New Directions in Government and Society (2000 B.C.–A.D. 700)

Classical Greece, 2000 B.C.–300 B.C.

In the Greek city-state of Athens, a new form of government developed—democracy—in which citizens exercised power. Alexander the Great spread Greek culture throughout much of Asia. Greek, Egyptian, and Asian cultures then blended to create Hellenistic culture. Athens assumed control of a defense league and eventually built it into an empire. Later, Alexander conquered the Persian Empire and beyond to create a vast new empire of his own.

Cultures of the Mountains and the Sea

In ancient times, Greece was not a united country. It was a collection of separate lands where Greek-speaking people lived. By 3000 B.C., the Minoans lived on the large Greek island of Crete. The Minoans created an elegant civilization that had great power in the Mediterranean world. At the same time, people from the plains along the Black Sea and Anatolia migrated and settled in mainland Greece.

Warring City-States

During the Dorian period, Greek civilization experienced decline. However, two things changed life in Greece. First, Dorians and Mycenaeans alike began to identify less with the culture of their ancestors and more with the local area where they lived. Second, by the end of this period, the method of governing areas had changed from tribal or clan control to more formal governments—the city-states.

Democracy and Greece’s Golden Age

For close to 50 years (from 477 to 431 B.C.), Athens experienced a growth in intellectual and artistic learning. This period is often called the Golden Age of Athens. During this golden age, drama, sculpture, poetry, philosophy, architecture, and science all reached new heights. The artistic and literary legacies of the time continue to inspire and instruct people around the world.

Alexander’s Empire

The Peloponnesian War severely weakened several Greek city-states. This caused a rapid decline in their military and economic power. In the nearby kingdom of Macedonia, King Philip II took note. Philip dreamed of taking control of Greece and then moving against Persia to seize its vast wealth. Philip also hoped to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C.

The Spread of Hellenistic Culture

Alexander’s ambitions were cultural as well as military and political. During his wars of conquest, he actively sought to meld the conquered culture with that of the Greeks. He started new cities as administrative centers and outposts of Greek culture. These cities, from Egyptian Alexandria in the south to the Asian Alexandrias in the east, adopted many Greek patterns and customs. After Alexander’s death, trade, a shared Greek culture, and a common language continued to link the cities together. But each region had its own traditional ways of life, religion, and government that no ruler could afford to overlook.

Ancient Rome and Early Christianity, 500 B.C.-A.D. 500

Rome began as a republic, a government in which elected officials represent the people. Eventually, absolute rulers called emperors seized power and expanded the empire. At its height, the Roman Empire touched three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa. For several centuries, Rome brought peace and prosperity to its empire before its eventual collapse. Out of Judea rose a monotheistic, or single-god, religion known as Christianity. Based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it soon spread throughout Rome and beyond.

The Roman Republic

While the great civilization of Greece was in decline, a new city to the west was developing and increasing its power. Rome grew from a small settlement to a mighty civilization that eventually conquered the Mediterranean world. In time, the Romans would build one of the most famous and influential empires in history.

The Roman Empire

As Rome enlarged its territory, its republican form of government grew increasingly unstable. Eventually, the Roman Republic gave way to the formation of a mighty dictator-ruled empire that continued to spread Rome’s influence far and wide.

The Rise of Christianity

While religion played an important role in Roman society, the worship of Roman gods was impersonal and often practiced without a great deal of emotion. As the empire grew, so, too, did a new religion called Christianity. Born as a movement within Judaism, it emphasized a more personal relationship between God and people—and attracted many Romans.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

In the third century A.D., Rome faced many problems. They came both from within the empire and from outside. Only drastic economic, military, and political reforms, it seemed, could hold off collapse.

Rome and the Roots of Western Civilization

Romans borrowed and adapted cultural elements freely, especially from the Greek and Hellenistic cultures. However, the Romans created a great civilization in their own right, whose art and architecture, language and literature, engineering, and law became its legacy to the world.

India and China Establish Empires, 400 B.C.–A.D. 550

In both India and China in the 200s B.C., military leaders seized power and used their authority to strengthen the government. From the time of the Aryan nomads, Indian civilization was a product of interacting cultures. In China, the government pressured conquered people to adopt Chinese culture. Hinduism and Buddhism were India’s main religions by 250 B.C. The ethical teachings of Confucius played an important role in Chinese life. Buddhism also took root in China.

India’s First Empires

By 600 B.C., almost 1,000 years after the Aryan migrations, many small kingdoms were scattered throughout India. In 326 B.C., Alexander the Great brought the Indus Valley in the northwest under Macedonian control—but left almost immediately. Soon after, a great Indian military leader, Chandragupta Maurya (chuhn•druh•GUP•tuh MAH•oor•yuh), seized power.

Trade Spreads Indian Religions and Culture

The 500 years between the Mauryan and Gupta empires was a time of upheaval. Invaders poured into India, bringing new ideas and customs. In response, Indians began to change their own culture.

Han Emperors in China

Under Shi Huangdi, the Qin Dynasty had unified China. Shi Huangdi established a strong government by conquering the rival kings who ruled small states throughout China. After Shi Huangdi died in 210 B.C., his son proved to be a weak, ineffective leader. China’s government fell apart.

African Civilizations, 1500 B.C.–A.D. 700

The varied climates and natural resources of Africa offered opportunities for developing different lifestyles. By 500 B.C., the Nok people of West Africa had pioneered iron-making technology. Massive migrations of Bantu-speaking people changed the culture of eastern and southern Africa. The migrating people brought new skills and ideas about society to people in the south and east. The kingdom of Aksum became a major trading center for Indian Ocean and Arabian trade. It also became the center of Christianity in East Africa.

Diverse Societies in Africa

Africa spreads across the equator. It includes a broad range of Earth’s environments—from steamy coastal plains to snow-capped mountain peaks. Some parts of Africa suffer from constant drought, while others receive over 200 inches of rain a year. Vegetation varies from sand dunes and rocky wastes to dense green rain forests. Interaction with the African environment has created unique cultures and societies. Each group found ways to adapt to the land and the resources it offers.


Human history is a constantly recurring set of movement, collision, settlement, and more movement. Throughout history, people have chosen to uproot themselves and move to explore their world. Sometimes they migrate in search of new opportunities. Other times, migration is a desperate attempt to find a place to survive or to live in peace.

The Kingdom of Aksum

While migrations were taking place in the southern half of Africa, they were also taking place along the east coast. Arab peoples crossed the Red Sea into Africa perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. There they intermarried with Kushite herders and farmers and passed along their written language, Ge’ez (GEE•ehz). The Arabs also shared their skills of working stone and building dams and aqueducts. This blended group of Africans and Arabs would form the basis of a new and powerful trading kingdom.

The Americas: A Separate World, 40,000 B.C.–A.D. 700

The first civilizations in the Americas arose as people came together to create more powerful and structured societies. From their art to their technology, the early Mesoamerican and South American civilizations influenced the better-known empires that followed them. The Olmec in Mesoamerica took advantage of their surroundings, while the groups in South America carved societies out of rough terrain.

The Earliest Americans

While civilizations were developing in Africa, Asia, and Europe, they were also emerging in the Americas. Human settlement in the Americas is relatively recent compared to that in other parts of the world. However, it followed a similar pattern. At first the ancient people of the Americas survived mainly by hunting. Over time, they developed farming methods that ensured a more reliable supply of food. This in turn led to the growth of the first civilizations in the Americas.

Early Mesoamerican Civilizations

The story of developed civilizations in the Americas begins in a region called Mesoamerica. (See map on opposite page.) This area stretches south from central Mexico to northern Honduras. It was here, more than 3,000 years ago, that the first complex societies in the Americas arose.

Early Civilizations of the Andes

While civilizations were emerging in Mesoamerica, advanced societies were independently developing in South America. The early cultures of South America arose in a difficult environment, the rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains.


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