Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day


  Illustrated History of the World

The Ancient World - ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.

The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.

The epics of Homer, the wars of Caesar, and temples and palaces characterize the image of classic antiquity and the cultures of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. They are the sources from which the Western world draws the foundations of its philosophy, literature, and, not least of all, its state organization. The Greek city-states, above all Athens, were the birthplace of democracy. The regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and great parts of Northwest Europe were forged together into the Roman Empire, which survived until the time of the Great Migration of Peoples. Mighty empires also existed beyond the ancient Mediterranean world, however, such as those of the Mauryas in India and the Han in China.


Alexander the Great


The Culture of the Greeks and Romans




The 1 Greek and 2, 3 Roman civilizations of antiquity are regarded today as the origins of Western civilization. The Greek thirst for knowledge and structure and the Roman achievements in political organization have shaped European culture to the present day, and their influence has radiated out to other parts of the world as well.

1 Greek theater in Syracuse
2 Forum Romanum
3 The Roman theater of Leptis Magna, Libya


Greek Literature and Philosophy

There are vastly differing opinions concerning the essential nature of ancient Greek culture. The Greeks are regarded as the true inventors of political and historical thought, but also as the proponents of rationalism and science. Their complex system of myths and gods continues to fascinate, and their sense of art and aesthetics is admired.

In addition to their contribution to political evolution, the Greeks influenced Western attitudes and literature with their early epics, particularly 4 Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (ninth century B.C.). While 5 Hesiod, in his Theogony, wrote about the fates of the gods, Homer made the human and social aspects of individually fashioned figures the focus of his epic tales. For this reason, the Greeks are considered to be the forerunners of later Western Individualism.

4 Homert;   Hesiod

Pandora in front of Prometheus and Epimetheus,
from Hesiod's Theogony


The Greek culture, with its thirst for knowledge, was the first to make the conceptual transition from myths to Logos. The Greeks no longer believed in a world ordained solely by the gods, but sought to understand the world around them by inquiring into the origin of things and the ordering structure of the cosmos. From the 7 Ionian natural philosophers of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the search for the primary building blocks of life and for the governing principles that guide nature dominated Greek thought through the appearance of Socrates, Plato, and 6 Aristotle. These three great philosophers replaced the capricious gods with natural laws and so stimulated the development of sciences, including mathematics, physics, and engineering.

As a result of intensive observation of nature, biology developed, along with a self-awareness of humans as observers and manipulators of nature. This self-awareness found expression in a desire for political freedom and independence, which for a long time hindered the creation of a united Greek state. It took the wars against Persia and pressure from Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great to bring about a cosmopolitan Hellenism that culturally overarched and politically united the city-states. It was the formation of the Diadoch empires of Alexander and the Diadochi that first made possible the link between Eastern and Western cultural influences that went on to characterize the Mediterranean area.


7 Anaximander, natural philosopher from Milet,
with sundial, ca. 610-546 в.с

6 The school of Aristotle,
fresco by G. A, Spangenberg, 1883-88




"The Categories"


Aristotle and Phyllis


The Achievements of Roman Civilization

Roman culture appears more "practical" than that of ancient Greece. Its outstanding contributions to intellectual-historical development lie more in state administration and law—areas in which they shaped subsequent history—than in philosophy. Collections of laws were written and then continually supplemented—from the biblical Ten Commandments to the comprehensive Justinian Codes.

Even the ethical philosophy of 12 Cicero or Seneca was written in the service of the Roman Empire and Rome's claim to political and cultural world dominance.

12 Marcus Tullius Cicero,
Roman orator, politician, and writer

In its early period, 14 Rome was a small, free republic with an almost puritanical code of laws.

14 The center of ancient Rome during Emperor Septimus Severus's reign, artist's reconstruction

In the course of its ambitious expansion, Rome gradually overwrote its own laws in favor of foreign, particularly Hellenistic, ideas of governance, which it then integrated into its concept of empire; this was particularly the case under the rule of Julius Caesar. The adoption and integration of foreign cults and ideas eventually allowed for the ascendancy of Christianity, a sect of Judaic origin, until it was established as the religion of all territories of the empire. Within its vast realm, Rome projected the image of a disciplined and militarily invincible organizing power.

Proof of the Roman Empire's impressive engineering capabilities can be seen not only in the many 10 temples and magnificent buildings in Rome and other important centers but also in the garrisons and settlements constructed throughout the empire, the well-developed road networks, the 9 aqueducts, the luxurious thermal baths and 8 villas, and even the capital's ingeniously devised 13 sewage system.


Villa Hadriana in Tivoli, built under Emperor Hadrian
9 The Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, first с a.d.
10 Arch of Titus, part of the Forum Romanum, 81 A.D.

Roman culture demonstrated the intense interaction of the empire's center and its provinces. Rome exported its state and administrative structures and imported finished products, luxury articles, and art—along with ideas and religions. The innumerable military triumphs of the consuls and emperors were celebrated with imposing state celebrations. Under the motto of "bread and circuses," the emperors of Rome, and later also of the Byzantine Empire, entertained the masses with chariot races and bloodthirsty 11 gladiatorial combat in great arenas such as the "Circus Maximus" or Colosseum.

The long existence of the Roman Empire is impressive considering the many upheavals, political reorientations, and the constant social unrest that shaped its history. It developed from a republic founded in the sixth century B.C. to a sprawling world empire by the beginning of the Christian era and survived even the fall of the city of Rome itself in 476 a.d. The Roman legacy was carried on not only by the Byzantin Empire, lasting until 1453, but also by Charlemagne at his coronation in 800 as emperor of the Frankish-German Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne combined the Roman idea of universal emperor and belief system of Christianity, with its supranational and intercultural ideals, and thereby ushered in the first renaissance of classical thought in the transition from Roman antiquity European to the Middle Ages.

13 Cloaca Maxima in Rome, sewage pipe
leading to the Tiber River

11 Gladiators, relief, ca. 50 a.d.


Crete and Mycenae - The Beginnings of Greek Culture

2500- 750 B.C



 Greece was the earliest influential culture of the West. The Minoan and Mycenaean cultures were its first manifestations. The Minoan culture on Crete was characterized by palace cities, extensive trade networks, and sophisticated artwork, while the mainland culture of Mycenae was warlike and its architecture dominated by castles and defensive structures. The myth of the Trojan War, set in the Mycenaean era, clearly illustrates ancient Greece's self-image as a fiercely protective defender of its honor and freedom. The Trojan episode facilitated Greece's assertion of its cultural independence.

Minoan Crete

The 1 Minoan culture is the oldest precursor of Greek culture. Minoan Crete maintained intensive trade contacts throughout the Mediterranean area. The characteristic cult symbols of the Minoans were the double ax (the sacred labrys) and the bull.

1 The Phaistos Disc, burnt clay impressed with Minoan hieroglyphics, 1700-1 600 B.C.

Between 2500 and 1300 B.C., Minoan culture developed on the island of Crete on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The oldest high civilization of the area, it has been named after Minos, a mythical ruler of Crete in the city of Knossos. The settlements of the first Minoans—farmers who probably emigrated from Asia Minor—were situated in the east of the island. From here, the Minoans spread throughout Crete. Crete's favorable geographical position encouraged a flourishing trade with Phoenicia and the states of the ancient Near East. Cultural influences and important raw materials reached Crete from Egypt and Mesopotamia.

On Crete, there is evidence of metalworking and the production of faience such as 2 Kamares ware, which was exported throughout the Mediterranean. The Minoans had a developed commercial and urban life, while they cultivated vines and olive orchards to produce wine and olive oil.

The head of the Minoan pantheon was a great 3 goddess, so it is often assumed that the original culture was a matriarchy.

The Minoan religion, in which the king acted as high priest, had its shrines on mountains or in caves, and practiced human sacrifice to pacify the gods. Nevertheless, there were no monumental statues of deities.

The symbols of the great goddess were the 4 double ax (labrys), the 5 bull, and stylized 7 bull's horns (bucmnia). The bull had great significance as a sacrificial animal.

The 6 wall paintings from this period often depict humans leaping over the backs of charging bulls. Indications of a warlike tradition that was characteristic of the later Greeks are less apparent on Crete.


2 Clay vessel, example of Kamares ware,
ca. 1800 B.C.

3 Sculpture of a goddess,
17th century B.C.

4 Minoan vessel,
decorated with the double ax motif


5 Late Minoan vessel for donatives,
shaped like a bull's head




6 Acrobats leap over the back of a charging bull,
Minoan fresco,1 6th century B.C.

7 Set of bull's horns decorate the entrance
to the palace of Knossos


The Palace Cities of Crete

The Minoan palace cities on Crete were political, economic, and cultural centers and were laid out according to a uniform pattern. The most significant of these was the capital palace city of Knossos.


The Minoan social order, which centered on the ruler, was reflected in the layout of their cities. The king's palace was always at the center. It served as a political, economic, and cultural focal point. The king probably exercised religious functions, but neither the names nor representations of the rulers have survived. The palaces had a uniform layout. The palace wings contained a great number of rooms in a labyrinth arrangement and were grouped around a rectangular interior courtyard, complete with a modern drainage system providing flushing latrines. Notable colorful 11 fresco wall paintings dating back to 2000 B.C. display a wide range of subjects. Art had a primarily decorative function in the early periods, but naturalistic representations of plants, 9 people, and animals, for example 12 dolphins, later came to predominate.


9 Minoan prince carrying lilies and wearing a feather crown, Minoan relief. 16th century B.C.

11 Frescoes in the throne room Knossos

12 Ceiling frescoes depicting
dolphins in queen's Throne Room
in the palace of Knossos

The most important palace on Crete was that of 8, 10 Knossos with its two- to four-story palace wings.

It was first discovered by archaeologists in 1834 and is situated around four miles from Candia. It was excavated in 1900 by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Villas and houses were arranged around the palace, while the burial sites were located outside the city. At its height, 80,000 people probably lived in Knossos. There may have been as many as a thousand rooms, all skillfully lit by natural light. An earthquake destroyed the early palace at Knossos about 1750 B.C. It was rebuilt and encompassed more than 200,000 square feet, which suggests that the ruler of Knossos had a position of supremacy on Crete. Subsequent earthquakes on Crete also leveled a portion of these buildings.

Besides Knossos, palace cities existed in Malliain the north, Zakros to the east, and Phaistos farther south. This last was built on terraces at different levels. There was also the "summer residence" of Hagia Triada. Minoan settlements were found outside Crete on Santorini (Thera), but the island was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1628 B.C. About 1450 B.C. Crete, including Knossos, was overrun by the Myccnaeans. The assault of the Dorians around 1230 B.C. led to the destruction of the Mycenaean culture, including the high civilization on Crete. By 1100 B.C., Crete had become part of mainland Greek culture.

8 Hall of the Double Axes" in the palace of Knossos

10 Palace of Knossos ca. 1 520 B.C.,



Minos and the

According to legend, King Minos of Crete was the son of Zeus and Europa.

He failed to sacrifice a white bull sent from the sea by Poseidon, and for this the sea god took revenge. He made Minos's wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull, and she bore a half-man, half-bull monster, the Minotaur. The king confined the Minotaur in the Labyrinth constructed by Daedalus.

Sevenyouths and seven maidens were sacrificed to him annually until Theseus finally defeated and killed him. Minos died in Sicily and became a judge of the underworld.

see also:
Minotaur in Art


Theseus slays the Minotaur,
detailed miniature painting
on the inside surface of a clay bowl


The Mycenaean Culture and Troy

The Mycenaean civilization was characterized by its warrior aristocracy and its fortified cities. The saga of Troy plays an essential part in illustrating the character of these warrior kingdoms.

Around 1600-1200 B.C., the Achaians migrated from the north into Greece, where they established city-states in the Aegean islands, in Attica, and on the Peloponnesus. Homer uses the term Achaians to refer to all the Greeks.

They maintained a 2 martial social structure, which was mirrored in the arrangement of their palaces, castles, and cities. Most of the castles in which the warrior aristocracy resided were fortified and the cities enclosed by walls.

2 Mycenaean warriors mount wooden
chariots and prepare for battle

For a long period of time, the most important city was 4, 6 Mycenae, after which the whole Aegean culture of this period is named.

4 The Lion Gate at Mycenae
6 Fortified castle in the area of Mycenae, second century B.C.

Little is known of the social organization of the Mycenaean city-state.

It was probably a centrally administered palace bureaucracy with close ties between the religious cult and its rulers such as Atreus and his son 5 Agamemnon.

5 The "treasury of Atreus" or the "tomb of Agamemnon," tomb, 14th с B.C.

The economy was based primarily on agriculture and 1 metal-working.

1 Decorated dagger made of bronze,
gold, silver, and niello, 16th century B.C.


  There were military conflicts among the various Aegean seats of power, as well as with Minoan Crete and the states of Asia Minor, such as Troy. There is still no clear consensus about the causes behind the fall of the Mycenaean culture. Natural catastrophes or internal social upheaval may have led to the demise of this civilization sometime between 1200 and 1000 B.C.

7 Excavation works in Troy,
led by Hemrich Schliemann, 1870-1882

The destruction of Troy by the Greeks, as immortalized by Homer's Illiad, is undoubtedly connected with the migratory movements of aggressive sea peoples such as the Philistines, who drove whole populations from their territories. Nevertheless, the sagas of heroism in the battle for Troy became a model for the whole culture of classical Greece.

German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began the 7 excavation of Troy in 1870 in the mound of ruins at Hissarlik, in modern Turkey.

He believed the account in the Iliad to be historical reality and therefore dated his finds— treasures of gold and silver Ironi the second stratum of his excavation, which he reached in 1873, including what he believed to be the 3 "Mask of
Agamemnon"— to the time of the Trojan War

However, his oldest finds were distinctly older (ca. 2500-2200 B.C.) than this chronology suggests, in 1874, Schliemann also started excavations of Mycenae, where he found relics of a civilization which linked Greece and Cyprus.


3 The "Mask of Agamemnon," from the 16th century B.C.
The Trojan War

The Trojan Horse stands amid the ruins of the fallen city



Achilles kills Hector
outside the walls of Troy

According to Homer's Iliad, the Trojan War began with the abduction of Helena—the wife of Menelaus of Sparta—by Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy. Under the leadership of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus, the Greeks began a ten-year siege of Troy.

The climactic episode in Homer's account is the victory of the Greek hero Achilles over the Trojan hero Hector. A ruse by Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin)— the "Trojan horse"—decided the war in favor of the Greeks. The partisanship of the gods and the moral ambiguity of the conflict characterize Homer's work.


The Rape of Helena, by Guido Reni, 1631


Homer "Iliad","Odyssey"

Greek and Roman Myths in Art

see also:

Bulfinch Thomas

Berens E.M.
"Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome" 

Edith Hamilton
"Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes



The Trojan War -

  The Odyssey of Homer
illustrations by John Flaxman


Paris and Helen

Peleus and Thetis
Hector and Andromache




The Dorian Migrations

The migration of the Indo-European Dorians into Greece led to the gradual settlement of the whole region. Individual clans and communities developed, and these eventually merged together into cities.

The immigration into Greece of Indo-European Dorian tribes out of the Balkan region followed in the wake of the sea peoples around 1000 B.C. In a series of waves, the Dorian Greeks settled first in central Greece and then, about 1150 B.C., also in the Peloponnesus. Dorian tribes settled in the Cyclades, on Crete, and on the coast of Asia Minor as well. They vied with with the Phoenicians for maritime supremacy.

The tribes soon divided into separate subgroups: the Spartans, the Messenians, the Argives, and the Northwestern Greeks, among others. With the development of individual clans and distinct communities came the beginnings of the later city-states and their struggles for independence.

The day-to-day lives of these early Greeks were described by Homer: The house (oikos) was the family's living space, and the lot (kleros), a clan's or family's portion of land, was the nucleus of its private property. Family members were subordinate to the head of the family. This world was confined within strict boundaries; warfare and cults led to personal ties to aristocracy or warlords. However, with a modicum of politics and administration, several families or communities could ultimately unite and form a city (polis), usually located on a fortified elevation.