World 1500 BCE

Great new centers of civilization have appeared, in China and the Mediterranean. One major civilization has vanished, however, for reasons we still don’t understand.

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World history in 1500 BCE - the height of Bronze Age civilization

 The spread of civilization

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 Middle East has come to be dominated by a number of powerful, highly organized states, notably Egypt of the New Kingdom, the Hittite empire, and Babylon.

The Steppe Peoples

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 centers 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.


South East Asia is experiencing two migrations. In a sort of pincer movement originating in southern China, farming populations are coming down via Burma into Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. These are the ancestors of today’s Mon and Khmer. To the east, meanwhile, the ancestors of today’s Malays are spreading along the coasts and islands of Vietnam, Malay and Indonesia.

Another branch of this migration is heading down via the Philippines and New Guinea into the Pacific.

The spread of farming peoples

In Africa, the future expansion of agriculture is being assured by the domestication of tropical plants as food crops.

In the Americas, 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.

Next map: the world in 1000 BCE

Dig Deeper

Early farmers

Early pastoralists

World history

The Steppe peoples of Central Asia

For details of the different civilizations, click on the relevant timeline above. 

More ‘Dig Deeper’ links may be found in the regional maps. To access, click on the markers in the world map.

Premium Units

Early Civilizations

The Middle East: Cradle of Civilization

World Trade

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