history map of Middle East 3500BC

Middle East
- 3500BC

Farming has been established for thousands of years in the Middle East, and in the river valleys of ancient Mesopotamia the first true civilization in world history of mankind is appearing, that of the Sumerians.

The Sumerians live in large communities of many thousands of people - the first cities. Along with many other advances they are developing the techniques of writing, on which most future human progress will depend.

A second civilization is also beginning to emerge, that of Ancient Egypt in the Nile Valley.

Next map: Middle East 2500 BC

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history map of Middle East 2500BC

Middle East
3500BC - 2500BC

In the previous thousand years, the influence of Mesopotamian civilization has spread far and wide, carried by the trade networks radiating outwards from the Sumerian cities. Towns and cities are now scattered over a large part of the Middle East, with outlying regions such as Asia Minor and Iran being drawn into the orbit of urban civilization.

The second great civilization of the ancient world is now well established. Situated in the Nile valley, Egypt has already produced some of the most famous structures in all history, the great Pyramids of Giza.

Next map: Middle East 1500 BC

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history map of Middle East 1500BC

Middle East
2500BC - 1500BC

The past thousand years have seen many upheavals in the Middle East, particularly in Mesopotamia and surrounding regions. Tribes from the fringes of the old civilizations have come in to create new states and empires: the Hittite, Mitanni and Babylonian empires are ruled by Indo-European speakers from the north and east. These states are joined by the New Kingdom of Egypt to form the leading powers of the region.

These centralized states are home to highly sophisticated - and already ancient - civilizations, with a complex commercial life, bureaucracies, and well-organized armies based on a new technology, the chariot. The struggles between them dominate the history of the Middle Eastern world at this period.

Next map: Middle East 1000 BC

Read more on this high point of ancient Middle Eastern history

history map of Middle East 1000BC

Middle East
1500BC - 1000BC

Over the past 500 years, great changes have wracked the Middle East. The old powers of the ancient Middle East - Egypt, the Hittites, Assyria and Babylon - have all been devastated by invaders from outside their borders. The eclipse of these states has allowed new peoples, particularly the Phoenicians and Israelites, to come to the fore. Their achievements will have an enduring impact on world history.

Several major advances in civilization have taken place in region in recent centuries. Firstly, iron has come into widespread use, probably starting somewhere in Asia Minor. Secondly, the alphabet has been developed, again probably in Asia Minor but soon to be spread by Phoenician merchants around the Mediterranean and Middle East. A third occurrence of world significance is the appearance of the monotheism, carried into history by the Israelite tribes. Finally, the camel has been domesticated recently. This tough animal is helping new trade routes across the Arabian desert to come into use.

Next map: Middle East 500 BC

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history map of Middle East 500BC

Middle East
1000BC - 500BC

The history of the Middle East over the past 500 years or so has been one of imperial powers following one another in succession: first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians and Medes, and now the Persian empire, the largest state in the history of the Ancient World. This now covers the entire region and beyond. The Lydians, Phrygians and Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, the Phoenicians and Jews (newly restored to their homeland) of Syria and the Levant, the Egyptians, the Babylonians of Mesopotamia, and the different Iranian peoples, are now all under one regime.

This succession of great empires – and the policy that the Assyrians and Babylonians pursued of re-settling conquered peoples in scattered groups throughout their territories - has resulted in the upheaval of populations on a large scale. As a result, old languages have vanished and Aramaic has become the lingua-franca of the region. With its simple-to-learn alphabet (compared with older cuneiform scripts), this has greatly stimulated international trade and inter-regional communications.

Middle Eastern civilization, by now three millennia old in its Mesopotamian heartland, has reached new heights.

Next map: Middle East 200 BC

Read more on these great empires of the Middle East

  • Iraq


    The historic kingdoms of Mesopotamia have now fallen under the power of the Persian empire

    click to view Iraq 500BC
  • Iran


    Iran, the centre of the great Persian empire

    click to view Iran 500BC
  • Turkey


    For centuries a leading centre of civilization, Asia Minor is now part of the Persian empire

    click to view Turkey 500BC
  • Syria


    The Phoenicians and Israelites have come under the power of a succession of great empires


    click to view Syria 500BC
  • Egypt


    Its ancient glories now in the past, Egypt is now just another province within the Persian empire

    click to view Egypt 500BC
  • Arabia


    Arabia, a region of flourishing civilization and desert nomads

    click to view Arabia 500BC
  • Europe


    The Iron Age Celts and their relatives dominate much of Europe, whilst in the Mediterranean lands a number of brilliant city-state civilizations, above all the Greeks, are now flourishing

    click to view Europe 500BC
  • Africa


    With the decline of Egyptian civilization, Nubia is emerging as an independent civilization; and in West Africa Bantu Iron-Age farmers are beginning to spread out across the continent

    click to view Africa 500BC
  • India and South Asia

    India and South Asia

    City-based civilization is reappearing in India; this process is accompanied by developments leading to the founding of a great new religion, Buddhism

    click to view India and South Asia 500BC
history map of Middle East 200BC

Middle East
500BC - 200BC

The past few centuries have seen the huge Persian empire conquered in a series of brilliant campaigns by the young Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, between 333 and 323 BC. These campaigns involved armies largely recruited from amongst the city-states of Greece.

Alexander’s empire failed to survive his early death, and his generals, together with some local princes, divided his conquests amongst themselves. These rulers and their descendants - the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Syria, Mesopotamia and Iran, and various dynasts in Asia Minor -  have founded numerous Greek-style cities, which can now be found scattered across the Middle Eastern world as far as India, and from which the ruling classes of these kingdoms are drawn. In them, Greek cultural traditions mix with more ancient native elements to form a fascinating hybrid civilization which modern scholars label "Hellenistic". It is at this time that some of the most spectacular "Greek" artistic and intellectual achievements occur.


Next map: Middle East 30 BC

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history map of Middle East 30BC

Middle East
200BC - 30BC

Over the past two centuries the Middle East has been divided between two major powers, Rome to the west, which now controls Asia Minor, Syria and Judaea, and Egypt; and Parthia to the east, which rules Mesopotamia and Iran. This political division will characterize the history of the region for several centuries.

The social and cultural division is not so sharp, however. Greek civilization has left its mark on Mesopotamia and other parts of the Middle Eastern world, as a powerful ingredient in a mix containing more ancient cultures. Greek-style (or "Hellenistic") cities thrive under both the Romans and the Parthians, and in both empires art and architecture continue to be deeply effected by Greek influences.

For the Parthians, the threat from steppe nomads in central Asia looms large, and it is in response to this that they have developed the first heavy cavalry in world history.

During these centuries, long-distance trade affecting this region has experienced a major upswing. The Silk Road with eastern Asia came into existence as a major trade route in the late 2nd century BC; and at around the same time the maritime trade to India also experienced major expansion.

Next map: Middle East 200 AD


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history map of Middle East  200AD

Middle East
30BC - 200AD

For the past two hundred years the Middle East has continued to be divided between the hostile empires of Rome and Parthia, with Asia Minor, Syria and Judaea, and Egypt under the firm rule of the Roman empire, and Mesopotamia and Iran under the Parthians. The kingdom of Armenia acts as a buffer between the two, regularly fought over. The Roman empire normally has the better of the fighting, and has launched two major invasions which have penetrated deep into the heartland of the Parthian empire.

Within the Parthian empire, an Iranian "renaissance" is taken place, which promotes Iranian cultural features (seen most clearly in architectural elements such as the cornich and dome) at the expense of alien Greek influences. 

One small part of the Middle East, Judaea, has seen the birth of one of the major religions of world history, Christianity. Later, however, two great rebellions there were crushed by the Romans, and the Jewish people were dispersed from their ancient homeland.

Next map: Middle East 500 AD


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history map of Middle East  500AD

Middle East
200AD - 500AD

The Middle East has remained divided between two superpowers. The Roman empire (now ruled from Constantinople and known to modern scholars as the eastern Roman Empire) rules the western parts of the region, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, while in the eastern parts of the region - Iran and Mesopotama - the Parthian empire has been replaced by a new Persian empire.

The Persian rulers of the Sasanian dynasty have proved more adept at centralizing power more firmly within their own hands than their Parthian predecessors had been; they have also been much more formidable opponents of the Romans. As with the Parthians, however, the Sasanians fear the steppe nomads of central Asia, with their unpredictable ways, a great deal more than they fear the Romans. Recently the steppes have been dominated by a particularly ferocious people, the Huns, who have from time to time inflicted crushing defeats on Persian armies.

The Sasanian monarchs have promoted Zoroastrianism as the state religion, but amongst the population at large Christianity has become the dominant faith - this despite repeated persecution, especially after Christianity has become the religion of the Roman emperors.



Next map: Middle East 750


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history map of Middle East  750AD

Middle East
500AD - 750AD

The past two and a half centuries have seen the map of the Middle East change radically. In the 7th century Arab tribes, united under the banner of a new religion, Islam, swept outwards in a surge of conquests: Iraq and Iran, Syria and Palestine, Egypt and North Africa, Spain - all have fallen to them. Arab armies have penetrated as far as western India in the east and, briefly, France in the west. They have also conquered far into central Asia, where they have made contact with the mighty Chinese empire of the Tang dynasty. Initially these contacts are hostile, but they will soon bear fruit in expanded trade along the Silk Road across inner Asia.

The Persian empire vanished under the onslaught, and the Byzantine empire lost its most valuable provinces. In their place, the Arabs established a vast empire, called the "Caliphate" ("Caliph" means "successor", in this case to the Prophet Muhammed). Up until now it has been ruled from Damascus, in Syria; with a change of dynasty, its capital will very soon become Baghdad, in Iraq.


Next map: Middle East 979

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history map of Middle East  979AD

Middle East
750AD - 979AD

Very soon after 750 Baghdad replaced Damascus as the capital of the Caliphate, shifting the centre of gravity of the Muslim world eastward. Shortly after this the empire began to break up, with Spain, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, western India and much of Iran falling away from Baghdad’s control. By this date, indeed, the Caliphs have ceased to exercise much political power, even in Iraq. They have increasingly taken on a more symbolic role as the focus of Muslim loyalties.

The Muslim world is home to an astonishing cultural life. Technological and scientific developments have come in from China (paper and ceramics) India (the decimal system) and Ancient Greece (in medicine and philosophy, amongst much else), and to all this Arab thinkers make their own distinctive contributions (for example, in optics and algebra). They create a massive body of knowledge which will in due course be passed onto Europeans to form the basis for further advances.

Next map: Middle East 1215

history map of Middle East  1215AD

Middle East
979AD - 1215AD

The preceding two centuries have seen the rise and decline of the Seljuq empire in the Middle East. The Seljuqs were a group of Muslim Turks from central Asia who, swooping down from their homeland, overran Iran, Iraq, Syria and much of Asia Minor, where they took much territory from the Byzantine empire.

The Seljuq empire soon broke up, however, giving way to regional states ruled by sultans of Turkish origin. The sultanate of Rum was the most enduring of these.

Turkish sultans also came to power in Egypt, which had never been conquered by the Seljuqs. These were the Ayyubids, and they have succeeded in conquering up into Syria and far into the Arabian peninsula.

The Seljuq conquests of Jerusalem and of Byzantine territories in Asia Minor led to a succession of military campaigns from Europe which attempted to conquer these areas for Christendom. These "Crusades" met vigorous resistance, and have all but failed. They initially established several small Christian states in Syria and Jerusalem, but the Crusaders now control only a narrow strip of coast. They will soon lose even this.

In recent years, another Muslim Turkish group, the Khwarizm Shah, have taken control of Iran, and the Middle East will soon see new waves of invaders from central Asia.

Meanwhile Islamic learning has continued to flourish, and closer contacts with Europe, which are often hostile but as often peaceful and commercial, are allowing this learning to spread westwards into Christian lands. At the same time Muslim maritime trade with East Africa, South Asia, South East Asia and China has also intensified. This maritime activity leads to improvements in shipbuilding and design, and in navigation, with Muslim sailors developing the astrolabe and learning about the compass from the Chinese.

Next map: Middle East 1453

  • Turkey


    The Turkish sultanate of Rum now rules in Asia Minor

    click to view Turkey 1215AD
  • Egypt


    Egypt is now under the dynasty of the renowned Muslim leader, Saladin

    click to view Egypt 1215AD
  • Syria


    Crusaders from Europe have invaded Syria and Palestine, but have been pushed back to the coast by Saladin

    click to view Syria 1215AD
  • Iraq


    Although Iraq continues to deteriorate, Baghdad is a major centre of Islamic civilization

    click to view Iraq 1215AD
  • Iran


    Iran, now under Turkish rulers

    click to view Iran 1215AD
  • Arabia


    The civilization of southern Arabia has declined, along with the great desert trade routes

    click to view Arabia 1215AD
  • India and South Asia

    India and South Asia

    India has entered a new phase in its history as a Muslim state, the Delhi sultanate, establishes itself over much of the north of the subcontinent


    click to view India and South Asia 1215AD
  • Africa


    In West Africa the spread of trade routes to the south has led to the rise of the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, while in East Africa a string of trading cities are emerging along the coast

    click to view Africa 1215AD
  • Europe


    In Europe, feudalism is at its height, and so is the power of the Church; great military expeditions, called Crusades, are launched against Muslim powers in the Middle East


    click to view Europe 1215AD
history map of Middle East  1453AD

Middle East
1215AD - 1453AD

The previous centuries have seen further invasions from central Asia. From the 1230s, the Middle East came under the rule of the Mongols. They conquered Iran and Iraq, and in 1258 captured Baghdad, killing the last of the Caliphs. Their advance was only stopped by the Mamluq Turks, a group of slave-soldiers who had seized control of Egypt, Syria and western Arabia. They ousted the last Crusader toe-holds on the Syrian coast.

The vast Mongol empire was divided amongst the descendants of Genghis Khan, and the Middle East fell to a branch which became known as the Il-khans. These converted to Islam. However, the usual decline set in, and a number of regional states emerged.

Mongol control of central Asia allowed the trade routes across inner Asia (known as the Silk Road) to flourish as never before, and Muslim traders routinely visited China and the Far East. Back came technologies developed in China and East Asia, notably firearms (Muslim armies soon adopted firearms and used them to greater effect than the Mongols had done), as well as new techniques in ceramic and textile production.

In the 1340s the region was struck by the Black Death, killing a large percentage of its population.

In the late 14th century another conqueror from central Asia, Timur, became master of most of the Middle East, with the major exception of Egypt and Syria, still under the Mamluqs.

Since Timur's death his empire has shrank back to Iran, and Iraq has fallen to another group from central Asia, the Black Sheep Turks.

Meanwhile, Asia Minor has now come under the Ottoman empire. In this year, 1453, the Ottomans capture the great Byzantine capital of Constantinople.

The intellectual climate in the Islamic world has become more hostile to secular learning, especialy that based on non-Muslim foundations. From now on most Muslim intellectual endeavour will be devoted to theological matters.

Next map: Middle East 1648

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history map of Middle East  1648AD

Middle East
1453AD - 1648AD

Over the past two centuries, most of the Middle East has come under the rule of two major powers. The Ottoman empire sent its armies east from Asia Minor to conquer Syria in 1516,  Egypt in 1517, western Arabia (the Hejaz and Yemen) in the following years, and Iraq in 1534. The Ottomans have brought much needed peace and stability to these countries, and a measure of economic progress. To the east has arisen the other major Middle Eastern power, Safavid Iran. Under the Safavids, Iran has experienced a period of great cultural achievement, particularly in architecture.

Next map: Middle East 1789

history map of Middle East  1789AD

Middle East
1648AD - 1789AD

Over the past century, the military garrisons in Syria, Egypt and Iraq, which theoretically answer to the Ottoman sultans in Constantinople, have come to dominate their respective provinces and now govern them as virtually independent states. The Ottoman empire's hold on the region is more apparent than real outside Asia Minor.

Luckily for the Ottomans, Iran has experienced even greater weakness. The Safavid dynasty has fallen from power, and successor regimes have become increasingly unstable. Through all this, the leadership of the Shi'ite branch of Islam has been strengthening its hold on the country.

In Arabia, today's Gulf emirates are being established, and the first Saudi kingdom has appeared.

By this date, Western economic interests are being felt in the region. These will only get stronger.

Next map: Middle East 1837


history map of Middle East  1837AD

Middle East
1789AD - 1837AD

In the last years of the 18th century and the early years of 19th, the decline in the Ottoman empire power became all too apparent. Egypt and Syria came under a break-away regime, and Iraq was governed as a virtually independent state. Now, however, there are signs of a revival. Iraq first, and now, Syria, are being brought back under the firm control of the Ottomans. Egypt, however, has been lost to the Ottomans. It is treated by Western powers as an independent state.

Iran continues to experience weakness and instability.

The small Arab emirates on the Gulf coast are beginning to feel the power of the British navy. In Arabia, the first Saudi kingdom was crushed, and a second one has now appeared.

Next map: Middle East 1871

history map of Middle East  1871AD

Middle East
1837AD - 1871AD

The past decades have seen the lands of the Ottoman empire experience renewed centralized rule, with the provincial elites in Syria and Iraq being brought firmly back under the authority of the sultan's government. Egypt is by now an independent kingdom.

In Iran, weak government and social stagnation continue; while remaining politically independent, the country is coming increasingly under the economic control of Britain. In fact, European (especially British and French) influence is growing throughout the region. The opening of the Suez canal has turned the Middle East into a vital strategic interest for Western powers. The canal is a main thoroughfare for Western trade, as well as an important link in the military chains tying the European powers to their overseas empires in East Africa, India, SE Asia and the Pacific.

Next map: Middle East 1914


history map of Middle East  1914AD

Middle East
1871AD - 1914AD

In recent decades, the Suez canal's immense importance in linking European nations with their empires in East Africa, India, SE Asia and the Pacific has placed the Middle East right at the heart of their concerns. The British, being the leading global power, are at the forefront in establishing their interests in the region. Egypt has now drifted under their political control, as have several small emirates on the Arabian coast. British commercial interests predominate in Iraq and Iran - which is also a target for Russian influence. French commercial influence is strong in Syria.

In the face of these pressures, the Ottoman empire has continued to tighten its control over Anatolia, Syria and Iraq, and is also intent on modernizing its dominions' economies. The Ottoman government seeks to balance British and French influence by developing closer ties with Germany.

In the Arabian peninsula, a third Saudi kingdom has appeared, and this time it will endure. Two further developments which will have a dramatic impact on the coming decades in the region are the arrival of Jews in increasing numbers in Palestine, from the 1880s onwards, and the discovery of oil in Arabia, in 1901.

Next map: Middle East 1960

history map of Middle East  1960AD

Middle East
1914AD - 1960AD

The decades since 1914 have been ones of great change for the Middle East.

The Ottoman empire sided with Germany and Austria in World War 1 (1914-8), and afterwards was broken up amongst the nations of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. All except Turkey and Saudi Arabia were at first under British or French control. Iraq became independent in 1933.

After World War 2, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan became independent. In 1948 the British left Palestine, under fire from both Arabs and Jews. The Jews declared the independent state of Israel. Bitter fighting between Jews and Arabs followed, but Israel continued in being.

The politics of most Middle Eastern states has been autocratic, and frequently unstable. They have also been deeply affected by the Cold War, with some (Syria, Egypt) veering towards the pro-Soviet camp and others (the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula, Turkey, Iraq and Iran) towards the West. Israel, on the whole pro-West, has retained a western-style parliamentary system.

The oil industry is transforming many Middle Eastern countries, especially in the Gulf region, giving them hitherto undreamed of wealth.

Next map: Middle East 2005


history map of Middle East  2005AD

Middle East
1960AD - 2005AD

For the Middle East, the last few decades have been troubled ones, dominated by two issues - oil, and Arab-Israeli hostility. Such are their geopolitical importance to the rest of the world that the region has attracted constant global attention, and frequent intervention.

The first of these, oil, has brought economic progress and dazzling modernity to several countries, especially in the Arabian peninsula. The second has directly involved the surrounding countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, and, indirectly, all the countries of the region. It has brought two full-scale wars, in 1967 and 1973, plus several bloody disturbances on - and within - Israel's borders.

Virtually every major episode in the region's recent history has been touched to a greater or lesser extent by these two issues. The rise and fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the Islamic Revolution in Iran, have had their impact multiplied by them. The Arab-Israeli question has made it much harder for Muslim leaders to adopt pro-Western policies, and has given anti-Western terrorist organizations widespread support. Oil wealth has helped finance terrorism, and has impeded the spread of democracy in the region: apart from Israel, Turkey is the only country to have developed a proper parliamentary-style system of government.



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