Major Events in Ancient History

Timeline of Events Affecting Greece and Rome

Wide-bowled Drinking Cup, Greece
Dennis Jarvis/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The major events in ancient history listed in the table below are those happenings in the world that led to or gravely impacted the rise and decline of the great Mediterranean civilizations of Greece and Rome.

Many of the dates cited below are only approximate or traditional. This is particularly true of the events before the rise of Greece and Rome, but the early years of Greece and Rome are also approximations.

4th Millennium BCE

3500: The first cities are built by the Sumerians at Tell Brak, Uruk, and Hamoukar in Mesopotamia's Fertile Crescent

3000: Cuneiform writing is developed in Uruk as a way to track commercial trade and taxes.  

3rd Millennium BCE

2900: The first defensive walls are built in Mesopotamia. 

2686–2160: The first pharaoh Djoser unites upper and lower Egypt for the first time, establishing the Old Kingdom

2560: The Egyptian architect Imhotep finishes the Great Pyramid of Cheops on the Giza Plateau.

2nd Millennium BCE

1900–1600: The Minoan culture on the Greek island of Crete becomes a powerhouse of the international shipping trade.

1795–1750: Hammurabi, who wrote the first legal code, conquers Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

1650: The Middle Kingdom of Egypt falls apart and Lower Egypt is ruled by the Asiatic Hyksos; the Kushite kingdom rules Upper Egypt.

1600: The Minoan culture is replaced by the Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece, thought to be the Trojan civilization recorded by Homer.

1550–1069: Ahmose drives out the Hyksos and establishes the New Kingdom dynastic period in Egypt.

1350–1334: Akhenaten introduces (briefly) monotheism in Egypt. 

1200: Fall of Troy (if there was a Trojan War).

1st Millennium BCE

995: The Judean King David captures Jerusalem. 

8th Century BCE

780–560: Greeks send settlers to create colonies in Asia Minor.

776: Legendary start of the Ancient Olympics.

753: Legendary founding of Rome.

7th Century BCE 

621: Greek lawgiver Draco establishes a written but harsh code of laws to punish trivial and serious crimes in Athens. 

612: The Babylonians and Medes burn the Persian capital of Nineveh, marking the end of the Assyrian Empire.

6th Century BCE

594: The Greek philosopher Solon becomes archon (chief magistrate) in Greece and attempts to legislate reforms with a new code of laws for Athens. 

588: Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem and brings the Judean king and thousands of citizens of Judea back to Babylon with him.

585: Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus successfully predicts a solar eclipse on May 28.

550: Cyrus the Great establishes the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire.

550: Greek colonies include almost all of the Black Sea area, but begin to find it difficult to survive so far from Athens and make diplomatic compromises with the Persian Empire.

546–538: Cyrus and the Medes defeat Croesus and capture Lydia. 

538: Cyrus allows the Jews in Babylon to return home.

525: Egypt falls to the Persians and becomes a satrapy under Cyrus's son Cambyses. 

509: Traditional date for the founding of the Roman Republic.

508: Athenian lawgiver Cleisthenes reforms the constitution of ancient Athens, setting it on a democratic footing.

509: Rome signs a friendship treaty with Carthage.

5th Century BCE

499: After paying tribute and arms to the Persian Empire for several decades, Greek city-states revolt against Persian rule.

492–449: The Persian king Darius the Great invades Greece, kicking off the Persian Wars. 

490: Greeks win against the Persians in Battle of Marathon.

480: Xerxes overcomes the Spartans at Thermopylae; at Salamis, the combined Greek navy wins that battle.

479: Battle of Plataea is won by the Greeks, effectively ending the second Persian invasion.

483: Indian philosopher Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563–483) dies and his followers begin to organize a religious movement based on his teachings.

479: Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–479) dies, and his disciples carry on.

461–429: Greek statesman Pericles (494–429) leads a period of economic growth and cultural flourishing, also known as the "Golden Age of Greece." 

449: Persia and Athens sign the Peace of Callias, officially ending the Persian Wars.

431–404: The Peloponnesian War pits Athens against Sparta.  

430–426: The Plague of Athens kills an estimated 300,000 people, among them Pericles.

4th Century BCE

371: Sparta is defeated at the battle at Leuctra. 

346: Philip II of Macedon (382–336) forces Athens to accept the Peace of Philocrates, a peace treaty marking the end of Greek independence.

336: Philip's son Alexander the Great (356–323) rules Macedonia.

334: Alexander fights and wins against the Persians at the Battle of Granicus in Anatolia.

333: Macedonian forces under Alexander defeat the Persians at the Battle of Issus.

332: Alexander conquers Egypt, founds Alexandria, and installs a Greek government but leaves the next year.

331: At the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander defeats the Persian king Darius III.

326: Alexander reaches the limit of his expansion, winning the Battle of the Hydaspes in the northern Punjab region of what is today Pakistan.

324: The Mauryan empire in India is founded by Chandragupta Maurya, the first ruler to unite most of the Indian subcontinent.

323: Alexander dies, and his empire falls apart as his generals, the diadochi, battle one another for supremacy.

305: The first Greek pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy I, takes over the reins and establishes the Ptolemaic dynasty.

3rd Century BCE

265–241: The First Punic War between Rome and Carthage is waged with no decisive winner. 

240: Greek mathematician Eratosthenes (276–194) measures the Earth's circumference.

221–206: Qin Shi Huang (259–210) unites China for the first time, beginning the Qin Dynasty; construction on the Great Wall begins.

218–201: The Second Punic War begins in Carthage, this time led by the Phoenician leader Hannibal (247–183) and a force supported by elephants; he loses to the Romans and later commits suicide. 

215–148: The Macedonian Wars lead to Rome's control of Greece.

206: The Han Dynasty rules in China, led by Liu Bang (Emperor Gao), who uses the Silk Road to make trade connections as far as the Mediterranean.

2nd Century BCE

149–146: The Third Punic War is waged, and at the end, according to legend, the Romans salt the land so Carthaginians can no longer live there. 

135: The first Servile War is conducted when the slaves of Sicily revolt against Rome.

133–123: The Gracchi brothers attempt to reform Rome's social and political structure to help the lower classes. 

1st Century BCE

91–88: The Social War (or Marsic War) begins, a rebellion waged by Italians who want Roman citizenship.

88–63: The Mithridatic Wars are fought by Rome against the Pontic empire and its allies.

60: Roman leaders Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar form the 1st Triumvirate. 

55: Julius Caesar invades Britain.

49: Caesar crosses the Rubicon, precipitating the Roman Civil War.

44: On the Ides of March (March 15), Caesar is assassinated.

43: The 2nd Triumvirate, that of Marc Antony, Octavian, and M Aemillius Lepidus, is established. 

31: At the Battle of Actium, Antony and the last Ptolemaic pharaoh Cleopatra VII are defeated and soon after Augustus (Octavian) becomes the first emperor of Rome.

1st Century CE

9: German tribes destroy 3 Roman legions under P. Quinctilius Varnus in the Teutoberg Forest.

33: Judean philosopher Jesus (3 BCE–33 CE) is executed by Rome and his followers continue.

64: Rome burns while Nero (supposedly) fiddles. 

79: Mount Vesuvius erupts burying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

2nd Century CE

122: Roman soldiers begin building Hadrian's Wall, a defensive structure that will eventually stretch 70 miles across Northern England and marks the northern limit of the empire in Great Britain.

3rd Century CE

212: The Edict of Caracalla extends Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Empire.

284–305: The Roman Emperor Diocletian divides the Roman empire into four administrative units known as the Roman Tetrarchy, and afterward there was usually more than one imperial head of Rome.

4th Century CE

313: Decree of Milan legalizes Christianity in the Roman Empire.

324: Constantine the Great establishes his capital at Byzantium (Constantinople).

378: Emperor Valens is killed by the Visigoths at the Battle at Adrianople.

5th Century CE

410: Rome is sacked by the Visigoths.

426: Augustine writes "City of God," in support of Christianity in Rome.

451: Attila the Hun (406–453) faces the Visigoths and Romans together in the Battle of Chalons. He then invades Italy but is convinced to withdraw by Pope Leo I. 

453: Attila the Hun dies. 

455: Vandals sack Rome.

476: Arguably, the western Roman Empire ends when Emperor Romulus Augustulus is removed from office.