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.
Read the full history of the Middle East
The first city-based civilization in history is appearing in Mesopotamiaclick to view Iraq 3500BC
One of the great civilizations of world history, that of Ancient Egypt, is taking shape in the Nile Valley.click to view Egypt 3500BC
Most of Africa is home to bands of hunter-gatherers, but in the Nile valley, the civilization of Egypt is beginning to emergeclick to view Africa 3500BC
Stone Age farming villages dot the landscape of Europeclick to view Europe 3500BC
In India and South Asia, the foundations are being laid for one of the great civilizations of ancient historyclick to view India and South Asia 3500BC
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.
Read the full history of the Middle East
The Sumerian civilization flourishes in Ancient Mesopotamiaclick to view Iraq 2500BC
Trade is drawing Asia Minor into the orbit of Mesopotamian civilizationclick to view Turkey 2500BC
Iran is home to farmers and nomadsclick to view Iran 2500BC
The lands of Syria and Canaan are home to small cities and important trade routesclick to view Syria 2500BC
By this date Ancient Egypt has developed one of the great civilizations of world history.click to view Egypt 2500BC
Europe is still inhabited by Stone Age farming peoples. Tribes speaking Indo-European languages are migrating into the continent from the eastclick to view Europe 2500BC
The civilization of Ancient Egypt now flourishes in the Nile valleyclick to view Africa 2500BC
One of the earliest civilizations in world history has emerged in ancient India, the Indus Valley civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 2500BC
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.
Read more on this high point of ancient Middle Eastern history
Powerful states such as Babylon and the Mitanni now rule Mesopotamiaclick to view Iraq 1500BC
Iran is home to farmers and nomadsclick to view Iran 1500BC
Syria and Canaan are lands of small city-states and migrant nomadsclick to view Syria 1500BC
The Hittite empire in Asia Minor is one of the leading powers of the ageclick to view Turkey 1500BC
The civilization of Ancient Egypt is entering one of the most glorious periods of its historyclick to view Egypt 1500BC
Bronze Age farming cultures now cover most of Europe, and in the south-east, the first European civilizations now flourish in Crete and Greececlick to view Europe 1500BC
While the civilization of Ancient Egypt reaches new heights, farming based on new tropical plants is being pioneered south of the Sahara.click to view Africa 1500BC
The great Indus Valley civilization of ancient India has vanished and a new people, the Aryans, are moving into the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1500BC
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.
Read more about these world-shaping events in Middle Eastern history
Iran is home to farmers and nomadsclick to view Iran 1000BC
The kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon have been greatly weakened by invasions from nomadic tribesclick to view Iraq 1000BC
The Hittite empire has suffered catastrophe at the hands of barbarian invadersclick to view Turkey 1000BC
The Phoenicians and Israelites are peoples who will change historyclick to view Syria 1000BC
After centuries of greatness, the civilization of Ancient Egypt has now entered a long period of decline.click to view Egypt 1000BC
The camel has been domesticated, and trade routes now cross the great deserts of Arabiaclick to view Arabia 1000BC
Major population movements in Europe have caused widespread upheaval, and the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations have vanishedclick to view Europe 1000BC
Farming and cattle herding are spreading in western and central Africaclick to view Africa 1000BC
The Aryan peoples are spreading across northern India; an early form of the Hindu religion, which will be a defining element in Indian civilization, is evolvingclick to view India and South Asia 1000BC
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.
Read more on these great empires of the Middle East
The historic kingdoms of Mesopotamia have now fallen under the power of the Persian empireclick to view Iraq 500BC
Iran, the centre of the great Persian empireclick to view Iran 500BC
For centuries a leading centre of civilization, Asia Minor is now part of the Persian empireclick to view Turkey 500BC
The Phoenicians and Israelites have come under the power of a succession of great empires
click to view Syria 500BC
Its ancient glories now in the past, Egypt is now just another province within the Persian empireclick to view Egypt 500BC
Arabia, a region of flourishing civilization and desert nomadsclick to view Arabia 500BC
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 flourishingclick to view Europe 500BC
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 continentclick to view Africa 500BC
City-based civilization is reappearing in India; this process is accompanied by developments leading to the founding of a great new religion, Buddhismclick to view India and South Asia 500BC
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.
Read more on Alexander the Great's impact on Middle Eastern history
Mesopotamia is now ruled by descendants of one of Alexander the Great's generals, who plant many Hellenistic citiesclick to view Iraq 200BC
Iran - "the land of a thousand cities"click to view Iran 200BC
In the wake of Alexander the Great's conquests, Asia Minor is now divided between several Hellenistic kingdomsclick to view Turkey 200BC
Syria and Judaea are ruled by descendants of one of Alexander the Great's generalsclick to view Syria 200BC
Egypt is now ruled by monarchs descended from one of Alexander the Great's generalsclick to view Egypt 200BC
Trade caravans bring precious spices across the desert from southern Arabiaclick to view Arabia 200BC
The Celts still dominate much of Europe, but a new power, Rome, is on the rise and is now the leading power in the western Mediterraneanclick to view Europe 200BC
Trade routes across the Sahara desert are being pioneered, while, to the south, Bantu farmers continue their swift expansion across the continentclick to view Africa 200BC
India has seen a great empire, the Mauryan, cover much of the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 200BC
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.
Read more about this period of division in the history of the Middle East
Although ruled by the Parthians, Mesopotamia still has many thriving Hellenistic citiesclick to view Iraq 30BC
Iran, the centre of the Parthian empireclick to view Iran 30BC
Asia Minor has fallen under the power of Rome.click to view Turkey 30BC
Syria is now a Roman province, and Judaea is under king Herod the Greatclick to view Syria 30BC
Egyptian independence has come to an end with the death of its famous queen, Cleopatraclick to view Egypt 30BC
Arabian civilization reaches a height of prosperityclick to view Arabia 30BC
With Octavian's victory over Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium, the Roman Empire knows peace at lastclick to view The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire 30BC
The Roman empire now rules much of Europeclick to view Europe 30BC
North Africa is now part of the Roman empire, while in central Africa the Bantu expansion continuesclick to view Africa 30BC
The Mauryan empire fragmented into different kingdoms; since then invaders from the western and central Asia have conquered much of northern and central Indiaclick to view India and South Asia 30BC
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.
Read more on this period of division in the history of the Middle East
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Under Parthian rule, Hellenistic civilization in Mesopotamia gradually gives way to local influencesclick to view Iraq 200AD
Iran, the centre of the Parthian empireclick to view Iran 200AD
The cities of Asia Minor have prospered under the peace which Roman rule has broughtclick to view Turkey 200AD
The Jews have been exiled from their homeland after two great revolts against Romeclick to view Syria 200AD
Egypt is a province of the Roman empireclick to view Egypt 200AD
The civilization of southern Arabia is in declineclick to view Arabia 200AD
The Roman empire has given two centuries of peace to the Mediterranean worldclick to view The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire 200AD
The Roman empire has given much of Europe two centuries of peace and prosperityclick to view Europe 200AD
All of North Africa is now part of the Roman empire, while to the south the Bantu migration continuesclick to view Africa 200AD
The Kushana empire of ancient India is important to world history as a centre for the spread of Buddhismclick to view India and South Asia 200AD
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.
Read more on this period of division in the history of the Middle East
Under Persian rule, Mesopotamia reaches a peak of prosperityclick to view Iraq 500AD
Iran, the centre of the Persian empireclick to view Iran 500AD
The cities of Asia Minor remain prosperous centres of classical civilizationclick to view Turkey 500AD
Syria and Palestine, provinces of the Eastern Roman Empireclick to view Syria 500AD
Egypt is a province of the Eastern Roman Empireclick to view Egypt 500AD
The civilization of southern Arabia has declined, along with the great desert trade routesclick to view Arabia 500AD
The Roman empire has lost its western provinces to barbarian invaders, but the eastern half remains intactclick to view The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire 500AD
The western Roman empire has fallen to German invaders, but the eastern Roman empire remains intactclick to view Europe 500AD
In West Africa the trade routes across the Sahara are expanding, while to the east the powerful kingdom of Ethiopia has emergedclick to view Africa 500AD
This period of India's history has seen the rise of the Gupta dynasty, under whom ancient Indian civilization reaches its peakclick to view India and South Asia 500AD
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.
Arabia has become the springboard for dramatic conquests under the banner of a new religion, Islamclick to view Arabia 750AD
Much of Asia Minor has been devastated by continuous warfareclick to view Turkey 750AD
Syria is the centre of the Islamic Caliphateclick to view Syria 750AD
Egypt has become a province of the Islamic Caliphateclick to view Egypt 750AD
Now under Arab rule, the people of Iraq are allowed to keep their previous religion and customsclick to view Iraq 750AD
Iran, a province of the Arab empire and a centre of opposition to the Umayyad caliphateclick to view Iran 750AD
Medieval Europe is beginning to emerge from the wreckage of the Ancient Worldclick to view Europe 750AD
Powerful regional kingdoms now divide the Indian subcontinent, while the western parts have been absorbed into the Islamic caliphateclick to view India and South Asia 750AD
In West Africa the trans-Saharan trade has led to the rise of the wealthy kingdoms of Ghanaclick to view Africa 750AD
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.
Asia Minor is the main recruiting ground for the army of the Byzantine empireclick to view Turkey 979AD
Under the Fatimids, Egypt becomes the leading centre of Islamic civilizationclick to view Egypt 979AD
Aleppo is a major centre of Islamic civilizationclick to view Syria 979AD
Harsh taxation, civil war and rebellion undermines the prosperity of Iraqclick to view Iraq 979AD
Iran is falling away from control by the caliph in Baghdadclick to view Iran 979AD
Arabia is home to Islamic sects seen as dangerous by the orthodox Muslimsclick to view Arabia 979AD
Vikings and other raiders lay waste to much of Western Europe, bringing widespread insecurity to the people and leading to the rise of a militarized society which we call "feudalism"
click to view Europe 979AD
This period of the subcontinent's history sees southern kingdoms emerging as major centres of Indian civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 979AD
New kingdoms have emerged in West African, and the trans-Saharan trade has brought Muslim traders to the region, who are spreading their faithclick to view Africa 979AD
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.
The Turkish sultanate of Rum now rules in Asia Minorclick to view Turkey 1215AD
Egypt is now under the dynasty of the renowned Muslim leader, Saladinclick to view Egypt 1215AD
Crusaders from Europe have invaded Syria and Palestine, but have been pushed back to the coast by Saladinclick to view Syria 1215AD
Although Iraq continues to deteriorate, Baghdad is a major centre of Islamic civilizationclick to view Iraq 1215AD
Iran, now under Turkish rulersclick to view Iran 1215AD
The civilization of southern Arabia has declined, along with the great desert trade routesclick to view Arabia 1215AD
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
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 coastclick to view Africa 1215AD
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
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.
The Ottoman empire captures the great city of Constantinopleclick to view Turkey 1453AD
Yemen has been a centre of trade and Islamic cultureclick to view Arabia 1453AD
Syria is now under the Mamluqs, a group of slave-soldiers based in Egyptclick to view Syria 1453AD
Egypt is now ruled by a class of slave-soldiers, the Mamluqsclick to view Egypt 1453AD
Iran has become a brilliant centre of Islamic civilizationclick to view Iran 1453AD
Iraq is now ruled by a tribe from central Asia called the Black Sheep Turksclick to view Iraq 1453AD
Benin and other new kingdoms are emerging in the forest regions of West Africa, and in southern Africa the civilization of Great Zimbabwe has appearedclick to view Africa 1453AD
Kings are growing stronger, trade is expanding, towns and cities are prospering, and new ideas are beginninhg to make themselves felt: these trends and others combine to weaken the old feudal order
In the wake of the rise and decline of the Delhi sultanate, Muslim-ruled states now cover most of the Indian subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1453AD
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.
Asia Minor is the centre of the Ottoman empire, one of the great empires of world historyclick to view Turkey 1648AD
Syria is now a part of the Ottoman empireclick to view Syria 1648AD
Egypt is now a part of the Ottoman empireclick to view Egypt 1648AD
The Ottoman empire is the dominant power within the Arabian peninsulaclick to view Arabia 1648AD
Iraq is now a part of the Ottoman empireclick to view Iraq 1648AD
Iran under the Safavids continues to be a brilliant centre of Islamic civilizationclick to view Iran 1648AD
Developments such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the expansion of trade and colonization throughout the world, have transformed Europeclick to view Europe 1648AD
The Mughal empire now rules much of the sub-continent, marking a high point in the history of Indian civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 1648AD
Large numbers of Africans are being taken to the Americas as slavesclick to view Africa 1648AD
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.
The Ottoman government has been weakened, both internally and externallyclick to view Turkey 1789AD
The first Saudi kingdom has appeared in Arabiaclick to view Arabia 1789AD
Although officially a part of the Ottoman empire, Egypt is really ruled by the Mamluqsclick to view Egypt 1789AD
The Safavid dynasty is in declineclick to view Iran 1789AD
Although formally a part of the Ottoman empire, a group of Mamluq soldiers now govern Iraq as virtually independent rulersclick to view Iraq 1789AD
Standards of Ottoman administration have declined in Syriaclick to view Syria 1789AD
The Atlantic Slave Trade is at its height, and having a destructive impact on wide areas of the African interiorclick to view Africa 1789AD
The foundations for worldwide scientific and military dominance are being laid in the struggles between European nationsclick to view Europe 1789AD
India has entered a new chapter in its history with the expansion of the British empire in the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1789AD
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.
The Ottoman government has embarked on a remarkable programme of modernizationclick to view Turkey 1837AD
The first Saudi kingdom has been crushed, but a second one has appearedclick to view Arabia 1837AD
Egypt is now semi-independent from the Ottoman empireclick to view Egypt 1837AD
For Iran, this is a period of economic stagnation and some territorial lossclick to view Iran 1837AD
The Ottoman empire has succeeded in reimposing its authority in Iraqclick to view Iraq 1837AD
Syria has come under Egyptian controlclick to view Syria 1837AD
The Zulu conquests are causing turmoil over a large part of south and central Africaclick to view Africa 1837AD
Europe continues to be transformed by intellectual change and industrial expansionclick to view Europe 1837AD
The British empire now dominates most of India, marking the most radical change in the long history of the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1837AD
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.
The Ottoman empire is continuing to modernize itselfclick to view Turkey 1871AD
The second Saudi kingdom has fallenclick to view Arabia 1871AD
The Suez Canal has been openedclick to view Egypt 1871AD
Iran has been drawn into the British sphere of influenceclick to view Iran 1871AD
Iraq is under the firm control of the Ottoman empireclick to view Iraq 1871AD
Syria has again become a part of the Ottoman empireclick to view Syria 1871AD
European explorers have visited the interior of Africaclick to view Africa 1871AD
Nationalism and industrialization continue to transform Europeclick to view Europe 1871AD
The history of British India almost ended in a great rebellion, but the British were able to regain controlclick to view India and South Asia 1871AD
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.
The Ottoman sultans have maintained the modernizing policies of their predecessorsclick to view Turkey 1914AD
Syria is advancing economically under Ottoman ruleclick to view Syria 1914AD
Egypt is now effectively a part of the British empireclick to view Egypt 1914AD
A third, much larger, Saudi kingdom has appearedclick to view Arabia 1914AD
Under Ottoman rule, Iraq is modernizingclick to view Iraq 1914AD
Iran is effectively now under Russian ruleclick to view Iran 1914AD
European nations now rule much of the world, but their rivalries are now leading them into the First World Warclick to view Europe 1914AD
The history of the British empire in India reaches its height - but it will shortly come to an endclick to view India and South Asia 1914AD
The European powers have divided almost the whole of Africa up between themclick to view Africa 1914AD
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.
The Republic of Turkey was founded by Kemal Ataturkclick to view Turkey 1960AD
The historic region of Syria is now divided between Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordanclick to view Syria 1960AD
Egypt is now ruled by President Nasserclick to view Egypt 1960AD
Oil is bringing vast new wealth to the Arabian kingdomsclick to view Arabia 1960AD
Iraq became an independent nation in 1933click to view Iraq 1960AD
Iran has become an enormously wealthy countryclick to view Iran 1960AD
Europe has experienced two devastating world wars, and is now divided between East and Westclick to view Europe 1960AD
The long history of India and South Asia has entered a new chapter with the replacement of the British empire by independent republicsclick to view India and South Asia 1960AD
The European nations are starting to withdraw from the empires in Africaclick to view Africa 1960AD
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.
Turkey is a stable and prosperous democratic republicclick to view Turkey 2005AD
Hostilities between Israel and the Arabs have dominated this regionclick to view Syria 2005AD
Egypt is now ruled by President Mubarakclick to view Egypt 2005AD
The region experienced a huge shock when Iraq invaded Kuwaitclick to view Arabia 2005AD
Saddam Hussein's brutal rule has brought disaster to Iraqclick to view Iraq 2005AD
Iran has become an Islamic Republicclick to view Iran 2005AD
Most of Europe now belongs to the EUclick to view Europe 2005AD
The history of India and Pakistan has been characterised by mutual hostilityclick to view India and South Asia 2005AD
All European powers have withdrawn from their empires in Africaclick to view Africa 2005AD
Hover MAP for summary and tap to zoom. MAP < and > buttons change date. TIMELINE icons jump to date. See below for historical summary.