While there’s no official definition of the term ‘Bronze Age’, it generally refers to the period between the Stone and Iron ages. It was a pivotal era in human history, as most early advances crucial for civilization – like writing and the wheel – were made during this time, thanks to prominent civilizations and cultures like the Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, and many others. It wasn’t all happy times, either, as the Bronze Age also gave birth to powerful armies backed by newfound metal weapons and military tactics.
10. Nuragic Civilization
The Nuragic civilization on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia originated from prehistoric Neolithic settlements around 7000-1600 BC. It was an indigenous, autonomous culture that we know little about due to their lack of written language, though we know that the island had a history of human settlement thousands of years before that.
A characteristic feature of the Nuragic civilization was their construction of nuraghi towers – circular stone structures that could reach heights of over 90 feet. We don’t exactly know what they were used for, though going by their shape and structure, they could have been homes, fortresses, or even observatories.
Their eventual decline has been attributed to various possible factors, including foreign invasions, changing ecosystems, and technological advances in nearby regions that rendered Nuragic technology obsolete.
9. Akkadian Empire
Also referred to as one of the first empires in history, the Akkadian Empire was an ancient Mesopotamian civilization founded around 2350 BC by an emperor called Sargon. It was a historical shift for the region, unifying the indigenous Akkadian-speaking Semites and Sumerian speakers under a single rule for the first time. At its peak, the Akkadian Empire controlled vast territories across ancient Mesopotamia, parts of Iran, and the Levant.
Throughout this time, trade routes flourished across the region, connecting emerging markets with resources from places like Anatolia’s silver mines and Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli mines. All of this was supported by an interconnected network of agricultural farms in northern Mesopotamia, protected by a network of fortresses.
Ultimately, the empire fell to the Gutian invasion of 2150 BC, leading to a period of regional decline, famine, and drought across Mesopotamia.
Canaan refers to the historical region in the Levant region centered in modern-day Palestine, along with the territories of present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. The origin of its name is still debated, with theories suggesting connections to the biblical grandson of Noah, the purple dye trade flourishing in the region at the time, or even philosophical concepts of order and chaos. Regardless of its name, however, there’s little doubt that it was a distinct civilization with its own culture.
Archaeological evidence traces human settlement in the area all the way back to the Paleolithic Age, particularly around Jericho – one of the world’s oldest urban centers. Cities of Canaan began to flourish during the early Bronze Age, as Canaanites established trade routes with civilizations across the region, especially Egypt. Canaan was also one of the most-affected civilizations during the mysterious Bronze Age Collapse, directly leading to the rise of the Hebrews and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
7. Shang Dynasty
Modern historians recognize the Shang dynasty as the earliest confirmed Chinese dynasty based on documentary and archaeological evidence. It existed in the north-Chinese plains from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC, though its exact founding and ending dates vary among sources. The Dynasty is still remembered for its contributions to Bronze-Age Chinese civilization, especially in bronze craftsmanship that gave them a distinct strategic advantage in warfare.
The Shang’s origins could be traced back to the overthrow of the mythical Xia dynasty. Archaeological excavations at Anyang in present-day Henan Province have revealed numerous bones and bronze artifacts from the era. Thanks to that, we now know that the Shang society had a functioning, well-defined social hierarchy, with kings serving sacred, often-ritualistic roles while a council of advisers managed the kingdom’s day-to-day affairs.
6. New Kingdom Of Egypt
The New Kingdom of Egypt flourished from around 1550 to 1070 BC. It was a pivotal era in ancient-Egyptian history, marked by imperial expansion, memorable pharaoh kings, and cultural achievements that had an influence on many future civilizations around the world. This period is also sometimes called ‘Imperial Egypt’ due to its similarity to the empires of the future.
The New Kingdom era gave birth to some of the most well-known Egyptian pharaohs today, including Hatshepsut, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ramesses II. It was also the first time the term ‘pharaoh’ was used to refer to Egyptian kings. It’s the most well-documented period of Egyptian history, thanks to literacy, foreign diplomacy, and trade relations that proliferated during this time. As Egypt interacted with other nations, written contracts, treaties, and letters between rulers became essential, resulting in the extensive written records from the period we can still access today.
5. Oxus Civilization
The Oxus civilization – or the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex, based on early terminology surrounding the research site in the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan – existed from around 2300 to 1700 BC. It was spread across a vast region spanning modern-day north Afghanistan, east Turkmenistan, south Uzbekistan, and west Tajikistan, predominantly along the upper Amu Darya or Oxus River.
While we don’t know much about this civilization, we know that at its peak, the BMAC featured sprawling urban centers, fortified structures, advanced pottery, and sophisticated craftsmanship in tools and jewelry. It was primarily a desert society existing in the harsh climate of the Karakum Desert, as they relied on ancient oasis agriculture for sustenance. Despite these challenges, however, they developed extensive irrigation systems for wheat and barley cultivation and raised livestock on a large scale.
4. Minoan Civilization
Also sometimes referred to as one of the earliest Western European civilizations, the Minoan Civilization was a Middle Bronze Age culture founded sometime around 2000 BC on the Greek island of Crete. The Minoans were known for their unique art, architecture, and cultural influence across the Aegean, forming the basis for ancient Greece, Rome, and many more western civilizations to follow.
The Minoan civilization featured elaborate palace complexes, vibrant, giant frescoes, intricate gold jewelry, and pottery made with advanced techniques for the time. The term ‘Minoan’ was coined by Sir Arthur Evans – an archaeologist that made groundbreaking discoveries at Knossos between 1900 and 1905, proving the existence of an advanced Cretan culture we didn’t know about until that time. Interestingly, the ruins showed no signs of military fortifications, suggesting a culture of relative peace among its communities.
While we don’t know exactly when it was founded, the Gojoseon dynasty had turned into an important early-Korean kingdom by the fourth century BC. According to some instances in Korean mythology, it was established in 2333 BCE by Dangun Wanggeom – a mythical king born from a god and a bear-turned-woman. While we’re not sure about the legitimacy of this claim, Dangun’s birthdate is still celebrated as National Foundation Day in South Korea.
Gojoseon is believed to have formed through alliances of small fortified towns in the Daedong and Liao River basins, likely beginning in the seventh century BC and solidifying around the fourth century BC. It marked an advanced cultural period in the early history of the Korean Peninsula, setting the stage for more centralized states in later periods. Still, many aspects of this society remain a mystery due to lack of records, like its precise status as a state, the location of its capital, and the true extent of its territorial power.
2. Assyrian Empire
Assyria was a major Semitic kingdom in the ancient Near East that existed as an independent state from about 2500 BC to 604 BC. Situated in the northern Mesopotamian region covering modern-day northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey, it reached its peak during the Neo-Assyrian period from 911 BC to 612 BC, covering a vast territory from the Mediterranean to Persia, and from the Caucasus Mountains to Egypt.
Assyria was an important Bronze Age civilization known for its technological advancements across the known world, including the use of bronze – and later iron – for weaponry and the development of an extensive road network. The Assyrian society was heavily militarized, with mandatory military service for free male citizens.
Another strong contender for the earliest civilization in history, Sumer was founded between 4500 and 4000 BC in the southernmost region of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It began with the arrival of the Ubaid people, bringing their knowledge of agriculture, trade, and craftsmanship – including metalwork, pottery, and weaving – with them. These advancements would give rise to one of the greatest and most-influential early civilizations – by 3300 BCE, the Sumerians had established themselves as the dominant culture in the region.
Sumer thrived as a collection of monarchist city states, including Uruk, Ur, and Nippur, with each city worshiping its own deity. The Sumerians were known for their contributions to language, notably the invention of cuneiform writing that allowed extensive record-keeping and the creation of the earliest known laws. Their art and architecture was also advanced for the time, with grand religious structures, ziggurats, and intricate sculptures found across the major cities of the civilization.