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What Is Ancient History?



The roman aqueduct (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Segovia, built between the second half of the 1st Century AD and the early years of the 2nd Century, Autonomous Community of Castilla Leon, Spain, March 2012

(Photo by Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images)

Question: What Is Ancient History?


For the purposes of this Ancient/Classical History site, we have established beginning and end points to limit what is covered within the domain of "Ancient History".


  • Ancient History begins with the earliest writing in an area.

  • Ancient History ends with the end or "Fall" of the Roman Empire. 

Writing is taken as the starting point because it is used to create literary records. For more on the rationale, see Defining Ancient History. Artifacts, you may argue, also record, but they can be better analyzed and appreciated by the archaeologists of the Archaeology site at About.com.

Because the Fall of the Roman Empire is unclear, and again, for the purposes of this site, it is the point Gibbon chose, 476 A.D., when the Eastern Roman Empire continued, but the Western Roman Empire fell to Odoacer.

During this time period (beginning of writing to the Fall), civilizations arose in Mesopotamia, which is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in China, in the Indian Subcontinent, in Egypt, and around the Mediterranean -- most notably, Greece and Rome.

Ancient History is not really such a clearly contained topic, so occasionally, we make forays into Byzantine history and some events in early British history; however, those are more properly the domain of the Medieval History site

Please note, we know very little about the ancient world. Most of the writing has been lost. Dating is imprecise and subject to revision when evidence proves existing theories wrong. Photography was invented thousands of years later, so the closest you get is a photo of site remains or portraits of individuals, but even these may have been made centuries later. Of course, there are also reconstructions, models, and x-rays.

Defining Ancient History


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