A good way to learn something is to read about it, ponder it, take action to improve the skills that contribute to it, and engage in the practice of it. If you want to be a musician, you have to live and breathe music. If you like mathematics, you need to do math problems and think about math. Being passionate about something leads naturally to becoming good at it.
For those of us with many interests, however, becoming fully immersed in several things at once is impractical. In spite of our desires to grab all the gusto that life has to offer, we must work to sustain ourselves, thus precluding the full-time pursuit of our dreams.
History is fascinating. When most of us set priorities, though, studying history appears far down on the list. If we want to acquire a rudimentary knowledge of it, we must do so within the confines of our everyday lives.
Because of this, I have devised a list of important historical movements, lives, and events. Knowing something about these key times and prominent people facilitates intelligent conversation and prevents embarrassment when others make references to history.
I have divided my suggestions into two articles to make them easier to read and digest. Here are my first ten suggestions regarding important times in history about which everyone should know:
1. Ancient Egypt (3150 – 332 B.C.)
Ancient Egypt came together at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh. It reached its pinnacle during the reign of Ramses II in the 13th century B.C. and ended when it fell to Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The Ptolemaic Dynasty, which was a line descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals, ruled from Alexander’s death until 30 B.C. when Egypt succumbed to the Roman Empire.
2. Buddha (563 – 483 B.C.)
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual leader whose teachings formed the basis of Buddhism. Buddhists consider him to be the Supreme Buddha or the “enlightened one.” At the time of his awakening, Buddha gained special insight into the “Four Noble Truths.” A mastery of these truths creates Nirvana, which Buddha believed to be a perfect state of peace free from affliction.
3. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great (469 – 323 B.C.)
Socrates lived in the fifth century B.C., Plato was his student, Aristotle was Plato’s student, and Alexander the Great was Aristotle’s student. Together, these four lives form a reference point in history that, once learned, orients students with respect to other historical events that take place around that time.
Alexander the Great (356 – 323 B.C.) was a king of Macedon (in northern Ancient Greece) and is considered to be one of the greatest military commanders in history. He conquered peoples from the Ionian Sea to the western border of India and as far south as Egypt. He died at the age of 33 in Babylon, probably of typhoid fever.
4. Roman Republic / Roman Empire (508 B.C. – 1453 A.D.)
The Roman Republic began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy in 508 B.C. and transitioned to the Roman Empire with the appointment of Julius Caesar as ruler in 44 B.C. The Roman Empire consisted of a succession of autocratic rulers who controlled vast portions of Europe and areas around the Mediterranean Sea. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 A.D. when mercenaries revolted and deposed the emperor Romulus Augustus, and the Eastern Roman Empire ended in 1453 A.D. with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.
5. Jesus Christ (2 B.C. – 31 A.D.)
Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, lived in Judaea, a Roman province that encompassed much of Israel. Modern-day Christians view him as the Son of God incarnate and venerate his birth, teachings, miracles, and death. He died in his early thirties by crucifixion.
6. Mohammed (Muhammad) (570 – 632 A.D.)
Mohammed founded the Islamic religion. Muslims consider him to be a prophet of God. As a young man, he retreated to a mountain cave and received his first revelation from God. Later, he preached his revelations publically, conquered Mecca, and converted most of the Arabian Peninsula to Islam. His revelations form the verses of the Quran. He died in Medina of an illness at the age of 62.
7. Middle Ages (476 – 1453 A.D.)
The Middle Ages is a period of European history that begins with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. and ends with the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 A.D. Most of the Gothic cathedrals were built from the 12th to the 16th century, and the Crusades took place from the 11th to the 13th century. German Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical-movable-type printing in 1439.
8. Genghis Khan (1162 – 1227 A.D.)
Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongol Empire, which extended from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan in the 13th and 14th centuries A.D. After unifying the tribes of northeastern Asia, he embarked on a series of invasions that resulted in the conquest of most of Eurasia. Although his raids were cruel and included the massacre of entire populations, his policy of religious tolerance throughout his empire contributed significantly to his ability to govern peoples of different cultures.
9. Renaissance (14th – 17th centuries A.D.)
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that started around 1400 A.D. in Florence, Italy. It included a return to classical scholarship, the development of linear perspective, and the introduction of educational reforms. It bridged the Middle Ages with the modern era and influenced art, literature, music, philosophy, religion, science, and more. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked during this period.
10. Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1923 A.D.)
The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish state that began in 1299 with the downfall of the Sultanate of Rum and ended in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence. It was one of the longest lasting empires in history and during the 16th and 17th centuries became the world’s most powerful state. Constantinople was its capital, and at its height, the empire encompassed Greece, Turkey, much of the Arabic Peninsula, Egypt, and a strip of land along the southern edge of the Mediterranean.
This concludes the first half of the list. My upcoming article, titled High Points In History – The Protestant Reformation To The Cold War, presents the second set of suggestions, beginning with the Protestant Reformation and continuing to the End of the Cold War.