History isn’t hard. It’s just stories. Lots of stories. And remembering some dates is important, too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to recall the approximate date for the beginning of the universe, or the invention of fire, or the first known appearance of Homo sapiens on the spot but could not. Knowing a few key dates is hugely important to your understanding of the world. It provides a framework that you can build on as needed. Below is that framework.
That said, I am not the world’s biggest fan of the timeline. Other than the basic one below, in this book historical terms and concepts are chunked into four broad categories instead: ancient history, the Middle Ages, early modern times and modern times. If you know which of these historical periods an event occurred in, you will have a “good enough” understanding of its context for casual conversation and application.
Note that many dates given here are approximate, tentative and rounded.
BASIC WORLD HISTORY OVERVIEW
Prehistory: All history that took place prior to the first cities, civilizations, and writing. Prehistory ended around 10,000 BCE.
Recorded history: History that took place after the invention of writing. It began around 10,000 BCE and continues into the present.
- Beginning of time, the earth and hominids (14 billion BCE to 3 million BCE)
- The Stone Age (including the Paleolithic Era and the Mesolithic Era and the beginning of the Neolithic Era) (3 million BCE to 10,000 BCE)
- The rest of the Neolithic Era (10,000 BCE to 3,000 BCE)
- Ancient times (including the Bronze Age and the Iron Age) (3,000 BCE to 500 CE)
- The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
- Early modern times (including the Colonial Period, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and more) (1500 CE to 1900 CE)
- The modern era (the 1900s)
The Stone Age: A general term for the prehistorical era after Homo sapiens began using stone tools (around 3000 BCE) and before they engaged in metal work in a widespread manner. The Stone Age encompasses the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras and ended at roughly the start of ancient times (3,000 BCE), when the Bronzeron Age began.
The Paleolithic Era: The historical era that began with the evolution of the species Homo sapiens in which these and other hominids primarily survived through big-game hunting.
The Mesolithic Era: The historical era between the Paleolithic Era and the Neolithic Era when humans lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribal lifestyle
The Neolithic Era: The historical era that began when humans discovered farming (around 10,000 BCE) and, with this location-stable food supply, began to settle into towns. The end of the Neolithic Era took place at approximately the beginning of ancient times (around 3,000 BCE).
The Bronze Age: The historical era that began when humans learned how to forge metal, particularly bronze, which was particularly useful in weaponry. The Bronze Age usually refers to ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Egyptian history.
The Iron Age: The historical era that began when humans began replacing much of their bronze work with iron work instead. Iron allowed for lighter, cheaper weaponry, which resulted in a more widespread use of it and more battles.
Ancient history: The historical period from the beginning of recorded history (around 3,000 BCE) to the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500 CE).
The Middle Ages: The historical period from the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500 CE) to the discovery of the New World (around 1500 CE).
Early modern times: The historical period from the discovery of the new world (around 1500 CE) to 1900 CE.
The modern era: The historical period of the 1900s, marked by industrialism, globalism, rapid technological advancement and world war.
Outline of world eras: The terms Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, Paleolithic Era, Mesolithic Era and Neolithic Era are all very rough constructs. Since they’re defined by their technological developments, they took place at different times in different places of the world. However, a rough timeline is as follows:
BASIC WORLD HISTORY TIMELINE
The Beginning of Time
14 billion BCE: The Big Bang occurred
4.5 billion BCE: The Earth formed
4 billion BCE: The first living organisms formed
3.5 billion BCE: LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, formed
7 million BCE: Hominids evolved
The Stone Age
300,000 BCE: Homo sapiens began using stone tools and the Paleolithic Era began
10,000s BCE: Farming began, the first towns (proto-cities) were built and the Neolithic Era began
8,000s BCE: Mesopotamian and Chinese agriculture began
6000s BCE: Indus River Valley agriculture began and metalworking (copper and gold) began
4000s BCE: Mesoamerican and Central American agriculture began
Ancient Times (3000 BCE to 500 CE)
3,000s BCE: The first civilization (the Sumerian Empire, in Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) was founded; the Egyptian Empire (on the Nile River) began; writing was invented (cuneiform in Mesopotamia and hieroglyphics in Egypt) and recorded history began
2000s BCE: The Indus River Valley civilization began; the Chinese civilization began on the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers; the Mayan culture began; the Chavin culture began; bronze metalworking began; the Babylonian Empire and the Akkadian Empire defeated the Sumerian Empire in turn [?]
1600s BCE: The Shang Dynasty founded
1500s BCE: The Phoenician people arose
1200s BCE: The Hebrew people arose
900s BCE: The Assyrian Empire claimed much of Mesopotamia
700s BCE: The first Greek city-states were founded
500s BCE: The Roman Republic was founded; the Persian Empire claimed Mesopotamia and beyond; Buddha lived and taught; Muhammad lived and taught
400s BCE: Athens and Sparta were at their cultural height
300s BCE: Alexander the Great claimed Greece, Mesopotamia and parts of India for Macedon, creating the Macedonian Empire; the Fujiwara Dynasty arose in Japan
200s BCE: The Qin Dynasty took power; the Mayas were at their peak power
100 BCE to 100 CE: Julius Caesar became the first dictator of Rome; Jesus Christ lived and taught; the Roman Empire replaced the Roman Republic under Augustus Caesar (Octavian)
400s CE: The Byzantine Empire formed and the Roman Empire came to an end
The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
600s CE: The Tang Dynasty ushered in China’s Golden Age
800s CE: Vikings began exploring and raiding; the Toltec culture arose; the Maori culture arose; the aborigine culture arose
1000s and 1100s CE: The Crusades took place
1200s and 1300s CE: Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan led the Mongolian Empire; the Aztec Empire began
1300s CE: The Ottoman Empire was founded; the Black Plague occurred
1400s CE: The Gutenberg Press went into use; the Incan Empire began; Constantinople fell, ending the Byzantine Empire; Russia began to unify
Early Modern Times (1500 CE to 1900 CE)
1492 CE: Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas
1500s CE: Amerigo Vespucci landed in South America and created the first map of the New World; the colonization of South America began; the African slave trade greatly increased; the Ottoman Empire was at its peak; the Elizabethan Era began; the Protestant Reformation began; North American exploration began
1600s CE: The Pilgrims settled Plymouth Colony; the colonization of North America began; the Edo Period began in Japan; the steam engine was invented
1700s CE: The Enlightenment began; Peter the Great unified Russia; Australian colonization began; the French Revolution occurred; the Industrial Revolution began
1776 CE: America declared independence from Great Britain by issuing the Declaration of Independence, starting the American Revolution
1800s CE: The South American colonies gained independence from their colonial rulers one by one; the Scramble for Africa (African colonization) occurred; the Victorian Era began; the Opium Wars took place; the first transcontinental railroad opened; Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb; the Wright Brothers invented the airplane
The Modern Era (1900 CE to the Present)
1900s CE: Henry Ford invented the Model T; Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity; the Australian gold rush began; the dynasties ended in China and were replaced with the Republic of China
1914-1918 CE: World War I occurred
1920s CE: The first modern television was invented
1929 CE: The Wall Street crash set off the Great Depression
1933 CE: The Holocaust began
1930s CE: The Spanish Civil War occurred
1939-1945 CE: World War II occurred
1941 CE: The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, spurring the U.S. to join World War II
1945 CE: The U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Japan; the Holocaust ended; penicillin was made available to the public
1940s CE: The League of Nations was founded; India gained independence from Britain
1950 CE: The Korean War occurred; the USSR developed atomic weapons and the Cold War began; apartheid began in South Africa; the civil rights movement began; the Vietnam War began; space travel began
1969 CE: People landed on the moon for the first time
1970s CE: The Vietnam War ended
1989 CE: Pro-democracy student demonstrations were violently quashed at Tiananmen Square in China; the Berlin Wall fell
1990s CE: The Gulf War occurred
2001 CE: Middle eastern terrorist group Al-Queda attacked New York City on September 11
2008 CE: Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States
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