2nd millennium BC

The 2nd millennium BC spanned the years 2000 through 1001 BC. In the Ancient Near East, it marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age. The Ancient Near Eastern cultures are well within the historical era: The first half of the millennium is dominated by the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and Babylonia. The alphabet develops. At the center of the millennium, a new order emerges with Minoan Greek dominance of the Aegean and the rise of the Hittite Empire. The end of the millennium sees the Bronze Age collapse and the transition to the Iron Age.

Overview map of the world at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, color-coded by cultural stage:
  Palaeolithic or Mesolithic hunter-gatherers
  nomadic pastoralists
  simple farming societies
  complex farming societies (Old World Bronze Age, Olmecs, Andes)
  state societies (Fertile Crescent, China)

Other regions of the world are still in the prehistoric period. In Europe, the Beaker culture introduces the Bronze Age, presumably associated with Indo-European expansion. The Indo-Iranian expansion reaches the Iranian plateau and onto the Indian subcontinent (Vedic India), propagating the use of the chariot. Mesoamerica enters the Pre-Classic (Olmec) period. North America is in the late Archaic stage. In Maritime Southeast Asia, the Austronesian expansion reaches Micronesia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Bantu expansion begins.

World population rises steadily, possibly surpassing the 100 million mark for the first time.[1]

Old World Bronze Age

Please see the article on Chronology of the ancient Near East for a discussion regarding the accuracy and resolution of dates for events of the 2nd millennium BC in the Near East (Babylon, etc.).

Middle Bronze Age

Spending much of their energies in trying to recuperate from the chaotic situation that existed at the turn of the millennium, the most powerful civilizations of the time, Egypt and Mesopotamia, turned their attention to more modest goals. The Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and their contemporary Kings of Babylon, of Amorite origin, brought good governance without much tyranny, and favoured elegant art and architecture. Farther east, the Indus Valley civilization was in a period of decline, possibly as a result of intense, ruinous flooding.

Egypt and Babylonia's military tactics were still based on foot soldiers transporting their equipment on donkeys. Combined with a weak economy and difficulty in maintaining order, this was a fragile situation that crumbled under the pressure of external forces they could not oppose.

Unrest of the 16th century

About a century before the middle of the millennium, bands of Indo-European invaders came from the Central Asian plains and swept through Western Asia and Northeast Africa. They were riding fast two-wheeled chariots powered by horses, a system of weaponry developed earlier in the context of plains warfare. This tool of war was unknown among the classical civilizations. Egypt and Babylonia's foot soldiers were unable to defend against the invaders: in 1630 BC, the Hyksos swept into the Nile Delta, and in 1595 BC, the Hittites swept into Mesopotamia.

Late Bronze Age

The people in place were quick to adapt to the new tactics, and a new international situation resulted from the change. Though during most of the second half of the 2nd millennium BC several regional powers competed relentlessly for hegemony, many developments occurred: there was new emphasis on grandiose architecture, new clothing fashions, vivid diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets, renewed economic exchanges, and the New Kingdom of Egypt played the role of the main superpower. Among the great states of the time, only Babylon refrained from taking part in battles, mainly due to its new position as the world's religious and intellectual capital.

The Bronze Age civilization at its final period of time, displayed all its characteristic social traits: low level of urbanization, small cities centered on temples or royal palaces, strict separation of classes between an illiterate mass of peasants and craftsmen, and a powerful military elite, knowledge of writing and education reserved to a tiny minority of scribes, and pronounced aristocratic life.

Near the end of the 2nd millennium BC, new waves of barbarians, this time riding on horseback, wholly destroyed the Bronze Age world, and were to be followed by waves of social changes that marked the beginning of different times. Also contributing to the changes were the Sea Peoples, ship-faring raiders of the Mediterranean.

Empires and dynasties

Significant people

Most people known by name from this period are kings or emperors:

An exception is may be Sinuhe, protagonist of an Egyptian tale set in the 20th century BC, although the general consensus considers him a fictional character.

Prehistoric cultures


Europe is still entirely within the prehistoric era; much of Europe enters the Bronze Age early in the 2nd millennium.

Central Asia
East Asia
South Asia
Sub-Saharan Africa

The desiccation of the Sahara is complete. Neolithisation of Sub-Saharan Africa is initiated via expansion from the dried Sahara, reaching West and East Africa. Later in the 2nd millennium, pastoralism and iron metallurgy spread to Central Africa via the Bantu migration.


Women figure in Menhir
The gilded side of the Trundholm sun chariot.
After eruption a volcano, today Thera
The Kadesh peace agreement—on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum—is believed to be the earliest international agreement

Inventions, discoveries, introductions


In the history of the Egyptian language, the early 2nd millennium saw a transition from Old Egyptian to Middle Egyptian. As the most used written form of the Ancient Egyptian language, it is frequently (incorrectly) referred to simply as "Hieroglyphics".

The earliest attested Indo-European language, the Hittite language, first appears in cuneiform in the 16th century BC (Anitta text), before disappearing from records in the 13th century BC. Hittite is the best known and the most studied language of the extinct Anatolian branch of Indo-European languages.

The first Northwest Semitic language, Ugaritic, is attested in the 14th century BC. The first fully phonemic script Proto-Canaanite developed from Egyptian hieroglyphs, becoming the Phoenician alphabet by 1200 BC. The Phoenician alphabet was spread throughout the mediterranean by Phoenician maritime traders and become one of the most widely used writing systems in the world, and the parent of virtually all alphabetic writing systems. The Phoenician language is also the first Canaanite language, the Northwest Semitic languages spoken by the ancient peoples of the Canaan region: the Israelites, Phoenicians, Amorites, Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites.

Mycenaean Greek, the most ancient attested form of the Greek language, was used on the Greek mainland, Crete and Cyprus in the Mycenaean period.

Centuries and Decades

20th century BC 1990s BC1980s BC 1970s BC 1960s BC1950s BC 1940s BC 1930s BC1920s BC 1910s BC1900s BC
19th century BC 1890s BC1880s BC 1870s BC 1860s BC1850s BC 1840s BC 1830s BC1820s BC 1810s BC1800s BC
18th century BC 1790s BC1780s BC 1770s BC 1760s BC1750s BC 1740s BC 1730s BC1720s BC 1710s BC1700s BC
17th century BC 1690s BC1680s BC 1670s BC 1660s BC1650s BC 1640s BC 1630s BC1620s BC 1610s BC1600s BC
16th century BC 1590s BC1580s BC 1570s BC 1560s BC1550s BC 1540s BC 1530s BC1520s BC 1510s BC1500s BC
15th century BC 1490s BC1480s BC 1470s BC 1460s BC1450s BC 1440s BC 1430s BC1420s BC 1410s BC1400s BC
14th century BC 1390s BC1380s BC 1370s BC 1360s BC1350s BC 1340s BC 1330s BC1320s BC 1310s BC1300s BC
13th century BC 1290s BC1280s BC 1270s BC 1260s BC1250s BC 1240s BC 1230s BC1220s BC 1210s BC1200s BC
12th century BC 1190s BC1180s BC 1170s BC 1160s BC1150s BC 1140s BC 1130s BC1120s BC 1110s BC1100s BC
11th century BC 1090s BC1080s BC 1070s BC 1060s BC1050s BC 1040s BC 1030s BC1020s BC 1010s BC1000s BC


  1. Klein Goldewijk, K. , A. Beusen, M. de Vos and G. van Drecht (2011). The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human induced land use change over the past 12,000 years, Global Ecology and Biogeography20(1): 73–86. doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00587.x (pbl.nl). Jean-Noël Biraben, "Essai sur l'évolution du nombre des hommes", Population 34-1 (1979), 13–25 (p. 22) estimates c. 80 million in 2000 BC and c. 100 million at 1200 BC.
  2. The Kuru kingdom of the late Vedic period was most likely established around 1200 BC, although there are no datable contemporary references. Pletcher, Kenneth (2010), The History of India, The Rosen Publishing Group, ISBN 9781615301225
    • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press
  3. Keys, David (January 2009), "Scholars crack the code of an ancient enigma", BBC History Magazine, 10 (1): 9
  4. David Hatcher Childress (2000). Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients. Adventures Unlimited Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-932813-73-2.
  5. Jane C. Waldbaum (1978). From bronze to iron: the transition from the Bronze age to the Iron age in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul Astroms Forlag. p. 69. ISBN 978-91-85058-79-2. reviewed in Hood, Sinclair (27 February 2009). "Jane C. Waldbaum: From Bronze to Iron. The Transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Eastern Mediterranean. (Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, LIV.) Pp. 106; 15 text figures. Göteborg: Paul Åström, 1978. Paper, Sw. kr. 150". The Classical Review. 30 (2): 304. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00236007.
  6. Edwin Bryant; Edwin Francis Bryant; Professor of Hinduism Edwin Bryant (6 September 2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-19-513777-4.

See also

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