The ancient Assyrian Empire rose from the collapse of the Sumerian civilization in the northern heart of the Mesopotamian cradle around 2500 BC. They worshipped the god Ashur, which was also used as the name of one of their largest founding cities.
The Assyrian Empire was old with a long lineage of kings stretching out over multiple ages – Old Assyrian, Middle Assyrian, and Neo Assyrian.
They were known for their aggressive military, skills in early siege warfare and one of the first elaborate provincial bureaucracies.
Over its many iterations the Assyrians fought the mighty Hittite Empire (the successor of the Hattian Empire in the same region) to the West and traded occupation with Babylon. At the height of its empire (671 BC) Assyria even conquered Egypt, only to fall less than century later with the sack of its capital Nineveh at the hands of a resurgent Babylon.
Though the cuneiform script was invented by the Sumerians, the Semitic Akkadian cuneiform, the main language for the Assyrians, was well spread in Mesopotamia. Later it was replaced by the Phoenician alphabet, which finally transformed into our current-day alphabet.
The famous Assyrian sculpture was incomparable during its time. One of the most iconic being the massive lamassus, the half man, half lion or bull with phoenix wings that could be found on either side of the large gates, represented a protective deity for the city.
In 626 BC the Assyrian empire was rapidly conquered by Babylonian armies, which eventually led to the end of the civilization a few years later.
The city of Carthage was said to have been founded in 814 BC by Phoenician traders. Initially a simple maritime trading outpost, Carthage’s influence grew steadily and within 300 years had spread its influence across the Mediterranean and establishing a reputation as a naval powerhouse.
The Carthaginian culture was focused on maritime trade – with bustling commercial hubs and multiple trading posts and colonies spread throughout Africa, Sicily and Southern Iberia.
Carthage’s textiles and dyes were famous throughout the ancient world and its ship making technology was unsurpassed for centuries. Carthage was also infamous for its practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world, the practice of which has been often the center of modern debate.
Carthaginian influence, fed by its mercantile dominance of the seas, spread as far as Spain and its consolidation of power on the African continent resulted in either the enslavement or subjection of all of its neighboring African civilizations. It was one of the longest lived and largest of the ancient empires around the Mediterranean Sea.
Within the 5th century BC, Carthage began to enter into conflict with larger powers starting with the Sicilian Greek states. From 480 BC to 307 BC multiple campaigns were fought for control of the island of Sicily, culminating with Carthage eventually controlling most of the island.
Carthage’s most famous conflict, however, also resulted in its total destruction. From 246 BC to 146 BC Carthage entered into conflict with the Roman Republic. After three exhausting wars Carthage finally fell to Rome with the City of Carthage being burnt to the ground and its remaining population either killed or sold into slavery.
The Celts ruled northern and central Europe from around 750 BC to 12 BC. The word Celt comes from the Greek ‘Keltoi’. Though the origin is not clear, some believe it literally translates to ‘the barbarians’, where others think they were called ‘the tall ones’.
The Hallstatt culture in central Europe (800–450 BC) were the first people described to have a Celtic culture.
But the late Celtic people (450 BC up to the Roman conquest) shared a common language and inhabited a large part of Northern Europe, all of Britain, France, part of the Iberian peninsula, and more east up modern day Turkey.
Later, the upcoming Romans drove back the Celtic tribes and, by 500 AD, they only controlled the area of Ireland and northwest Britain.
The Hallstatt culture was known for its agriculture and ironworking. Tribal warfare appears to have been a regular feature of Celtic societies. Just like other cultures of that time, slave trade was a very common thing for the Celts with slaves being taken during war as plunder. The Celts also had a complex monetary system composed of all kinds of metallic objects made up of bronze, silver and gold.
Like other European Iron Age tribal societies, the Celts practiced a polytheistic religion. Rites and sacrifices based around a calendar were carried out by priests known as druids.
While Rome was known to have had the largest western empire, no civilization can match the Egyptians in longevity. Starting with the unification of the upper and lower Nile kingdom around 3100 BC, the ancient Egyptians have always existed in the ancient era.
Founded in one of the most fertile river plains of the ancient world, the river Nile in northeast Africa, the ancient Egyptians developed some of the most advanced agricultural systems in order to deal with the recurring floods.
The mastery of this technology, along with some of the first ever written records in hieroglyphics, allowed Egypt to become one of the largest and most stable of the ancient civilizations.
The Egyptians first achievements were many – written records, advanced architecture and monuments, ancient astronomy and calendars and even rudimentary surgery. The Egyptians also had one of the most complex and detailed religions where each Pharaoh (‘King’) was a deity unto himself (theocracy).
For almost 2000 years the Egyptians mostly ruled their own destiny reaching a peak with military control over all their neighbors. The massive pyramids and monuments represent the power of the pharaohs to date. Over the next thousand years until the end of the ancient era Egypt’s power wanes as they came under the control of the Assyrians, Greeks, Persians and eventually the Romans. Even under these military and political conquests Egyptian culture remained remarkably intact until the introduction of monotheism.
The Hattian culture was born in the heart of modern day Turkey and began around 2300 BC. Initially a group of city states loosely unified under religious kings the empire gradually consolidated under the capital of Hattusa. The Hattian Empire was mentioned multiple times in the bible and was a constant trading partner and competitor of Akkad and then Babylon.
Approximately around 1600 BC the Hattian culture was replaced by the Hittites, who absorbed the existing Hatti into their own empire.
The Hittites were ruled by a priest king who worshiped similar gods and kept the same capital Hattusa.
Over the next 450 years the Hittite Empire went through various periods of expansion and retraction, at one point reaching the northern Levant. The early history was filled will conflict with Babylon while the later years saw constant tension and conflict between the kingdoms of Assyria and Egypt. Finally the empire of the Hittites succumbed to the pressure of multiple conflicts eventually falling into Assyrian hands by 1250 BC.
While their art and literature seemed rudimentary, the Hittites are known for their detailed and advanced laws addressing everything from criminal to civil issues. At the height of their power their logistical and military capabilities were nearly unmatched.
The Ancient Greek period started around 2000 BC and flourished at 800 BC. Hellenistic Greece lasted between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of the classical Greek heartlands by the Roman Republic around 146 BC. Though the Romans did not replace the Hellenistic culture, the conquest of the Hellenistic land meant the end of Greek political independence in that period.
In ancient times, the Greek culture was spread all across the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, bringing trade, culture, language and religion abroad.
The Greeks were famous for their city states, cultural ascendancy and many historical advances. Alexander the Great even expanded his empire and pushed Hellas culture into Egypt, and India in the Far East.
Their architecture and sculpture was so well known and respected all over the region, that the Romans assimilated the style in their own culture, and even transformed the Greek gods into their own similar pantheon. 1500 years later, during the renaissance, the Greek architecture and art was still the height of excellence with it’s works still mimicked and adapted across Europe.
The decline of Greece began when several wars divided the empire and the Roman finally invaded the entire original Greek mainland.
The exact origin of the Iberians is uncertain. At least from the 6th century BC but possibly as early as 5000 BC the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula were influenced by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. These peoples spoke the Iberian language from the 7th to the 1st century BC.
The exact origin of the Iberians is uncertain.
At least from the 6th century BC but possibly as early as 5000 BC the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula were influenced by the Phoenicians and the Greeks. These peoples spoke the Iberian language from the 7th to the 1st century BC.
In the centuries preceding Carthaginian and Roman conquests, Iberian settlements grew in social complexity, exhibiting evidence of social stratification and urbanization aided by trading contacts with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians. Iberian pottery and metalwork has been found as far as France, Italy, and North Africa. The settlement of Castellet de Banyoles in Tivissa (currently Catalonia) was one of the most important ancient Iberian settlements.
The Iberians adopted wine and olives from the Greeks. Iberian society was divided into different classes, including kings or ‘regulus’, nobles, priests, artisans and slaves. Mining was also very important for their economy, especially the silver mines near Gader and Carthago Nova, the iron mines in the Ebro valley, as well as the exploitation of tin and copper deposits. They produced fine metalwork and high quality iron weapons such as the falcata.
The Iberians produced sculpture in stone and bronze, most of which was much influenced by the Greeks and Phoenicians, and other cultures such as Assyrian, Hittite and Egyptian influences. Iberian warriors were widely employed by Carthage and Rome as mercenaries and auxiliary troops.
After the Second Punic War and Roman invasion, finally around 16 BC the Iberian culture as it was ceased to exist.
One of the oldest Western civilizations, Minoa rose to prominence approximately 2700 BC on the island of Crete. As a mercantile empire the Minoan civilization spread from its source island across the Grecian peninsula, establishing colonies all over the Cyclades and as far east as Rhodes.
The Minoan civilization was known for its massive palaces that were scattered across Crete. Sometimes four stories high and with over a thousand rooms these massive structures had new technological advances such as sewage systems and aqueducts.
These palaces were so large they were said to have inspired the legend of the labyrinth of Knossos and the Minotaur.
There is some debate as to if the Minoan culture was primary ruled by women (matriarchal) as much of the frescos and artwork seems to depict women in positions of power. Uniquely, Minoa was known as one of the most peaceful ancient empires as warfare is rarely depicted and the use of arms/weapons could be argued to be purely ceremonial in nature.
The Minoan Empire lasted until approximately 1400 BC when it fell victim to tsunamis and earthquakes as a result of the massive volcanic eruption on the island of Thera. It finally collapsed entirely under the weight of Mycenaean invaders from Greece.
Legend has it that the ancient city of Rome was founded on 753 BC by half-divine twins raised by a she-wolf. The city at the heart of the Italian peninsula began as a kingdom struggling against a host of aggressive neighbors, but within 250 years transitioned to an oligarchic republic ruled by twin consuls. Over the next nearly 500 years the Roman republic embarked on a series of expansions which made the empire the largest ever in the Western ancient world
Starting with the consolidation of the Italian peninsula, Rome devoured or subjected its direct neighbors.
Soon conflict for Sicily brought it into direct conflict with the the maritime naval empire of Carthage. Over the course of three wars from 264 BC to 146 BC Rome matured into a formidable provincial empire completely defeating Carthage and establishing itself as the premier power in the Mediterranean.
Subsequent wars saw the republic consume the entire Grecian peninsula, Iberia, much of the Celtic tribes of Northern Europe and even the last vestiges of the ancient empire of Egypt. Eventually the corruption and sprawl of the provincial empire proved too much for the republic and after a civil war it was replaced by a dynastic imperial empire started by Julius Caesar and then solidified by Augustus in 27 BC.
Over the next 200 years the Roman Empire consolidated power and saw its expansion grow even further. Under most of the early emperors Rome saw its golden age as wealth poured into the city and the military might of its legions suppressed any hints of rebellion. Eventually, however, under later emperors the empire began to shrink due to corruption, mismanagement and a host of external forces. The empire split entirely between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires in 395 BC and with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 BC the empire as we knew it was gone.
Rome’s legacy is woven into most of the empires of the West and Rome is often considered to have reached the pinnacle military and civic capabilities of the ancient world.
Babylon was the capital city of Babylonia, an Akkadian-speaking state in southern ancient Mesopotamia. Starting as a small provincial town during the Akkadian Empire, king Hammurabi eventually expanded Babylon into the world’s largest city of its time. The famous Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Babylonians and their predecessors, the Sumerians, are known for many developments, among which are the first map, the cuneiform script, agriculture, urbanization, time measurement and the potter’s wheel.
After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire until it was overthrown by several other empires.
Dravidians are the speakers of any of the Dravidian languages with its roots in present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, where the true origin is difficult to reconstruct.
Theatre-dance traditions have a long and varied history within the region, as well as martial arts and sword fighting. Ancient Dravidian religion combined an animistic and non-Vedic form of belief.
The fall of the Indus Valley Civilization and eastward migration and mixture with the peoples in those regions is sometimes called Dravidianization. Several empires rose and fell in the region afterward, mixing and dividing cultures and traditions along the way.
Indus Valley Civilization
The Harappan civilization, or Indus Valley civilization, was one of the earliest and for its time the most widespread civilization during the Early Bronze Age. It covered large parts of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of northwestern India. It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, growing large cities such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
The civilization’s cities were noted for their urban planning, baked brick houses, water systems, and crafts like metallurgy and seal carving. The civilization is often compared with the Elam and Minoan Crete due to its isolated cultural parallels such as the worship of goddesses and bull leaping.
Gradual aridification of the region eventually reduced the water supplies to such an extent that it caused the civilization’s demise and drove its scattered population eastward.
The Kushan Empire was a syncretic empire in the Bactrian territories. Kanishka the Great and the Kushans in general were great patrons of Buddhism, as well as Zoroastrianism and played a major role in the establishment of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent and its spread to Central Asia.
The Kushan dynasty had diplomatic contacts with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire and the Han dynasty of China.
While much philosophy, art, and science was created within its borders, the only textual record of the empire’s history today comes from inscriptions and accounts in other languages.
After fragmentation due to attacks in the western and eastern parts of the empire, the Kushans eventually were overwhelmed by various raiders from the north, which led to the final destruction.
The Maurya Empire, founded by Chandragupta Maurya, was an extensive power based in Magadha. The empire was the largest political entity that has existed in the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta Maurya rapidly conquered the region westwards by conquering the provinces left by Alexander the Great and by defeating Seleucus I.
The Mauryans are responsible for the Grand Trunk Road, one of Asia’s oldest and longest trade networks, connecting the north of the Indian subcontinent from east to west.
They were known for intensive trading, agriculture, herbal medicine and an efficient system of finance.
The empire grew even larger under Ashoka the Great, but after his rule it declined for years and it finally dissolved into the Shunga dynasty.
Nubians are people with origins in present-day Sudan and Egypt, who have formed one of the earliest cradles of civilization. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the kingdom of Kush.
In prehistoric times, the people created one of the oldest known pottery in the world as well as astronomical megaliths predating Stonehenge. Trading with Egypt included export of gold and import of copper, beads and seals. The Egyptians described them as excellent archers.
Due to pressure from Assyrians and Egyptians, the capital moved from Napata to Meroë, where at its peak, the rulers controlled the Nile Valley from north to south. A Roman invasion of Egypt led to serious decline, while actual loss of trade routes and desertification eventually resulted in the fall of the Kingdom of Kush.
After the death of Alexander The Great, east of the Caspian Sea a nomadic Scythian tribe established themselves as a superpower: the Parthians. The tribe overtook the Seleucid Empire, founded by Seleucid I, one of Alexander’s great generals.
The Royal Road proved an important and lucrative trade route between east and west.
This also influenced their architecture with circular and frontal motifs and the use of domes, incorporating Greek, Roman and Indian styles.
Key to the Parthian expansion were their unique and extremely successful fighting tactics. They withstood Roman attacks in the west while steadily growing their empire to the east. Imagining themselves as invulnerable, the downfall eventually began with both external invasions and internal dissension.
The first Persian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, was founded by Cyrus the Great in present-day Iran. In its heyday, the empire ranged from the Balkans to the Indus Valley, which was considerably larger than any empire in history before.
The empire is most notable for its model of centralized administration, multicultural policy, road systems, the use of an official language across its territories, and, last but not least, the development of a large professional army.
The main religion of ancient Persia was the native Zoroastrianism.
Alexander the Great eventually conquered most of the empire. Upon his death most of the territory fell under the rule of the Seleucid Empire.
The Sabaeans were an ancient people of south Arabia who founded the kingdom of Saba, the biblical land of Sheba, the true origin of which is under debate. Very early in history the leaders managed to occupy most of the southern Arabian territory.
The Sabaeans were involved in the extremely lucrative spice trade, especially incense and myrrh. They left behind many inscriptions in the Musnad script, as well as the related cursive Zabūr script.
Although the kingdom was initially conquered by the Himyarite kingdom, a new and different Sabaean dynasty reestablished after the disintegration of the first Himyarites. Years later, a second overthrow by the Himyarites meant the final decline of the Sabaean kingdom.