Teacher Guidance: Classical Civilizations

This is the second of three units of teaching ideas covering ancient and medieval history.



The great classical civilizations, 500 BC – AD 500

This unit addresses

  • chronology
  • change and continuity
  • cause and consequence
  • similarity and difference
  • connections and linkages

It looks at the role of geography and the environment in shaping human society, and asks students to look at technological developments, as well as developments in governmental, economic and belief systems. The unit seeks to give practice in critical thinking skills such as interpretation, analysis and significance.


To provide students with a historical and geographical context for the study of the different classical civilizations;
To explore the distinctive features of these civilizations;
To ask how and why they arose;
To assess how they changed over time;
To discover what belief systems arose in them;
To determine the linkages between them.


Group activity

In groups, students study one of the big regions of the Eastern Hemisphere: Europe, Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, South East Asia. If more groups are required these could focus on the Western hemisphere, North America and South America, and the Pacific.

They do this by going to the world map for 500 BC and following the relevant icon to their region.

They then look at the map (which should be Europe 500 BC, the Middle East 500 BC, South Asia 500 BC and so on) and read the accompanying information, making notes. If they wish to cover a part of the region in more depth, they can click on the relevant icon to access a map and information on that area.

They repeat this exercise for the maps for 200 BC, 30 BC, 200 AD and 500 AD.

They make notes on the following:

- outstanding episodes and events; what states, empires and civilizations rose and fell?

- developments in government and politics, society or economics;

- developments in the realm of religion and ideas;

- developments in technology;

- any features that make civilization here distinctive;

- key individuals - how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? Might they have shaped world history as a whole?


By AD 500, had civilizations in this region influenced civilizations in other regions? If so, how? (If necessary, encourage speculation!).

Did the development of civilization in the region owe anything to developments in other regions?

How might geographical location and environment have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this).

If there is time, and you wish your students to become acquainted with the history of their regions in more depth, they can use the Explore page to access articles on the different civilizations and empires.

We also commend our range of Topic TimeMaps . Current titles for this period include Ancient China, The Rise of Rome, and The Fall of Rome. These will allow students to answer the above questions more fully, and to undertake more in-depth enquiry with the suggestions accompanying each title.

Whole-class wrap up:


The groups prepare and deliver presentations of their regions to the class.




Have a class discussion:

Which major civilizations or empires appeared or vanished?

If there is time, develop a timeline (or perhaps a group of parallel timelines) showing the rise and fall of the major states and empires.

How were civilizations similar or different to one another in their key features?

[List especially similarities and differences between - 

Geography and environment

Political systems

Social systems

Belief systems

Writing systems]

Identify developments or influences which encompassed more than one civilization: did they have one point of origin, or did they develop independently in different parts of the world?

How did they spread? What impact did they have?

If the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific have been covered, spend a bit of time talking about how the civilizations and societies here are different from those of the "Old World" - and think of reasons for these.


Supplementary activity:

Chart the development of belief systems in the major civilizations. Develop a diagram showing the chronology, geographic spread and linkages between the major belief systems.


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