The 15 Oldest Ancient Civilizations In The World

The history of human settlements on Earth extends back to approximately 10,000 B.C., a relatively brief period considering the age of our planet.

Every civilization has a starting point, a foundation from which future generations can trace their roots and learn about their ancestors. Given the myriad contributions of each culture to the world, it is challenging to rank civilizations by importance.

Instead, we present this list of the oldest ancient civilizations chronologically, highlighting each civilization’s lasting impact on the arts, architecture, warfare, or other aspects of human life.

While dating these civilizations is not always an exact science, the dates provided are a rough guideline for the period. A more accurate representation of time can be achieved through designations such as the Neolithic Era or Bronze Age, which we employ when applicable.

Here are the 15 oldest ancient civilizations that have ever existed on Earth.

1. Mesopotamian Civilization- Iraq

mesopotamian civilization
  • Period: Around 3500 B.C. – 500 B.C.
  • Original Location: Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq)
  • Current Location: Iraq, parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey
  • Major Highlights: Cuneiform writing, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the invention of the wheel, first recorded laws

From around 3,500 B.C., Mesopotamia emerged as a cradle of early civilization, though human settlements in the region can be traced back to 10,000 B.C.

Nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Mesopotamia, meaning “land between the rivers,” witnessed many of the first recorded instances of writing, literature, and using essential tools such as the wheel.

The Mesopotamians developed the first written language, cuneiform, to record transactions, laws, and stories. Their society comprised several city-states, such as Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia, each with its own culture and contributions.

One of the most remarkable achievements of Mesopotamia was its contributions to literature and the arts. The Babylonians, who lived in the region, created the famous epic poem “Epic of Gilgamesh.” This story, which recounts the adventures of a legendary hero who travels the land, slaying monsters and seeking immortality, set the standard for future epic narratives by renowned Greek and Roman writers.

Mesopotamia was also the birthplace of many significant advancements in mathematics, astronomy, and law, such as the Code of Hammurabi. Moreover, the region was known for its architectural feats, including constructing of the renowned Ziggurat of Ur and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Remembered today for its groundbreaking contributions to arts, culture, and science, Mesopotamia will forever be one of the most important early civilizations in human history.

2. Ancient Egypt- Northern and Central Africa

Ancient egypt
  • Period: Around 3100 B.C. – 332 B.C.
  • Original Location: Northeast Africa
  • Current Location: Egypt
  • Major Highlights: Pyramids, hieroglyphs, advanced mathematics, and the Nile River civilization

Ancient Egyptian civilization flourished along the Nile River in northeastern Africa, around 3,100 B.C., with the first dynasty being established under the rule of King Narmer. He successfully united the kingdoms of Lower and Upper Egypt into a single, powerful political entity.

Over time, Egyptian culture thrived, giving rise to remarkable achievements in writing, art, and architecture. Their society’s sophistication and meticulous record-keeping abilities enable us to understand their culture in great detail even today.

Among their most significant and enduring contributions to human history are the Egyptian hieroglyphs, an intricate writing system, and the monumental Egyptian pyramids. The latter, built as tombs for pharaohs and their consorts, showcase the expertise of Egyptian architects and engineers.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, constructed for the Pharaoh Khufu, is the largest and oldest of these structures and the last surviving member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In addition, the Sphinx, a monumental limestone statue with a lion’s body and a human head, is another enduring symbol of ancient Egyptian civilization.

Modern-day Egypt continues to captivate tourists from around the globe who marvel at the iconic pyramids, delve into the rich history, and immerse themselves in the fascinating remnants of this ancient culture.

3. Indus Valley Civilization- India and Pakistan

  • Period: Around 3300 B.C. – 1300 B.C.
  • Original Location: Indus Valley (modern-day India and Pakistan)
  • Current Location: India, Pakistan
  • Major Highlights: Advanced urban planning, standardized weights and measures, drainage systems, and the development of the Sanskrit writing system

Emerging around 2,600 B.C., the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization was one of the earliest urban settlements in the Indian subcontinent, encompassing present-day India and Pakistan. It is often called the Harappan Civilization, named after the first discovered archaeological site, Harappa.

The people of the Indus Valley were renowned for their advancements in urban planning, engineering, and mathematics. Their cities, such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were characterized by well-planned streets, advanced drainage systems, and uniform brick structures. They achieved remarkable precision in length, mass, and time measurements, which facilitated trade and construction.

Indus Valley artisans were also skilled in metallurgy, producing beautiful bronze and copper artifacts, pottery, and jewelry. Some of the most well-known artifacts include the bronze statuette known as the “Dancing Girl” and the terracotta figurines depicting various animals and human forms.

The Indus Valley Civilization developed a different writing system, which, although not yet fully deciphered, is often called the Indus script. It is important to note that Sanskrit is an ancient language from the Indian subcontinent, but it is not directly linked to the Indus script.

Though the Indus Valley Civilization eventually declined around 1,900 B.C., its influence on subsequent regional cultures is undeniable. Its legacy of urban planning, craftsmanship, and still-enigmatic script make it an essential and well-rounded contributor to the ancient world.

4. Chinese Civilization- China

  • Period: Around 2070 B.C. – Present
  • Original Location: East Asia
  • Current Location: China
  • Major Highlights: Invention of paper, gunpowder, and compass, the Great Wall, Confucianism, and the Terracotta Army

The history of ancient China is vast and complex, with its origins dating back to the Neolithic period. While the Xia Dynasty (circa 2070-1600 B.C.) is traditionally considered to be China’s first dynasty, its existence remains subject to debate due to the lack of definitive archaeological evidence and written records.

The Shang Dynasty (circa 1600-1046 B.C.) marked the beginning of well-documented Chinese history, as it was the first Chinese dynasty with archaeological sites that can be reliably dated to its era. The Shang Dynasty produced a rich culture, with advancements in bronze casting, pottery, and jade carving.

Renowned for their contributions to warfare, the Shang were skilled warriors and blacksmiths. They refined the process of bronze casting, creating advanced weaponry, such as bronze-tipped spears, battle axes, and chariots. Their bronze ritual vessels and ceremonial objects are remarkable examples of ancient Chinese craftsmanship.

The Shang Dynasty also developed a writing system known as the oracle bone script for divination and record-keeping. This script is the earliest known form of Chinese writing and a precursor to modern Chinese characters.

Ancient Chinese civilization flourished under subsequent dynasties, such as the Zhou, Qin, and Han, each contributing to developing governance, philosophy, art, and technology. Among the many Chinese inventions are paper, gunpowder, the compass, and printing, which have profoundly impacted the world.

5. The Maya Civilization- The Americas

  • Period: Around 2000 B.C. – 1500 A.D.
  • Original Location: Mesoamerica (modern-day Mexico and Central America)
  • Current Location: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador
  • Major Highlights: Advanced calendar systems, writing, and mathematics, along with monumental architecture such as pyramids and temples

The Maya civilization emerged in Mesoamerica around 2,000 B.C., around the same time as the Shang Dynasty in China. It peaked during the Classic Period (circa 250-900 A.D.), with the Maya inhabiting present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

The Maya were the only culture in the Americas to develop a complex writing system during this early period. The Maya script combined logographic and syllabic elements to record historical events, religious rituals, and astronomical observations.

Renowned for their advancements in mathematics, the Maya civilization is credited with developing the concept of zero, a significant mathematical achievement. Their sophisticated calendar system was based on a combination of a 365-day solar calendar, the Haab’, and a 260-day ritual calendar called the Tzolk’in. These two calendars were interwoven to create a 52-year cycle called the Calendar Round.

As gifted astronomers, the Maya meticulously observed celestial movements, using their observations to predict eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes. They built monumental structures, such as pyramids and observatories, that aligned with celestial events, showcasing their understanding of astronomy and its integration into their culture and religion.

The Maya civilization was marked by impressive architectural, art, and agricultural achievements, leaving a lasting legacy through well-preserved cities, ornate temples, and intricate artworks.

6. Minoan Civilization- Crete

  • Period: Around 2700 B.C. – 1450 B.C.
  • Original Location: Crete (modern-day Greece)
  • Current Location: Greece
  • Major Highlights: Palace of Knossos, advanced urban planning, early examples of Greek columns, and the legend of the Minotaur

The Minoan civilization was centered on the island of Crete during the Bronze Age (circa 2,700-1,100 B.C.). This civilization was also believed to be the precursor to the later Greek cultures.

It was largely forgotten until the early 20th century when British archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed key Minoan sites, including the Palace of Knossos.

The Minoans developed a written language known as Linear A, which remains undeciphered to this day. Their script was used for administrative purposes and religious inscriptions, providing glimpses into their complex society.

One of the most significant legacies of the Minoan civilization is their remarkable achievements in architecture. The Palace of Knossos, among other palatial complexes on Crete, exhibits early examples of Greek architectural elements, such as columns and frescoes. Minoan buildings were often adorned with vibrant frescoes depicting scenes from nature, sports, and religious ceremonies.

The Minoan civilization also left an indelible mark on Greek mythology. The island of Crete and the Minoan culture inspired the enduring myth of the Minotaur. According to the legend, King Minos was punished by the gods with a son who was half-man, half-bull. This creature, known as the Minotaur, developed a taste for human flesh and was confined to a labyrinth beneath the Palace of Knossos. The tale of the Athenian hero Theseus slaying the Minotaur remains one of the most iconic stories from Greek mythology.

The Minoan civilization, with its rich cultural heritage, innovative architecture, and influence on later Greek cultures, is vital to the ancient world’s history.

7. Mycenean Civilization- Mainland Greece

  • Period: Around 1600 B.C. – 1100 B.C.
  • Original Location: Mainland Greece
  • Current Location: Greece
  • Major Highlights: Conquests of neighboring areas, trade networks, and the possible connection to the fall of the Minoan civilization

The Mycenaean civilization emerged on mainland Greece during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1,600-1,100 B.C.) and is considered the first advanced civilization in the region. The Mycenaeans were skilled warriors and adept political organizers known for their expansionist ambitions and strong military presence.

One of the lasting legacies of the Mycenaeans was their conquest of neighboring regions, such as Asia Minor, and the establishment of trade networks across the Mediterranean. These extensive connections facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultural practices, leaving a lasting impact on the ancient world.

While some historians attribute the decline of the Minoan civilization (number 6 on our list) to the Mycenaeans, there are various theories about its fall, including natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions or tsunamis.

The Mycenaean civilization is also renowned for its monumental architecture, such as the Lion Gate at Mycenae and the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. Their language, Linear B, is an early form of Greek and was used for administrative and economic records.

Although the Mycenaean civilization eventually declined around 1,100 B.C. due to a combination of factors, including internal strife and invasions, its influence on subsequent Greek civilizations and the broader Mediterranean world is undeniable.

8. The Olmec- The Americas

  • Period: Around 1400 B.C. – 400 B.C.
  • Original Location: Mesoamerica (modern-day Mexico)
  • Current Location: Mexico
  • Major Highlights: Colossal stone heads, advanced art and architecture, and the foundations for future Mesoamerican civilizations

The Olmec civilization, considered one of the earliest major civilizations in Mesoamerica, emerged around 1,500 B.C. in present-day Mexico and Guatemala.

Though the Olmec left few written records, they are renowned for their distinctive and captivating artwork and architecture. Among their most famous creations are the colossal stone heads, which are believed to represent rulers or essential individuals. These massive sculptures, some of which weigh several tons, are remarkable for their size, detail, and craftsmanship.

In addition to the colossal heads, the Olmec civilization is known for its unique jade and serpentine figurines, ceramic pottery, and elaborate carvings. Their artistic and architectural legacy can still be found across the region, providing insights into their complex culture.

The Olmec civilization significantly influenced subsequent Mesoamerican cultures, including the Maya and the Aztecs, by transmitting artistic styles, religious beliefs, and other cultural practices. As a result, the Olmec are often regarded as the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica, leaving a lasting imprint on the history of the Americas.

9. The Kingdom of Israel- Israel, and Jordan

  • Period: Around 1050 B.C. – 586 B.C.
  • Original Location: Ancient Israel and Jordan
  • Current Location: Israel, Jordan, and Palestinian Territories
  • Major Highlights: Significant religious texts, the exodus from Egypt, and the foundation for the Judeo-Christian tradition

Established around 1050 B.C., the story of the Israelite Kingdom has been passed down through generations in religious texts, such as the Christian and Jewish Bibles.

The Israelites’ narrative is deeply intertwined with the Egyptian Empire, most notably through the account of their exodus from slavery, led by the prophet Moses. Following their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites established a united kingdom under the rule of King Saul, followed by King David and King Solomon.

The cultural significance of the Israelites cannot be overstated. Their tales have been recounted and reinterpreted across generations and various religious traditions, leaving an indelible mark on the history of human civilization. Moreover, the Kingdom of Israel played a crucial role in the development of the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which continue to shape the beliefs and practices of billions of people worldwide.

The Kingdom of Israel eventually split into two separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both kingdoms ultimately fell to foreign invasions, with the northern Kingdom of Israel being conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C., and the southern Kingdom of Judah falling to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. These events led to the forced exile of many Israelites and significantly impacted the region’s history and culture.

10. The Greek Civilization- Greece

  • Period: Around 800 B.C. – 146 B.C.
  • Original Location: Greece
  • Current Location: Greece
  • Major Highlights: Birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and theater, Olympic Games, and iconic architectural structures such as the Parthenon

Combining various time periods of classical Greece, this entry highlights the immense impact of the Greeks on the development of Western civilization.

The Greeks have arguably played the most significant role in shaping Western culture, with their far-reaching contributions still influencing our lives today.

As master builders, writers, artists, and patrons of culture, the Greeks have gifted us with an extensive legacy that spans numerous fields. From the great works of literature and philosophy by authors such as Homer, Plato, and Aristotle to architectural marvels like the Parthenon and the Temple of Apollo, Greek achievements have left a lasting impression on the world.

Moreover, the Greeks were pioneers in science, mathematics, and medicine, with brilliant minds like Archimedes, Euclid, and Hippocrates laying the groundwork for future discoveries and advancements.

The Greek civilization also played a crucial role in the development of democracy and the establishment of political systems that have influenced countless societies across the globe.

In short, the enduring impact of Greek civilization on art, literature, science, politics, and numerous other areas of human knowledge and culture cannot be overstated.

11. The Persian Civilization- Middle East

  • Period: Around 550 B.C. – 330 B.C.
  • Original Location: Middle East
  • Current Location: Iran and parts of Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East
  • Major Highlights: Political organization with Satraps, conquests of Asia and Europe, and the Greco-Persian Wars including the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae

Though the Persian Empire was relatively short-lived, falling around 300 B.C., its lasting impact on history, culture, and various fields of human endeavor is undeniable.

The Persians were adept political organizers and were among the first to divide their land into administrative units called satrapies, a system that laid the foundation for future governance models.

While their political organization skills were impressive, the Persians are best remembered for their conquests across Asia and Europe and their military prowess.

Their most famous engagements were the Greco-Persian Wars, which included pivotal battles such as Marathon and the heroic stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae Pass.

In an ironic twist of fate, the Greeks eventually avenged their losses when Alexander the Great conquered much of the Persian Empire in the 4th century B.C., reducing the once-mighty empire to a shadow of its former self.

The Persian civilization also made significant contributions to art, architecture, and infrastructure. The construction of the Royal Road, which stretched over 1,500 miles and connected the empire’s major cities, demonstrated their engineering expertise. In addition, the Persian Empire was known for its religious tolerance and respect for diverse cultural practices, which allowed various communities within the empire to coexist and flourish.

Despite its decline, the Persian civilization left an indelible mark on the development of art, architecture, governance, and intercultural relations throughout the ancient world.

12. The Roman Civilization

  • Period: 753 B.C. – 476 A.D. (Western Roman Empire) / 1453 A.D. (Eastern Roman Empire)
  • Original Location: Ancient Rome (modern-day Italy)
  • Current Location: Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia
  • Major Highlights: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Roman law, Latin language, and engineering feats like aqueducts and arches

The history of Rome is unique as it deviated from the traditional path of a civilization’s development. While many civilizations start as a monarchy or are ruled by a totalitarian regime before the people slowly gain autonomy and power, Rome’s trajectory was different.

The Roman people initially lived under a king’s rule but eventually established a republic around 500 B.C. This republic thrived for nearly 500 years before Rome returned to the reign of tyrants and dictators during the Roman Empire period.

Rome’s contributions to history are extensive and diverse. They were adept politicians, artists, writers, statesmen, and soldiers. At the height of the Roman Empire, their conquests spanned much of the known world, leaving their mark as far as Britain.

Innovations in architecture, such as the Roman arch, aqueducts, and monumental structures like the Colosseum, showcase Rome’s engineering prowess. Rome also played a crucial role in the development of law, laying the groundwork for modern legal systems.

Moreover, Latin, the official language of Rome, significantly influenced many modern languages and remains an essential aspect of academic, legal, and scientific fields.

In the end, Rome crumbled under the strain of its size and tyrannical leadership. However, its lasting impact is still evident across Europe, with classical sites continuing to be major tourist attractions today.

13. Maurya Civilization- India

  • Period: Around 322 B.C. – 185 B.C.
  • Original Location: Ancient India
  • Current Location: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan, Iran, and Nepal
  • Major Highlights: Extensive trade routes, religious tolerance, and the reign of Ashoka the Great

India has been home to numerous empires throughout its history, but the most prominent and powerful empire on the subcontinent was the Maurya civilization, which lasted from approximately 322 BCE to 185 BCE.

The Maurya Empire reached its zenith under the rule of Emperor Ashoka the Great, who is credited with expanding the empire’s borders to include much of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka is particularly remembered for his conversion to Buddhism after witnessing the carnage of the Kalinga War. This transformation led him to promote peace, religious tolerance, and the spread of Buddhism both within and beyond the borders of the Maurya Empire.

The Maurya civilization also made significant advancements in various fields such as architecture, art, and science. The Ashoka Pillars, built during the reign of Emperor Ashoka, remain a lasting testament to the empire’s architectural achievements. These pillars feature intricate carvings and inscriptions that highlight the empire’s commitment to religious tolerance and moral values.

The Maurya Empire also established a well-organized administration, with a centralized bureaucracy, efficient taxation system, and a vast network of spies to maintain order and stability. Furthermore, the Arthashastra, a treatise on statecraft and economic policy, is attributed to the Mauryan chief minister Chanakya, showcasing the sophistication of their political and economic thought.

Despite its decline, the Maurya civilization remains a vital part of Indian history, celebrated for its extensive contributions to trade, religion, cultural diversity, architecture, art, and science.

14. Aztec Civilization-Mexico

  • Period: Around 1345 A.D. – 1521 A.D.
  • Original Location: Mexico
  • Current Location: Mexico
  • Major Highlights: Unique architecture, Tenochtitlan city, human sacrifices, and the fall to Spanish conquistadores

Although the Aztecs may not be considered an “ancient civilization” by European standards, they were among the earliest and most powerful organized societies in the Americas.

Primarily centered around present-day Mexico City, the Aztec Empire expanded to cover much of Central America. The Aztecs boasted a rich culture, and their practice of human sacrifice remains a defining aspect of their legacy.

Believing their gods required human blood to remain appeased, the Aztecs would capture victims from conquered lands, bring them to the top of their pyramids, and ritualistically remove their hearts in a public display.

The Aztecs were also skilled builders, leaving behind impressive pyramids and unique architectural structures that can still be found throughout Mexico. However, like many indigenous cultures in the Americas, the Aztecs ultimately succumbed to European invasion.

Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, overtook the Aztecs, and only a few survivors remained to recount their story. Despite their tragic demise, the Aztec civilization’s contributions to art, agriculture, and engineering continue to inspire admiration and study today.

15. Anglo-Saxon Britain- British Isles

  • Period: Around 410 A.D. – 1066 A.D.
  • Original Location: British Isles
  • Current Location: England
  • Major Highlights: Formation of early English kingdoms, Anglo-Saxon poetry and literature, and the Norman Conquest

Although the Anglo-Saxon culture technically emerged after the classical period in Europe, it was one of the earliest civilizations to inhabit the British Isles.

The Anglo-Saxons took control of Britain following the fall of the Roman Empire, when Roman legions withdrew from the island and left it to fend for itself.

The Anglo-Saxons were a mix of Germanic-speaking tribes that had migrated to the island during the Roman era, and their rise to power was marked by violence and strife.

Constant infighting among the various kingdoms and repeated Viking invasions weakened the Anglo-Saxons, preventing any single ruler from uniting the entire island under their rule.

The situation changed in 1066, when William of Normandy claimed the English throne after the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor. The temporary king, Harold Godwinson, was defeated and killed by William’s forces at the Battle of Hastings, leading to the Norman Conquest of England and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule.

Despite their eventual decline, the Anglo-Saxons made lasting contributions to British culture, particularly in the realms of literature, art, and language. Their impact can still be felt today, with the English language itself being deeply rooted in the Germanic languages spoken by the Anglo-Saxons.


There you have them, the most lasting and influential cultures and civilizations of the ancient world.

While this is not a comprehensive list, it was intended to give a broad overview of the most influential and lasting civilizations of the Ancient world.

When looking at an ancient culture, it is important to notice achievements and lasting imprints on society. Many of these cultures had much in common, writing systems, profound innovations in architecture, weaponry, art, literature, etc.

It is that type of influence that indeed made a civilization important and grand.

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