World 200 BCE
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.
World history in 200 BCE - great empires emerge
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.
Central Asia and developments in warfare
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 armored 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.
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.
The Middle East and the Mediterranean region
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, and this will act as a springboard for many further conquests.
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.
South East Asia and Oceania
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.
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.