This is a list of the major periods in world history. It includes broad global eras, such as the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. It also includes modern eras, which have lasted only a few decades, such as the Gilded Age, Progressive Age and the Information Age.
Stone Age (50,000–3000 BCE) The Stone Age refers to the broad range of ‘pre-history’ which lasted from approx 30,000 BC to 6,000BC where the first metals started to be used. In the stone age, use of metals was scarce and the most common building materials and weapons were wood and stone. Much of this history is undocumented, though some archaeological evidence persists.
Bronze Age (3000–1300 BCE) The Bronze age refers to the broad period of history when cultures in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world made the first uses of bronze, from mining copper and tin. Bronze enabled more powerful tools and weapons. It was an age where the first writing systems became devised and used.
Iron Age (1200–230 BCE) The iron age was a period of economic development, where iron and steel enabled a greater use of metal tools which were stronger than previous Bronze Age items. The era led to developments in agricultural production and we see the first evidence of written manuscripts, which includes great religious texts such as the Indian Vedas, (Sanskrit), and the Hebrew Bible.
Ancient Egypt (3000–300 BCE) Ancient Egypt was a civilisation which inhabited the banks of the Nile. Egypt was successful in using technology to increase agricultural production, giving spare labour for other pursuits, such as cultural, religious and military. Egypt was ruled by powerful Pharaohs, though there began a slow decline after being invaded by foreign powers. By 30 BC Egypt fell under the rule of the Roman Empire.
Ancient India (7000 BCE or earlier to c. 500CE) Ancient India refers to a long period of history which includes the Vedic ages and the development of Indus and Aryan civilisation. Ancient India includes the period from the earliest Vedic sages and Vedas and the great Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are said to have occurred. See: Famous Indians
Ancient Greece (8th Century BCE–0 CE) Ancient Greece is considered the birthplace of modern democracy and representative government. Ancient Greece also produced some of the earliest Western philosophy, with great thinkers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Ancient Greece also was an important source of early Western literature, with epic poets such as Homer. Other contributions of Ancient Greece include modern sports (Olympics) and scientific innovations. See: Famous Greeks
Ancient Rome (8th Century BCE–476 CE) The Roman Empire was centred on the city of Rome and the Italian peninsula. Rome went through different phases, from classical Republic government to autocratic Emperors. At its peak, the power of Rome extended throughout the majority of Europe, laying many foundations of Western civilisations. Towards the end of the Roman Empire, it adopted Christianity as its official religion; this helped the religion to spread across Europe. See: Famous Italians
Middle Ages (Europe, 4CE–1500CE) Also known as the post-classical era. The Middle Ages stretches from the end of the Roman Empire and classical period and the Renaissance of the 15th Century. It includes the rise of Islam in the Middle East. The Middle Ages is often considered a period of relative cultural ‘darkness’, with severe wars (e.g. 100-year war, crusades), plagues, religious persecution and a relative lack of learning.
Islamic Golden Age (Middle East, 750CE–1300CE) This refers to a period in the Islamic World which saw a flourishing of science, mathematics and preservation of classical writings, such as Aristotle. The Islamic Golden Age saw the creation of centres of learning, science and culture, beginning with the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.
Age of Discovery (or Exploration) (Europe, 1400CE–1700CE) The Age of Discovery refers to a period in the late Middle Ages/Renaissance where foreign travel and discovery was an influential part of European societies. In the Age of Discovery, European powers discovered and settled in different continents, changing the fate of the Americas, Africa and Asia. It led to a global spread of Christianity and ideas of Western civilisation, it also marked the growth of the global slave trade. See: Famous explorers
The Protestant Reformation (Europe, 16th century) The Protestant Reformation was a Christian movement, which criticised the excesses of the Catholic Church and promoted a new branch of Protestant Christianity which emphasised the pre-eminence of the Bible over the priesthood and the church. The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther pinning 95 theses to the church door of Wittenburg, Saxony. The ideas of the Reformation were spread with the help of the newly developed printing press. See: People of the Protestant Reformation
The Renaissance (1350s–1650s) The Renaissance was a period in the late Middle Ages which saw a rebirth of culture, arts, science and learning. The Renaissance included artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus. See: People of the Renaissance | Facts about the Renaissance
The Enlightenment (1650s–1780s) The enlightenment is a period which saw the growth of intellectual reason, individualism and a challenge to existing religious and political structures. Enlightenment ideas had an influence on the American and French revolutions and also limited the power of religious authority. See: Famous People of The Enlightenment
Age of Revolution (1750–1917) The Age of Revolution is a period in which the Western world underwent several major revolutions, changing society from autocratic monarchies to more democratic republics. Major revolutions of this era, include the American and French revolution, European-political revolts of 1848, nationalist revolutions of Italy, Greece and Latin America. It also includes the Haitian revolution against slavery. See: Famous Revolutionaries
The Romantic Era (1790s–1850s) Romantic poets (Blake, Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Shelley) and Romantic artists, composers and writers. The Romantic era was partly a reaction against faith in reason alone. It was also a reaction to the industrial revolution, emphasising a faith in nature and man’s spiritual needs.
Industrial Revolution (1750s–1900) The industrial revolution is a phase of social development which saw the growth of mass industrial production and the shift from a largely agrarian economy to an industrial economy based on coal, steel, railways and specialisation of labour.
Age of Imperialism (c. 1700–1950s) The Age of Imperialism refers to the process of (mostly) European powers conquering and annexing other countries. Imperial powers ruled dominion countries directly. The most widely spread Empire was the British Empire, which at its peak covered 25% of the globe, in countries, such as India, the West Indies and parts of Australasia.
The First World War (1914–1918) The First World War was a devastating global war, mostly centred on Europe and the battlefields of France and Belgium. It featured troops from across the world and later involved the US. See: People of The First World War
Inter-war era (1918–1939) A period of peace in between the two world wars. It was characterised by economic boom and bust, and the growth of polarising ideologies, in particular, Fascism and Communism.
Roaring Twenties (1919–1929) The roaring twenties refers to the period of rapid economic expansion and rise in US living standards. It also saw an emergence of new music and a decline in strict morality. The ‘Roaring Twenties’ was associated particularly with the East coast of the US and major European cities, such as Paris and London.
Great Depression (1929–39) The 1930s were a period of global economic downturn. Major economies experienced mass unemployment and stark poverty. It also led to the rise of political extremism, e.g. Nazi Party in Germany.
The Cold War (1948–1990) The Cold War refers to the period of ideological conflict between the Communist East, and Western democracies. The cold war saw a period of rising tension, especially over the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There was no direct war between the US and the Soviet Union, but both sides gave support to ideologically similar regimes in minor conflicts around the world. See: People of The Cold War
Information Age (1971–present)
The Information age refers to the new modern technologies which have shaped the modern world. These technologies include computers, the Internet and mobile phones. Key figures include business entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Periods of American history
American revolution (1765–1783) The American Revolution was the period of political upheaval in which the American colonies declared their independence from British rule.
American Civil War (1861–1865) The American civil war was the intense fighting between the Federal army, led by President Abraham Lincoln and the confederate armies of the South, who wished to break away from the union to defend slavery.
Reconstruction era (1865–1877) The period of rebuilding in the south after the civil war.
The Gilded Age (1870–1900) The Gilded Age refers to the last part of the US industrial revolution. The Gilded Age included rapid economic growth, but also refers to the immorality behind the accumulation of great wealth by a few leading industrialists, such as J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, who came to define the Gilded Age.
Progressive Era (1890–1920) The progressive era was a period of political activism which included causes such as votes for women, labour and trade unions movements and civil rights. It also included movements to regulate aspects of Capitalism and big business.
Civil rights movement (1950–1960) The civil rights movement is principally aimed at supporting rights of African Americans and ending segregation. The wider civil rights movement has spread over the whole of American history, but the 1950s and 60s saw some of the most intense activism. Further reading: Civil rights activists
Periods of British history
Elizabethan period (England, 1558–1603) A period in English history marked by the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. It saw Britain emerge as a major world power. It also saw the English Renaissance, with figures, such as Shakespeare and William Byrd.
Victorian age (1837–1901) The Victorian Age co-coincided with the later part of the Industrial Revolution. In Britain, it also saw the growing strength and extent of the British Empire. The Victorian Age is associated with a stricter type of morality.
Edwardian Age (1901–1914) A period of growth in science, technology and also rising tensions between the major European powers. Also saw the ‘heroic age’ of exploration.
People of the Seventeenth Century (1601–1700)Famous people of the 17th century, which included the emerging European Enlightenment. Including; Shakespeare, Charles I, Louis XIV, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Locke and Galileo.
People of the Eighteenth Century (1701–1800) Famous leaders, statesmen, scientists, philosophers and authors. Including; Louis XIV, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
The Nineteenth Century (1801–1900) The Nineteenth Century saw the economic boom of the industrial revolution and world-wide movements for political change, which included the suffrage movement for women, growing nationalist movements and also the emergence of workers movements in response to the inequality of the industrial revolution.
People of the Twentieth Century (1901–2000) Famous people of the turbulent century. Including Lenin, Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt and Thatcher.
People of the Twenty-First Century (2001–) Politicians, musicians, authors, scientists and sports figures.