a view of the ancient city of Petra

History of the ancient civilizations of the world

Ancient peoples and early states

Long time ago, before the birth of the states as we know them today, the world was populated by different tribes, cultures and civilizations. In Europe, Africa and Asia around 5,000 B.C. the first urban cultures began to develop while the American continent was occupied by the most ancient tribes of Native Americans such as the Cherokee, Sioux etc... From the observation of the graph we can understand the duration and so also the importance of these ancient civilizations located in the continents: Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Ancient European Civilizations

Ancient European Civilizations

The first place that hosted the origin of the most important European civilizations was Greece. In fact, one of the most famous was the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete which, thanks to its privileged geographical position, had a maritime empire able to control and reach Africa, Asia, the regions north of the Black Sea and the West. From this civilization we have the first archaic form of Greek syllabic writing called "linear A" used, unlike hieroglyphics found on seals, as official writing in palaces. The Minoans were a people of skilled traders who, thanks to their organizational qualities, were able to exploit the maritime route by taking part in the flourishing trade of tin: the chemical element from which, by binding it to copper, bronze is obtained.

The Mycenaeans

As already anticipated, after the Minoan civilization, still in Greece developed the Mycenaean civilization (from the name of the polis Mycenae). The Mycenaeans were great warriors able to extend up to Crete where they found the writing system of the Minoans ("linear A") and derived their own called "linear B".

Linear B writing

The Etruscans

Another of the emerging civilizations of the years before the birth of Christ was that of the Etruscans. The people of the Etruscans occupied a large part of the Italian territory, more precisely from the current southern Veneto and south-eastern Lombardy to some areas of Campania passing through Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. They succeeded in expanding so much thanks to their military organization structured according to the weapons, the wealth and the social position of the citizen. Moreover, the Etruscan civilization underwent a strong influence of the Greeks due to the frequent exchanges of ceramics (through Magna Graecia and Sicily) which benefited the artistic techniques and the use of ovens. However, in 396 B.C. the Romans conquered the main Etruscan city (Veio, near Rome) and from that moment this people began to merge with the great Roman empire.


The Roman civilization, according to legend, began on April 21, 753 BC when the city of Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, sons of the Capitoline she-wolf. In fact, according to mythological tradition, Romulus was the founder and first king of Rome.

Originally, the famous bronze sculpture of the she-wolf lacked the twins until the Renaissance era: when sculptor Antonio Pollaiolo added the twins.

Capitoline wolf

The Romans immediately began to express their extraordinary military capabilities (such as the famous tortoise formation) conquering a large part of Europe, Mesopotamia and North Africa, spreading their customs and traditions. The first form of government they adopted was the monarchy (from 753 BC to 509 BC) which was followed by the republican period (from 509 BC to 27 BC) and then arrive at the famous empire (from 27 BC to 395 AD) after the death of Gaius Julius Caesar -one of the main characters for the transition between republic and empire- and the coronation of his adopted nephew Augustus as the first Roman emperor.

The Macedonian Empire and the defeat of the Kingdom of Macedonia

In south-eastern Europe, in the so-called Macedonia, between 331 BC and 311 BC lived another great empire: the Macedonian Empire or the empire of Alexander the Great, the largest of its time, extended up to have an area of 5.2 million km2. However, after the death of Alexander the Great, the empire dissolved due to the wars of the diadochi, or generals who divided the entire territory giving rise to the Hellenistic kingdoms.

Since the first Macedonian war (215-205 BC) resolved without winners, the Macedonians had numerous conflicts with the Romans until the fourth and final war (149-148 BC) which saw the final defeat of the Kingdom of Macedonia, which became a province of the Roman Republic.


The Egyptians

From 3000 BC in northeastern Africa, along the Nile River, the Egyptian civilization was born and developed. Until the Greco-Roman period (332 BC), with some administrative phases in between, the Egyptian territory was ruled by the Pharaohs, i.e. the sovereigns of the ruling dynasties that followed one another. Thus Egypt gave rise to three kingdoms: the ancient, middle and new kingdom. From the period of the first kingdom date the extraordinary artistic and architectural works such as the Pyramids, the numerous statues or the sculpture of the great Sphinx of Giza.

The Great Pyramid, Sphinx

The empire of Carthage

On the Mediterranean basin instead sojourned the Carthaginian civilization that with the third Punic war (146 B.C.) also merged with the Romans. The Carthaginians were extraordinary sailors of the Mediterranean and, thanks to the productive mines, traders of raw materials. Also in the military field the Empire of Carthage was distinguished for the technical and strategic inventiveness as demonstrated by the general Hannibal. The latter, called the greatest general of antiquity, became famous for the victory of the Second Punic War with the special addition of 37 elephants to the military forces.


Mesopotamia "Cradle of Civilization"

Between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers lies the historic region of Mesopotamia that saw the birth of some of the earliest civilizations on earth. The Babylonians established their state there beginning around 2000 BC. The Babylonians expanded under the leadership of Hammurabi who became famous for the collection of 282 called the Hammurabi Code which provides for the law of "retribution".

The population of the Phenicians settled in what is now Lebanon in about 2100 BC, and was later incorporated into the Egyptian Empire in 2001 BC. They also lived on trade and navigation, in fact, thanks to their extraordinary skills, they were the first to circumnavigate the entire African continent on ships built of cedar.

There was a people who expanded their influence over the entire "Fertile Crescent" and part of Egypt were the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire is historically divided into three phases: Old Kingdom (1950-1750 BC), Middle Kingdom (1365-932 BC) and New Kingdom (911-612 BC). The maximum extension of the empire was due to the expansionist aims of Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) known for the harshness with which he imposed duties on the people he subjugated. But to the Assyrian empire and in particular to Assurbanipal (also known as Sardanapalo) we owe the construction of the Library of Assurbanipal in the then capital of the kingdom Nineveh containing thousands of tablets containing ancient texts including the famous Cycle of Gilgamesh.


The current Chinese territory began to be populated by the first dynasties in about 5.000 B.C. which in turn developed small kingdoms ready to fight each other from 475 to 221 B.C.. From these conflicts was born the Chinese empire with the head of the king Ying Zheng who, within a year, defeated the other Chinese kingdoms (Zhao, Han, Wei etc. ..) unifying China. The Chinese empire turns out to be the most long-lived of all, in fact its phase of decline began around 1500 AD until the fall occurred in 1644.


From 10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C. the Jōmon culture developed in Japan, mainly based - as the most common prehistoric civilizations - on gathering, hunting and fishing, laying the first foundations for the agricultural development of the following culture: the Yayoi culture (400 B.C. - 300 A.D.) which takes its name from the Tokyo district where for the first time archaeological remains of the era were found. Most probably this people has its origins from the Asian continent from which they brought the knowledge and techniques of rice cultivation. Thanks to the development of agricultural techniques, not only did the diet of the inhabitants improve, but there was also a substantial increase in the population.



In ancient times, the American continent, besides being occupied by the Native American tribes (Cherokee, Sioux, etc...) was populated by the Olmec civilization settled in central-southern Mexico. The Olmec civilization flourished in a period of time that goes from 1200 to 400 B.C. and influenced so much the following cultures that it is considered the mother. It seems that Olmecs were the first ones to develop a writing system in America, as evidenced by hieroglyphic findings. The causes of their disappearance are still unknown but it is probable that the following cultures have conquered and incorporated them.


The Maya were a population of American Indians who began living in Mexico in about 500 BC. The base of their economy was agriculture and the cultivation of corn, coffee, cotton, cocoa, pumpkins and beans. They also practiced the art of warfare but we know very little about the military organization and training of the Maya. Unlike the Aztecs (1300-1600 AD), they were not able to unite under one state or empire but remained a collection of small kingdoms and city-states. The Maya thanks to the ingenuity and a substantial workforce built impressive religious centers (of which we still preserve the ruins) aimed at the veneration of the gods or as a place of burial of powerful kings.

Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Chichén Itzá, Mexico


Oceania hosted several peoples of antiquity: the first men arrived in Australia and New Guinea about 50 000 years ago and then they expanded to Polynesia and Melanesia.

Until European colonization, the aboriginal Australians were a people of hunter-gatherers who boasted a great religious tradition. It is likely that at an unspecified time in history, the aborigines extended to the Polynesian islands thanks to the famous canoes. In Polynesia the populations were mainly dedicated to breeding and agriculture, however, there was not a substantial technological development. Among the most numerous people there are the Maori, famous inhabitants of New Zealand, but probably arrived there from Polynesia around 1500 BC.

By Roberta Gennuso
pain Songs of Pain

Concentration poetry as historical testimony