History of the World in Objects and Art

20 000BC      
1200BC 800 1455 1820
700BC 1070 1500 1840
350BC 1205 1530 1868
200BC 1260 1600 1890
100BC 1290 1685 1910
30 1350 1755 1920
600 1400 1800 1950
History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

The Mongols, a nomadic people of Central Asia, were united in the early 13th century by the warrior Genghis Khan. Over the next 30 years, they conquered a vast land-based empire straddling Asia and Europe but it had fragmented by 1300.
In 1209, Genghis Khan was chosen to lead the fractious Mongol tribes. He built a huge army, which first conquered Kara Khitai in Central Asia and part of northern China. He then turned west, devastating the lands of the Khwarazm Shah, in Central Asia and modern-day Iran. In 1220, he is said to have massacred the 30,000 defenders of Samarkand, the capital. His successors expanded his empire, conquering Iran, Russia, and China.

The Mongols struck as far west as Hungary and Poland. But the death of Ogodei Khan, the second Great Khan, in 1241 forestalled further conquest. A defeat at Ain Jalut, Palestine, in 1260 prevented the conquest of Egypt. The Mongol Empire fragmented, with separate khans ruling in Iran (the Ilkhans), in Russia (the Golden Horde), and in China (the Yuan dynasty). Yet they created stable political conditions, and set up a postal system in which messages could travel from Beijing to Tabriz (in Iran) in just a month.

The Rise of Tamerlane

From the 9th century, the semiarid and desert regions of the American Southwest and northern Mexico gave rise to a series of cultures. These were characterized by large complexes of adobe dwellings known as pueblos, which became important centers for trade, craft, and agriculture.
As the 1st millennium сe came to an end, settlements in the American Southwest grew larger, and a number of complex cultures emerged. These included the Ancestral Pueblo in New Mexico, the Hohokam in Arizona, and the Mogollon in western New Mexico and northern Chihuaha (part of modern Mexico).


From around 900, the Ancestral Pueblo built a number of large, well-planned towns in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, with long, straight roads linking the settlements. By 1100, the population of these towns had swelled to 6,000, subsisting on a diet of cultivated corn and squash at the center of trade routes in precious turquoise. The culture collapsed within 50 years, possibly due to variable rainfall causing a decline in food production.

The Hohokam culture flourished around the Gila and Salt River basins in Arizona, reaching its height in 1100-1450. The largest settlement, Snaketown, had around 1,000 people living in subterranean pit dwellings and above-ground adobe houses. Ball courts and platform mounds found in the Hohokam area suggest a significant cultural influence from Mesoamerica. The Hohokam culture, too, declined in the 15th century, and its trade networks were abandoned.

The Mogollon culture (and a subculture, the Mimbres) was centered in the mountains of western New Mexico. Noted for their fine red and brown ceramics, the Mogollon also built settlements with up to 150 rooms centered around a plaza. The main settlements had declined by about 1450.
Carving on stone

A succession of cultures occupied Mesoamerica-the area from northern Mexico to El Salvador and Belize-from 600 ce to the arrival of Europeans in 1519. Although very diverse, these cultures shared key features, including city-states and empires with monumental centers, the worship of a common set of gods, and the playing of a ceremonial ball game.
The Late Classic Period (c. 600-900) saw a flowering of Mayan culture. The city-states of Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Tikal were remodeled to create stone temples, pyramids, palaces, ball courts, and plazas. At its height, the Mayan civilization consisted of over 40 cities, each governed by a noble ruler. The Maya were renowned not only for their stone buildings but also for their agricultural techniques of irrigation and raised fields, as well as their sophisticated writing, calendar, and astronomy systems.

The lowland cities began to decline during the 9th century due to drought, deforestation, and warfare. Meanwhile, the Putun Maya, sea traders and warriors from the Gulf lowlands, rose to prominence. They created a state centered on Chichen Itza in the highlands of the Yucatan. Another city, Mayapan, conquered Chichen Itza around 1221 but collapsed by 1450.


In the central highlands of Mexico, the warlike Toltecs founded the city of Tula, which reached the height of
its power between 900 and 1150, when the population may have reached over 40,000. Tula's buildings included two massive pyramids. As well as being masters of architecture, the Toltecs also produced colossal sculptures of warriors, reflecting their militaristic ethos. They marked a rise of militarism in Mesoamerica and their influence was wide. The Toltec military orders—the Coyote, the Jaguar, and the Eagle—were introduced into Mayan cities such as Chichen Itza and Mayapan.


As the Toltecs declined, possibly because of a change to a more arid climate, the Aztecs came to dominate the Valley of Mexico. In 1325, they settled on the islands in Lake Texcoco and founded their capital—Tenochtitlan—by creating canals through the lake and heaping up the earth to make artificial islands on which they could grow crops. This ability to cultivate any available land, create complex systems of irrigation, and reclaim swampland was key to the empire's success.

The Aztecs created a dynasty of tlataoni, or supreme rulers, who lived in lavish palaces and controlled a large empire through might. They demanded tribute from the peoples they conquered and set up a large trading network to accumulate great wealth. By the start of the reign of Moctezuma I, in 1440, much of Mexico was either controlled by the Aztecs or owed tribute to them.

The Aztecs had a complex belief system based on the need to sustain the Sun. They thought it was necessary to offer human sacrifices to keep the Sun in the sky and prevent it from destroying the Earth. To gather victims to sacrifice, the Aztecs fought ritualized combats, known as flower wars, against the peoples they had conquered.
In 1519 Spanish explorers, led by Hernan Cortes, arrived in Mexico. Moctezuma II underestimated the Spanish and, after treating them as guests, he was taken captive. Deprived of leadership, decimated by smallpox, which the Spanish had carried with them, and attacked by their former allies, the Aztecs' empire crumbled.

The Dresden Codex is one of only four verified Mayan books that survived the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica in the 16th century, the other three being the Madrid, Paris, and Grolier codices. These books were named after the European cities to which they were eventually taken.

The Dresden Codex is 11.5 ft (3.5 m) long and consists of 39 painted leaves (pages) that can be folded into a book. Most of its pages feature a mixture of symbols and pictures, mainly of the Mayan gods. The codex contains almanacs detailing astronomical and calendric information.


The Mayan calendar was highly complex and it was also used by other Mesoamerican peoples. It was based on a series of recurring cycles governed by the interaction between the sacred year of 260 days (13 months of 20 days each) and the haab or "vague year" of 365 days. The 52-year period in which the two cycles reached the same point was known as the calendar round. The Maya believed that time was cyclical, with events repeating, so the future could be predicted from the past. The movement of the heavens was thought to relate to the activities of the gods, and astronomical knowledge was essential to determine which days were propitious or dangerous. The Maya used a calendrical system known as the long count, which had its origins in earlier times. This was based on counting forward from August 13, 3114 все in units of kins (one day), uinals (20 days), tuns (360 days), katuns (7,200 days or about 20 years), and baktuns (394 years). The Dresden Codex was compiled after 1210, which is the latest long count date recorded in it.


Mayan astronomers tracked the cycles of the Moon and calculated that 149 lunar cycles were equal to 4,400 days. The cycles of the planet Venus were especially important to the Maya, who called it Noli Ek ("the great star"). The codex contains five pages of Venus tables, of which panel 53 is one. The Maya regarded Venus and the Sun as sons of the corn god, who were responsible for his resurrection, after outwitting and killing the gods of the underworld.
The Maya calculated that five Venusian years (of nearly 584 days) were equal to almost eight Earth years. Their sophisticated astronomers realized that the true Venusian year was around one-twelfth of a day shorter than this, and they included corrections in their astronomical codices to compensate.
A series of imperial cultures emerged in the highlands of Peru from the 4th century ce, each of which built large monumental centers. The last of these cultures, the Inca, conquered much of the Andean highlands and coastal regions by the 15th century only to fall to Spanish invaders by 1532.
Around 600, political power in Peru shifted to two states originating in the Andean highlands. The city of Tiwanaku on the shores of Lake Titicaca had magnificent temples and ceremonial precincts. Its influence spread to southern lowland areas.

The Wari people, centered on the Ayacucho Basin, built a highly organized state with an advanced irrigation system, dominating highland and lowland regions far to the north. Wari and Tiwakanu art shared many elements. Both states declined by с 1100.

During the 8th century, the Sican culture developed in the Lambayeque Valley on the north coast. They built cities with funerary-religious precincts in which pyramids housed elite tombs, containing many gold objects.
The Sican were defeated by the neighboring Chimu state of Chimor in 1375. A succession of Chimu kings conquered most of the central Peruvian lowlands. The Chimu were skilled architects and their capital Chan Chan housed around 10,000 inhabitants, including nine successive ciudadelas (royal compounds).

Around 1470, Chan Chan was captured by the Inca. The last great Andean civilization, the Inca originated in the Peruvian highlands and grew in the mid-15th century under a series of great conqueror-rulers. Their empire was called Tawantinsuyu (the "Land of the Four Quarters"). Rapid communications via more than 24,855 miles (40,000km) of roads and way stations helped the Inca to conquer most of the Andean region. Smallpox, introduced by the Spanish in the 1520s, played a central role in their decline.

The extreme isolation of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, saw the development of a unique culture that featured a religion honoring ancestors. This led the island's inhabitants to erect hundreds of massive monumental stone statues, mainly along its shorelines.
Thousands of kilometers from the nearest land, Rapa Nui was first settled around 1200 by voyaging migrants from other Polynesian islands who sailed there on double-hulled canoes. According to legend, the settlers were led by a chief named Hotu Matu'a.

The Easter Islanders lived on subsistence agriculture, supplemented by shore fishing and the collection of shellfish. Their population grew rapidly, and by 1350 it may have reached over 3,000. It remained stable until the arrival of Europeans nearly four centuries later.


The class structure of the society that developed was hierarchical. All economic activity was controlled by the Mini lineage, who were supposedly the descendants of Hotu ManTa, and led by the Ariki Henua, or hereditary chief. Settlements were small, some of them consisting of just two or three houses. Village complexes with houses for priests acted as ceremonial centers.

Much effort was devoted to ritual activity, notably the quarrying of stone to build the Moai—monumental stone statues that are thought to be deified ancestors—and to build the ahu—platforms on which the Moai stood. Many of the moai were set up in rows along the island's shorelines. By the beginning of the 18th century, deforestation and erosion compelled the islanders to develop new agricultural methods. Food became scarce, aggravated by the lack of wood for canoes, which made offshore fishing difficult. Warfare broke out between clans, and warriors became more important. The traditional ancestral religion was augmented and replaced with the establishment of a ritual contest that decided which of two rival clans would rule the island each year.


It was the arrival of Europeans in 1722 that led to downfall of Rapa Nui. The next century and a half saw conflict with European invaders and enslavement, as well as newly introduced diseases that decimated the population. In 1774, when British navigator Captain James Cook arrived on the island, the Englishmen with him observed that the Moai were no longer venerated. Many of them had been deliberately toppled from their platforms. They were rejected in favor of a creator god—Makemake—chief of the religious activity centered around the birdman.