Creating a framework

 

kings_list-002
Part of The Abydos King List from a wall of the Temple of Seti I at Abydos. Pharaoh Seti I stands on the left (via ancientegyptfoundation.org)

Something that I’ve been considering a great deal since I first thought about starting this project is how exactly I intend to go about creating this timeline.

When working with a smaller scale timeline, it’s easy enough to set up a line of dates and start plotting in different events. In this case, considering the scale of this endeavor, I have come to question how I intend to start. As it is my goal to chronicle the history of human occupation on this earth, I have selected my starting date is 50 000BC – roughly the beginning of the upper paleolithic era. By this time, Anatomically Modern Humanids (AMH) will have reached a point of behavioural modernity, and shortly thereafter the earliest civilisations/social groups will begin to form.

Of course, anything occurring in these earliest dates will be approximate at best, so working from earliest encounters to the later ones would not be the best way to begin. Which led me to consider adding in dates of certainty first.

Thus, my thinking is to work from a framework of events I know for certain occurred at a particular time. For this reason I decided that I should input the dates/reigns of monarchs and leaders of societies. Most ancient civilisations have a kings list or similar record of their leaders that I can work from with relative ease. From this I will be in a better position to place events into the timeline with more accuracy, as some societies, such at the Roman Republic, recorded happenings as being “during the reign/time of [leader]”.

My issue with is, however, that most of the Ancient societies I have investigated claim their kings or leaders descend directly from a deity – eg. Norseman, Spartans (and other Greeks such as the Corinthians), Egyptians, Israelites, and Babylonians to name a few . Thus the early leaders have time-frame for their rule. These early leaders are important to the societies and their culture and historical direction, so my problem arises in how it is best to incorporate these vague semi-mythological figures into the overall chronology.

I suppose an answer may be found as I continue work. I hope it does.

Periodisation and dating in Universal History

ancient_runic_calendar_from_sc481msala
Old runic calendar from Saaremaa in Estland.

One problem encountered within the field of Universal History is dating and periodisation. The latter refers to the attempt to categorise or group historical time into blocks or groups. This can be useful for historians working with large amounts of data in order to make sense of the past and recognise changes over a vast period of time. However, when coming from a westernised context, one must be careful not to apply western ways of thinking to non-western phenomena [1].

Different nations and cultures across the globe experience events differently, and therefore different models of periodisation need to be applied. For example, the term “Middle Ages” has historically been used to refer to the period between the two large-scale periods “Ancient” and “Modern”. This term originated in Italian humanist ways of thinking and as such is very Eurocentric. Thus, whilst applicable to Europe and Great Britain, the term is not applicable to other areas of the world.

How then does one collect histories from around the world and present them in a coherent display of universal world history?

In some cases there are periods common across most of the globe. The Bronze Age, for instance, took place in the Near East, Europe, Asia (excluding Japan), the Americas, and most of Europe [2]. This still leaves an unaccounted for part of the globe; namely Japan, the African continent, and a small part of the European continent.

Some have suggested merely doing away with periodisation and simply organising events by the corresponding date, century, millenium, etc. However this too comes with issue.

First, dating by years was largely regional. As such, a “year” in one area of the world did not necessarily correspond with a “year” in another. This was due to many areas going by seasons or agricultural phases. States that had monarchs or rulers often counted in regnal years from the ascension of their monarch or other elected government official. This was commonly found in Rome and Greece.

When religion gained popular ground, many areas adopted the religious calendar. Whilst this allowed for greater regulation across the globe, there was still disparity depending on which religious calendar an area followed. Today still there are multiple calendars in use around the world.

Thus a problem for historians is taking all these methods of dating and attempting to work out how they fit together. Any attempt at a universally adopted dating or periodisation method is going to have regional blocks that do not necessarily fit in with the majority. This proves problematic for someone attempting to create a comparative world history, and for this reason dating is approximate – especially for events happening in the Ancient world.

[1]. Finkelstein, J. J. “Mesopotamian Historiography.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107, no. 6 (1963): p. 1.

[2]. Frank, Andre Gunder et al. “Bronze Age World System Cycles [and Comments and Reply]”. Current Anthropology 34 no. 4 (1993): 383-429.