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All Stories Begin With Once Upon A Time

And so it goes on, further and further back. Behind every 'Once upon a time' there is always another. And that's how it is with 'Once upon a time. We can't see where it ends. Grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather .. , it makes your head spin. But say it again, slowly, and in the end you'll be able to imagine it. Then add one more. That gets us quickly back into the past, and from there into the distant past.

It's like a bottomless well. If you light a scrap of paper, and drop it down into that well. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it burns it will light up the sides of the well. Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper. We use it to light up the past. First of all our own, and then we ask old people to tell us what they remember. After that we look for letters written by people who are already dead. And in this way we light our way back. Twenty thousand . . . fifty thousand . . . and even then people said, as we do, `Once upon a time'. Now our memory-light is getting very small . . . and now it's gone.

And yet we know that it goes on much further, to a time long, long ago, before there were any people and when our mountains didn't look as they do today. Some of them were bigger, but as the rain poured down it slowly turned them into hills. Others weren't there at all. They grew up gradually, out of the sea, over millions and millions of years.

Human time periods

Based on current and debatable evidence, the human species has found its origins starting from about 250,000 years ago - when homo began to develop. It is broadly divided into prehistorical (before history began to be recorded) and historical periods (when written records began to be kept). In archaeology and anthropology, human prehistory is subdivided around the three-age system.
The Stone Age
In some regions the Stone Age is divided into the Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age) and the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age).
In other regions the Stone Age is divided into the Paleolithic Age, the Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age, also called the Epipaleolithic Age), and the Neolithic Age.
The Copper Age (aka Chalcolithic Age).
The Copper Age was not part of the original three-age system.
The Bronze Age
The Iron Age
The dates for each age can vary by region. On the geologic time scale, the Holocene epoch starts at the end of the most recent Ice age (about 9400 BC) and continues to the present. The beginning of Mesolithic is usually considered to correspond to the beginning of the Holocene epoch.
Ancient history, Classical antiquity
Mesopotamia (6000 BC - 1100 BC)
Indus Valley Civilization (3300 BC - 1300 BC)
Old Kingdom (Egypt, 3000 BC - 2000 BC)
Middle Kingdom (Egypt, 2000 BC - 1300 BC)
Shang Dynasty (China 1800 BC - 1200 BC)
Vedic Period (India 1500 BC - 500 BC)
New Kingdom (Egypt, 1300 BC - 700 BC)
Zhou Dynasty (China 1200 BC - 500 BC)
Ancient Greece (Greece and Near East, c. 1000 BC- 31 BC)
Jomon period (Japan 800 BC-400 BC)
Ancient Rome 509 BC - 476)
Yayoi Period (Japan 400 BC - 300)
Kofun Period (Japan 300- 600)
Migration Period (Europe 200 - 700)
Middle Ages (Europe, 4th century - 15th century)
Early Middle Ages European (500-1000 CE)
    Dark Age (Europe, 4th century - 900)
    Viking Age (Scandinavia, Europe, 793 - 1066)
Asuka period, Nara period, Heian period
    Kamakura period, Muromachi period
    Azuchi-Momoyama period (Japan, 538 - 1603)
Southern and Northern Dynasties
    Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, Period of
    Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (China, 420 - 960)
    Liao Dynasty, Song Dynasty, Jin Dynasty (1115"1234)
    Western Xia Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, and Ming Dynasty
    (China, 220 - 1644)
Classic and Postclassic eras, Central America (200 - 1519)
Gupta Empire, Pala Empire, Rashtrakuta, Hoysala Empire
    Kakatiya Empire (India, 280 " 1323)
Islamic Golden Age (Islam, 700 - 1300)
High Middle Ages (Feudalism)
    European military expansion (1000"1450 CE)
Srivijaya (Indonesia, 3rd century to 14th century)
    Tarumanagara (358-723)
    Sailendra (8th & 9th centuries)
    Kingdom of Sunda (669-1579)
    Kingdom of Mataram (752"1045)
    Kediri (1045"1221)
    Singhasari (1222"1292)
    Majapahit (1293"1500)
Chenla (Cambodia, 630 " 802)
    Khmer Empire (Cambodia, 802 " 1432)
Anterior Lý Dynasty and Triêu Viêt Vuong
    Third Chinese domination, Khúc Family
    Duong Ðình Nghê, Kiêu Công Tiên, Ngô Dynasty
    The 12 Lords Rebellion, Ðinh Dynasty, Prior Lê Dynasty
    Lý Dynasty, Trên Dynasty, Hê Dynasty
    Fourth Chinese domination (Vietnam, 544 - 1427)
Early Intermediate, Middle Horizon, Late Intermediate
    Late Horizon (Peru, 200 - 1534)
Huari, Chimú, Chincha, Chanka, Tiwanaku, Inca
Late Middle Ages European (1300"1500 CE)
Early modern period (Europe, 14th century - 18th century)
The Renaissance (Europe, 14th century - 16th century)
Age of Discovery (Europe, 15th century - 17th century)
Elizabethan period (United Kingdom, 1558 - 1603)
The Protestant Reformation (Europe, 16th century)
Jacobean Era (United Kingdom, 1603-1625)
The Age of Enlightenment (Europe, 18th century)
Tokugawa shogunate (Japan, 1603 - 1868)
Mughal Empire (India, 1526 - 1857)
Ottoman Empire (Islam, 1299 " 1923)
Qing dynasty (China, 1644 - 1912)
Spanish hegemony (Americas, 16th century - 1820s
    Europe, 16th and 17th century, Philippines, 1525 - 1898)
Modern era (Europe, 18th century - 20th century)
Industrial Revolution (Europe, United States
    elsewhere 18th and 19th centuries)
Age of European colonialism and imperialism
    (along with early modern era)
Napoleonic Era (1799 - 1815)
Georgian Era (United Kingdom, 1714 - 1830)
Victorian era (United Kingdom, 1837 - 1901)
    British hegemony, much of world
    around the same time period.
Edwardian period (United Kingdom, 1901 - 1910)
Meiji period (Japan, 1868 - 1912)
Machine Age(1900 - 1945)
World War I (Much of Earth, 1914 - 1918)
Interwar period (Earth, 1918 - 1939 or 1937)
World War II (Earth, 1937 or 1939 - 1945)
Post-Modern (USA, 1949 - Present)
Atomic Age (after 1945)
Cold War (Soviet Union and United States
    as well their respective allied states
    1945 - 1989 or 1991)
Space Age (after 1957)
Information Age (1971 - Present)
The word "hegemony" originated in ancient Greece and derives from the word hegeisthai (meaning "to lead"). Researchers use hegemony to explain how dominant groups or individuals can maintain their power -- the capacity of dominant classes to persuade subordinate ones to accept, adopt and internalize their values and norms.

But even before the mountains there were animals, quite different from those of today. They were huge and looked rather like dragons. And how do we know that? We sometimes find their bones, deep in the ground.

But we still haven't reached the beginning. It all goes back much further - thousands of millions of years. That's easy enough to say, but stop and think for a moment. Do you know how long one second is? It's as long as counting: one, two, three. And how about a thousand million seconds? That's thirty-two years! Now, try to imagine a thousand million years! At that time there were no large animals, just creatures like snails and worms. And before then there weren't even any plants. The whole earth was a 'formless void. There was nothing. Not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass, not a flower, nothing green. Just barren desert rocks and the sea. An empty sea: no fish, no seashells, not even any seaweed. Once the earth was perhaps no more than a swirling cloud of gas and dust, like those other, far bigger ones we can see today through our telescopes. For billions and trillions of years, without rocks, without water and without life, that swirling cloud of gas and dust made rings around the sun. And before that? Before that, not even the sun, our good old sun, was there. Only weird and amazing giant stars and smaller heavenly bodies, whirling among the gas clouds in an infinite, infinite universe.

And just so that 'Once upon a time' doesn't keep dragging us back down into that bottomless well, from now on we'll always shout: 'Stop! When did that happen?' And if we also ask, 'And how exactly did that happen?' we will be asking about history. Not just a story, but our story, the story that we call the history of the world.

History begins, With a when and a where in The Land By The Nile. In Africa it is hot, and for months on end it doesn't rain. In many regions very little grows. These are deserts, as are the lands on either side of Egypt. Egypt also gets very little rain. But here they don't need it, because the Nile flows right through the middle of the country, from one end to the other. Twice a year, when heavy rain filled its sources, the river would swell and burst its banks, flooding the whole land. Then people were forced to take to boats to move among the houses and the palm trees. And when the waters withdrew, the earth was wonderfully drenched and rich with oozing mud. There, under the hot sun, the grain grew as it did nowhere else. Which is why, from earliest times, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile as if it were God himself.

Thanks to the Nile, their land grew rich and powerful. Mightiest of all was their king. One king ruled over all the Egyptians, and the first to do so was King Menes. It is 3100 BC (that is, 5,100 years ago), when, as we believe, a king named Menes was ruling over Egypt. They were called pharaohs. A pharaoh was immensely powerful. He lived in a great stone palace with massive pillars and many courtyards, and his word was law. All the people of Egypt had to toil for him if he so decreed. And sometimes he did.

One such pharaoh was King Cheops, who lived in about 2500 sc. He summoned all his subjects to help construct his tomb. He wanted a building like a mountain, and he got it. You can still see it today. It's the Great Pyramid of Cheops. You may have seen pictures of it, but you still won't be able to imagine how big it is. A cathedral would fit comfortably inside. Clambering up its huge stone blocks is like scaling a mountain peak. And yet it was human beings who piled those gigantic stones on top of each other. They had no machines in those days - rollers and pulleys at most. They had to pull and shove every single block by hand. In this way, it seems, for thirty years, some hundred thousand people toiled for the pharaoh, whenever they weren't working in the fields. And when they grew tired, the king's overseer was sure to drive them on with his hippopotamus-skin whip, as they dragged and heaved those immense loads, all for their king's tomb.

Thanks to the great stone statues, and the wonderfully bright and vivid wall paintings, we have a very good idea of what life in ancient Egypt was like. True, these paintings do not show things as we see them. An object or a person that is behind another is generally shown on top, and the figures often look stiff. Bodies are shown from the front and hands and feet from the side, so they look as if they have been ironed flat. But the Egyptians knew what they were doing. Every detail is clear: how they used great nets to catch ducks on the Nile, how they paddled their boats and fished with long spears, how they pumped water into ditches to irrigate the fields, how they drove their cows and goats to pasture, how they threshed grain, made shoes and clothes, blew glass - for they could already do that! - and how they shaped bricks and built houses. And we can also see girls playing catch, or playing music on flutes, and soldiers going off to war, or returning with loot and foreign captives, such as black Africans.

In noblemen's tombs we can see embassies arriving from abroad, laden with tribute, and the king rewarding faithful ministers with decorations. Some pictures show the long-dead noblemen at prayer, their arms raised before the statues of their gods, or holding banquets in their houses, with singers plucking harps, and clowns performing somersaults.

Next to these brightly coloured paintings you often see lots of tiny pictures of all sorts of things, such as owls and little people, flags, flowers, tents, beetles and vases, together with zigzag lines and spirals, all jumbled up together. Whatever can they be? They aren't pictures, they are hieroglyphs - or 'sacred signs' - the Egyptian form of writing. The Egyptians were immensely proud of their writing - indeed, they were almost in awe of it. And of all professions, that of scribe was the most highly esteemed.

But think what a job it must have been to decipher all that Egyptian writing when people became interested in hieroglyphs again, two hundred years ago. In fact, they were only able to decipher them because a stone had been found on which the same words were written in three scripts: ancient Greek, hieroglyphs and another Egyptian script. It was still a tremendous puzzle, and great scholars devoted their lives to it. You can see that stone - it's called the Rosetta Stone - in the British Museum in London.

We are now able to read almost everything the Egyptians wrote. Not just on the walls of palaces and temples, but also in books, though the books are no longer very legible. For the ancient Egyptians did have books, even that long ago. Of course they weren't made of paper like ours, but from a certain type of reed that grows on the banks of the Nile. The Greek name for these reeds is papyrus, from which our name for paper comes.

They wrote on long strips of this papyrus, which were then rolled up into scrolls. A whole heap of these scrolls has survived. And when we read them we discover just how wise and clever those ancient Egyptians really were.

Because the Egyptians were so wise and so powerful their empire lasted for a very long time. Longer than any empire the world has ever known: nearly three thousand years. And they took just as much care as they did with their corpses, when they preserved them from rotting away, in preserving all their ancient traditions over the centuries. Their priests made quite sure that no son did anything his father had not done before him. To them, everything old was sacred.

Only rarely in the course of all that time did people turn against this strict conformity. Once was shortly after the reign of King Cheops, about 2100 BC, when the people tried to change everything. They rose up in rebellion against the pharaoh, killed his ministers, and dragged the mummies from their tombs: 'Those who formerly didn't even own sandals now hold treasures, and those who once wore precious robes go about in rags; the ancient papyrus tells us. 'The land is turning like a potter's wheel.' But it did not last long, and soon everything was as strict as before. If not more so.

On another occasion it was the pharaoh himself who tried to change everything. Akhenaton was a remarkable man who lived around 1370 sc. He had no time for the Egyptian religion, with its many gods and its mysterious rituals. 'There is only one God,' he taught his people, 'and that is the Sun, through whose rays all is created and all sustained. To Him alone you must pray.'

The ancient temples were shut down, and King Akhenaton and his wife moved into a new palace. Since he was utterly opposed to tradition, and in favour of fine new ideas, he also had the walls of his palace painted in an entirely new style. One that was no longer severe, rigid and solemn, but freer and more natural. However, this didn't please the people at all. They wanted everything to look as it had always done for thousands of years. As soon as Akhenaton was dead, they brought back all the old customs and the old style of art. So everything stayed as it had been, for as long as the Egyptian empire endured.

The period of modern history, or at least early modern history, which began Europe's dominance over the world. How, is a question better left to socialists and other historians to debate. Once things stabilized after the Mongolian invasions, trade intensified along interregional networks.

This trade continued to snowball when European nations began to explore and to colonize. For once, the ability to use technology effectively became a key factor in expanding empires. The Europeans ascended to the position of control over most of the world.

Things only continue to get better for the European nations as they industrialize first. This industrialization helps to increase the interregional network to a truly global trade network that continues to expand as the period progresses. Also with that industrialization, the European nations start a renewed program of colonization called imperialism. Most of the events from this period are the result of other people's reaction to the West's assertion of power through imperialism. But just when things were going so well for Europe, the idea of nationalism caught up with them and beginning with World War I, the European domination of the world ceased to be.

The beginning of World War I was the beginning of the end of European dominance. The nationalism that eventually spread around the world ended their reign. The United States and Soviet Union fought a Cold War for that position. In the end the United States came out on top; for how long is another question.

The global trading network that developed in the previous period expanded, and its influence can be seen in the phenomenon of globalization. With globalization has come problems, including substantial environmental issues. In addition, globalization has often brought cultural traditions into question. Fundamentalist religious movements have been a reaction against that trend.

E.H. Gombrich, english translation by Caroline Mustill. A Little History of the World . Yale University Press. 2005.


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