World 1215 CE
China has become the great powerhouse of economic and technological development. Chinese inventions will be key to humanity’s progress in the coming centuries.
Stone Age hunter-gatherers and farmers live in much of the world. In one small area, however, cities are appearing, literacy is developing, and civilization is emerging.
The rise of civilization here has been astonishing. By this date, some of the most spectacular structures in all world history have been built - the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Great new centres of civilization have appeared, in China and the Mediterranean. One major civilization has vanished, however, for reasons we still don’t understand.
Game-changing innovations are appearing which will lead to massive population growth, greatly expanded trade, wider access to education, and other major advances.
Some of the greatest thinkers in all world history are living at this time. Their teachings will have a lasting impact on the history of humanity, right up to the present day.
Great leaders have made their mark. Their conquests have reshaped the maps of huge areas of the world, and left a lasting legacy of political and cultural change.
In Asia and Europe, this is an age of empire. It is also the first great age of international trade. Ideas, innovations and art forms spread from one civilization to another.
Great religions spread along the trade routes of the Eastern Hemisphere. Meanwhile one of the largest cities in the whole world now flourishes in the Western Hemisphere.
A key step in the intellectual history of the world has been taken - in two very different locations. One is in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other is in the Western.
Between them, two enormous empires span the entire Eurasian landmass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They house the leading civilizations of the day.
Asia is home to brilliant civilizations of great scientific advance and technological progress. Europe, however, remains chaotic, backward and ignorant.
All the advances made in all regions of Eurasia have now reached Europe. Here, they combine and fizz, and begin to change every aspect of European civilization.
Europeans have pioneered maritime trading systems which, for the first time, span the entire globe. These lead to vast changes in both Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
The Chinese empire of the Qing dynasty is the wealthiest and most populous state on the planet. However, the commerce of the globe is dominated by Westerners.
Westerners control a globe-spanning trading and political system. The wealth that this brings has sparked the greatest economic revolution since the rise of farming.
A truly world-spanning civilization is emerging, based in Europe and America. It is characterized by unceasing scientific, technological and social advance.
Western industrial civilization has swept all before it. European empires, above all the British empire, rule much of the world.
Titanic conflicts between 1914 and 1945 have gravely weakened the European nations. Their world-wide power has gone and new superpowers dominate the world.
The USA as the world’s leading power. This is a brief period of global economic growth and the spread of democracy. Grave new anxieties are emerging, however.
World history in 1215 - the high medieval world
This is the twelfth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1215.
East Asia has seen great economic and technological progress over the past two centuries or so. Inventions such as the compass, gunpowder and printing are of key significance to global history.
Islamic civilization has continued to make great strides, with discoveries in mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine and other branches of knowledge. This knowledge has been spreading west into Europe, where it will soon bear fruit in extraordinary ways.
As a religion, Islam has continued to expand – down into sub-Saharan Africa, where West African kingdoms are proliferating; into East Africa, where a string of small Muslim states have sprung up along the Indian Ocean coast; and into northern India, where the first Muslim-ruled sultanates have appeared. It is now even gaining its first footholds in South East Asia.
Around the World
Song Dynasty China is, by a stretch, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced society on earth. By this date the Chinese have invented printing, the compass and gunpowder. The Koreans are also a dynamic and innovative culture, whilst the Japanese experience centuries of on-off civil war, in which Samurai warriors will come to prominence in Japanese society.
Europe is recovering from the turmoil of the Dark Ages, with the emergence of the feudal system. This is a political-social system based on the sharing of power between rulers and nobles. It has brought a higher level of order to European society. Population is increasing, as is wealth and trade.
This is the age when many of the great cathedrals of Europe are being built. This testifies to the power of the Church, and this period sees a fierce struggle between the Church and secular rulers. This struggle will lead to different outcomes in different countries, with the rise of strong monarchies in some and the undermining of central royal power in others.
Another manifestation of the power of the Church has been the launching a series of great military campaigns, called “crusades”, against the Muslim world to reclaim the pilgrimage centre of Jerusalem and surrounding lands from Islamic control. These have been a woeful failure. However, one result has been a great upswing in Mediterranean trade. This is dominated by north Italian merchants, and the wealth this trade brings will, in following centuries, help bring about the great cultural movement known as the Italian Renaissance, and all that flows from it.
The Byzantine empire, that last remnant of the great Roman empire of old, has fared badly during the crusades; it is now temporarily divided amongst a group of Crusader rulers.
To the north, the Russians have come into the Christian fold, looking to Constantinople for religious leadership. They are developing a unique culture of their own, drawing largely on Byzantine models.
On the steppes of central Asia, these centuries have seen large-scale movements of peoples westward. A branch of the Turks migrated west and then, converting to Islam, conquered a huge empire in the Middle East. They are known to history as the Seljuqs.
These movements of steppe peoples have therefore contributed to the continued politically fragmentation in the Middle East, and to the rise of Turkish peoples from central Asia as the dominant political group. Most Middle Eastern rulers, however, still owe a vague allegiance to the Caliph in Baghdad.
On the eastern steppes, a power-vacuum in Mongolia has now been filled by the vigorous activities of one of the greatest conquerors in all world history, Genghis Khan.
In South Asia, Buddhism has been extinguished as a major faith in the region.
In South East Asia, the Khmer kingdom of Cambodia has reached its height, its power and wealth expressed dramatically in the huge temple mountain of Angkor Wat.
In South America, the Chimu empire is at the height of its power, but a new people, the Inca, are expanding their realm in the high Andes. Further east, the cultures of the Amazon basin have continued to advance.
One development which is of interest to us today, but which in fact led to no long-term outcomes, was the establishment of small Viking colonies in Greenland. It is also very likely that these Vikings visited the mainland of North America. In any event, these were the first people to bridge the divide between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Sometime in the following centuries, however, this far outpost of European civilization was abandoned, and so this first bridge in world history between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres bore no lasting fruit.
World history in 3500 BCE - ancient civilizations emerge
This is the first map in a timeline of maps covering twenty dates in world history, from 3500 BCE up to the present day.
In the Middle East, the first civilizations in world history are emerging.
Cities, writing, organized states – all these were appearing in the land of Mesopotamia. A thousand or so miles away, the foundations for another great civilization are being laid, that of Ancient Egypt, in the Nile Valley.
These two developments are the opening phases of that stage in global history which we call the Ancient World.
The Rest of the World
In 3500 BCE, much of the world is inhabited by small groups of hunter-gatherers. Since about 9000 BCE, however, farming has been spreading in and around the Middle East, southern and eastern Asia, Europe and northern Africa. The spread of agriculture has enabled populations to expand, and villages of farmers now dot the landscapes of these regions. This is a trend which will last throughout global history, right up to the present day, as farmers push hunter-gatherers into ever smaller corners of the planet.
Another notable development at around this time is the domesticating of the horse, on the steppes north of the Black Sea. Modern scholars think that this occured amongst people who spoke a tongue ancestral to the modern Indo-European family of languages. Their domestication of the horse, initially for their milk, meat and hides, is a first step along the road to an expansion over a huge area of Eurasia.
World history in 2500 BCE - ancient civilizations thrive
This is the second map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 2500 BCE.
In the Middle East of the early Bronze Age the two great civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt are flourishing. They have sophisticated writing systems, bronze technologies and highly developed public administrations. The first literatures are flowering, and already some of the most spectacular structures in all world history, the Great Pyramids, have been built in the Nile valley.
An urban civilization has also appeared on the Indian sub-continent, in the Indus valley. This shows advanced features such as town planning and effective drainage systems.
The Rest of the World
In the river valleys of China, villages are growing in number and size, and their technologies are advancing. Soon one of the world’s great civilizations will emerge here.
On the islands and coasts of southern China the ancestors of the Malays and Polynesians are starting their great migration down into South East Asian waters. From here, in the course of their history they will travel over a vast area of the globe: eastwards as far as Hawaii and Easter Island, and westwards as far as Madagascar.
Another group who, in the course of history will come to cover a large part of he globe, are spreading outwards from the steppes north of the Black Sea. These are horse-breeding peoples who have been moving both eastwards across central Asia, and westwards into Europe. They take their ancestral Indo-European language with them. By this time, they have harnessed horses to the first wheeled vehicles. The first of these are heavy carts, but it will not be long before they evolve into light, two-wheeled chariots.
Elsewhere, especially in South Asia and Africa, farming and herding populations are continuing to encroach on lands formerly inhabited by hunter-gatherers.
In North America, arctic hunters, ancestors of the present-day Inuit, are beginning to spread over the far north. In South America, farming is expanding over a wide area, and large, permanent villages are appearing in Peru. The majority of the continent, however, remains home to hunter-gatherers.
World history in 1500 BCE - the height of Bronze Age civilization
This is the third map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1500 BCE.
At this point in world history, at the height of the Bronze Age, civilization is continuing to spread throughout the Ancient World. In Europe, Crete, Greece and the Aegean are home to literate cultures, whilst in China a sophisticated civilization has emerged, capable of fashioning some of the most beautiful bronze artifacts ever produced in history. On the Indian sub-continent, however, the many cities of the Indus valley have all vanished, for reasons modern scholars can only guess at.
The Rest of the World
Indo-European-speaking, horse-breeding peoples have spread over a huge area – across central Asia, towards China in the east, into central and southern Europe in the west and northern India to the south.
The steppe peoples’ military superiority, based on a new innovation, the chariot, has allowed them to emerge as an elite warrior class within the societies they now dominate – they have even conquered large parts of the ancient centres of Middle Eastern civilization. However, the Indo-Europeans’ use of the chariot has now been copied by the more settled peoples bordering central Asia, from the Middle East to China.
Hitherto the peoples living on the steppes have practiced a mixed farming and herding economy. At around this time they shift to a more mobile lifestyle. They live less in small villages and more in temporary encampments. They are becoming true nomads.
This may be the achievement of steppe peoples of East Asian origin. This gives them a military edge in these wide landscapes. It is from this time that non-Indo-European groups begin to challenge the Indo-European speakers for dominance in central Asia. Their descendants will have an enormous impact on global history.
Another branch of this migration is heading down via the Philippines and New Guinea into the Pacific.
In Africa, the future expansion of agriculture is being assured by the domestication of tropical plants as food crops.
In the Western Hemisphere, in Mexico, farming is becoming more and more intensive. This will lead to the rise of complex societies over the coming centuries.
South America is seeing the beginnings of the Arawak expansion. This process will eventually take this farming people from their homelands in western Amazonia to as far north as the Caribbean islands and as far south as the River Plate.
World history in 1000 BCE - ancient civilizations under attack
This is the fourth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1000 BCE.
The past few centuries have seen the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and the Aegean experience steep decline – in some cases, such as the the Hittites, complete collapse, and others, such as Egypt , Assyria and Babylonia, significant weakening.
The eclipse of the leading Middle Eastern states has allowed new nations to come to the fore, notably the Phoenicians and the Israelites. In their brief flowering as leading powers they make a big mark, playing a central part in the development of the alphabet and the rise of the first great monotheistic religion of world history.
This period also sees the spread of iron-using technology, which will have a decisive impact by allowing agricultural productivity to greatly increase. Originating in the Middle East, in the course of time all regions of the Old World (Eastern Hemisphere) will be affected by this.
Meanwhile, the first civilization of the Western Hemisphere has arisen, that of the Olmecs.
Around the World
By this date, peoples right across the central Asian steppes have become fully nomadic in their lifestyle. This shift is linked to a change in their mode of warfare. Mounted archery has replaced fighting in chariots. The superior flexibility and mobility which horseback riding gives has ensured that the days of war chariots are numbered. Over the coming centuries mounted archers will displace chariots in the Middle East, and light mounted troops will become a feature of classical European and Chinese armies.
The Cimmerians dominate the region north of the Black Sea, and other Indo-European peoples inhabit eastwards into central Asia. Further east, however, the ancestors of the Huns, Mongols and Tartars have adopted the nomadic lifestyle of the steppe and begun their rise to prominence.
In the Middle East, Indo-European speakers move down into Iran, where they will become known to history as the Medes and Persians. In northern India they continue to expand, calling themselves the Aryans and establishing their proto-Hindu culture.
Indo-European peoples have continued to expand in Europe. The Italici give their name to the Italian peninsula; further north, in central Europe, Gauls, Teutons (Germans and Scandinavians) and Slavs are beginning to divide into separate peoples. The upheaval that this process involves may be linked to the invasions which so affected the old centres of civilization in western Asia and the Aegean.
South East Asia continues to experience two waves of migration, both originating in southern China a millennia or more before. The people of the western migration are settling down in the mainland parts of the region as the Mon and Khmer peoples, while the eastern migration has continued to settle the coasts and islands, where they will be known as the Malay peoples.
The eastern branch of the latter migration has moved eastward into the Pacific. Here, crossing huge ocean distances in their small canoes, they have by now reached the islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. They are the ancestral Polynesians.
Back in the Middle East, the camel is being domesticated about now, probably in Arabia. This will open up trans-desert trade routes, as will give rise to the nomadic Bedouin lifestyle.
At the same time, a civilization, made possible by irrigation, is emerging in the southern tip of Arabia.
In Africa, cattle-herding and farming have probably reached as far south as the Great Lakes region by now.
The Western Hemisphere has seen further expansion of farming. In South America, intensive trade links between the high Andes and the coastal plains of Peru are creating a single cultural area. In North America, irrigation farming is already becoming established in the dry south-west of the present-day United States. Further east the Adena culture is emerging in the Mississippi valley, starting a tradition of mound-building which will last for two and a half millennia.
World history in 500 BCE - the classical world takes shape
This is the fifth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 500 BCE.
At this time, many of the classical civilizations of the ancient world enter their period of greatness: Greek, Chinese, Indian and Israelite civilizations all experience a burst of creativity, each producing thinkers who will profoundly shape the future course of world history. The Buddha in India, Confucius in China, the Greek philosophers of the Ionian school, and the Jewish prophets of ancient Israel – all lay down modes of thought whose influence is still with us today.
In the Middle East, the past few centuries have seen the rise and fall of a succession of great empires – the Assyrian, the Neo-Babylonian and the Median. Now the Persian empire rules, the largest empire so far.
The Rest of the World
Over the past few centuries, Iron Age technology has been spreading far and wide in the Eastern Hemisphere. It has now reached South East Asia, and is now rippling down into Africa. Wherever it arrives it replaces the Stone Age tools used by farmers for millennia. This allows agricultural productivity to rise, populations to expand, towns and cities to grow, and civilization to advance. It is one of the great turning points in global history.
At the same time, the use of alphabetic scripts has been becoming widespread. The Aramean script is now used throughout the Middle East. Its employment is fostered by the rise of huge imperial states in the region, and the transfers of population that this has involved.
Beyond the Middle East, the closely-related Sanskrit script has evolved amongst the Aryans in India. To the west, Phoenician traders have carried the alphabet to the Greeks, Italians (including of course the Romans) and other peoples of the Mediterranean.
The Celts are now coming to dominate France and other parts of western Europe, populating it with their hill forts and warlike chieftainships.
In the steppes of central Asia, the nomadic horsemen have become a major threat to the settled civilizations of Eurasia. In the East, these “barbarians” have already had an impact on Chinese history by helping break up the unified Zhou kingdom into numerous different states; and in the West, deep raids by the Cimmerians have caused much destruction.
North of the Black Sea, the Cimmerians have been replaced as the dominant people by the Scythians, whose tribes are fanning out over a huge area from eastern Europe to central Asia. In the Easter steppes it was the Quanrong – probably related to the later Xiongnu (Huns) – who seem to predominate.
In Africa, Iron Age farming has taken root amongst the Bantu peoples of the West African rainforest. They have started expanding outwards from their homelands.
Civilization is penetrating inner Africa from the north via the kingdom of Nubia, becoming more “African” as it travels.
In the Western Hemisphere, several centres of the Olmec civilization of Mexico have experienced a mysterious development, with the ritual burial of great sculptures accompanying the destruction of their communities. Nevertheless, by now the Olmec culture’s influence has spread over a large area of central America.
Far to the south, the Chavin civilization, the first of a long series of urban cultures in the Andean region of South America, has appeared.
World history in 200 BCE - great empires emerge
This is the sixth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 200 BCE.
This period of world history is one which sees large states emerge to dominate the ancient civilizations of the Eastern Hemisphere. In so doing, they consolidate the cultural achievements of the past centuries, and expand the reach of these civilizations.
Within the past few years China has been united under the Han dynasty. This is a moment of great importance for the future of China, as it marks the arrival of the first of a series of great imperial dynasties which will, on and off, rule China right up to the 20th century. It is also important for the history of the wider world as this succession of Chinese dynasties will develop systems of organized government which, influencing Western practices many centuries from now, will be key to the rise of the modern state.
In the Indian subcontinent, the Maurya empire has given unity to the Aryan states and spread their culture far down into the Indian peninsula. Unlike the Han empire of China, however, which has 400 years of history ahead of it, the power of the Mauryan empire is already unravelling.
In western Asia, although the empire of Alexander the Great barely outlasted his death in 323 BCE, his conquests have reshaped the map of the Middle East. This is now divided amongst large kingdoms ruled by the descendants of Alexander’s generals. Within their borders, Greek-speaking elites now rule, and Greek civilization (or “Hellenistic” civilization, which modern scholars call the mixed Graeco-Asian culture of this period), has been spread via the hundreds of new cities founded by Alexander and his successors.
To the west, the city of Rome is on the rise. After two long, grim wars with the north African city of Carthage, the Romans now dominate the western Mediterranean basin, and this will act as a springboard for many further conquests.
Around the World
The unification of China has been paralleled by the rise of the first steppe “empire” in world history. This is a culmination of a long process for the nomadic tribes of central Asia, who have posed an ever-increasing threat to the Chinese – a threat such that the Chinese have built a long series of defensive walls separating their agricultural homeland from the steppes.
On the western steppes, the Scythians continue their domination, but their power is being challenged on their eastern flank by the rise of new Iranian peoples, the Parthians and Sarmatians. This development may well be linked to the rise of heavy cavalry. Larger, stronger horses were now being bred on the Iranian tablelands, and these could support a mounted warrior clad in chain mail. Indeed, the animals themselves were being given an armoured coat.
This new heavy cavalry was used, not just for mounted archery, but for charging the enemy and breaking up infantry formations with long spikes. Cavalry-on-cavalry engagements also became frequent. In due course, heavy cavalry would come to dominate the battlefield, and be the basis for the rise of the military aristocracies of the Middle Ages. That, however, is long in the future. For now, the military power of the states of the Mediterranean and Middle East rested on large, highly-organized formations of infantry. Alexander the Great’s phalanxes had proved their worth on the battlefield, but now the Roman army was the most effective exponent of this type of warfare. For sheer numerical superiority at this date, however, one has to look to China.
The Celts, or Gauls, as the Romans call them, have been expanding over the past few centuries, into Italy, Spain, Britain, the Balkans, and even as far as Asia Minor.
In Africa, the Bantu peoples, with their iron-using farming culture, are spreading across the central grasslands from their homeland in western Africa. As they go they displace or absorb the hunter-gatherer peoples they encounter.
Indian traders are pioneering maritime trade routes between India and South East Asia. As a result, Indian civilization is beginning to spread amongst the peoples of Burma, the Malayan peninsula and the islands of Indonesia.
In the Pacific, Polynesian culture is taking shape as the islanders adapt their way of life to local conditions.
In the western Hemisphere, the Olmec civilization has now vanished, succeeded by a number of regional cultures. One of these will develop into the highly creative Mayan civilization.
Most of North America remains home to hunter-gatherer societies, but the early farming cultures of the Mogollon and Hopewell flourish in very different environments.
World history in 30 BCE - an age of empire
This is the seventh map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 30 BCE.
The Han dynasty has given almost two centuries of peace and stability to China – one of the more enduring periods of peace in global history for a significant portion of the world’s population. For the Chinese, it has been a time of prosperity and expansion.
There has been no such tranquility further west. The power of Rome has grown to take in the entire Mediterranean region, a process accompanied by brutal wars of conquest, and by bitter civil wars and fierce political in-fighting. However, the young politician, Octavian, has just defeated his rivals, Antony and Cleopatra, at the battle of Actium. This victory makes Octavian the sole master of the Roman world and brings to a close the civil wars. He will soon take the title “Augustus”, and rule as the first of the Roman emperors.
Around the world
On the western steppes, the Sarmatians, an Iranian people, are now rising in power. They are expanding westward, replacing the Scythians as the dominant people to the north of the Black Sea.
In central Asia, one group of nomads, the Yuehzi, have been driven from their homelands on the eastern steppes by the Huns, and have moved westward, establishing a new homeland east of the Caspian Sea. They will soon play a major role in Indian history.
The Hun confederacy has been defeated by the Han, and vast territories have come under Chinese rule. This has allowed the Silk Road – the historical highway between east and west – to emerge as a major trade route.
The commerce between east and west is further fostered by the fact that two large states lie between the Roman and Chinese empires, those of the Parthians, who rule much of the Middle East, and the Scythians, who rule a huge territory stretching from central Asia into northern India. These give a large measure of peace to large regions of the world, and with peace comes economic growth.
This period of world history is indeed a time of commercial expansion over a large part of the Eastern Hemisphere. Another trade route between east and west has opened up across the Indian Ocean. By now, the Monsoon-driven Indian Ocean trade between Arabia and the west on the one hand, and the Indian sub-continent on the other, is well established. This links to the sea routes connecting India to South East Asia. This in turn links up with routes to China.
The growing Indian Ocean trade is bringing southern India into the mainstream of Indian history as the civilization which emerged centuries before amongst the Aryans of northern India is now reaching down into the south.
In Africa, the Iron Age Bantu peoples are moving southward through the Congo basin.
In the Pacific, the Polynesians have now settled even further afield, in Tahiti and the Society Island.
Several urban civilizations are emerging in central America, including the Mayan civilization.
In South America, this is the period when the famous Nazca lines are being laid out.
World history in 200 CE - the ancient world at its height
This is the eighth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 200 CE.
The Roman empire is at its height, but is just about to enter its long decline. It has given its inhabitants two centuries of almost unbroken peace, and so, like the Han dynasty in China, ranks as one of the longest periods of peace in world history.
The Han empire, however, is already in steep decline, and will not last for much longer.
Another great state whose end is fast approaching is the Parthian empire, which has ruled much of the Middle East for the past 300 years (though without the stability of the Roman and Han empires).
The Kushanas have succeeded the Scythians in ruling a huge empire stretching from central Asia into India. Their state plays a major role in global history by acting as the base for the spread of Buddhism to China and East Asia.
To the west, the small land of Judeae has been the springboard of the spread of two major religions. Christianity is finding millions of converts throughout the Roman and Parthian empires. At the same time, the Jewish people are now experiencing the early stages of their Diaspora, which by this time has also reached the frontiers of Rome and Parthia. The Jews will play a major role in the history of Europe, particularly in the development of commerce and finance.
Around the World
The appearance of Roman merchants in south Chinese ports shows the strength of trade links between different parts of the Eastern Hemisphere by this time.
These links are being extended in West Africa, where Berber traders are pioneering the trans-Saharan trade routes, with vital aid of camels.
To the south, the Bantu migration is now moving down into southern Africa.
The Chinese Han empire still dominates eastern central Asia, despite its internal weaknesses. One group of Huns, refusing Chinese overlordship, has moved westward. In due course they will reappear in history as attackers of the Roman empire under their fearsome king, Attila.
Indian-style kingdoms are emerging in South East Asia.
In the Pacific, a variety of different societies are emerging on the numerous islands.
In central America, the Mayan civilization is on the rise, while in Mexico one of the largest cities of the pre-Columbian Americas, Teotihuacan, is in its pomp.
In South America, the Moche civilization is now flourishing, bringing Andean urban culture to new heights.
Two developments stand out in this period as highly significant for the history of world technology. Paper has been invented in Han China. This will make the dissemination of written information much easier and cheaper. The heavy plow probably appears about now in northern Europe. This will be of great importance in opening up the heavy clay lowlands of the region to arable farming, and so be one the keys to future European growth.
World history in 500 CE - the end of the ancient world
This is the ninth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 500 CE.
This period in world history is seeing the “Ancient World” giving way to the “Medieval World”. Apart from being a convenient demarcation to help us moderns make sense of the past, does this actually mean anything? Perhaps it does, in the Eastern Hemisphere at least. The Medieval epoch (roughly 500 to 1500) is a time of building on the achievements of the Ancient World, but also of moving societies in new directions, preparing the way for the modern world.
The “universal” empires which marked the latter phases of the Ancient World (Roman, Parthian/Persian, Mauryan/Gupta, Han) consolidated the achievements of the previous centuries, and spread them beyond their original core areas. Now we enter a period where the connections between different regions and civilizations expand and deepen, as do conflicts. In each of the major civilizations, religion or ideology plays a more dominant role than in the past: Europe becomes “Christendom”, and goes to war against Islam, now ruling the Middle East and North Africa; in India, a three-way contest between Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam plays out; in China and East Asia, Buddhism and Confucianism interact; in South-East Asia, Hinduism, Buddhism and then Islam mould the new societies developing there.
All this arises from – and contributes to – old boundaries become more fluid, and links between regions becoming more intense. Despite setbacks, this stimulates continuing technological and economic progress, and prepares the ground for the coming of the modern world.
Around the World
Indian history has witnessed the rise of the greatest empire since the Mauryan empire, in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. This is the Gupta empire, and this period is widely seen as one of the high points of Classical Indian civilization. By this date, however, the Gupta state is in decline.
Another great state in decline is the Roman empire. The city of Rome itself has been sacked on more than one occasion, and all the empire’s western provinces have been lost to it. Here, the level of civilization has fallen drastically. In the eastern half of the empire, however, the Graeco-Roman way of life is still intact. Cut off from its Latin roots, the empire, now ruled from Constantinople, is becoming more Greek in language and culture: it is in fact becoming what modern scholars call the “Byzantine empire”.
Both within the Roman empire and the barbarian kingdoms of the old western provinces, Christianity has become the official religion. From now on, European civilization will become synonymous with “Christendom”.
In East Asia, China is weak and divided, its northern parts ruled by emperors of barbarian origin.
Far to the west, the Mayan civilization of central America is now at its height.
The Sarmatians continued to dominate the western steppes and eastern Europe until the coming, first of the Goths, a German tribe from the Baltic region (3rd century), and then the Huns (4th and 5th centuries). The Huns brought a huge swathe of territory under their control, from the grasslands north of the Black Sea west into eastern Europe.
Under their king, Attila, the Huns struck terror into the Roman empire, but after Attila’s death in 453, their power swiftly disintegrated.
The Huns had brought with them many confederate tribes from the steppes of eastern Asia, and these had established themselves as the ruling warrior elite within the Hun-dominated territory. The Indo-European chieftains of the steppe had had their day. These new Turkic groups probably included the ancestors of the Avars, Bulgars and other peoples destined to play a large part in East European history.
The fall of the Huns precipitated a free-for-all amongst these peoples.
On the eastern steppes, meanwhile, the collapse of the Han empire of China allowed various steppe tribes to occupy large areas of northern China. Hundreds of thousands of nomads flooded into China, causing a power-vacuum on the steppes themselves. This has been filled by the Rouran confederacy, which briefly covers a vast area of central Asia.
The weakness of China has not prevented her from exporting her civilization wholesale to neighbouring peoples. States modelled along Chinese lines are being built in Korea and Japan, and their inhabitants are importing Chinese culture and religion in large doses. This includes Buddhism, which is now spreading throughout East Asia and South East Asia. Here, Chinese cultural elements vie with Indian influences to produce a unique synthesis.
In the Middle East, the Parthian empire has been replaced by the more effective Sassanid empire. Under the Sassanids, classical Persian civilization is brought to a peak.
Africa sees the emergence of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia. Far to the south, the Bantu have reached the limit of their migration – which happens to be the southern limit of the tropical crops they rely on.
In the Pacific, the Polynesians have settled the islands of Hawaii and Easter Island.
This period of world history sees one of the most important advances in human know-how. This is the development of the decimal number system, which uses the concept of zero. Without this breakthrough it is hard to see how modern mathematics and science could have evolved. Although this conceptual advance is the basis for what are known as “Arabic” numbers, in fact it originated in India. However, this is not the only place in the world that such a discovery has been made. Quite separately, and thousands of miles away, the Maya use the concept of zero in their calendars.
World history in the year 750 - the early medieval world
This is the tenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in the year 750 CE.
The outstanding development in world history at this time has been the rise of Islam. This has been the work of Arab armies, whose conquests have reshaped the map of the Middle East and beyond.
Every neighbouring region has been affected by this development, to a greater or lesser extent. The Arabs have brought a vast territory under their control, with chunks of both Europe (in Spain and Portugal) and the Indian sub-continent (most of modern-day Pakistan) falling to them. West Africa is beginning to feel the impact of Islam as Muslim merchants bring their faith with them to the region, and Muslim armies have penetrated deep into Central Asia. Here they are encountering an expansionist Chinese empire. The clash between the two great powers of the period will result in the spread of a key technology in world history, when Chinese captives pass on the technology of paper-making to their Muslim captors.
Around the World
The other great empire of the period is that ruled by the Tang dynasty of China. Under the Tang, China has been reunified and reinvigorated. This is a period of great artistic and literary achievement, and China acts as a powerfully attractive exemplar of civilization for its neighbours. Japan especially is experiencing a great cultural flowering at this time.
In western Europe, a simpler, less literate society has replaced the sophisticated urban civilization of Rome. The Christian Church now dominates the religious and cultural life of the region.
On the steppes of eastern Europe and central Asia, the struggles between competing Turkic groups caused some to move westward, where they have posed a threat to the more settled societies of central and southern Europe. The Avars and the Bulgars are the most notable of these hordes.
In the mid-6th century, much of the steppes of central Asia fell under the sway of a Turkish confederacy. This extended its power right across from China to Europe. It soon divided into Eastern and Western halves, and on the western steppes a Turkic people called the Khazars seized the leadership in the early 7th century. The Khazars have had to fight hard to stop Arab armies from pushing into the steppes. Perhaps because of this their rulers have recently converted to the Jewish faith.
The Eastern Turkish confederacy lasted until 734, when it disintegrated into warring groups.
Africa has seen the emergence of kingdoms on the West African savannah south of the Sahara desert. Their wealth and power is based in control of the trade routes crossing the grasslands and reaching down into the forests to the south. On an island off the same continent, Madagascar, a group of settlers arrive who are related to the Polynesians of the Pacific. Their ancestors took to their boats thousands of years before, sailing from the coast of China – one of the most remarkable migrations in global history.
India is now divided amongst numerous regional kingdoms. Culturally, the states of southern India are coming to the fore.
In South East Asia, a maritime power now dominates many of the coasts and islands of the region. This is the Srivijaya empire.
In Oceania, the Polynesians have completed their colonization of the central Pacific Islands by now.
World history in the year 979
This is the eleventh map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in the year 979 CE.
In the Middle East, Islamic civilization is flourishing. Influences from China, India and the West are mingling with Arab and Persian elements to form a brilliant cultural synthesis.
In China, the great empire of the Tang dynasty has been replaced by the much smaller, but economically more dynamic, Song empire. The Song dynasty period will be one of great economic progress.
Taking the advances being made in these two great regions of the world, this period is seeing major steps forward in technology and science.
Around the World
For Europe, this is a brutal and barbarous age. Under the hammer blows of Vikings, Magyars and Arabs, royal power breaks down in much of western Europe. Anarchy reigns, but a new order slowly begins to emerge, based on the power of local lords.
Within Europe, illiteracy and ignorance are almost universal – except within the Church. This is doing its best to preserve Europe’s Classical heritage, and acts as a civilizing influence on a barbarous society. It is in fact expanding its influence into central and eastern Europe at this time.
Whilst the Viking raids have struck terror far and wide within Europe, they have also developed trade networks linking western Europe more closely with the lands to the north and east. They are even laying the foundations for the rise of a huge new extension of European civilization, in Russia.
In the Muslim world of the Middle East, Baghdad became the capital of the Islamic empire (the Caliphate) in the mid-8th century, but that great empire is now slowly fragmenting. This does not hinder the Muslim faith from putting down strong roots in all the regions ruled by the Caliphate.
The powerful Cola empire has established south India as a major centre of South Asian civilization. The Indian Ocean trade is thriving, and it is drawing the east African coast into its orbit. Here, Muslim traders are establishing trading posts.
Elsewhere in Africa, the trans-Saharan trade routes continue to expand, and as a result, new states are appearing in West Africa.
In South East Asia, the Srivi Jaya empire is in decline, and the Khmer kingdom in Cambodia has begun its ascent to regional power.
On the steppes of central Asia, the decline of the Khazar confederacy allows lesser Turkic tribes to become more restless. The Magyars and Pechenegs move westward to attack more settled peoples in central and eastern Europe. On the eastern steppes, the Uyghurs have taken over from the Gok-turks.
In the Western Hemisphere, the Mayan civilization of Central America is now in steep decline, while the Toltec people are now on the ascendant in Mexico. Elsewhere in North America, towns of the Mississippi culture are emerging as major centres of trans-continental trade.
World history in 1453 - towards the modern world
This is the thirteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1453.
The past couple of centuries have seen events of truly world-shaping significance dissolve barriers between the great regions of world history before their onslaught.
First, Genghis Khan and his successors forged the huge Mongol empire, which took in much of Eurasia, from Russia to China. After Mongol rule had declined, another central Asian conqueror, Timur the Lame, briefly seized a large territory.
These conquerors spread terror and destruction on an epic scale, but the Mongol empire in particular fostered much closer links between the different regions of the Eastern Hemisphere than had ever been the case before. Along these travelled trade, ideas, technological innovations – and disease.
In the mid-14th century the Black Death killed millions of people, and was the biggest recorded catastrophe to hit the human race (in numbers of dead, larger even than the tragedy about to engulf the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere).
These great events have brought new opportunities to Europe, a region which has for centuries been something of a backwater. These opportunities will be seized with vigour, and the great age of European dominance is not far off.
Around the World
The countries of East Asia, especially China and Korea, re-asserted their independence from Mongol rule in the late-14th century, and are ruled by native dynasties. The Ming dynasty presides over a China that is expanding in wealth and population. An early Ming emperor even sent great expeditions overseas which took Chinese ships as far as Africa, but these were soon abandoned.
Japan narrowly escaped Mongol rule. However, it has not escaped political instability and recurrent bouts of civil war.
Much of the Middle East did fall to both the Mongols and Timur. One region which did not was Asia Minor. However, a side swipe by Timur was a major set back for the rising power of the Ottoman empire there. The Ottomans have recovered, and this year they capture the city of Constantinople. This brings a final end to the long history of the Roman/Byzantine empire. The fall of the city, one of the great historic centres of Christianity, comes as a huge shock to the Christian world of Europe.
The growing links with other parts of the eastern Hemisphere have brought East Asian technologies to backward Europe. The compass, gunpowder and printing are reshaping European civilization. (Printing may have been an indigenous European invention rather than an Asian import, but even so it is very likely that the concept of printing, if not the actual techniques, came from the East).
Europeans have already embarked on their long-distance ocean voyages. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, these will not be abandoned. They will end some centuries hence only with the European nations dominating all the seas of the world. From this much else will flow.
Europe will also be changed by another development which has started by now. This is the Italian Renaissance. This sees itself as a rebirth of Greek and Roman learning; in fact it is nothing less than a revolution in European culture. Along with the voyages of exploration, it forms a major turning point in world history. Amongst other things, it will give birth to modern science.
Mongol power, though ejected from other areas of the world, has retained its hold on Russia until very recently. Now the Russians, under the leadership of the rulers of Muscovy, have asserted their independence. This independence remains precarious, however: Mongol khans remain powerful to the east, and to the west the huge Polish-Lithuanian kingdom has Muscovy in its sites.
Muslim-ruled states now cover much of the Indian sub-continent. In particular, the last couple of centuries have seen the dramatic rise and decline of the Delhi Sultanate.
Africa is being drawn into the international maritime trading networks of Europe and the Middle East. Coastal trading communities are expanding on both the east and west coasts. A key commercial element on both coasts is the trade in human beings.
Two new elements are making their presence felt in South East Asia. On the mainland, Thai tribes have been migrating down into the region from their homeland in southern China; and the coasts and islands of South East Asia have been drawn into the trading networks of Muslim merchants. The nodes of this trading system are a growing number of small coastal sultanates, which have been established here.
The peoples of Central Asia formed the motive-power for the empires of Genghis Khan and Timur. Since the decline of these empires, the steppe peoples have fragmented under the rule of different khans.
In Central America, Toltec power has vanished, and the Aztec empire is expanding. To the north, farming societies across North America have been experiencing difficulties, though the reasons for these are unclear.
In South America, the Inca empire is growing, but has not yet reached its full expanse. The Chimu kingdom continues to flourish, for now. To the east, the complex societies of the Amazon basin are continuing to evolve and expand.
World history in 1648 - the West rising
This is the fourteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1648.
The first voyage of the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492 has transformed the trajectory of world history by linking the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Indeed European explorers (mainly Portuguese, Spanish and Italian) have visited all the oceans of the world, except perhaps the Antarctic. They have discovered that India, South East Asia and China are reachable from Europe by sea; but most dramatically, they have stumbled across a massive landmasses of North and South America.
On the back of these discoveries, maritime trade networks have been set up, spanning the oceans of the world. These networks allow the produce of far flung lands to flow back to European ports. European trading bases are now to be found along the coasts of Africa, India and South East Asia, and even (as tiny toe-holds) in China and Japan.
These developments are dwarfed by the European conquests in the Americas. In South and Central America, the great Inca and Aztec civilizations, heirs to millenia of cultural development, have been wiped off the face of the earth. In their place, huge empires ruled from Spain and Portugal now hold sway. In North America, northern Europeans, mostly English and French, are intensively colonizing smaller territories, along the eastern coast.
Wherever they settle, the Europeans have transplanted their home cultures to these new lands, so that they become vast extensions of European civilization. This process has sadly been aided by the spread of European diseases amongst the native populations of the Americas, and, significantly helped by European brutality, these have led to a drastic drop in numbers amongst these groups.
The denuding of the Americas of their native inhabitants has led to the rise of the Atlantic Slave Trade. This brings enslaved African labour to work in the European-dominated economies of the Western Hemisphere. In due course, people of African descent will come to form a major component of the new population mix in the Americas.
Around the World
The spreading of its trade tentacles around the world has made Europeans richer. However, within their own homelands they have been experiencing major upheavals. The Renaissance has revolutionized their culture. It has put them more closely in touch with their heritage from ancient times, the civilizations of Greece and Rome, and in so doing made them question much about their contemporary world view. This has encouraged them to find new ways of seeking knowledge, and the foundations of modern science are being laid in these centuries.
The religious upheaval known as the Reformation has split western Europe into two hostile camps, one Roman Catholic, the other Protestant. The bitter religious wars that have flowed from this have reshaped the politics of the region. Many countries are seeing the rise of strongly authoritarian kings, who concentrate as much power as they can in their own hands, largely at the expense of the old feudal nobility. Others countries are seeing (often painfully) the beginnings of a more democratic approach government – also at the expense of the old feudal nobility.
While western European countries have been extending their reach across the oceans, the Russians have been spreading across Central Asia and into East Asia. They reach the Pacific Ocean about now. This expansion is carried out mostly by thousands of ordinary farmers, but coming up behind them comes the authority of the Russian state. The control this imposes on the region means that, from this time forward, the nomadic steppe peoples of Central Asia will no longer pose a threat to the settled peoples of Europe or East Asia.
Though not themselves hailing from the steppes, rulers of Central Asian descent are still a force to be reckoned with. In India, the Mughal empire has imposed its rule on much of the sub-continent. Under them, an eclectic Indo-Islamic culture is reaching fruition in such magnificent masterpieces as the Taj Mahal; and also finding expression in the rise of the new Sikh religion, which seeks to reconcile Hinduism and Islam.
In East Asia, another group tracing their descent to the steppes is conquering China. The Manchu are now displacing the Ming emperors as the rulers of this huge country. It is a time of great disruption for the Chinese, and the new Manchu – or Qing – rulers face immense challenges in imposing their control. However, they will eventually establish a firm rule to become the last imperial dynasty of Chinese history.
Both Japan and Korea have also experienced violent upheaval over the past century, but both have now emerged under stable regimes. The Japanese Tokugawa shoguns are notable for having excluded as much foreign influence as they possibly can from their country, whilst the Koreans have found security by looking to China for protection.
Muslim sultanates now dominate the coasts and islands of South East Asia, forming a single cultural area which scholars label the “Malay World”. However, this region is now being penetrated by European traders.
European ships have also carried out their first reconnaissance of the waters around Australia and New Zealand. This is the precursor to these land masses being brought into the mainstream of global history.
In the central Pacific, the Easter Island statue-building activity reaches a climax in the construction of colossal monuments, but has by now come to a sudden, and probably catastrophic end.
Far to the west, the Ottoman empire is one of the great empires of world history. It has brought peace to much of the Middle East, and also rules a large slice of Europe. Europeans view this great Muslim power with fear – and have good reason to do so.
The other major Middle Eastern power is Persia, home to a vibrant Islamic civilization.
In Africa, trade networks are spreading and new kingdoms arising, especially in central and southern parts. The impact of the slave trade on African populations is as yet slight, but it is growing.
World History in 1789 - an age of change
This is the fifteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1789.
The Chinese empire has experienced a run of three of the most remarkable emperors in its history – in fact, in world history. It is the largest state in the world at this date, and by far the most populous. It is almost certainly the wealthiest.
The only other state which comes near to rivalling it is the British Empire which is in the process of acquiring large slices of India. This turn of events has been made possible by the decline of Mughal power in the sub-continent. The chaotic situation this caused allowed European nations to extend their influence from their small toe-holds on the Indian coast. Inevitably, rivalry set in between the different nationalities, and, thanks to its command of the seas, Britain emerged as the leading power in India.
To the west, the Ottoman empire remains a huge state. Its economic and military effectiveness has by now fallen behind those of the leading European nations, but its government is still capable of real reform. The Ottoman sultans have succeeded in modernising their empire to some extent; the trouble is, Europe is by now in a process of transformation which does not stand still. It has now just entered the early stages of industrialization. This will greatly add to her global effectiveness in the coming decades.
In the political sphere, also, Europe and its offshoots in the Americas have been experiencing unprecedented change. In England, the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 led to rights of individual citizens being guaranteed by law. Ironically, these very principles which Britain pioneered led to a rebellion against her by her American colonies. Most of these have now broken away from British rule to form a new nation with its own deliberately designed constitution, the United States of America.
This same political momentum is now bringing about Revolution in France, which starts in this year, 1789. This will soon transform the European political scene for ever.
Around the World
At the root of all this relentless change is the increasing flow of wealth into Europe – a wealth based on Europe’s dominance of the oceans of the world. Tragically, much of this is a cause of misery to countless millions. The Atlantic Slave Trade is at its height just at this date, sending tens of thousands of enslaved Africans each year to toil on plantations in the Americas. On the back of this trade, the sugar industry brings in huge profits to merchants and financiers of Britain, France and other European countries. This has helped fuel the rise of a new middle class, broadening the scope of the educated sections of society. As a result, the old, neo-feudal structures which have prevailed in much of Europe for centuries are coming under increasing attack. This has now spilled over into active Revolution.
The impact of the slave trade on Africa has been wide ranging. Central Africa, which was already underpopulated before the slavers arrived in force, has suffered doubly from slavers from the Atlantic coast (Europeans) and from the Indian Ocean coast (Arabs). Nowhere is safe, and a vast region has been striped of a significant portion of its population. The survivors have had to militarise their societies, to the extent that the entire region has become a virtual war zone.
West Africa, being much more densely populated, has not been so badly affected. Nevertheless some scholars think that the slave trade led to more frequent wars here, and, being now fought with European-sourced firearms, these were more deadly than before.
One phenomenon which certainly appears in West Africa at this time, though probably unrelated to the slave trade, occurs on the inland grasslands south of the Sahara. A number of campaigns – “jihads” – install puritanical Muslim groups as rulers of several kingdoms. These are mostly the work of members of the Fulani, a cattle herding and trading people who have lived in and around the trading towns of the region for centuries.
In North America, Native American tribes still hold sway in most of the continent. Apart from in the east, people of European extraction live in widely scattered, very isolated settlements – trading posts, forts and mission stations – and make only the most minimal impact on their surroundings.
The eastern parts of the continent, however, are now home to societies of European – mainly British – descent. Their way of life has been transplanted wholesale from their original homelands. Most of these societies are now party of the United States of America, a new, independent nation which in 1789 completes the task of equipping itself with a constitutions whereby to govern itself.
To the north, in that part of North America still under British rule, a large French-speaking community along the banks of the St Lawrence river stands out form the English-speaking settlements surrounding it.
This political divide masks a more fundamental division within these American societies. Although of common ancestry, they fall into two quite different types. In the north, communities of merchants and farmers live in what is probably the most open and equal society in the world at this date, free from domination by a small hereditary elite of landowning families. To the south, one of the more unequal societies of the world exists, one dominated by a small group of white landowners who rely in slave labour of African extraction to work the tobacco and cotton plantations they own.
Southern US society is in fact the most northern extension of a swathe of slave-owning societies that have become established in the Americas. This swathe takes in the fabulously wealthy Caribbean islands – the jewels on the crowns of the European powers which control them – and reach down to plantation-dominated Brazil. In all of these, rich families of European descent own land on which African slaves grow and process crops for export to Europe. No wonder there is such an insatiable demand for slaves for Africa.
In the Spanish-ruled territories in the rest Central and South America, a scarcely less equal society has grown up. Here, a small colonial elite has divided the land into vast estates, leaving the native population as impoverished serfs tied to the lands.
European off-shoots have not yet been established in any significant way in other parts of the world. A small farming colony has been planted in South Africa by the Dutch, mainly to provision the ships of the Dutch East India Company on their way to trade with the East; and a tiny penal colony has been established on the south-east coast of Australia by the British. However, other parts of the world are coming under European control, even though not settled to any great extent by European colonists. The Dutch have established their rule over much of the East Indies, and are expanding this control as the years go by. Similarly, and on a much larger scale, in the chaos left by the decline and fragmentation of the Mughal empire, the British are gaining control of more and more of the Indian subcontinent. In most of the rest of the world, in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East, European influence is still confined to small coastal enclaves from which they trade with the native populations – either on a more or less equal footing or even in conditions of inferiority and difficulty.
In East Asia, vibrant societies barely notice the European intrusion. China is a huge, self-contained empire; its enormous and sophisticated internal economy feels no need for European trade. Besides, the Chinese harbour a hearty contempt for those uncouth barbarians. Trade with the west is limited to the southern ports of Macau and Canton. Tokugawa Japan and Chosun Korea also actively keep the Europeans at arms length: Korea is known as the “Hermit Kingdom” for its closed-door policy, and Japan allows only a tiny Dutch trading settlement in its southern port of Nagasaki. It would be a mistake to think of these societies as being sunk in backward-looking stagnation: Japan, for example, has probably one of the most dynamic and “modern” commercial societies on earth during the 17th and 18th centuries.
In South East Asia, powerful kingdoms continue along their own trajectories, only marginally affected by Europeans. Burma and Thailand continue a centuries-long rivalry, and Vietnam continues its centuries-long expansion south, accompanied by civil wars.
Nevertheless, the global picture in 1789 is clear: the entire world is being drawn into one overall trading system, based on the ports of Western Europe. A globalised economy is taking shape, and world history has acquired a unifying momentum which is leaving no region of the world untouched.
World history in 1837 - the West ascending
This is the sixteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1837.
The history of the world is experiencing one of its key turning points, with the beginnings of the rise of a truly global civilization.
At the heart of this new civilization are the European nations and their offshoots around the globe, which will come to make up the “Western world”. Being the first to experience the transformations which industrialization brings, these societies find themselves with a huge (though, as it will turn out, temporary) advantage over all other societies on the planet. They naturally set about exploiting this advantage to the full.
In their homelands, the Western nations have experienced a series of political upheavals. We have already seen the creation of the USA in the American Revolution. Then the French Revolution broke out in 1789 and led to 20 years of war, reaching to every part of the continent and shaking European politics to its foundations. Later, wars of liberation in South and Central America have created almost a dozen independent nations where before there had been just two empires.
While the West’s politics and societies have been in flux, its influence has been rapidly growing around the world. No continent or region has been left untouched by the spreading tentacles of western trade or empire. The foundations are being laid for the global economy which we know today.
Around the world
By this date, one can start speaking of the nations of Europe and the Americas – North America especially – as “the Western world”. They make up a global bloc with a shared civilization.
From this time, no region on Earth can escape the West’s impact. The history of all the nations of the world will begin to be drawn into a single overarching pattern of events.
In Europe, the French Revolution posed a serious challenge to the old monarchies. It soon engulfed Europe in war. Under the highly capable leadership of Napoleon, France was successful against all her enemies, and her conquests spread the Revolutionary ideas of nationalism and democracy throughout much of Europe. Eventually Napoleon was defeated, in 1815, and since then, the old monarchies have been trying to reimpose a semblance of the pre-Revolutionary order on the continent. They will shortly find that the Revolutionary ideas cannot be killed off easily.
To add to these political changes, European society is now starting to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution spreading from Britain. The growing industrial towns, the multiplying factories, and now the expanding railway networks, are helping to undermine old social structures and create new ones in their place.
Industrialization has also arrived in North America. The westward expansion of societies of European origin is the dominant motif of North American history at this time. This has been aided by a number of factors, such as the USA’s purchase of the vast new territories from France in 1804; the opening of the Eirie Canal in 1825, which makes it much easier for settlers and commercial interests to penetrate the Central Plains; and official encouragement of the settlement of the new lands. The Native American peoples’ hold on their ancestral homelands is now coming under intensifying pressure from the white settlers.
Within the USA, tensions are growing between Northern and Southern states. These are caused by contrasts between their very different societies: the northern states are home to the most economically dynamic and egalitarian societies in the world at that date; the southern ones have very unequal plantation societies, with their economies based in the institution of slavery.
Wars of Independence have re-shaped the maps of Central and South America. These have seen campaigns on an epic scale, but have left social and economic structures in Latin America largely unchanged. As a result political independence benefits only a tiny elite, and has led to instability and autocracy. The lives of the poverty-stricken masses have not been improved one iota by these developments.
The long wars in Europe have left Britain’s navy in undisputed mastery of the seas. As well as underpinning the growing reach of the British Empire, this navy is used to keep the seas open to the trade of all nations – which in reality means Western nations. No people seeking to resist western commercial power can shut it out for long, as the British navy can brush away any non-Western nations’ attempts to defend ports and coasts. All countries with coasts are open to invasion, wherever and whenever Britain or her allies chose to strike.
Naval supremacy has gone hand in hand with commercial supremacy, and London, Britain’s capital, is now effectively the financial and commercial centre of the world.
One of the British navy’s main preoccupations, however, is to stamp out the Atlantic Slave Trade. This has been prohibited by Britain and most other European countries since the early 19th century, but remains very much alive in the hands of American and Portuguese slavers. Ironically, Britain’s attempts to stamp out the slave trade is leading them to get more in involved in the affairs of the peoples of West Africa, and is thus laying the foundations for their future empire there.
In fact, most slaves are now being taken from central and southern Africa, regions already destabilized by centuries of slaving. It is no wonder that, in this vacuum of stable political power, states based on war and terror, such as the Zulu kingdom, arise here.
The campaigns of the Zulus have caused immense dislocation over a huge area of southern and central Africa, so much so that, when European explorers first arrive in these regions, they see societies in chaos and misery. They think this is the norm for African societies, and the idea of African “savagery”, and the Europeans’ civilizing mission, takes hold.
In South Africa, the descendants of the European farmers settled on the southern tip of Africa have been multiplying. With the British taking control of the Cape territory, many of these farmers are migrating into the interior, founding independent republics there.
Slavery itself (not just the trade) has recently been abolished in the Caribbean islands ruled by Britain and France. It remains in force in Brazil and other South American countries, as well as in the USA, and will be for decades longer.
In the Balkans and the Middle East, the huge Ottoman empire, for so long the scourge of Europe, is by now being exposed as a weakened giant. The Ottoman government is attempting to modernise the empire, in order to deal more effectively with the Western threat. These attempts are by no means without success, but the task is immense. The same is true for a by-now independent Egypt. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Levant and the Gulf states are being drawn more and more under the commercial influence of France and Britain, respectively.
South Asia has seen British power grow to the point where it now effectively dominates India; it is still expanding. No such European empire can be found in East Asia, but westerners are a troubling presence in the region. In fact, many of them are little better than drug smugglers on a grand scale. The rulers of the China, Japan and Korea are determined to keep them out.
The Dutch empire in South East Asia expands; and the British are now getting more involved in the region. Most notably, they establish a base of operations on the small island of Singapore.
In Australia, the tiny British settlement has grown slowly, and new colonies have been founded on different parts of the coast. The New Zealand coasts are now dotted with small European settlements, leading to clashes with Maori tribes.
Western traders and missionaries are also active in Oceania. Sadly, they bring with them disease, guns and destabilization. For these, as for other non-Western societies, the process of being drawn into the emerging, Western-dominated Global civilization is a hard and stressful one.
World history in 1871 - the West triumphant
This is the seventeenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1871.
This period in world history witnesses the continuing emergence of a truly world-spanning civilization. It is a process driven by the rise of modern, industrial economies in the West, with the resulting intensification of Western influence around the world. The British Empire is at the forefront of this development.
Global trade has continued to expand. The advent of steamships is making long-distance transport speedier and less expensive. The construction of the Suez Canal has helped link European nations with their growing interests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and strengthened their military capabilities of those regions. North America has seen the European-offshoot societies of the USA and Canada reach the Pacific, enabling them (mainly the USA) to flex their commercial and political muscles in that ocean.
Growing industrialization has given Western nations a sharper appetite for overseas commodities, as well stimulating an aggressive drive for overseas markets. No part of the world is immune from
Western adventurism, whether in its commercial, missionary, military or political dimensions (or a combination of all four). Few local societies have an effective answer to this entirely new kind of challenge. They suffer the consequences in disease, social dislocation, political destabilization and growing economic and political dependence on the West.
It is facile to paint too gloomy a picture of these developments. Expanding trade and wealth brings benefits to many local groups, enabling them to seize economic opportunities well beyond the gift of traditional agricultural societies. Continuing advances in Western science mean that Europeans and Americans bring with them the most effective health care on the planet. Western values, especially as practised by many missionaries, involves a greater respect for women than found in many non-Western countries, and a more inclusive attitude to education and opportunity.
All told, however, it is hard to conclude otherwise than that this stage of world history, seeing as it does the emergence of global civilization, is traumatic for many of the peoples on the planet.
Around the world
In Europe, these decades have seen railway networks spreading across the continent; the dramatic expansion of towns, old and new; the emergence of new social groups – an industrial working class and a burgeoning middle class; and linked to all this, political revolution. Many parts of western and central Europe have seen the rise of democratic institutions. In some countries these coexist uneasily with the traditional governing structures inhabited by monarchs and aristocrats, but in country after country they now exert an influence which cannot be ignored. Most notably of all, two major new states have appeared on the map of Europe, Germany and Italy.
The international political situation within Europe has been marked by sharpening rivalries between the leading powers. These have been exacerbated as they eye up the potential gains to be had from taking advantage of an enfeebled Ottoman Empire (and suspect other powers of doing the same). A war in the Crimea (1853-46) between Russia, in the one side, and an alliance led by Britain and France, on the other, leaves the “Eastern Question” (as it is called) unsettled, and it will come back to haunt Europe.
In fact, decline of the Ottoman Empire is far from being a simple process. The empire in fact is experiencing a resurgence of effectiveness in much of the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. Egypt meanwhile continues to develop as an independent kingdom – at least, independent from Ottoman rule. However, it is falling increasingly under British economic domination. This is part of a broader picture of increasing European influence in the Middle East, with the French making the running in Syria and the Levant, and the British in Iran, the Gulf and Egypt. The opening of the great strategic asset of the Suez Canal in 1869 has only strengthened European interest in the region.
In Africa, the Atlantic slave trade is now at last in steep decline. European nations, especially Britain and France, have established their power over some coastal enclaves, and expeditions of exploration are gradually mapping the interior of the continent. The explorers find a continent still suffering from the aftermath of the great upheavals which engulfed southern and central Africa after the Zulu conquests. The prevailing disorder, plus the continuing operations of the Indian Ocean slave traders, are warming European popular opinion, especially in Britain, to the idea of a mission to impose order on Africans, by force if necessary. Nevertheless, in 1871 the vast territories of the Africa interior still by and large remain beyond the reach of Europeans.
The case is far otherwise with the Indian sub-continent, which is now completely under the control of the British. A brief but violent challenge to British power in the Great Rebellion (or “Indian Mutiny”, as the British call it) of 1857-8 was crushed, and India remains the outstanding example of European imperialism. British power has continued to expand in the region, towards central Asia and into Burma.
In South East Asia, European domination – French, British and Dutch – has continued to grow. This process has been accompanied by the mass immigration of Chinese settlers fleeing the poverty and turbulence in their homeland.
The impact of Western nations on East Asia has varied from country to country. Korea has managed to keep Westerners largely at arms length. Japan, however, has been forced to end its isolation and open its economy to Western influences in the wake of American military expeditions in 1852-4. After a period of confusion, Japan has now begun to modernise itself, so as to assert its rights in the face of Western domination.
The giant Qing Empire in China has been profoundly shaken by direct and indirected Western influences. Attempts to put a stop to the rampant smuggling of opium by Western traders led to two humiliating Chinese defeats (1839-42 and 1858-60), and the imposition of unequal treaties prizing open the country to Western commercial and missionary activity.
Much more catastrophic than this was the Taiping rebellion (1850-65), whose causes were rooted in Chinese conditions but which was at least partly inspired by Western ideas. Before the rebellion was crushed it had cost as many as 40 million lives, making it the second deadliest conflict in the history of the world. Since then some limited attempts at modernization have been undertaken, but this is being compromised by growing hatred of the West and all it stands for, felt throughout all classes of Chinese society. This xenophobia encourages a deep suspicion of the modern technology of the Westerners.
Both North and South America have seen mass immigration, mostly from Europe, but to a lesser extent from China and Japan. In North America, the USA and Canada have expanded right across the continent, a geographical reflection of their dramatic demographic and economic growth. Because of its more moderate climate, the USA is by far the larger nation in all but strictly territorial terms.
For several decades, the USA’s expansion fuelled tensions between its northern and southern parts, which led to a vicious Civil War (1861-5). Since the war, the USA, with northern interests now firmly in the saddle, has renewed its economic expansion, whilst the defeated South experiences a difficult period of reconstruction.
In South and Central America, political stability has been elusive, as strong men – caudillos – have asserted their authority in most countries. They rule primarily in the interests of the wealthy, while the majority of the population remains in poverty. South America sees one of the most deadly wars in the history of mankind, relative to forces involved, when Paraguay, with breathtaking foolishness, fights its neighbours, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Its people pay a terrible price.
The Pacific islands are experiencing the full effect of Western intrusion into their region. Some islands are falling under European rule, while all experience disease and social dislocation to a lesser or greater extent. In some, the British bring in thousands of labourers from the Indian sub-continent, thus altering the racial mix and storing up tensions for the future.
World history in 1914 - the West in command
This is the eighteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1914.
In what must be the most audacious land-grab in history, Western nations divide much of the globe now falls under their rule. The centrepiece of this process is an episode labelled the “Scramble for Africa”, in which European powers compete to annex as much of the continent as they can. The same process has been at work in South East Asia and the Pacific. As a result, Western Empires, with the British Empire in the lead, rule much of the world.
The conquests are followed by economic exploitation. Railways start appearing in all corners of the world – in Western-ruled colonies, such as in India and Africa, and in countries as yet beyond direct Western control, such as China and the countries of Latin America. The oceans are linked by an ever-intensifying network of sea routes, all converging on Western ports. A global economy has arrived by which the commodities of the planet are shipped to Western nations, there to be consumed, or turned into manufactured goods. Many of these are then shipped back out to worldwide markets, which are financed and controlled by Western capital.
Within Western societies, relentless industrial advance has occurred. The middle classes continue to increase in numbers, and the working classes benefit from a rising standard of living. New inventions – the car, telephone, aeroplane – continue to change the lives of Westerners.
The USA and Germany have drawn ahead of Britain as industrial powers. Politically, Germany’s rise has destabilized Europe. The resulting tensions have divided much of Europe into two camps – Germany, Austro-Hungary and Italy on one side, Britain, France and Russia on the other. It will not take much of a spark to set these nations against each other, and this year that spark is lit.
Around the world
In some parts of Africa, the arrival of European powers is met by fierce resistance (as in German South West Africa). In other parts, it is followed by shocking brutality (as in the Belgian Congo). In all of European-ruled Africa, local societies are drawn forcibly into the modern world, with railways, roads, western education and missionary activity all beginning to alter them for ever.
South Africa sees a major challenge to British imperial rule as the Boers rebel in 1899. The British only succeed in bringing the Boer territories under control after a long, tough fight.
Much of the Middle East has fallen under Western influence, though of a less direct kind than in Africa. The Ottoman Empire, meanwhile, has succeeded in tightening its grip on its territories – while losing most of its lands in the Balkans.
In the Indian sub-continent, this period sees the high water mark of British rule.
The contrasting fates of the different countries of East Asia could not be more different from one another – results dependant upon the effectiveness of their responses to the Western challenge.
Japan has responded by meeting like with like: it has undergone the most startling modernization in the history of the world. This has allowed it to defeat, first China, then Russia (one of the leading powers of Europe), in war, and to annex Korea.
Japan’s defeat of China further undermined the prestige of the Qing regime, and has helped lead to the end of the long succession of imperial dynasties in China. In 1912, China became a republic. Since then things have only gone from bad to worse with the country becoming fragmented amongst regional warlords.
South East Asia and the Pacific, like Africa, see Western powers take control of most territories. In South East Asia only Thailand succeeds in keeping a semblance of independence; in the Pacific, Tonga remains under the rule of its monarchs, but only as a protectorate of the British Empire.
Australia and New Zealand continue to be settled by people of European (mostly British) extraction. Their economies are greatly stimulated by the advent of refrigerated cargo ships, which allows them to ship their produce (meat, wool and dairy products) to Britain. Australia’s colonization is boosted by a series of gold rushes.
The same is true for Argentina, in South America. This country sees its economy expand and its population increase due to immigration. Other countries on the continent also see commodity booms and economic expansion. This leads to tensions between the nations, and indeed to a major war between Chile on the one hand, and Peru and Bolivia, on the other. Chile was victorius.
The opening of the Panama Canal is symbolic of the USA‘s economic rise. The past few decades have seen a surge of economic growth, and the USA is now the wealthiest nation on Earth. Immigration continues to increase its population, and by now the whole of the USA has been fully (though in many places sparsely) settled by people of European descent. At the top of society, fabulous fortunes in this “Gilded Age” derive from control of vast business empires. This is also the period which sees the USA acquire an overseas empire of its own, as the Philippines, Cuba and other Caribbean countries fall under its control.
The Canadian west has also been settled by people of European descent, thanks to the completion of the Canadian-Pacific railroad and to epsiodes such as the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896.
A map of World History in 1960, with the USA and Russia the leading superpowers
This is the nineteenth map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to the present day. The map shows the world in 1914.
The period between 1914 and 1960 has been marked by great changes in all parts of the world, and in all areas of life; it has also been marred by some of the most terrible violence in world history. The killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany saw state-organised murder stoop to new depths; the mass killings of Stalin’s Russia and Mao Tse-tung’s China were not far behind.
World War I (1914-8), a conflict far more terrible than could possibly have been imagined by the politicians and generals who led their nations into it, sent history spinning along a new, darker trajectory. Apart from the deaths of 10 million soldiers, it led to the fall of four of the great powers involved, the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires. Russia fell under communist rule in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
At the end of World War 1, the victors, the USA, France and Britain, led the world in forming the first great pan-Global organization, the League of Nations. This failed in its aim of keeping peace in the world, largely because the USA, by now the wealthiest and most important nation, decided not to join.
The Great Depression of the early 1930s, beginning with the Wall Street stock market Crash in the USA and spreading to most parts of the world, had been instrumental in the rise of unsavoury regimes in several European countries, culminating in the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. On the other side of the world it had brought a militaristic regime to power in Japan.
These developments led to the outbreak of the most lethal conflict in history, World War 2. This ended in the defeat of Nazi Germany and of militaristic Japan by an alliance of powers led by the USA, the Soviet Union and Britain.
The world entered a new age with the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan which brought World War 2 to a close (1945). The main victors of this war, the USA and the USSR, now faced off against each other in the Cold War. Much of the rest of the world has fallen in behind these two superpowers, the two camps, capitalist against communist, in tense hostility. The threat of general nuclear destruction hangs heavy over the world.
The end of World War I saw the first attempt to bring countries together in a world-wide international forum, to settled their differences peacefully: the League of Nations. This organisation was weakened from the outset by the refusal of the USA to become a member, and was unable to restrain the militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan. The League’s successor, the United Nations, is proving somewhat more effective, but, in this Cold War climate, it too is being undermined by powerful international tensions beyond its control.
The communist seizure of the most populous country in the world, China, in 1949, is a massive blow to the US-led Western world. Ten years later the Caribbean island of Cuba, within a stone’s throw of the American homeland, also moves into the communist camp. There seems a very real prospect that communism regimes will spread around the world, and especially in those territories newly independent from their European colonial masters.
The European empires are now fast disappearing. The two world wars left the leading European nations virtually bankrupt, and unable to maintain their huge overseas possessions in the face of newly potent anti-colonial movements. These are often invigorated by communist leadership, ideology and support.
In South East Asia the Dutch East Indian Empire has become the independent nation of Indonesia; and in the South Asian sub-contient Britain’s Indian empire is now divided between the independent states of India and Pakistan. The French have left most of their African territories, although a brutal war of independence is taking place in Algeria, where many families of European origin have settled. Britain has started to do give freedom to its possessions. The Belgians have withdrawn from their enormous territories in the Congo, which are now sliding into dreadful anarchy.
Around the World
White rule is not on the wane in all parts of Africa. The Portuguese show no sign of leaving their territories, and in South Africa a white regime has become entrenched, holding the majority Black population in subordination.
Back in Europe, the continent which so recently (but so briefly) ruled most of the world is now divided into two, its nations relegated to second-rate status. The countries of the Western half look to the USA for leadership; the Eastern ones are under the heal of communist Russia. The USA has put in massive amounts of economic aid to its allies, with startling results: by 1960, just a decade and a half after the continent lay in ruins after World War 2, the standard of living of the people of Western Europe is higher than it has ever been before.
The same is true for Japan. After its defeat and devastation in World War 2, Japan is again rising fast, with American support. Its people are becoming amongst the most prosperous on Earth. The Korean peninsula, on the other hand, is divided between a communist North and a capitalist South;on both sides of the border there is wide-spread poverty – but (also with US aid) the economy in the south is now trending strongly upwards.
The disappearance of the Ottoman empire after World War 1 left the Middle East (after a brief period of British and French domination between the wars) divided between several independent nations. This region, as so many other parts of the world, feels the influence of the Cold War. Some of the Middle Eastern states, in particular the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula and Gulf region, have continued to maintain strong links with the West – links which are increasingly lucrative to them due the the rising Western demand for their oil. Other states, such as army-ruled Egypt and Syria, are veering towards the Soviet camp.
Anti-Western sentiments in the Middle East are given a boost by a new and unsettling feature of the geopolitical landscape of the region. This is the existence of the state of Israel. This has been created mainly by immigrant Jews, many fleeing the Holocaust in Nazi-dominated Europe. The Arabs of the region watch this development with deeply-felt hostility. They see this new state as essentially an alien, Western creation, and so sends many Arabs looking to the anti-Western camp for succour. This is a dangerous situation for the West when so much of its energy needs are dependent upon Middle Eastern oil.
The countries of South America have, on the surface at least, been somewhat less affected by great events such as the two world wars. The political instability so prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries has continued: South American countries there are known for their coups and military dictatorships. One flash of colour in the political landscape of the content has been the rise and untimely death of Eva Peron of Argentina, who was widely worshipped for her sympathy with the people and whose popularity greatly boosted that of her husband, the country’s president.
Like the rest of the world, the Pacific region has seen great changes; in particular, the fighting between the Japanese and the Allies in World War 2 directly affected much of the region. The European hold on the region has been gradually slackening: Australia and New Zealand have become fully sovereign nations in their own right, whilst remaining members of the Commonwealth; and other Pacific nations are on the road to either full independence or equal status within the colonising nation’s citizenry.
Despite the great wars of the period from 1914, there have been enormous social and economic advances for many of the peoples of the world. Most democratic nations have seen a giant leap forward with the granting of political rights for women. This is a major element within a process which is seeing greater equality between the sexes. After World War I the flappers shocked conservative society with their public expressions of freedom, and paved the way for a more equal place for women in the public space. The need for women to replace male workers in offices and factories during the wars, and to take important roles within the armed forces, forced a recognition that their role was no longer limited to certain “female” spheres. The spread of contraception also made women’s lives more free, less home-bound.
These decades saw a general shaking off of traditional cultural mores. The emergence of modern art, music and architecture revolutionised the fine arts. In the popular arena, jazz, rock and now the beginnings of pop have given the younger generations in the West their own identity viz a viz their elders.
These cultural transformations have paralleled – and are deeply connected to – a range of technological advances which have liberated people in Western countries and broadened their horizons. Many of these have come about as a direct result of the wars, but they have changed millions of civilian lives as well. The spread of cars, air travel, domestic electrical appliances, radios, TVs, the cinema and so on have made lives in industrialised countries more varied and comfortable. New medicines – most notably antibiotics – have increased levels of health and allowed people to live longer.
At a more rarified level, technological advance is seen dramatically in the space race, as the first man goes into orbit around the world; and in computers, which are huge room-sized contraptions used by governments and giant corporations for major number-crunching tasks.
The past decade have also seen great changes for people in colonised and ex-colonised countries in Africa and Asia. Railways, roads, western-style education and jobs in factories, offices, on railways and roads, have transformed lives. Access to western healthcare has helped combat disease. However, billions remain in dire poverty. Dramatic population growth is putting increasing pressure on their environments, and making life for many tougher than it was for their forebears.
World history in 2005 - a global civilisation emerges
This is the final map in a timeline of twenty maps covering all of world history, from 3500 BCE right up to 2005.
The period of world history between 1960 and 2005 saw the Cold War reach new levels of tension before ending in the fall of Communism as a major force in international politics.
With the passing of the threat of nuclear annihilation, new anxieties appeared, including the emergence Islamic terrorism, the spread of AIDS, and the issue of climate change. However, the late 20th century and early 21st century saw the wealth and well-being of billions of people dramatically improve as a truly global civilization began to take shape.
Around the world
After 1960 the Cold War between USA and its allies on the one side, and USSR and its allies on the other, continued, and indeed intensified. The threat of nuclear war reached accute levels when tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union escalated into a tense crisis over the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba, little more than 100 miles from the American coast (1962).
Thankfully, tensions gradually eased as the two sides retreated from the brink. However, at about the same time a long-running conflict between Communist and anti-Communist forces in Vietnam sucked the USA into a major war, which ended only in 1975 with a Communist victory. By then a large swathe of South East Asia had been drawn in, including Laos and Cambodia.
To the north, Communist-ruled China was led by Mao Zedong. For ten years, from 1966 to 1976, Mao presided over the Cultural Revolution, a movement which saw the giant country convulsed by terrible purges of anti-Mao (including more moderate Communist) elements. It is estimated that between 1.5 and 3 million people died, and tens of millions of others had their lives uprooted.
With the death of Mao in 1976, the Communist regime in China put a stop to this mayhem. Groups which had been purged by Mao returned to power, and began moving China towards opening up its economy to Western investment. Gradually, economic expansion took hold; industry thrived, millions of peasants moved from farm to factory, and from countryside to city, greatly improving their living standards along the way. China was soon on the way to becoming the workshop of the world.
In the meantime, doctrinaire Communist regimes continued to blight parts of eastern Asia. The government of North Korea continued along an unrepentant Stalinist path – and like Stalin’s regime had done in Russia, inflicting untold suffering on its people. Following on from the Communist victory in Vietnam, the Communist Khmer Rouge party came to power in Cambodia (1975). In an effort to purify the country of “bourgeois” influences, it instituted a massacre in which nearly a quarter of the country’s population (some 2 million people) died before the regime was ousted in 1979.
In Africa in particular, the ruling regimes were notable for their instability, authoritarianism and corruption. In some cases, as in Uganda (under Idi Amin), gruesome barbarity became the order of the day, and in the Congo (or Zaire, as it was called for a while), the most deadly warfare since World War 2 resulted in millions of deaths.
The Middle East
In the Middle East, the hostility between Arabs and Israelis, which erupted into major conflicts in 1967 and 1974, and into lesser bouts of violence at other times, poisoned politics across the entire region. The 1974 conflict was followed by an embargo on the sale of oil by the oil-producing states of the Middle East, in retaliation for the West’s support for Israel.
This action sent an economic shock-wave through the West. The worst effects of the crisis were comparatively short-lived, but oil prices never returned to previous levels, and there was a permanent realignment of economic power between oil producers and oil consumers. The phenomenon of super-rich Middle Eastern states was one of the iconic developments of the later 20th century. In the West, the long search for more energy efficiency in transport and industry began.
The Communist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, benefitted from these developments; it was the USA and its allies which were seen as the source of neo-colonialist influences which leaders of developing (or “Third World”) countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America viewed with grave suspicion. Anti-Western – and in particular, anti-US – feeling also inspired the resurgence of militant Islam, which in 1979 led to the fall of the pro-Western Shah of Iran and his replacement by a regime dominated by Islamic clerics.
The End of the Cold War
The same year saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was to last a decade and end in Soviet defeat. During these years it became increasingly evident that the Soviet Union, the leader of the Communist bloc, could no longer afford to maintain its military rivalry with the USA. In the late 1980s Soviet leadership began to crumble and from 1989 Communism in Russia and eastern Europe swiftly collapsed.
This dramatic turn of events brought an end to the Cold War. The region which saw the most immediate benefits was Europe, where the “Iron Curtain” dividing it between Western and Communist countries vanished almost (it seemed) overnight.
The years leading up to the ending of the Cold War had seen major developments in Western Europe. Most notably, they had seen the rise of the European Community (EC) as the dominating factor in the international politics of the region. This was an alliance of nations which now included most Western European countries. The benefits of belonging to this club of nations had led to authoritarian regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece being replaced by parliamentary democracies, and a few years later all had joined the EC.
Now, the EC (whose name was changed to the EU in 1993) acted as a magnate to the former Communist states of central Europe. These adopted parliamentary democracy as their governing principle, and in 2004 many of these joined an enlarged EU.
The notable exception to this generally improving trend in Europe was in the Balkans. In Yugoslavia, the ending of authoritarian Communist rule led to the violent fragmentation of the country as bitter feuds between Serbs, Croats and Muslims
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union fragmented into its constituent nations, with Russia by far the largest. The Russian people, and to a lesser extent the other peoples of the former Soviet Union, experienced major economic crises (Russians saw a 50% decline in their living standards). This ultimately led to a pronounced rejection of Western-style democracy by many Russians. The entrenchment of authoritarian rule is the predominant political theme in most of these countries: notably, the restoration of prosperity and stability under President Putin of Russia has been accompanied by a neutering of democratic institutions.
The developing world
Elsewhere in the world, the ending of the Cold War deprived anti-Western regimes of an important source of support, whether political or ideological. As a result, the 1990s saw many authoritarian regimes in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America being replaced by more democratic ones.
The problems for Africa were compounded by the appearance of a deadly disease, AIDS. This led to a collapse in life-expectancy in many countries, and place additional burdens on already creaky economies as young, productive adults died en masse, leaving their millions of children as orphans.
Despite this, by the late 1990s many countries in Africa had begun to register significant progress, in political, economic and social terms. In 1980 the White minority regime in Rhodesia had been replaced by a Black-majority government, with the country being renamed Zimbabwe. Now, in 1994, constant international and internal pressure finally led to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa, and the mergence of a multi-party parliamentary democracy with votes for all.
The same year saw another major, and much darker, episode on the continent. In the small central African country of Rwanda, a programme of horrific state-sponsored murder saw 20% of the population – and the great majority of the Tutsi ethnic group – perish. This terrible tragedy has been followed by a major rebuilding of Rwandan society under a competent, though increasingly authoritarian, Tutsi-led regime. In neighbouring Congo, however, the warfare which has claimed so many millions of lives has continued.
The 1990s saw many other African countries begin the transition to democratic government, and with it political stability, economic growth and a better life for millions.
The Asian Tigers
The region which has seen the most spectacular economic growth is in Eastern Asia. In fact, in the 1990s a group of Asian states gained the nickname “Asian Tigers”: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan after several decades of strong economic performance had led these previously underdeveloped countries to become commercial and industrial powerhouses. Progress was interrupted by a nasty downturn in 1997, which had the effect of showing up structural weaknesses in their economic systems. Expansion soon resumed and by 2005 the highly educated inhabitants of these states were amongst the wealthiest on the planet.
The large countries of South East Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, have also seen progress, but of a patchier and less dramatic kind. Nevertheless, all these countries have seen millions lifted out of poverty. The wealth of the inhabitants of the region has been boosted by a green revolution which saw scientifically-bred crops greatly increase nutritional values per hectare, and allow more people to be fed properly.
The one outstanding exception to the growth in wealth in the region has been Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, where an authoritarian military regime has kept the country isolated from broader global developments.
One thing that has affected most of the large countries of South East Asia to a greater or lesser extent is the rise of militant Islam.
The “War on Terror”
This has been a global phenomenon, announced by a series of attacks around the world by the terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda, in the 1990s, and then, most dramatically, by the flying of two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre (Twin Towers) in New York, on September 11th, 2001.
In response to this threat, in 2002, the USA led an invasion of Afghanistan, which had fallen under the control of the Taliban, a militant Islamic group who had given Al-Qaeda a base from which to operate; and, in 2003, the USA and Britain conducted a highly controversial invasion of Iraq. Both invasions experienced initial success, but the Western allies have since been unable to extract themselves from long and bitter wars in those countries.
China, Japan, India and Pakistan
Elsewhere in the world, China has continued to experience astonishing economic growth. The ruling Communist party’s determination to give the people economic and personal freedoms but not political freedoms was shown very clearly in their violent stamping out of student demonstrations in favour of political reform in Tienanmen Square, Beijing, in 1989.
The sustained expansion of the Japanese economy, meanwhile, which had taken it to being the second largest economy in the world after the USA, came to abrupt end in 1991. It has not resumed since.
India has continued on its course as the largest parliamentary democracy in the world. Continuing tensions with Pakistan, particularly over the issue of Kashmir, has been constant factor in South Asian politics. A war with Pakistan in 1974 led to defeat for the latter the breaking away of its eastern territories to form the new nation of Bangladesh.
India’s economic rise has been unable to match that of many East Asian countries, but a relative relaxation of economic rules in the 1990s has led to some years of strong growth.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has experienced bouts of military and civilian rule. Political instability has kept its economy fragile. Nevertheless, since the late 1990s both India and Pakistan have joined the small club of nations, along with the USA, Russia, the UK, France, Israel and North Korea, with nuclear weapons.
The 1960s and 70s saw the rise of unsavoury military regimes in some Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile and Argentina. In the 1980s and 90s, however, these gave way to democratic governments. Other Latin American countries have not been so fortunate; the Andean nations of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, for example, have been plagued by insurgencies. Powerful drug cartels have also brought extreme levels of violence to these countries.
The same has been true for most Central American countries. Political instability and violence have kept the mass of their populations mired in poverty.
In Mexico, political stability under one-party rule spared the nation much of the suffering experienced by its smaller neighbours, but economic progress came only in first and starts, failing to benefit the great majority of the population. Since 2000, however, democracy has become much more entrenched. The economy has seen strong growth, and inequality has become less marked as a new middle class has emerged.
Technological and economic developments
One of the iconic features of the Cold War era was the space race between the Soviet Union and the USA. This reached its climactic moment with the USA putting a man on the moon in 1969.
After this, the space programmes failed to maintain their place in the imagination of the worldwide public, and this eventually led to funds being harder to justify (especially in democratic America), and to retrenchment. After a handful of moon landings, space ambitions remained more prosaic, but arguably more valuable: a network of satellites has revolutionised communications, weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, traffic control and a host of other things.
The space race was a product of the arms race, also a feature of the Cold War; and out of this came a huge range of technological advances. The aerospace industry was an obvious beneficiary, and the advances in fighter and bomber design could soon be seen in civilian aircraft. This made possible the continued growth of air travel, especially after wide-bodied jet liners made their debut in the early 1970s. Cheaper air travel has brought mass tourism within the reach of tens of millions of people worldwide.
At least as important, but far less newsworthy, have been advances in shipping, notably in the containerisation revolution which has brought a high degree of standardisation to the carriage of bulk cargo around the world. This has reduced transport costs, and allowed commercial and industrial processes to be distributed much more widely around the world than would otherwise be possible. Products with their constituent parts manufactured in many different continents now routinely grace retailers’ shelves in cities and towns all over the globe.
Another element in the emergence of a new, more global economy has been the astonishing rise of the personal computer. This development was boosted by the miniaturisation pioneered by the aerospace industries of the Cold War era, and has made possible a huge range of applications: the Internet and the World Wide Web, mobile phones, new levels of automation in industry, and entirely new industries like bio-engineering. It has also extended the reach of global financial centres such as New York, London and Tokyo, thus expanding the global allocation of capital.
Wealth, urbanization and challenges
This process of globalisation has lifted hundreds of millions around the world out of poverty. Linked to this development has been an expansion of urbanisation, with nearly half the population of the earth living in cities by the end of the 20th century. Tens of millions have thus been more closely integrated into the global market.
With all this economic growth has come problems. From the 1960s issues such as pollution, deforestation, desertification and other causes of environmental degradation became big issues. In the 1990s, the threat of climate change caused by humankind’s actions became a global anxiety. The search for alternative sources of energy sources apart from fossil fuels took on a new urgency.
A Global civilization
Culturally, the late 20th century saw a continuation of trends from earlier decades: pop groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, built on the earlier work of singers such as Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly to created a mass youth culture which set its face against traditional norms. It evolved through different stages and fragmented into various sub-cultures – hippies, punks, reggae, hip-hop, glam rock, and more. Some of these were largely restricted to western societies, but they all fed into an emerging global culture in which young people from Tokyo, or Rio, or New York, or Moscow, would feel at home.
In fact, the late 20th century saw the emergence of what can only be described as a truly global civilisation, participated in by the world’s masses, not just the members of a small westernised elite. Musicians tour the concert halls of the world, leading architects design buildings for cities as far apart as Beijing and Barcelona, famous football clubs have fans on all continents, global fast food brands appear in every city; people wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, play the same electronic games.
The late 20th century and early 21t century have seen vast changes, leaving very few inhabitants of this planet untouched. It has been a decisive stage in the history of a world-wide civilisation. Up to the mid-20th century, this civilisation was the preserve of a small minority of the planet’s population, and of only a part of its area. The last decades of the century, however, saw the whole world join the civilisation, if not yet on equal terms, at least on terms which promised full equality in the near future. By 2005, China was already heading to be the second largest economy in the world, and was clearly on the road to becoming one of the two superpowers of the planet. Other previously undeveloped nations – Brazil, India, Indonesia – were following in its train. The leakage of economic, political and cultural power away from the West was well underway.
Civilizations of the world3500BCE - 300BCE Ancient Mesopotamia 3000BCE - 300BCE Ancient Egypt Civilization 2700BCE - 550CE Ancient Indian civilization 1700BCE - 200CE Ancient Chinese civilization 1300BCE - 550BCE Ancient Israel 1000BCE - 1550CE Pre-Columbian Civilizations of North and South America 800BCE - 50BCE Ancient Greek Civilization 750BCE - 500CE The civilization and empire of Ancient Rome 200CE - 1900CE Imperial China 500CE - 1450CE Medieval Europe 550CE - 1750CE Medieval Indian civilization 600CE - 1850CE West African kingdoms 600CE - 1250CE Islamic Caliphate 1200CE - 1450CE The Mongol Empire 1350CE - 1900CE Ottoman Empire 1400CE - 2000CE Western Civilization 1950CE - 2000CE A Global Civilization
What else is happening in the rest of the world...
Middle East history 3500BCE
The first civilizations in world history, those of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, are emerging