Recorded history of humanity
Top 10 Human history related articles
- 1 Prehistory
- 2 Ancient history
- 3 Post-classical history
- 4 Modern history
- 5 See also
- 6 Explanatory notes
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 Further reading
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Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology, anthropology, genetics, linguistics, and other disciplines; and, for periods since the invention of writing, by recorded history and by secondary sources and studies.
Humanity's written history was preceded by its prehistory, beginning with the Palaeolithic Era ("Old Stone Age"), followed by the Neolithic Era ("New Stone Age"). The Neolithic saw the Agricultural Revolution begin, between 10,000 and 5000 BCE, in the Near East's Fertile Crescent. During this period, humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals. As agriculture advanced, most humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. The relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.
Whether in prehistoric or historic times, people always needed to be near reliable sources of potable water. Settlements developed as early as 4,000 BCE in Iran, in Mesopotamia, in the Indus River valley, on the banks of Egypt's Nile River, and along China's rivers. As farming developed, grain agriculture became more sophisticated and prompted a division of labour to store food between growing seasons. Labour divisions led to the rise of a leisured upper class and the development of cities, which provided the foundation for civilization. The growing complexity of human societies necessitated systems of accounting and writing.
With civilizations flourishing, ancient history ("Antiquity," including the Classical Age, up to about 500 CE) saw the rise and fall of empires. Post-classical history (the "Middle Ages," c. 500–1500 CE,) witnessed the rise of Christianity, the Islamic Golden Age (c. 750 CE – c. 1258 CE), and the Timurid and Italian Renaissances (from around 1300 CE). The mid-15th-century introduction of movable-type printing in Europe revolutionized communication and facilitated ever wider dissemination of information, hastening the end of the Middle Ages and ushering in the Scientific Revolution. The Early Modern Period, sometimes referred to as the "European Age and Age of the Islamic Gunpowders", from about 1500 to 1800, included the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration. By the 18th century, the accumulation of knowledge and technology had reached a critical mass that brought about the Industrial Revolution and began the Late Modern Period, which started around 1800 and has continued through the present.
This scheme of historical periodization (dividing history into Antiquity, Post-Classical, Early Modern, and Late Modern periods) was developed for, and applies best to, the history of the Old World, particularly Europe and the Mediterranean. Outside this region, including ancient China and ancient India, historical timelines unfolded differently. However, by the 18th century, due to extensive world trade and colonization, the histories of most civilizations had become substantially intertwined, a process known as globalization. In the last quarter-millennium, the rates of growth of population, knowledge, technology, communications, commerce, weapons destructiveness, and environmental degradation have greatly accelerated, creating unprecedented opportunities and perils that now confront the planet's human communities.
Human history Intro articles: 53
Genetic measurements indicate that the ape lineage which would lead to Homo sapiens diverged from the lineage that would lead to chimpanzees and bonobos, the closest living relatives of modern humans, around 4.6 to 6.2 million years ago. Anatomically modern humans arose in Africa about 300,000 years ago, and reached behavioural modernity about 50,000 years ago.
Modern humans spread rapidly from Africa into the frost-free zones of Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago. The rapid expansion of humankind to North America and Oceania took place at the climax of the most recent ice age, when temperate regions of today were extremely inhospitable. Yet, humans had colonized nearly all the ice-free parts of the globe by the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago. Other hominids such as Homo erectus had been using simple wood and stone tools for millennia, but as time progressed, tools became far more refined and complex.
Perhaps as early as 1.8 million years ago, but certainly by 500,000 years ago, humans began using fire for heat and cooking. They also developed language in the Paleolithic period and a conceptual repertoire that included systematic burial of the dead and adornment of the living. Early artistic expression can be found in the form of cave paintings and sculptures made from ivory, stone, and bone, showing a spirituality generally interpreted as animism, or even shamanism. During this period, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers, and were generally nomadic. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source populations of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers survived in sparsely wooded areas and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity while avoiding dense forest cover.
Rise of civilization
The Neolithic Revolution, beginning around 10,000 BCE, saw the development of agriculture, which fundamentally changed the human lifestyle. Farming developed around 10,000 BCE in the Middle East, around 7000 BCE in what is now China, around 6000 BCE in the Indus Valley and Europe, and around 4000 BCE in the Americas. Cultivation of cereal crops and the domestication of animals occurred around 8500 BCE in the Middle East, where wheat and barley were the first crops and sheep and goats were domesticated. In the Indus Valley, crops were cultivated by 6000 BCE, along with domesticated cattle. The Yellow River valley in China cultivated millet and other cereal crops by about 7000 BCE, but the Yangtze valley domesticated rice earlier, by at least 8000 BCE. In the Americas, sunflowers were cultivated by about 4000 BCE, and maize and beans were domesticated in Central America by 3500 BCE. Potatoes were first cultivated in the Andes Mountains of South America, where the llama was also domesticated. Metal-working, starting with copper around 6000 BCE, was first used for tools and ornaments. Gold soon followed, with its main use being for ornaments. The need for metal ores stimulated trade, as many of the areas of early human settlement were lacking in ores. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was first known from around 2500 BCE, but did not become widely used until much later.
Though early proto-cities appeared at Jericho and Catal Huyuk around 6000 BCE, the first civilizations did not emerge until around 3000 BCE in Egypt and Mesopotamia. These cultures gave birth to the invention of the wheel, mathematics, bronze-working, sailing boats, the pottery wheel, woven cloth, construction of monumental buildings, and writing. Scholars now recognize that writing may have independently developed in at least four ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia (between 3400 and 3100 BC), Egypt (around 3250 BC), China (2000 BC), and lowland Mesoamerica (by 650 BC).
Farming permitted far denser populations, which in time organized into states. Agriculture also created food surpluses that could support people not directly engaged in food production. The development of agriculture permitted the creation of the first cities. These were centres of trade, manufacturing and political power. Cities established a symbiosis with their surrounding countrysides, absorbing agricultural products and providing, in return, manufactured goods and varying degrees of military control and protection.
The development of cities was synonymous with the rise of civilization.[a] Early civilizations arose first in Lower Mesopotamia (3000 BCE), followed by Egyptian civilization along the Nile River (3000 BCE), the Harappan civilization in the Indus River Valley (in present-day India and Pakistan; 2500 BCE), and Chinese civilization along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers (2200 BCE). These societies developed a number of unifying characteristics, including a central government, a complex economy and social structure, sophisticated language and writing systems, and distinct cultures and religions. Writing facilitated the administration of cities, the expression of ideas, and the preservation of information.
Entities such as the Sun, Moon, Earth, sky, and sea were often deified. Shrines developed, which evolved into temple establishments, complete with a complex hierarchy of priests and priestesses and other functionaries. Typical of the Neolithic was a tendency to worship anthropomorphic deities. Among the earliest surviving written religious scriptures are the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, the oldest of which date to between 2400 and 2300 BCE.
Human history Prehistory articles: 69
Cradles of civilization
The Bronze Age is part of the three-age system (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age) that for some parts of the world describes effectively the early history of civilization. During this era the most fertile areas of the world saw city-states and the first civilizations develop. These were concentrated in fertile river valleys: the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in the Indian subcontinent, and the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers in China.
Sumer, located in Mesopotamia, is the first known complex civilization, developing the first city-states in the 4th millennium BCE. It was in these cities that the earliest known form of writing, cuneiform script, appeared around 3000 BCE. Cuneiform writing began as a system of pictographs. These pictorial representations eventually became simplified and more abstract. Cuneiform texts were written on clay tablets, on which symbols were drawn with a blunt reed used as a stylus. Writing made the administration of a large state far easier.
Transport was facilitated by waterways—by rivers and seas. The Mediterranean Sea, at the juncture of three continents, fostered the projection of military power and the exchange of goods, ideas, and inventions. This era also saw new land technologies, such as horse-based cavalry and chariots, that allowed armies to move faster.
These developments led to the rise of territorial states and empires. In Mesopotamia there prevailed a pattern of independent warring city-states and of a loose hegemony shifting from one city to another. In Egypt, by contrast, first there was a dual division into Upper and Lower Egypt which was shortly followed by unification of all the valley around 3100 BCE, followed by permanent pacification. In Crete the Minoan civilization had entered the Bronze Age by 2700 BCE and is regarded as the first civilization in Europe. Over the next millennia, other river valleys saw monarchical empires rise to power. In the 25th – 21st centuries BCE, the empires of Akkad and Sumer arose in Mesopotamia.
Over the following millennia, civilizations developed across the world. Trade increasingly became a source of power as states with access to important resources or controlling important trade routes rose to dominance. By 1400 BCE, Mycenaean Greece began to develop, and ended with the Late Bronze Age collapse that started to affect many Mediterranean civilizations between 1200 and 1150 BCE. In India, this era was the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society, and ended in the 6th century BCE. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the subcontinent.
As complex civilizations arose in the Eastern Hemisphere, the indigenous societies in the Americas remained relatively simple and fragmented into diverse regional cultures. During the formative stage in Mesoamerica (about 1500 BCE to 500 CE), more complex and centralized civilizations began to develop, mostly in what is now Mexico, Central America, and Peru. They included civilizations such as the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Moche, and Nazca. They developed agriculture, growing maize, chili peppers, cocoa, tomatoes, and potatoes, crops unique to the Americas, and creating distinct cultures and religions. These ancient indigenous societies would be greatly affected, for good and ill, by European contact during the early modern period.
Beginning in the 8th century BCE, the "Axial Age" saw the development of a set of transformative philosophical and religious ideas, mostly independently, in many different places. Chinese Confucianism, Indian Buddhism and Jainism, and Jewish monotheism are all claimed by some scholars to have developed in the 6th century BCE. (Karl Jaspers' Axial-Age theory also includes Persian Zoroastrianism, but other scholars dispute his timeline for Zoroastrianism.) In the 5th century BCE, Socrates and Plato made substantial advances in the development of ancient Greek philosophy.
In the East, three schools of thought would dominate Chinese thinking well into the 20th century. These were Taoism, Legalism, and Confucianism. The Confucian tradition, which would become particularly dominant, looked for political morality not to the force of law but to the power and example of tradition. Confucianism would later spread to the Korean Peninsula and toward Japan.
In the West, the Greek philosophical tradition, represented by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers, along with accumulated science, technology, and culture, diffused throughout Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, and Northwest India, starting in the 4th century BCE after the conquests of Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander the Great).
The millennium from 500 BCE to 500 CE saw a series of empires of unprecedented size develop. Well-trained professional armies, unifying ideologies, and advanced bureaucracies created the possibility for emperors to rule over large domains whose populations could attain numbers upwards of tens of millions of subjects. The great empires depended on military annexation of territory and on the formation of defended settlements to become agricultural centres. The relative peace that the empires brought encouraged international trade, most notably the massive trade routes in the Mediterranean, the maritime trade web in the Indian Ocean, and the Silk Road. In southern Europe, the Greeks (and later the Romans), in an era known as "classical antiquity," established cultures whose practices, laws, and customs are considered the foundation of contemporary Western culture.
There were a number of regional empires during this period. The kingdom of the Medes helped to destroy the Assyrian Empire in tandem with the nomadic Scythians and the Babylonians. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was sacked by the Medes in 612 BCE. The Median Empire gave way to successive Iranian empires, including the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE), the Parthian Empire (247 BCE–224 CE), and the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE).
Several empires began in modern-day Greece. First was the Delian League (from 477 BCE) and the succeeding Athenian Empire (454–404 BCE), centred in present-day Greece. Later, Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), of Macedon, founded an empire of conquest, extending from present-day Greece to present-day India. The empire divided shortly after his death, but the influence of his Hellenistic successors made for an extended Hellenistic period (323–31 BCE) throughout the region.
In Asia, the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE) existed in present-day India; in the 3rd century BCE, most of South Asia was united to the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the 3rd century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's Golden Age. From the 4th to 6th centuries, northern India was ruled by the Gupta Empire. In southern India, three prominent Dravidian kingdoms emerged: the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. The ensuing stability contributed to heralding in the golden age of Hindu culture in the 4th and 5th centuries.
In Europe, the Roman Empire, centered in present-day Italy, began in the 7th century BCE. In the 3rd century BCE the Roman Republic began expanding its territory through conquest and alliances. By the time of Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE), the first Roman Emperor, Rome had already established dominion over most of the Mediterranean. The empire would continue to grow, controlling much of the land from England to Mesopotamia, reaching its greatest extent under the emperor Trajan (died 117 CE). In the 3rd century CE, the empire split into western and eastern regions, with (usually) separate emperors. The Western empire would fall, in 476 CE, to German influence under Odoacer. The eastern empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople, would continue for another thousand years, until Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
In China, the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), the first imperial dynasty of China, was followed by the Han Empire (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han Dynasty was comparable in power and influence to the Roman Empire that lay at the other end of the Silk Road. Han China developed advanced cartography, shipbuilding, and navigation. The Chinese invented blast furnaces, and created finely tuned copper instruments. As with other empires during the Classical Period, Han China advanced significantly in the areas of government, education, mathematics, astronomy, technology, and many others.
In Africa, the Kingdom of Aksum, centred in present-day Ethiopia, established itself by the 1st century CE as a major trading empire, dominating its neighbours in South Arabia and Kush and controlling the Red Sea trade. It minted its own currency and carved enormous monolithic steles such as the Obelisk of Axum to mark their emperors' graves.
Successful regional empires were also established in the Americas, arising from cultures established as early as 2500 BCE. In Mesoamerica, vast pre-Columbian societies were built, the most notable being the Zapotec Empire (700 BCE – 1521 CE), and the Maya civilization, which reached its highest state of development during the Mesoamerican Classic period (c. 250–900 CE), but continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century CE. Maya civilization arose as the Olmec mother culture gradually declined. The great Mayan city-states slowly rose in number and prominence, and Maya culture spread throughout the Yucatán and surrounding areas. The later empire of the Aztecs was built on neighbouring cultures and was influenced by conquered peoples such as the Toltecs.
Some areas experienced slow but steady technological advances, with important developments such as the stirrup and moldboard plough arriving every few centuries. There were, however, in some regions, periods of rapid technological progress. Most important, perhaps, was the Hellenistic period in the region of the Mediterranean, during which hundreds of technologies were invented. Such periods were followed by periods of technological decay, as during the Roman Empire's decline and fall and the ensuing early medieval period.
Declines, falls, and resurgence
The ancient empires faced common problems associated with maintaining huge armies and supporting a central bureaucracy. These costs fell most heavily on the peasantry, while land-owning magnates increasingly evaded centralized control and its costs. Barbarian pressure on the frontiers hastened internal dissolution. China's Han dynasty fell into civil war in 220 CE, beginning the Three Kingdoms period, while its Roman counterpart became increasingly decentralized and divided about the same time in what is known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The great empires of Eurasia were all located on temperate and subtropical coastal plains. From the Central Asian steppes, horse-based nomads, mainly Mongols and Turks, dominated a large part of the continent. The development of the stirrup and the breeding of horses strong enough to carry a fully armed archer made the nomads a constant threat to the more settled civilizations.
The gradual break-up of the Roman Empire, spanning several centuries after the 2nd century CE, coincided with the spread of Christianity outward from the Middle East. The Western Roman Empire fell under the domination of Germanic tribes in the 5th century, and these polities gradually developed into a number of warring states, all associated in one way or another with the Catholic Church. The remaining part of the Roman Empire, in the eastern Mediterranean, continued as what came to be called the Byzantine Empire. Centuries later, a limited unity would be restored to western Europe through the establishment in 962 of a revived "Roman Empire", later called the Holy Roman Empire, comprising a number of states in what is now Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, and parts of France.
In China, dynasties would rise and fall, but, by sharp contrast to the Mediterranean-European world, dynastic unity would be restored. After the fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty and the demise of the Three Kingdoms, nomadic tribes from the north began to invade in the 4th century, eventually conquering areas of northern China and setting up many small kingdoms. The Sui Dynasty successfully reunified the whole of China in 581, and laid the foundations for a Chinese golden age under the Tang dynasty (618–907).