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





First Empires

ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.



The Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes

ca. 1000-200 B.C.


Up to the fourth century B.C., Indo-European mounted nomads ranged the wide steppes of the Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan until the advancing Huns triggered the "Great Migration of Peoples." But even before this, individual tribes left the region and moved into the Mediterranean area, the highlands of Iran, or India. Some, such as the Hittites, Medes, Persians, or the later Parthians, settled down and established kingdoms. Others stayed on the move and were, like the Cimmerians, eventually annihilated by enemies or withdrew back to their original territory of settlement, as the Scythians did.

The Scythians, Sakians, and Sarmatians

Outsiders have frequently sought to divide nomads of the Eurasian steppes into various peoples and tribes. Greek and Roman authors, in particular, attempted to transcribe the flexible organization of these peoples into categories familiar to them.

The homeland of the 2 Scythians is thought to have been in the area of present-day Kazakhstan. Some began to move westward in the first millennium B.C. while the rest—the Sakians—remained. The Scythians drove the Cimmerians, another nomadic people, out of their homeland north of the Black Sea.

They 4 crossed the Caucasus and pushed down into Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. The Persian kings were constantly at war with the various nomadic peoples on the northern borders of their kingdom. In 530 в.с.

2 Fight between a tiger and wolf.
Scythian gold plate, sixth с. в.с.

4 The Earth according to Herodotus, showing the Scythians
and the Massagetae in the far northeast, wood carving, 19th century


1 Cyrus II fell in battle against Tomyris, the Queen of the Massagetae, part of the Sarmatian tribe related to the Scythians and Sakians. Darius I's attempt to subjugate the Scythians in 513-512 B.C. also failed.

1Tomyris kills King Cyrus II.
Book illustration, 14th century

The Persians and other Near East rulers recruited nomads as mercenaries for their armies or made alliances with them. Even in Athens, Scythians were used as police. These peoples and tribes never formed fixed units for a long period of time, but rather joined into confederations under a common figure when an outside threat made it necessary. The Scythian high king Atheas, who died in battle in 339 against Philip II of Macedonia, was one such leader.

Starting in the third century B.C., the Scythians were slowly absorbed by the Sarmatians, and by the first century B.C. only a small group in 5 Crimea remained.

During the "Great Migration of Peoples," most of the Sarmatians merged with the Goths and the Huns. The Sakians arrived in India around 100 B.C., where they established kingdoms that survived for centuries.

5 Scythians offer milk to the Roman poet Ovid living in exile
on the Crimean Peninsula, painting by Delacroix, 19th century


Cyrus II

Cyrus II, byname Cyrus The Great (born 590–580 bc, Media, or Persis [now in Iran]—died c. 529, Asia), conqueror who founded the Achaemenian empire, centred on Persia and comprising the Near East from the Aegean Sea eastward to the Indus River. He is also remembered in the Cyrus legend—first recorded by Xenophon, Greek soldier and author, in his Cyropaedia—as a tolerant and ideal monarch who was called the father of his people by the ancient Persians. In the Bible he is the liberator of the Jews who were captive in Babylonia.

Life and legend
Cyrus was born between 590 and 580 bc, either in Media or, more probably, in Persis, the modern Fārs province of Iran. The meaning of his name is in dispute, for it is not known whether it was a personal name or a throne name given to him when he became a ruler. It is noteworthy that after the Achaemenian empire the name does not appear again in sources relating to Iran, which may indicate some special sense of the name.

Most scholars agree, however, that Cyrus the Great was at least the second of the name to rule in Persia. One cuneiform text in Akkadian—the language of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in the pre-Christian era—asserts he was the

son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of a family [which] always [exercised] kingship.

In any case, it is clear that Cyrus came from a long line of ruling chiefs.

The most important source for his life is the Greek historian Herodotus. The idealized biography by Xenophon is a work for the edification of the Greeks concerning the ideal ruler, rather than a historical treatise. It does, however, indicate the high esteem in which Cyrus was held, not only by his own people, the Persians, but by the Greeks and others. Herodotus says that the Persians called Cyrus their father, while later Achaemenian rulers were not so well regarded. The story of the childhood of Cyrus, as told by Herodotus with echoes in Xenophon, may be called a Cyrus legend since it obviously follows a pattern of folk beliefs about the almost superhuman qualities of the founder of a dynasty. Similar beliefs also exist about the founders of later dynasties throughout the history of Iran. According to the legend, Astyages, the king of the Medes and overlord of the Persians, gave his daughter in marriage to his vassal in Persis, a prince called Cambyses. From this marriage Cyrus was born. Astyages, having had a dream that the baby would grow up to overthrow him, ordered Cyrus slain. His chief adviser, however, instead gave the baby to a shepherd to raise. When he was 10 years old, Cyrus, because of his outstanding qualities, was discovered by Astyages, who, in spite of the dream, was persuaded to allow the boy to live. Cyrus, when he reached manhood in Persis, revolted against his maternal grandfather and overlord. Astyages marched against the rebel, but his army deserted him and surrendered to Cyrus in 550 bc.

Cyrus’ conquests
After inheriting the empire of the Medes, Cyrus first had to consolidate his power over Iranian tribes on the Iranian plateau before expanding to the west. Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor (Anatolia), had enlarged his domains at the expense of the Medes when he heard of the fall of Astyages, and Cyrus, as successor of the Median king, marched against Lydia. Sardis, the Lydian capital, was captured in 547 or 546, and Croesus was either killed or burned himself to death, though according to other sources he was taken prisoner by Cyrus and well treated. The Ionian Greek cities on the Aegean Sea coast, as vassals of the Lydian king, now became subject to Cyrus, and most of them submitted peacefully. Several revolts of the Greek cities were later suppressed with severity. Next Cyrus turned to Babylonia, where the dissatisfaction of the people with the ruler Nabonidus gave him a pretext for invading the lowlands. The conquest was quick, for even the priests of Marduk, the national deity of the great metropolis of Babylon, had become estranged from Nabonidus. In October 539 bc, the greatest city of the ancient world fell to the Persians.

In the Bible (e.g., Ezra 1:1–4), Cyrus is famous for freeing the Jewish captives in Babylonia and allowing them to return to their homeland. Cyrus was also tolerant toward the Babylonians and others. He conciliated local populations by supporting local customs and even sacrificing to local deities. The capture of Babylon delivered not only Mesopotamia into the hands of Cyrus but also Syria and Palestine, which had been conquered previously by the Babylonians. The ruler of Cilicia in Asia Minor had become an ally of Cyrus when the latter marched against Croesus, and Cilicia retained a special status in Cyrus’ empire. Thus it was by diplomacy as well as force of arms that he established the largest empire known until his time.

Cyrus seems to have had several capitals. One was the city of Ecbatana, modern Hamadan, former capital of the Medes, and another was a new capital of the empire, Pasargadae, in Persis, said to be on the site where Cyrus had won the battle against Astyages. The ruins today, though few, arouse admiration in the visitor. Cyrus also kept Babylon as a winter capital.

No Persian chauvinist, Cyrus was quick to learn from the conquered peoples. He not only conciliated the Medes but united them with the Persians in a kind of dual monarchy of the Medes and Persians. Cyrus had to borrow the traditions of kingship from the Medes, who had ruled an empire when the Persians were merely their vassals. A Mede was probably made an adviser to the Achaemenian king, as a sort of chief minister; on later reliefs at Persepolis, a capital of the Achaemenian kings from the time of Darius, a Mede is frequently depicted together with the great king. The Elamites, indigenous inhabitants of Persis, were also the teachers of the Persians in many ways, as can be seen, for example, in the Elamite dress worn by Persians and by Elamite objects carried by them on the stone reliefs at Persepolis. There also seems to have been little innovation in government and rule, but rather a willingness to borrow, combined with an ability to adapt what was borrowed to the new empire. Cyrus was undoubtedly the guiding genius in the creation not only of a great empire but in the formation of Achaemenian culture and civilization.

Little is known of the family life of Cyrus. He had two sons, one of whom, Cambyses, succeeded him; the other, Bardiya (Smerdis of the Greeks), was probably secretly put to death by Cambyses after he became ruler. Cyrus had at least one daughter, Atossa (who married her brother Cambyses), and possibly two others, but they played no role in history.

When Cyrus defeated Astyages he also inherited Median possessions in eastern Iran, but he had to engage in much warfare to consolidate his rule in this region. After his conquest of Babylonia, he again turned to the east, and Herodotus tells of his campaign against nomads living east of the Caspian Sea. According to the Greek historian, Cyrus was at first successful in defeating the ruler of the nomads—called the Massagetai—who was a woman, and captured her son. On the son’s committing suicide in captivity, his mother swore revenge and defeated and killed Cyrus. Herodotus’ story may be apocryphal, but Cyrus’ conquests in Central Asia were probably genuine, since a city in farthest Sogdiana was called Cyreschata, or Cyropolis, by the Greeks, which seems to prove the extent of his Eastern conquests.

The legacy of Cyrus
It is a testimony to the capability of the founder of the Achaemenian empire that it continued to expand after his death and lasted for more than two centuries. But Cyrus was not only a great conqueror and administrator; he held a place in the minds of the Persian people similar to that of Romulus and Remus in Rome or Moses for the Israelites. His saga follows in many details the stories of hero and conquerors from elsewhere in the ancient world. The manner in which the baby Cyrus was given to a shepherd to raise is reminiscent of Moses in the bulrushes in Egypt, and the overthrow of his tyrannical grandfather has echoes in other myths and legends. There is no doubt that the Cyrus saga arose early among the Persians and was known to the Greeks. The sentiments of esteem or even awe in which Persians held him were transmitted to the Greeks, and it was no accident that Xenophon chose Cyrus to be the model of a ruler for the lessons he wished to impart to his fellow Greeks.

In short, the figure of Cyrus has survived throughout history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring. His personality as seen by the Greeks influenced them and Alexander the Great, and, as the tradition was transmitted by the Romans, may be considered to influence our thinking even now. In the year 1971, Iran celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the monarchy by Cyrus.

Richard N. Frye

Encyclopædia Britannica




The Scythian Culture and Society

The Scythians left no written records of their own. Greek and Roman sources, along with archaeological finds, provide the only information about their lives.

The leaders of the Scythians were princes and were buried in elaborate burial mounds called kurgans. The dead were often embalmed and interred in a central burial chamber. Many times, the horses of the deceased were buried with them in adjoining chambers, highlighting the importance of these animals to the Scythians.

Weapons and finely worked 6 gold objects were common burial gifts; other items included drinking 9 vessels, jewelry, and armor, and pictures of hunting, battles, or banquet scenes. Domesticated animals seem to have frequently accompanied the dead to their tombs.

Women were also buried with weapons of war, which seems to suggest that not only queens like Tomyris but also common Scythian women may have fought in conflicts.


6 Beard comb with a carved handle showing
Scythian soldiers in combat, ca. 500 B.C.

9 Scythian warriors, gold vessel, fourth century B.C.


10 Women riding on horses in a procession, stone relief, fifth century B.C.



The "Wild" Scythians

Come, friends! let's not shout
and scream
like Scythian drunks
but let us study our wine,
and accompany its drinking
with beautiful songs.

(Anacreon, Greek lyric poet, sixth century B.C.)



3 Sarmatian cavalrymen on armored horses,
detail from Trajan's Piliar, Rome, 113 a.d.

Some historians have cited this as a possible historical basis for the Greek myth of the Asiatic women warriors, the Amazons.

One of the main facts known about the Scythians was their custom of "blood brotherhood," which was widespread among warriors and formed the basis for lifelong fighting bands.

The 3 mounted warriors were lightly armed and wore coats of chain mail for protection. In the hands of skilled archers, poisoned arrows could do great damage from a distance. For close combat, the short sword, battle-ax, and spiked mace were the preferred weapons. Their battle technique— a short, fast attack followed by immediate retreat—was widely feared and gave them the advantage over unwieldy armies of infantry. The Scythians also practiced trade, agriculture, and herding. Scythian grain, furs, livestock, and slaves were exported through the Greek colonies on the Crimean Peninsula.





Scythian women warriors, who even led armies, perhaps served as a model for the Amazons of Greek mythology. Like the Scythians, the Amazons were supposed to have lived on the shores of the Black Sea.

They only temporarily lived together with men. Of their children, they only raised the girls. The girls' left breasts were burned off so that later they would not hinder them shooting the bow and arrow—thus, perhaps, the origin of the name Amazon, from amazos (Greek for "without breast").

Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., however, wrote about a matriarchal society in Asia Minor that also could have served as a model for the Amazons.



Battle of the Amazons, by Peter Paul Rubens