Chris Harman

A people’s history of the world

Part two
The ancient world

Chapter 1. Iron and empires

Chapter 2. Ancient India

Chapter 3. The first Chinese empires

Chapter 4. The Greek city states

Chapter 5. Rome’s rise and fall

Chapter 6. The rise of Christianity


1000 to 500 BC
Spread of iron making, weapons and tools across Asia, Europe, and west and central Africa. Phonetically based scripts in Middle East, Indian subcontinent and Mediterranean area. Clearing and cultivation of Ganges valley in India, new civilisation, rise of four caste system, Vedic religion. Phoenician, Greek and Italian city states. Unification of Middle East into rival empires based on Mesopotamia or Nile. Emergence of a small number of ‘warring states’ in China.

600 to 300 BC
Flowering of ‘classical’ civilisations. Confucius and Mencius in China. The Buddha in India. Aeschylus, Plato, Aristotle, Democritus in Greece. Class struggles in Greece. Conquest of Middle East by Macedonian armies of Alexander and of most of Indian subcontinent by Mauryan Empire of Ashoka. Struggles between Plebeians and Patricians in Rome. City conquers most of Italy

300 to 1 BC
Disintegration of Mauryan Empire in India, but continued growth of trade and handicraft industry Hindu Brahmans turn against cow slaughter. First Ch’in emperor unifies north China. Massive growth of iron working handicraft industries and trade. Building of Great Wall and of canal and road systems. Peasant revolt brings Han Dynasty to power. Rome conquers whole Mediterranean region and Europe south of Rhine. Spread of slavery and impoverishment of peasantry in Italy Peasants support Gracchus brothers, murdered in 133 and 121. Slave revolts in Sicily (130s) and in Italy under Spartacus (70s). Civil wars. Julius Caesar takes power 45. Augustus becomes emperor 27.

AD 1 to 200
Peak of Roman Empire. Crushes revolt in Palestine AD 70. Paul of Tarsus splits new sect of ‘Christians’ away from Judaism.

Discovery of steel making in China. Extension of Han Empire into Korea, central Asia, south China, Indochina. Confucianism state ideology. Spread of peasant agriculture and Hinduism into south India and then to Malay peninsular and Cambodia. Indian merchants finance great Buddhist monasteries, carry religion to Tibet and Ceylon.

AD 200 to 500
Chinese Han Empire disintegrates. Collapse of urban economy, fragmentation of countryside into aristocratic estates, loss of interest in ‘classic’ literature. Buddhism spreads among certain groups. Gupta Empire unites much of in India in 5th century, flowering of art and science.
Growing crises in Roman Empire. Technological and economic stagnation. Trade declines. Slavery gives way to taxes and rents from peasants bound to land. Peasant revolts in France and Spain. Increased problems in defending empire’s borders. Rise of cults of Osiris, Mithraism and Christianity Constantine moves capital to Greek city of Byantium (330), makes Christianity the empire’s official religion. Persecution of pagan religions, other Christian beliefs and Jews. Rise of monasticism. Division of empire. Loss of England to empire (407). Alarick’s Goths sack Rome (410).

AD 500 and after
‘Dark Ages’ in western Europe. Population falls by half. Collapse of trade, town life and literacy
Eastern empire survives to reach peak under Justinian in 530s-550s, with building of Saint Sophia cathedral, then declines.
Collapse of Gupta Empire in India. Decline of trade, towns, use of money and Buddhist religion. Agriculture and artisan trades carried out in virtually self contained villages for benefit of feudal rulers. Ideological domination by Brahman priests. Full establishment of elaborate hierarchy of many castes. Decline in literature, art and science.
Continued fragmentation of China until rise of Sui Dynasty (581) and then T’ang Dynasty (618) see revival of economy and trade.


Last updated on 26 January 2010