
in what is known as the Palatial
Period of the Minoan civilization,
palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia,
and Chania had been constructed
in broadly similar forms, with the
one at Knossos being the largest.
It was destroyed, possibly by fire or
perhaps a tsunami, around 1700 bce,
but it was rebuilt soon after on the
same site. At its peak, in about
1500 bce, Knossos palace and the
city that grew up around it covered
185 acres (75 hectares) and had a
population of up to 12,000.
The Minoan palaces all had large
central courts, flanked by manychambered buildings, and were
highly decorated with frescoes of
flora and fauna. In the extensive
magazines (storehouses), the rulers—
who may have served dual roles as
priest-kings or priest-queens—
gathered many commodities for
redistribution. Minoan rulers also
This bull-leaping fresco in the
palace at Knossos in Crete is the most
completely restored of several taureador
stucco panels. Bull-handling was a
common theme in art at this time.

■

controlled trade with other Bronze
Age civilizations around the
Mediterranean, such as Byblos in
Phoenicia (now Lebanon), Ugarit
in Syria, pharaonic Egypt, and
Mycenaean Greek settlements in
the Cyclades and further afield.

Linear A script

The Minoans developed their own
script, probably initially for recordkeeping and administration
purposes. It began as hieroglyphic
picture-writing, but later evolved
into the Linear A syllabary, in which
symbols denote syllables (rather
than letters, as is the case with the
alphabet). The Minoan language as
recorded in Linear A script remains
undeciphered to this day, but in
around 1450 bce the Minoans were
invaded by the Mycenaeans from
mainland Greece, who adapted the
Minoan script into Linear B, which
was used to write archaic Greek.
Not long after the Mycenaeans
invaded Crete, Minoan civilization
collapsed completely. However, the
legacy of Minoan writing lives on
through its connection with the
Phoenician alphabet, which in turn
would come to form the basis of the
Latin alphabet that is used in many
parts of the world today. ■

The Phaistos disc
Found in 1908 in the ruins of
the Minoan palace at Phaistos,
southern Crete, the Phaistos
disc (shown above), made
from fired clay and about 6in
(15cm) across, is printed with
symbols in an unknown script.
Although dated to 1700 bce, it
was made using the technique
of woodblock printing, which
was not thought to have been
invented for another 2,000
years or so (in China), making
the disc one of the great
archaeological mysteries. The
symbols, many of which are
recognizable as everyday
objects, are arranged in a
spiral and divided into words
by vertical lines. Some scholars
have drawn parallels between
certain symbols in Cretan
hieroglyphics and Linear A,
suggesting that the writing on
the disc may be an elaborated
form of an existing Minoan
script. There are many theories
about the disc’s significance—
some consider the inscription
is a hymn to a goddess, others
that it tells a story, or that the
disc is a calendar or a game.
Some experts even believe the
disc to be a clever fake.

44

IN TIMES OF PEACE SONS
BURY THEIR FATHERS BUT
IN WAR IT IS THE FATHERS
WHO BURY THEIR SONS
THE PERSIAN WARS (490–449 bce)

IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
The Persian Empire
BEFORE
7th century bce The Medes
establish a powerful kingdom
in modern-day Iran.
c.550 bce Cyrus the Great
rebels against Median rule
and founds the Achaemenid
Persian Empire.
c.499 bce Greek city-states
rebel against Persian control,
but their revolt fails.
AFTER
431 bce Athens and Sparta
clash for supremacy in Greece
in the Peloponnesian War.
404 bce Artaxerxes II becomes
ruler of the Achaemenid
Empire.
331 bce Alexander the Great
defeats Darius III and conquers
the Persian Empire.
312 bce Persia becomes part of
the Seleucid Empire, founded
by one of Alexander’s generals.

L

eonidas of Sparta
stood before his band
of 300 warriors facing the
mightiest army the world had
ever seen. The envoy of his enemy
demanded that he lay down his
arms at the feet of the Persian
god-king. “Come and take them”
was Leonidas’s laconic reply.
The Persian Wars (490–449 bce),
also known as the Greco–Persian
Wars, pitted a vast and cosmopolitan
empire against a small band of
city-states in the south of Greece.
The conflict profoundly influenced
the development of Classical Greek
identity and culture, leaving a vivid
trail in Western literature and myth.
By contrast, the story of the Persian
Achaemenid Empire remains
comparatively neglected, belying
the significance of that great
Middle Eastern civilization.

The Achaemenids

The first Persian Empire, ruled
by the dynasty known as the
Achaemenids, grew rapidly. At its
height it may have ruled over half
the world’s population. It began in
around 550 bce, when the Persian
king Cyrus the Great overthrew the
ruling Medes, going on to conquer
Babylonia, and Lydia (now in

A hoplite—or Greek citizen-solider—
vanquishes his Persian adversary in
this decoration inside a 460 bce wine
cup. The winged horse Pegasus adorns
the victor’s shield.

Turkey), which brought the Ionian
Greeks under Persian rule. Cyrus’s
successors Cambyses II and Darius
extended the empire into Egypt
and the Balkans, where Thrace and
Macedon gave the Persians
a foothold in Europe.
The Achaemenids established
Persian rule as a model for later
empires. Despite its vast size, the
state embraced a degree of multiculturalism, allowing conquered
peoples to keep liberty of religion,
language, and culture. There was
investment in infrastructure—like

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 45
See also: The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37 ■ Athenian democracy 46–51 ■ The conquests of Alexander the Great 52–53
The Peloponnesian Wars 70 ■ Muhammad receives the divine revelation 78–81

the Romans, the Persians built a
network of roads to hold their empire
together—and the military, and
devolution of administration to
local provinces. Under the
Achaemenids, the Middle East was
united under a single umbrella
culture for the first time.
Conflict with the independent
Greeks arose after the city-states
of Athens and Eretrea supported
an unsuccessful revolt by the
Ionians against Persian rule in
499 bce. Darius responded by
invading mainland Greece, but was
defeated by the Athenians and
their allies at Marathon in 490 bce.
He planned an even larger invasion,
but it was only after his death that
his son Xerxes began mustering a
huge army to execute the plan.

Father of Lies

The main source for the Greco–
Persian Wars is the ancient
Greek historian Herodotus of
Halicarnassus, known as both
the Father of History and the Father
of Lies. Herodotus estimated that
Xerxes’ land army was made up

Cyrus the Great

All other expeditions...
are as nothing compared
with this. For was there
a nation in all Asia
which Xerxes did
not bring with him
against Greece?
Herodotus

■

Persia, leaving a large force to carry
on the fight, but at the Battle of
Plataea in 479 bce the Greeks, led by
the Spartans, crushed the Persians,
who also lost to the Spartans at
Mycale. Greek success can probably
be ascribed to Xerxes’ difficulties
in keeping his vast army supplied
and supported after naval defeat,
although Herodotus ascribed it to
the moral superiority of their cause.

The Delian League

of 1,700,000 men—but modern
historians believe the maximum
figure to be closer to 200,000.
The second Persian invasion,
in 480 bce, was held up by the
heroic defense of Leonidas and his
300 Spartans at Thermopylae,
and by Greek naval resistance at
Artemisium. Later the Athenian
navy lured the Persian fleet into a
trap at Salamis. Xerxes returned to

The Greeks now began to go on the
offensive, forming the Delian League
to oppose Persia. In 449 bce, the
Persians finally concluded peace,
conceding the independence of the
Ionian states.
The Persian War had reinforced
Greek identity and bolstered
cultural and military confidence,
most significantly in Athens. The
country’s rising power sparked
conflict with Sparta, leading to the
Peloponnesian War of 431–404 bce.
The Persian Empire had reached
the limits of its expansion, but
remained strong until defeated by
Alexander the Great in 331 bce. ■

The founder of the Achaemenid
Empire was Cyrus II, later known
as “the Great.” In around 557 bce,
he became king of Anshan,
a vassal of the Median king.
According to legend, he won
the Persian army’s support by
making them spend one day
clearing thorn bushes, and the
next banqueting, then asking
why they remained slaves to the
Medes when, by backing his
revolt, they could live in luxury.
Some ten years later he had
conquered Media, and Sardis and
Lydia in Asia Minor. He conquered
Babylon seven years after that by

diverting the Euphrates and
marching his army along the dry
riverbed into the great city. This
victory brought him the lands of
the neo-Babylonian Empire,
including Assyria, Syria, and
Palestine. He liberated the Jews
from their Babylonian bondage
and allowed them to rebuild the
Temple in Jerusalem. The Greek
writer Xenophon saw him as an
example of the ideal ruler.
Cyrus died in 530 bce while
on campaign in Central Asia.
He was buried in a great tomb
inside the royal palace he had
built at Pasargadae in Persia.

ADMINISTRATION

IS IN THE HANDS OF

THE
MANY
AND NOT OF THE FEW
ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY (c.507 bce)

48 ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY
IN CONTEXT
FOCUS
Greek politics
and philosophy
BEFORE
14th–13th centuries bce
Mycenaean settlement at
Athens, with fortification
of the Acropolis.
c.900 bce Political union of
small towns in Attica into a
city-state centered on Athens.
c.590 bce Reforms of Solon
open the political machinery
of Athens to all citizens,
regardless of class.
AFTER
86 bce Athens sacked by
Romans under General Sulla.
c.50 bce Beginning of the
Roman philhellenic movement;
Athens becomes the focus of
imperial benefactors.
529 ce Christian Emperor
Justinian I closes Plato’s school
and drives out pagan scholars.

Pericles
Pericles (c.495–429 bce) became
Athens’ most famous democrat
and the leading man of the
city-state for about 30 years.
He came to prominence around
462 bce, when he helped the
politician Ephialtes dismantle
the Areopagus—the last bastion
of oligarchic control. After
Ephialtes’ death, Pericles
undertook further reforms,
including the introduction of pay
for those serving in the courts,
making it possible for even the
poorest citizen to have his say.

T

he term “democracy”
comes from the Greek
words demos (people) and
kratos (rule). The democracy that
developed in ancient Athens
around 507 bce and flourished in
its purest form from 462 to 322 bce,
albeit with some interruptions,
provided the model for what has
become the dominant form of
government in the world: by 2015,
125 of the world’s 195 countries
were electoral democracies. The
democracy of ancient Athens,
however, differed from its modern
form, reflecting the history of
Athens and the warring Greek
states of the age.

Oligarchs and hoplites

After the chaos of the ancient
Greek Dark Ages—a period that
followed the breakdown of
Mycenaean civilization around
1100 bce and lasted until about
the 9th century bce—most of the
emergent city-states evolved into
oligarchies, with powerful nobles
monopolizing government and
serving their own interests. In
Athens, the Areopagus—a council
and law court consisting of men of
aristocratic birth—controlled the
He is also believed to have
helped drive Athens’ assertive
foreign policy as the city sought
to exploit its dominance of the
Delian League. During the
440s and 430s bce, Pericles
was involved in an ambitious
public building program that
provoked controversy at home,
where he fought off revolt, and
abroad, where he was
condemned for requisitioning
money from the Delian League
to pay for the Parthenon.
Nonetheless, he was popular
and was elected as general
every year from 443 bce.

To the Athenian the
fruits of other countries
are as familiar a luxury
as those of his own.
Pericles

machinery of state, appointing
officials and serving as a civil
court, while the lower classes
(thetes) were excluded from office.
However, the development of the
“hoplite” model of citizen-soldiery in
the 8th to 7th centuries bce proved
disruptive to those who were in
power, as it led to a certain level of
egalitarianism. Hoplites were men
in the heavy infantry, mainly free
citizens, whose primary tactic was
the phalanx—a military formation
in which soldiers stood in tightly
packed ranks, with each man’s
shield protecting the hoplite to his
left. Any man who could afford the
arms and armor would be putting
his life on the line to defend the
state. As a result, a kind of middle
class emerged, which declared that
service should bring full citizenship
and political representation. At the
same time, the lower classes were
also making demands, and tensions
between them and the higher
orders over key issues, such as land
reform and debt slavery, threatened
to lead to civil breakdown.

Solon and Cleisthenes

In Athens, some of these tensions
were eased around 594 bce by the
reforms of the statesman Solon. He

ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS 49
See also: The Law Code of Hammurabi 36–37 ■ The palace at Knossos 42–43 ■ The Persian Wars 44–45 ■
The conquests of Alexander the Great 52–53 ■ The Peloponnesian Wars 70 ■ The fall of Constantinople 138–41

The Parthenon, built in 447–438 bce
as a temple dedicated to the goddess
Athena, is often seen as a symbol of
democracy and Western civilization.

established a law that declared all
citizens could vote in matters of
state, and that a law court should
admit all citizens. At the same
time, however, he mollified the
upper classes by introducing a
graded oligarchy in which power
corresponded to wealth—the
aristocracy was to control the
highest offices, the middle class the
lesser offices, and the poor could be
selected by lot to serve on juries.
In the late 6th century bce,
Athens fell under the sway of the
tyrant Pisistratus and his sons.
In response, a f