Ages of History – We explain what the ages of history are, the characteristics of each one, and the events that mark its beginnings and ends.
What are the ages of history?
The stages or ages of history are the different epochs or segments of time into which the history of humanity is usually divided, with the purpose of facilitating its study and being able to understand its main movements and patterns. These are conventional, relatively arbitrary divisions, elaborated and continually revised by scholars of the subject for centuries.
Delimiting and organizing the history of humanity is not a simple issue. On the one hand, the origins of our species predate those of an organized civilization long before the invention of a writing method that allowed the recording of human events and thoughts.
On the other hand, the human species is immensely diverse, and attempts to define unique criteria to think about its particular evolution up to the present usually leave out the particularities of other cultures, since it is not easy to decide what is “normal” or “usual”.
Each human civilization has emerged in a specific context: a place, a time, and specific conditions, which defined its way of being and its challenges and opportunities. Therefore, it is not easy to judge a distant civilization with the criteria of another.
Even so, historians have tried to find a model that more or less allows most human cultures to be taken into account throughout their historical journey, and although it is not a perfect model or devoid of exceptions, it is up to now the most accepted and disseminated: the four ages of history.
Why is history divided into ages?
The currently accepted division of history was not always in force, and is rather a recent invention. Over many centuries, humanity divided its own history according to mythological, religious or imaginary criteria, resorting to what was closest to hand to define what were the great historical milestones of the species and what, probably, its future.
Thus, the great religions proposed their models of history based on their sacred texts, such as the Bible, to which ancient stories were sought to organize the past.
In fact, the traditional way of organizing historical time in the West has as its central element the birth of the prophet of Christianity, Jesus Christ, and we still talk about events located “before Christ” (BC) and “after Christ.” (AD), a trend that modern historians attempt to rethink in less culturally biased terms.
The current division of history into four ages (five, with prehistory) arose thanks to the proposals of numerous historians and scholars. Thus, the terms “Ancient Age”, “Middle Age” and “Modern Age” were proposed in 1685 by the German historian Cristobal Cellarius (1638-1707), in a school manual authored by him, and they were so successful that soon were copied in later studies.
Until that moment, the prevailing model was based on the Bible and the Old Testament, and proposed six ages of the world, the last of which had begun with Jesus Christ and was prior to the Apocalypse or Final Judgment to come.
On the other hand, the term “Contemporary Age” appeared in the 19th century, as a way to make sense of the profound rupture that the French Revolution (1789) had meant in modern history.
Logically, any model of periodization of history requires milestones or key events that mark the beginning and end of an era, and that is also subject to debate among specialists, since an event of vital importance in a region was not necessarily for other distant cultures. In any case, we must understand that the current model is a vision in continuous review and criticism.
Prehistory (2,500,000 BC – 3,300 BC)
Prehistory, in strict terms, is not part of human history, but rather it encompasses all the time and all the events that were prior to the invention of writing, that is, prior to the invention of some form of record that allows us obtain reliable sources of what happened.
Without them, we have nothing more than myths, legends and stories transmitted orally from generation to generation. These stories are mostly far from any notion of historical objectivity, and are rather prone to fable and allegory.
So, about prehistory, and especially remote prehistory, there is little we can know directly, other than by studying archaeological remains obtained throughout the world. The paradox is that prehistory is the longest period and the most significant changes that humanity has experienced.
In fact, it extends from the appearance of the first hominids, our evolutionary ancestors, around 10 million years ago, through the emergence and triumph of Homo sapiens over the rest of the human species (2,500,000 years ago) and its expansion throughout the world, until the invention of the first writing system in the Middle East around the year 3,300 BC. c.
In this extensive period of time, human beings learned to master fire, to communicate with an articulate oral language, to make and use increasingly complex lithic and then metallic tools, and finally to master the revolutionary art of agriculture, which changed forever their wandering way of life, thus giving rise to the first human settlements, which later became the first cities.
Prehistory is commonly divided into six different stages, grouped into two different eras. It is difficult to place these periods on a specific date, since they did not occur uniformly and simultaneously in all prehistoric human civilizations, but rather depended largely on what was in their surroundings.
The Stone Age or Lithic Stage, so called because most of the utensils obtained from archaeological finds are made with various types of stone and bone. This stage is also marked by the invention of the wheel, the domestication of fire and the invention of clothing, as well as by global human expansion and its partial abandonment of the primitive hunter-gatherer model, in favor of a sedentary agricultural model. . This stage would be divided, in turn, into two eras:
Paleolithic era, whose name means “ancient stone” and encompasses the events prior to the discovery and adoption of agriculture.
Neolithic era, whose name means “new stone” and covers the events of the new agricultural existence model, until the invention of metal handling.
Age of Metals
Age of metals, whose name shows the appearance in prehistoric finds of elements forged from different metals, which shows the appearance of metallurgy and foundry. This age is traditionally divided into three different segments, defined by the appearance of a specific metal and more complex handling, as follows:
Copper Age, the first of all, in which this metal makes its appearance, along with gold and silver, perhaps because they appear naturally as nuggets of native metal. The oldest copper object in the world is an oval pendant from ancient Iran, dated to 9,500 BC. C. However, copper began to be widely used 3,000 years later, around 6,500 BC. c.
Bronze Age, especially in the peoples of Eurasia, is evidence of a higher degree of metallurgical knowledge, since bronze is obtained by alloying copper and tin. It is known that this metal began to be used in Mesopotamia, and was ideal for the manufacture of utensils, idols, statues and weapons (spears, shields, etc.).
Iron Age, the last of prehistory, in which humans finally learned about iron and some of its various alloys. The first traces of iron probably had meteoric origin, and it took humans centuries to understand its value as a raw material, becoming the most coveted metal in the world. The iron forge gave way to more resistant implements and weapons and marked the military difference of some peoples over others.
Ancient Age (3,300 BC – 476 AD)
The historical period that began with the invention of writing in the Middle East, around the 3rd millennium BC, is known as Ancient Age or Antiquity. C., in which the first great human civilizations (known as ancient civilizations) emerged, mostly imperial and dynastic, whose knowledge, products and compositions are still largely in force.
In ancient times the first cities emerged, as part of a formal urbanization process. The State, law and law, political power and social classes were also born, in addition to the first religious, mythological and artistic texts of humanity.
It was also the time of origin of the great current religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, etc. It is, as will be seen, the era in which the cultural and social foundations of the world we know were laid.
Some of the most notable ancient civilizations were the Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian), Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Phoenician, Hebrew and Roman, among others.
Among the multiple States that were founded, the periodization of history highlights the Roman Empire, an institution to which the West directly or indirectly owes most of its cultural tradition. So much so, that the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the year 476 AD. C., is considered the end of Antiquity and the beginning of the European Middle Ages.
Antiquity is usually divided into two distinct stages:
Classical antiquity, period of flourishing of the great ancient empires throughout the 6th, 5th and 4th centuries BC. C., and above all the expansion of Greco-Roman culture, whose peak is the emergence of the Roman Republic (500-27 BC) and its subsequent transformation into the Roman Empire (27 BC).
Late antiquity, beginning around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. C., is a stage of crisis that will lead to the decline of the Roman Empire and its increasingly common internal wars (such as the Spartacus uprising) and foreign invasions (such as the Germanic invasions). Furthermore, it was the time of the expansion of Christianity throughout the Empire, becoming its official religion.
Middle Ages (476-1492)
The Middle Ages or Middle Ages is the stage following the Ancient Age, but it is a division that for many reflects only the history of Western civilization, that is, of Europe and its surrounding regions.
It is supposed to begin with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. C. and extends for almost a thousand years until the discovery of America in 1492 or the fall of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) to the Ottoman troops in 1453.
Initially, those who conceived the Middle Ages thought of it as a stage without much value, a dark corridor between the great civilizations of Classical Antiquity (especially the Greco-Roman) and the Renaissance and the era of reason typical of the modern Age.
For a long time it was thought that the Middle Ages had been a period of obscurantism and little or no artistic and philosophical production, under the empire of the Christian religion that extended for centuries in the West. Today we know that this is not so.
The Middle Ages was, without a doubt, an era of religious fanaticism and abandonment of the social models of Antiquity, in favor of a feudal model that assigned to the aristocracy control of the numerous Christian kingdoms of the West, all under the spiritual governance of the Pope in Rome.
However, in the regions neighboring Europe new political forms emerged according to their own tradition, such as the Islamic Caliphates, eternal rivals of Christianity.
The Christian and Muslim civilizations were involved in the so-called “clash of civilizations” that engendered numerous wars of conquest and reconquest, such as the Crusades, and that broke Mediterranean cultural unity forever.
The Middle Ages are usually divided into two large periods:
The High Middle Ages or Early Middle Ages, which extends between the 5th and 10th centuries, although for many scholars part of it could be better understood as part of Late Antiquity. There is no specific limit between one stage and the other.
The Late Middle Ages or Late Middle Ages, which extends between the 11th and 15th centuries, and is characterized by an initial moment of plenitude (11th to 13th centuries) and then a stage of profound crisis of the feudal model, which would set the conditions for the arrival of the Modern Age.
Modern Age (1492-1789)
Ranging between the 15th and 18th centuries, the Modern Age is a brief but significant period in Universal History, characterized by the Renaissance of classical culture in Europe and the beginning of the so-called Age of Reason, in which the foundations were laid. for scientific thought and the religious, superstitious and fanatical values of the Middle Ages were combated.
The Modern Age is understood as an artistic and philosophical flowering in the West, whose peak is the birth of science. Furthermore, the separation between religion and State put an end to the feudal model of the Middle Ages and increasingly granted power to a new social class: the bourgeoisie.
This new social class, formed by merchants and businessmen, whose management of capital granted them more and more power and prestige, came to displace the aristocracy as the dominant social class. The most representative event of this was the French Revolution of 1789, or the Independence of the United States from the British Empire in 1776. Both events are considered the end of the Modern Age.
During the Modern Age, the exploration and colonization of the American continent by the Empires of Europe took place, as well as their first explorations of Oceania. In fact, this period is considered the beginning of Europe’s colonial relationship with the rest of the world.
In fact, European political and economic powers competed with each other to gain control of the trade routes and raw materials of the entire world. Mercantilism was the spirit of the time, and absolutist monarchies were the dominant political regime in Europe.
Contemporary Age (1789 – today)
The last of the divisions in history is the one that culminates with the present, and is considered a stage of accelerated and sudden changes marked by the hand of science and technology. The foundations of this era arose throughout the 19th century, when the French Enlightenment promoted the values of the French Revolution in the West and in the world, thus giving rise to the beginning of the wars of independence and decolonization in America, Asia and Africa.
These events marked the end of European dominance over the entire world, and led in turn to two great world wars, in which humanity’s inventiveness and scientific mastery was tested in the worst possible way: by massacring its people. similar. The 20th century, in particular, has been a time of deep pessimism and depression in Western culture.
On the other hand, the modernization of most aspects of human life led to the emergence of a world civilization guided by the values of liberalism, materialism and production, thus engendering the so-called consumer society.
What was formerly the conflict between religions or civilizations, then occurred in terms of political ideology, especially in the confrontation between the collectivist ideas of socialism or communism, and the individual freedoms defended by liberal capitalism.
In fact, the collapse of the European empires allowed the rise of two new world powers: the United States and the Soviet Union, each at the head of these two new world blocs.
Important technical and cultural milestones in the Contemporary Age have been the exploration of outer space, the explosion of the first atomic bombs, globalization and the creation of the first multilateral international institutions, the Jewish holocaust during World War II and the invention of birth control pills, which in turn led to a sexual revolution in the mid-20th century.