Chris Harman

A people’s history of the world

Part one
The rise of class societies

Prologue: Before class

Chapter 1. The neolithic ‘revolution’

Chapter 2. The first civilisations

Chapter 3. The first class divisions

Chapter 4. Women’s oppression

Chapter 5. The first ‘Dark Ages’


4 million years ago
First apes to walk on two legs – Australopithecus.

1.5 million to 0.5 million years ago
Clearly human species, Homo erectus, tools of stone, wood and bone. Early ‘old Stone Age’.

400,000 to 30,000 years ago
Neanderthal humans in Europe and Middle East – signs of culture and probable use of language.

150,000 years ago
First ‘modern humans’ (Homo sapiens sapiens), probably originated in Africa, live by foraging (in small nomadic groups without classes, states or sexual oppression). Middle ‘old Stone Age’.

80,000 to 14,000 years ago
Modern humans arrive Middle East (80,000 years ago); cross to Australia (40,000 years ago); arrive Europe (30,000 years ago); establish Americas (14,000 years ago). Late ‘old Stone Age’.

13,000 years ago
Climate allows some humans to settle in villages a couple of hundred strong while continuing to live by foraging ‘Middle Stone Age’ (‘Mesolithic’).

10,000 years ago
First agricultural revolution. Domestication of plants and animals. Neolithic (‘New Stone Age’). More advanced tools, use of pottery. Spread of village-living. First systematic war between groups. Still no division into classes or states.

7,000 years ago
Plough begins to be used in Eurasia and Africa Agriculture reaches NW Europe. ‘Chieftainships’ among some groups, but no classes or states.

6,000 to 5,000 years ago
‘Urban revolution’ in river valleys of Middle East and Nile Valley, some use of copper.

5,000 years ago (3000 BC)
States emerge in Mesopotamia and ‘Old Kingdom’ Egypt. First alphabets, bronze discovered, clear division into social classes, religious hierarchies and temples. First pyramids in about 2800 BC. ‘Bronze Age’. Tendency for women to be seen as inferior to men.

4,500 to 4,000 years ago (2500 to 2000 BC)
Growth of city states in Indus Valley. Sargon establishes first empire to unite Middle East. Building of stone rings in western Europe. Probably Nubian civilisation south of Egypt.

4,000 years ago (around 2000 BC)
‘Dark Age’ – collapse of Mesopotamian Empire and of Egyptian ‘Old Kingdom’. Iron smelted in Asia Minor.

4,000 to 3,600 years ago (2000 to 1600 BC)
Rise of ‘Minoan’ civilisation in Crete. Revival of Egypt with ‘Middle Kingdom’ and of Mesopotamian Empire under Hammurabi. Urban revolution takes off in northern China. Mycenaean civilisation in Greece.

3,600 years ago (1600 BC)
Crisis in Egypt with collapse of ‘Middle Kingdom’ into ‘second intermediate period’. ‘Dark Age’ with collapse of Cretan, Indus and then Mycenaean, civilisations. Disappearance of literacy in these areas ‘Bronze Age’ in northern China with Shang Empire.

3,000 years ago (1000 BC)
Uxum civilisation in Ethiopia. Growth of Phoenician city states around Mediterranean. ‘Urban revolution’ in ‘Meso-America’ with Olmec culture and in Andean region with Chavin.

2,800 to 2,500 years ago (800 to 500 BC)
New civilisations arise in India, Greece and Italy. Meroe in Nubia

2,500 to 2,000 years ago (400 to 1 BC)
Olmec civilisation of Meso-America invents its own form of writing.

2,000 years ago (1st century AD)
Rise of Teotihuacan in Valley of Mexico – probably biggest city in world – despite having no use of hard metals. Deserted after about 400 years. Followed by rise of civilisations of Monte Alban and of Mayas in southern Mexico and Guatemala.


Last updated on 26 January 2010