World 500 BCE
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.
World history in 500 BCE - the classical world takes shape
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.
Technology and culture
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 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 Aramaean 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 Middle East
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.
Europe and Asia
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 centers 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.
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.
Civilizations of the world3500BCE - 300BCE Ancient Mesopotamia 3000BCE - 300BCE Ancient Egypt Civilization 2700BCE - 550CE Ancient Indian civilization 1766BCE - 1912CE History of China 1700BCE - 200CE The civilization of Ancient China 1300BCE - 550BCE Ancient Israel 1000BCE - 1550CE Pre-Columbian Civilizations of North and South America 800BCE - 50BCE Ancient Greek Civilization 750BCE - 500CE Ancient Rome: civilization and society 500CE - 1450CE Medieval Europe 550CE - 1500CE 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...
Ancient Middle East II: Age of Empire history 950BCEIn the late 13th century BCE, population movements in Europe caused groups to take to the sea and raid the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. These groups appeared in the records as the “Sea Peoples”. Their impact was devastating. By the end of the century the Hittite empire had been destroyed. Several Indo-European groups such […]
The Classical Age of China history 500BCEThe decline of the Zhou kingdom In northern China, kings of the Zhou dynasty came to power in the 11th century BCE. Their kingdom expanded over an ever-larger area of China. To help them govern their growing realm, the Zhou kings divided it into many districts, each under a powerful local lord. These lords served […]
Greece and Persia history 585BCEThe Middle East In 585 BCE the Assyrian Empire, which had dominated the region for centuries, had been replaced by three large states. These were the Babylonian Empire, ruled by the famous king Nebuchadnezzar; the empire of the Medes, an Indo-European speaking people who had come down from central Asia and settled in Iran; and […]
The Classical Age of India history 500BCEThe Indus Valley civilization vanished over a thousand years before this date. Since then, Aryan tribes have been spreading out across northern India. The Indus Valley civilization This civilization flourished between about 2700 to 1800 BCE (see the Premium Unit Early Civilizations). After that time, it vanished. Modern scholars do not understand the reasons for […]
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