It’s hard to pinpoint the proper date when you want to explore the ancient world. Without a concise idea on where to start, you might as well be wasting your time. That’s okay though because we are here to help you. Timeline of the ancient world is hard to pin down as the earliest verifiable date of a historical event varies from source to source. Furthermore, some people might have a different opinion on what constitutes “historical” in the ancient world.
Since we are going to explore recorded major ancient historical events, it only fits that we start from the 4th millennium B.C. for it’s believed to have marked the beginning of writing. This article will not merely provide you an empty assertion, but rather show you the chain of dates from 4th millennium B.C. to 1st Century B.C. as it would be a major undertaking to make a list of historical events from that era to, say, 19th century, let alone 21st century. Of course, there may be more than one major historical event in one period and another, but this list is intended to provide you with the basic knowledge of what is conventionally regarded as major and important. Note that, some period in this list may only consist of one event and others may contain a few as this thread essentially relies on what the mass considered as “major ancient events in a conventional sense”. So, without further ado, check them out below!
The 4th millennium B.C. saw significant changes in human civilization as a whole for it marked the start of writing. The Sumerians marked the first civilization in human history which emerged circa 3200 B.C.E. Cultural dynamism reached its peak when their small city-states began to compete against one another for dominance. Early historians refer to this period as the Early Dynastic time of Mesopotamian history. The Sumerian civilization increased in sophistication and complexity. Writing, in particular, made such a major leap where the early pictograms gradually became more stylized and abstract. The script also became more linear, signifying the use of the wedge-shaped styluses that was used to inscribe the clay tablets.
The script then developed into classic Sumerian cuneiform writing by the 2500 B.C.E. Varied and subtle literature, containing administrative and economic documents, stories, letters, hymns, prayers and more was being committed to writing.
This period was known to be the time in which everyone had the desire to conquer. Expansion occurred all throughout Eurasia and the Middle East, with Indo-European expansion to Europe, Anatolia, and Central Asia. This period of time corresponds to the Bronze Age and is characterized by the early empires in Ancient Egypt. The Bronze Age occurred between 3000 B.C and 2500 BC. Egypt, in particular, grew to the point of being the first popular revolution in history towards the close of the millennium. However, the civilization of Ancient Egypt is probably what historians would consider being the most significant as the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza was built around 2560 B.C.E.
This period gave birth to some of the great civilization, such as the Cycladic in Cyclades islands, the Minoan on Crete islands, and the Mycenaean on the mainland. The 2nd millennium was especially characterized by a rapidly growing population as well as the development of trading. The important trade center between Asian and Europe centered on the islands of the Cyclades which was situated in the center of the Aegean Sea. The Minoan civilization, in particular, had a flourishing economic, social, political and cultural organization (2600 B.C.E). This period was characterized by important trade activities as well as the construction of impressive palaces such as Malia, Knossis, Phaestos, and Zakros. This period also marked the first emergence of Linear A, the first writing in the Greek World. Add to that a strong naval power was also developed by the Minoans and installed many colonies in the Aegean Sea.
This period also marked the Fall of Troy around 1200 B.C.E (if that ever happened). Nevertheless, the Trojan War is dubbed to be the greatest battle in history. In Greek mythology, the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) waged a war after Paris of Troy captured Helen from her husband Menelaus, the King of Sparta. The significance of this event is immense as the war is among the most important major events in ancient Greek history.
Around 995 B.C.E, Hebrew King David conquered Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city situated in modern-day Israel. It is regarded as one of the holiest places in the world by many. After King David captured the city, he turned it into the capital of the Jewish kingdom. Solomon, King David’s son, built the first Holy Temple about 40 years after.
Three major ancient historical events occurred in the 8th century. First, it marked the beginning of the Greeks settlers in Asia Minor (Anatolia). Greeks sent colonists that were mainly from Athens as well as surrounding Attica settled the coastline of Asia Minor from the Mediterranean all the way to the Black Sea. It was these Ionian colonies that, funded and supported by Eretria and Athens, rose in revolt when the area eventually came under the Persian control. This act later provoked the wrath of the Persian King Darius I as well as the first invasion of Greece in 490 B.C.E, though ultimately repelled at the Battle of Marathon.
The legendary beginning of the Olympic also took place in the 8th century. Just like much of another ancient history, the origins of the Olympic Games also took place in Olympia which is a district in Southern Greece. Conventionally, the ancient game commenced in 776 B.C.E and it was based on records of stade-length races. The first victor was named Koroibos of Elis. However, note that the actual date of the first Olympic is still pretty much disputed as the Olympics originated during a period that is not well-documented.
It was in this period as well that the City of Rome was established (753 B.C). The two main founding figures were Aeneas and Romulus (after whom the city was inevitably named). However, many also argue that Evander of Arcadia may have played a role in founding Rome. Aeneas was a Trojan prince and was an important figure linking the Romans with the goddess Venus and the Trojans. The reason why he is often credited with the establishment of Rome may be based on the culmination of his post-Trojan War adventures. Romulus, on the other hand, was one of the twin brothers of a vestal virgin named Rhea Silvia and the deity Mars, according to myth.
The rise of democracy in Athens came into prominence in the 7th century. One of the most notorious figures in this period was named Draco. The privileged and aristocratic society in Athens had been making all the decisions that didn’t sit well with many. When people got fed up around 621 B.C, the rest of the people of Athens no longer wanted to live under the arbitrary, moral rules of the eupatrid thesmothetai. Draco was then appointed to write down the laws. When he codified the law, be it intentional or not, the people of Athens were outrageous. The story goes that the harshness of his punishment was too much for he suggested that the death penalty was appropriate for stealing, even so much as stealing a cabbage. It’s also believed that Draco would have applied penalty if there was so much worse punishment than death. Consequently, his strict and unforgiving code later became known as Draconian which referred to penalties considered ridiculously severe.
The 7th century also marked the end of the Assyria Empire. They were Semitic people that lived in the northern era of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians were known to be aggressive and wanted more than just independence. They craved control. That’s why led by their leader Ninus, the Assyrians managed to conquered Babylonia. For the sake of control, all their conquered subjects were forced into exile and yes, that also includes the Hebrews. However, it all ended when the Babylonians destroyed the Assyrian Empire, with the help from Medes, and eventually burned down Nineveh.
One of the ancient historical events worth nothing in the 6th century was when Solon was elected archon. He first came to prominence due to his patriotic exhortations during the war between Athens and Megara for possession of Salamis. He faced the unnerving tasks of improving the conditions such as, the middle classes that were excluded from government, debt-ridden farmers as well as laborers who were forced into bondage over debt. All of them must be done without having to alienate the increasingly wealthy aristocracy and landowners. Thanks to his reforming compromises along with other legislation, posterity now refers to him as Solon the lawgiver.
Another significant event occurred in this period was when Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian King, conquered Jerusalem. Consequently, all the Jews of Judea were exiled to Babylon. He was also the first Babylonian King to ever rule Egypt. When he defeated the Scythians and Cimmerians (tribes of the Steppes) and conquered Western Syria, he too destroyed Jerusalem in the process. The Temple of Solomon was also destroyed as a result in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar also put down a rebellion under Zedekiah that he had installed, and then exiled all Hebrew families. All the habitats of Jerusalem prisoner were then brought to Babylon. This period is known today as the Babylonian captivity.
It was also in the 6th century that Thales famously predicted the solar eclipse (585 B.C.). The Eclipse of Thales, as known today, was a solar eclipse which was accurately predicted by Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher, according to the Histories of Herodotus. Should Herodotus’ account be accurate, this eclipse then can be regarded as the earliest recorded as being known in advance of its event. How exactly Thales predicted the eclipse remains obscure until today. Some scholars believe that the eclipse was never predicted at all. Others even proposed different dates. However, only the eclipse occurred in 585 B.C. falls in line with the conditions of visibility necessary to explain the historical event.
The great Persian Wars took place in the 5th century sometime between 492 B.C. and 449 B.C. The war started after the famous Ionian Revolt which caused the Persians and their king Darius to want to conquer Greece even more. The Persians then tried to attach Greece by the sea where they began from Ionia (modern-day Turkey) and try to take down Athens. The Persians were especially enraged when it comes to Athenians because they had invaded Anatolia during the Ionian Revolt. For the sake of contextualization, the Revolt was initiated because the Athenians found the Persian rule to be oppressive.
The Persian Wars also included another significant ancient event which was the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. over 25,000 Persians landed on the Greek Plain of Marathon. Due to lack of timely help from the Spartans, Athenians then only had about armies which were only 1/3 the size of their enemy. However, Athens’ army was also supplemented by a thousand Plataeans and led by Miltiades (ex-tyrant in the Chersonesus) and Callimachus. They fought against Persians and won by encircling their enemy’s forces. This was considered to be a momentous and victorious event since it was the first Greek victory when it comes to Persian Wars. The origin of the racing term marathon stems from the supposed messenger who ran for about 25 miles from Marathon to Athens in order to announce the defeat of the Persians. He died of exhaustion at the end of the march.
Another noteworthy event is the day Confucius passed away in 479 B.C. He was a famous influential Chinese philosopher, political figure and teacher mainly known for his famous aphorisms and for his models of social interaction. His teachings focused on creating ethical models of public and family interaction as well as setting educational standards. Following his death, he became the official imperial philosophy of China and it was extremely influential during the Song, Tang, and Han dynasties. Confucianism is the worldview of education, politics, and ethics which provides rules for living and thinking that focuses on love for humanity, respect for elders, worship of ancestors, and conformity to rituals as well as self-discipline. He died on November 21, 479 B.C. in a battle.
The fourth century marked the time Sparta finally defeated by Boeotians in a famous battle called Battle of Leuctra. Taking place in 371 B.C. The Thebes finally earned their decisive victory over Sparta and decided to establish Thebes as the most powerful city-state in Greece. The conquest was achieved through the daring as well as brilliant pre-meditated tactics of Epaminondas, a Theban general, who smashed the Spartan hoplites and put to rest the myth of indestructibility that Sparta had been boasting about centuries.
In 336 B.C. the notorious Alexander the Great assumed a leadership role in Macedonia. He was considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses in history. He became an inspiration for later conquerors such as Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Hannibal the Carthaginian as well as Napoleon. His reign from 336 to 323 B.C. had come to pass as a momentous event for his citizens for it would later change the face of both Europe and Asia forever. He was already a charismatic and decisive leader at the age of 22 and harnessed the Macedonian forces in no time.
Given the fact this was the century that Alexander the Great lived, it’s understandable that there were more than one historical events involving him. He led a great army across the Hellespont in Asia in 334 B.C. As his ship reached the Asia Minor’s coast, he threw his spear and stuck it in the ground. He then declared that entire Asia would be conquered by the Macedonian spear.
The famous Battle of Issus then took place in 333 B.C. when the Macedonian’s forces encountered the Persian army under the command of King Darius III at Issus. Despite the fact that Darius’ forces outnumbered the Macedonian’s at the time. But Alexander and his soldiers managed to win in a big victory. Many Persians were killed making King Darius fled in panic leaving his family behind. However, Alexander treated them with respect out of consideration of their royalty. He went on to fulfill his claim and managed to conquer the Persian empire of western Asia as well as Egypt.
The famous Greek mathematician, Eratosthenes, did his phenomenal thing of measuring the circumference of the Earth circa 276 B.C. He did it by comparing the shadow of the sun at noon during Summer Solstice at Syene and Alexandria. Familiar with the distance between the two, he went on to calculate the circumference of the Earth. The Sun shone into a well at Syene at noon. At Alexandria, the angle of inclination of the sun measured up to 7 degrees. With this knowledge along with knowing that Syenes was roughly 787 km due south of Alexandria, he calculated the earth’s circumference to be 250,000 stadia which translates to 24,662 miles.
It was also in the 3rd century that the Great Wall of China began to rise. The Qin dynasty (475 B.C. – 221 B.C.) built the Wall as a way to prevent northern invaders from coming in. He used conscripted farm labor to build the wall and the wall that is measured to 868 km long stands imposingly until today.
The Macedonian Wars also took place sometime in 214 B.C. when Rome declared war on the Macedonians. However, major operations only began to take place in 211 B.C. It’s believed that the Greeks had been otherwise engaged during the first Macedonian war. Their own Social War lasted for three years when Philip suddenly wished to make peace with Aetolia. The second Macedonian war, however, began as a power play between Macedonia and the Seleucids of Syria, with the weaker region powers suffering in the crossfire. The second war ended with Rome freeing Greece from Philip and Macedonia. Therefore, the third war occurred on the event of avenging on Philip’s son, Perseus, who had managed to move against the Greeks. The war culminated on its fourth battle that was caused by a Macedonian rebellion. It was due to this war that Rome eventually stayed in Macedonia and inevitably made both Epirus and Macedonia a Roman province. The aftermath of the war involves the Greeks’ Achaean trying to get rid of the Romans.
The most famous ancient historical event that took place in the 2nd century was probably the first Servile War in which Sicilian slaves revolted against Rome. It occurred in 135 B.C. where a slave-born named Eunus led the slaves of the eastern part of Sicily. Note that, roughly 20% of the people in Rome were slaves at the time. The second Revolt was led by a slave named Salvius where he led the slaves in the east of Sicily. The movement lasted for four year due to slow action on the part of Rome. Maybe the most famous revolt is one that was led by Spartacus. It was due to his notable position as a gladiator at the time.
The life of the Gracchi Brothers is also noteworthy. These Roman brothers that consist of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus tried to reform the Political and Social structure in Rome in order to help the lower classes in the 2nd century. They were politicians who represented the commoners in the Roman government. Their socialist reforms ended up in the increasing violence in the Roman Senate as well as continuing oppression of the poor. However, many centuries later, their ideas eventually spawned progressive movements in governments all around the world.
The first century is when the notorious Julius Caesar came to prominence. The life of Julius Caesar was full of life-shattering events and therefore significant in terms of historical events. Whether you are a literature geek or not, you’ve probably heard about Julius Caesar once in passing. He has come to be one of the most important figures in world history. He was a great ruler and military leader for he managed to pull two rivals together, Pompey and Crassus, to form the 1st Triumvirate. Some of his accomplishments included the time he fixed the severely out-of-sync Roman calendar, became the first Roman to invade Britain and conquered the Gauls. He also initiated a civil war and wrote about it. His entire life had always been the subject of controversy right to the day he was assassinated. As an aristocrat, he appealed to society and threatened the security of the Roman nobility.
If any event deserves to be considered as significant as the life of Julius Caesar, then it should be the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a Jewish religious leader that later on became a central figure in Christianity. While Christians regard him as God himself, Muslims consider him as a Prophet of God. Jesus was born sometime around 4 B.C. His influence shaped pretty much the entire Western civilization, and you are inclined to believe even if you are not religious. Jesus started his public ministry when he was 30 years old around the Sea of Galilee. His powerful teachings about God and the love for humanity eventually spread throughout the region which caused the local people and the Roman rulers to keep an eye on him. In the span of months, he gained thousands of followers around Jerusalem and it continued to grow until his disciples in the Mediterranean referred to themselves as “Christians”. Today, Christianity is one of the official religions in the world.
This list is definitely incomplete but since its main purpose is to give you the guide to explore the ancient historical events, then this should suffice and thus making it a fine place for you to start your own exploration of the ancient world without making you feel overwhelmed. You can find many consequent events that arose from each aforementioned major event and make your own connection among them. You are free to use this timeline in one of two ways: consult it often to the point you know the sequence of events or you can memorize dates and names. Both, of course, have their virtues. You have total freedom to adapt this thread for your own personal use by adding to this list and this action is highly encouraged and recommended as you still have plenty of verifiable dates to discover. Just keep in mind that many of these events are only traditional and approximate. This is particularly true of the events before Rome and Greece. On the bright side, you now know which one came first: Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar and when the first human civilization occurred, and so on.