Ancient Empires - descriptions

approximate dates (BC)

years in leadership

Civilization (location)




Sumerian (Iraq)

Note: Light blue links below do not work; they are internal to Britannica's website.

Sumer is the region of southern Mesopotamia and site of the earliest known civilization. .It was first settled c. 4500–4000 BC by a non-Semitic people called the Ubaidians. They were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture and developing trade. The Sumerians, who spoke a Semitic language that came to dominate the region, arrived c. 3300 BC and established the world's first known cities. These polities evolved into city-states, which eventually developed monarchical systems that later came to be loosely united under a single city, beginning with Kish c. 2800 BC. Thereafter, Kish, Erech (Uruk), Ur, Nippur, and Lagash vied for ascendancy for centuries. The area came under the control of dynasties from outside the region, beginning with Elam (c. 2530–2450 BC) and later Akkad, led by the Akkadian king Sargon (r. 2334–2279 BC). After the Akkadian dynasty collapsed, the city-states were largely independent until they were reunified under the 3rd dynasty of Ur (21st–20th centuries BC). That final Sumerian dynasty declined after being weakened by foreign invasions, and the Sumerians as a distinct political entity disappeared, becoming part of the Babylonia in the 18th century BC. The Sumerian legacy includes a number of technological and cultural innovations, including the first known wheeled vehicles, the potter's wheel, a system of writing (see cuneiform), and written codes of law.





Upper and Lower Egypt were united c. 3000 BC, beginning a period of cultural achievement and a line of native rulers that lasted nearly 3,000 years. Egypt's ancient history is divided into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, spanning 31 dynasties and lasting to 332 BC. The Pyramids date from the Old Kingdom, the cult of Osiris and the refinement of sculpture from the Middle Kingdom, and the era of empire and the Exodus of the Jews from the New Kingdom. An Assyrian invasion occurred in the 7th century BC, and the Persian Achaemenids established a dynasty in 525 BC. The invasion by Alexander the Great in 332 BC inaugurated the Macedonian Ptolemaic period and the ascendancy of Alexandria as a centre of learning and Hellenistic culture.




Phoenician (Lebanon)

Ancient region, Middle East. Corresponding to modern Lebanon, with adjoining parts of Syria and Israel, Phonecia's chief cities were Sidon, Tyre, and Berot (modern Beirut). The Phoenicians were notable merchants, traders, and colonizers (see Carthage) of the Mediterranean region in the 1st millennium BC. The area was conquered successively by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Macedonians under Alexander the Great. In 64 BC it was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria.




Assyrian (Iraq)

Ancient empire, southwestern Asia. It grew from a small region around Ashur (in northern Iraq) to encompass an area stretching from Palestine to Anatolia. Assyria may have originated in the 3rd millennium BC, but it came to power gradually. Its greatest period began in the 9th century BC, when its conquests reached the Mediterranean Sea under Ashurnasirpal II (883–859), and again c. 746–609 BC, during the Neo-Assyrian empire, when it conquered much of the Middle East. Its greatest rulers during the latter period were Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal. Famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess, the Assyrians were also monumental builders, as shown by archaeological finds at Nineveh, Ashur, and Calah. The opulence of Ashurbanipal's court at Nineveh became legendary. Artistically, the Assyrians were particularly noted for their stone bas-reliefs. The kingdom was vanquished between 626 and 612 BC, when Nineveh was destroyed by the kings of Media and Babylonia (Chaldea).




Babylonian (Iraq)

Ancient cultural region of the Tigris and Euphrates river system. Largely because of the efforts of Hammurabi (r. c. 1792–50 BC), Babylonia gained regional hegemony but declined after his death. A series of wars established a new Babylonian dynasty whose outstanding member was Nebuchadrezzar I (r. c. 1124–1103 BC). Following his rule, a three-way struggle developed for control of Babylonia among Assyria, Aram (see Aramaeans), and Chaldea, in which the Assyrians ruled the area most frequently (9th–7th century BC). In the 7th–6th centuries BC the Chaldean Nebuchadrezzar II (605–562 BC) instituted the last and greatest period of Babylonian supremacy, conquering Syria and Palestine and rebuilding Babylon, the capital city. It was conquered in 539 BC by the Persian Achaemenian dynasty under Cyrus II and in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, after which the capital city was gradually abandoned.




Persian (Iran)

Early Persian dynasty. Its greatest rulers were Cyrus II (r. 559–c. 529 BC), who actually established the Persian empire. and from whose reign it is dated; Darius I, who secured the borders from external threats; and Xerxes I, who completed many of Darius's public works. Cyrus II (the Great) appears in the Bible as the liberator of the Jews held captive in Babylon. At its height, the Persian or Achaemenian Empire reached from Macedonia to northern India and from the Caucasus Mountains to the Persian Gulf. The ruins of one of its capitals, Persepolis, survive from its golden age. The empire ended with the death of Darius III after his defeat by Alexander the Great (330 BC).





Classical Greece began to emerge (c. 750 BC) as a collection of independent city-states, including Athens in Attica and Sparta in the Peloponnese.. The civilization reached its zenith after repelling the Persians at the beginning of the 5th century BC (see Persian Wars) and began to decline after the civil strife of the Peloponnesian War at the century's end. In 338 BC the Greek city-states were taken over by Philip II of Macedon, and Greek culture was spread by Philip's son Alexander the Great throughout his empire.





In the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, the period between the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC) and the conquest of Egypt by Rome (30 BC) is known as the Hellenistic Age. Alexander and his successors established Greek monarchies that controlled the area from Greece to Afghanistan. The Macedonian Antigonid kingdom, the Middle Eastern Seleucid kingdom, and the Egyptian Ptolemaic kingdom spread Greek culture, mixed Greek and non-Greek populations, and fused Greek and Oriental elements. They produced effective bureaucracies and a common, creative culture based at Alexandria. A great flowering of the arts, literature, and science occurred particularly in the period 280–160. The decline of the Hellenic states occurred as Rome gained strength and won wars against Macedonia and against Mithradates VI Eupator, turning the kingdoms and their allies into Roman provinces. Egypt was the last to fall, after having been drawn into the civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian (Augustus).





By the end of the 3rd century BC, Roman territory included all of Italy; by the late republican period it encompassed most of western Europe, northern Africa, and the Near East, organized into provinces. After a period of civil war, Julius Caesar took power as dictator. Following his assassination (44 BC), conflict among the triumvirs—Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian—ultimately resulted in Octavian's victory (31) and his accession as Emperor Augustus (r. 27 BCAD 14). The imperial government, a principate, combined aspects of the republic and a monarchy. In AD 395 the empire split into eastern and western halves, with the west under severe pressure from the barbarians. Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, and the western empire fell to German invaders in 476; the east continued as the Byzantine Empire until 1453.

Descriptions above based on Britannica Online - Free Concise Encyclopedia, such as:

Go to: Influential persons and contributions of above civilizations

Go to: Events marking start & end dates above

Go to: outline of this World Civilizations section of the website

Comments to: