The 50 key dates of world history

The 50 key dates of world history

The eminent historian Richard Overy, editor of The Times Complete History of the World, chooses the dates that he believes have most influenced humanity

Important Dates of World History



Building of the Great Pyramid.

First Olympiad in Greece.

Foundation of Rome.

Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

The period of Aristotle and Plato.

Egypt conquered by Alexander.

Alexander dies at Babylon.

Work on the Great Wall of China begins.

Julius Ceasar attacks Great Britain.

Birth of Jesus Christ.


Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Huns' invasion of Europe.

Prophet Mohammed born at Mecca.

Flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Madina.

Death of Mohammed; Beginning of Hijiri Era.

Arabs invade Spain.

Norman invasion of England; Victory of William the Conquerer over the English King Harold II at Hastings.

Roger Bacon invents gunpowder.

The Hundred years War broke out.

English faces Black Death Plague.

Turks captured Constantinople; Renaissance in Europe.                                                                     

Discovery of America by Columbus.

Sea-route to India discovered by Vasco-de-Gama.

Spanish Armada defeated.

British East India Company established in India.

Execution of Charles I.

Monarchy restored in England.

The Great Plague of England.

Glorious Revolution in England.

Battle of Blenheim.

Union of England and Scotland.

Declaration of American Independence.

French Revolution; George Washington elected the first President of America.

Battle of Trafalagar and Nelson's death.

Battle of Waterloo; Napolean exiled to St. Helena.

Death of Napolean.

Reforms Bill passed in England.

Queen Victoria's accession to the throne of England.

Beginning of the American Civil War.

Slavery abolished in USA

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Opening of the Suez Canal for traffic.

Roentgen discovered X-Rays.

Marconi invented wireless.

Russiao-Japan war.

Japan defeated Russia; Discovery of the theory of Relativity by Einstein.                                            

Chinese Revolution.

Republic of China established.

Beginning of World War I.

Russian Revolution.

End of World War I.

Treaty of Versailles signed.

Formation of the League of Nations.

Turkey declared Republic.

Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany.

Beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

World War II begins.

Russia invaded by Hitler; Pearl Harbour invaded by Japan.

Establishment of UNO; End of World War II; Hiroshima and Nagasaki experience the first dropping of the Atom Bomb; Death of President Roosevelt.

Civil War in China.

Burma and Ceylon get independence.

Indonesia gets independence; The Communists capture power in China.

General Eisenhower elected as the American President.

Death of Stalin; Mt. Everest conquered for the first time.

Military Aid Pact between China and Pakistan; Chou En-lai visits India.

Austria gets independence; Bandung Conference.

Suez Canal nationalised by President Nasser; Egypt attacked by the forces of Britain; France and Israel.

First artificial satellite launched by Russia.

Egypt and Syria united and renamed United Arab Republic (UAR)

Chinese capture Tibet; Dalai Lama flees to India; Sputnik launched by Russia.

Explosion of an atom bomb device by France; Election of John F. Kennedy as President of USA

Yuri Gagarin of USSR becomes the first spaceman.

Partial Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty signed; Malaysia established; John F. Kennedy assassinated.

Death of Sir Winston Churchill; Singapore becomes the sovereign independent nation; outbreak of Indo-Pak war.

Tashkent Pact; A Russian aircraft lands on moon.

Chinese explode hydrogen bomb; Arab-Israel War; Suez Canal closed.

Outbreak of Indo-Pak war; Birth of Bangladesh; Surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops; Khruschev died; Z.A. Bhutto new President of Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman freed from Pakistani Jail and assumed the office of P.M. Bangladesh; Nixon of USA visited China; King Mahendra of Nepal died; USA and the USSR sign Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty.

Outbreak of fourth Arab-Israeli war; Fourth non-aligned summit in Algiers.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, President of Bangladesh assassinated; King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, assassinated; Suez Canal reopened; Red Cross force Cambodia Government to Surrender.

Chou-En Lai, P.M. of China, died; Seychelles gets independence; Viking I lands on Mars; Mao Tse-tung died; Jimmy Carter elected President of USA

Agreement between Israel and Egypt; Vietnam attacked Cambodia; Z.A. Bhutto, former P.M. of Pakistan, sentenced to death; Bloody coup in Afghanistan; Mohammed Daoud assassinated; World's first test-tube baby born.

Chinese aggression in Vietnam; Cambodian rebels grab power in Pnom Penh; Mr. Z.A. Bhutto hanged; Mrs. Margaret Thatcher is the first woman P.M. of Britain.

War starts between Iran and Iraq; Ronald Reagon elected USA President.                                      

Falklands, captured by Argentina; Israel attacks South Lebanon; Argentina forces surrender to British; P.L.O. Chief Yesser Arafat leaves Beirut; Bashir Gemyel, the President elect of Lebanon, assassinated; Soviet President breathes his last.

US attacks Grenada; USA withdraws from UNESCO.

India gets Presidentship of UN Security Council; Soviet President, Mr. Konstantin Chernenko, dies; Vietnam withdraws troops from Kampuchia.

American air attack on Libya.

Nuclear tests by USSR; Fresh proposal by Gorbachev; Group 77 meet at Havana; Unsuccessful military coup in Philippines, Prime Minister of Lebanon killed.

WHO observes 7th of April as no smoking day, French President re-elected, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq killed in plane crash, Quake kills about 1,000 people in Bihar (India), George Bush elected President of USA, Arafat declares on independent state of Palestine, Nearly 1,00,000 people killed in earthquake in Armenia.

The UN Peace keeping force starts implementation of UN Resolution 435 for the independence of  Namibia.

The Panamanian President surrenders to the United States. South Africa lifts lean on African National Congress. Lithuania declares independence from the Soviet Union. Namibia becomes a free nation.
Iraq overruns Kuwait. East and West Germanys unite.

War breaks out in the Gulf, With the defeat of Iraq and freedom of Kuwait, Gulf war ends.

5 new members of security council START II treaty between Russian & US Presidents, Security Council resolution on Angola, Emergency in Zambia, Elections in Australia.

South Africa emerged from aparted regime with Nelson Mandela as its president. GATT treaty signed to create World Trade Organisation (WTO).

WTO comes into existence. Nuclear test by France. Balkan peace accord signed.

Kofi Annan new UN Secretary General. Clinton re-elected US President. India refuses to sign CTBT. Shekh Hasina Wajed new PM of Bangladesh. Taliban capture Kabul and execute former communist
President Najibullah.

Tony Blair back in power in UK. Mohd. Khatami elected president of Iran. Hong Kong goes back to China after 99 year British rule.

Indonesian President Suharto resigns. Pakistan test fires `Gauri' missile. US President Clinton faces impeachment.

G-15 Summit ends. Yugoslavia accepts a peace plan for Kosovo.

Thai commandor rescue 700 hostages from a capital Ratchabuh. India-China sign agreement on Information Technology, World Aids Day observed.

Goerge W. Bush, was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. Heritage destroy of Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan by Taliban. Massacred of Nepal Royal family. Terrorist attacks on America by Taliban Supremo Osama bin Laden.

`Euro' becomes the official currency of 12 European countries. A new nation East Timor came into existence. Switzerland and East Timor becomes the 190th & 191th member of the UN.

Germany, Spain, Pakistan, Chile and Angola take rotating two-year seats on the UN Security Council; Iraq and the UN sign a 10-point agreement to facilitate the work of disarmament monitors; India-born American astronaut Kalpana Chawla and six other crew of the STS-107 space shuttle mission were killed as the US space shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas; name of Yugoslavia has been changed, it became Serbia and Montenegro; Australia win ICC World Cup by defeating India, war between US and Iraq; International criminal court was launched. WTO ministerial conference held in Cancun. India and ASEAN signed three accord. Over 20,000 people are killed as a major earthquake
destroys the Iranian Fort city Bam.

India-Pakistan air links resume, the 12th SAARC Summit concludes in Islamabad after the signing of historic Agreement on Free Trade, Additional Protocol on Terrorism and Social Charter. NASA announced that it would name the spot where the robot probe Spirit landed successfully, in the memory of seven astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia. The US declares Mr. Saddam Hussein a prisoner of war. Pakistan has been readjusted to the common wealth. United States hand over political authority to Iraq. The 28th Olympics start in Athens. Russian Parliament ratifics the Kyoto Protocol, Yasser Arafat dies in Paris. Taslima Nasreen awarded UNESCO tolerance and non-violence Prize.

India and Pakistan agree to allow travel by bus across the Line of Control between Srinagar and  Muzaffarabad, Microsoft founder, The U.S. Senate approves Michael d. Griffin as NASA chief, Kuwaiti Parliament grants women the right to vote and run in elections, Latvia ratifies E.U. Constitution, The sixth book by J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, hits the stands worldwide, Junichiro Koizumi is reelected Japanese Premier by the new House of Representatives at a special session in Tokyo, The Dhaka Declaration decides to set up a SAARC poverty Alleviation Fund and to declare 2006-2015 the SAARC Decade of Poverty Alleviation, The Kyoto protocol on limiting pollution becomes fully operational, Evo Morales wins Bolivian presidential polls, The Galileo navigational telescope is launched from Kazakhstan.

SAFTA comes into effect. Sirleaf sworn in as Liberian president. Chile elected socialist Michelle Bachelet to be its first woman president. 18th CWG held in Melbourne (Australia). UNO passed a resolution for new Human Rights Council. UN General Assembly has approved Ban-Ki-Moon as the new Secretary General. North Korea conducted an underground Nuclear test. 15th Asian Games were held in Doha (Qatar) in December 2006.

Bangladesh declares a state of emergency. Nepal's Parliament unanimously approves the interim Constitution. 14th SAARC Summit held in New Delhi (India). Australia won the World Cup Cricket tournament, 2007. G-8 Summit held in Heilligendamm, Berlin (Germany). Viktor Zubkov has been appointed as a new Prime Minister of Russia. Yasuo Fukuda was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Japan. India won the Twenty-20 World Cup Cricket Championship over Pakistan in South Africa. Nobel
Prize 2007 has ben announced.

25 May 1953, Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA --- "Grable" Explosion During Operation

Choosing 50 key dates from world history is a daunting task. No two people are likely to choose the same 50. Any list will prompt the response “why did you leave that out? Or put that in?”

Important dates are not the same as well-known dates. Every schoolchild used to know 1066, 1588 and 1815 but only the last appears in my list, and not just for the sake of the Battle of Waterloo. Any list of just 50 dates has to take account of some obvious limitations. No date appears before the start of human civilisations about 5,500 years ago and the beginning of a written or pictorial history. Some dates are very fuzzy, partly because there is no particular year in which it is possible to say “the wheel was invented then”, despite its clear importance; partly because the accounts we have, even of quite recent events, can be misdated; partly because primarily oral cultures produce either no chronology or one that is wholly speculative.

The question of geography means leaving out many key dates from the history of Europe to make room for dates from Ancient China, or the Middle East, or the Americas. World history is global, even if it much of it has been dominated by Europe.

Why, then, these dates and not 50 others? Human history is a vast and complex story, but human society has worked over the past 5,000 years only because of some key inventions and discoveries. That is why the wheel, the plough, the sail and the watch are there.

Human societies have been held together by religion, which is why the major religious founders are here. Religion links the modern world with the past 2,000 or 3,000 years. Every day millions of people read the Bible, a document of an entirely lost world, but a book, like the Koran, of enormous power.

Political events are seldom as important, but at times they shape the future in fundamental ways. That is why the unification of Ancient China is there. China is still a large, unified state occupying roughly the same area that it did 2,000 years ago. If the Persians had blotted out Ancient Greece, or the Carthaginians had destroyed Rome, the classical world would have been very different. The rise and fall of Communism in the 20th century affected the lives of millions.

Lastly, human intelligence and creativity shaped the way we think about the world. Newtonian physics, Einstein’s relativity theory, Darwin’s biology and the works of Shakespeare have all made the world a different place. If there were room, Copernicus or Goethe or Nietzsche, or a dozen nonEuropean thinkers, might all have as good a claim. These are dates that arguably changed the way human society developed for better or worse over the past five millennia.

The historian’s choice

1 c.3500 BC Invention of the wheel and plough in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq); invention of the sail in Egypt: three fundamental inventions for trade, agriculture and exploration.

2 c.3200 BC Invention of writing in Mesopotamia: the means to record and understand human history.

3 c.3000 BC Founding of the first cities in Sumeria (present-day Iraq): origin of modern social and administrative structures.

4 c.1600 BC Modern alphabet invented: the essential means of communication of complex concepts and culture.

5 c.1600 BC Beginning of Greek civilisation: essential to Western heritage and the root of mathematics, philosophy, political thinking and medicine.

6 753 BC Foundation of Rome: the Roman Empire is a pillar of the modern age, producing ideas on justice, law, engineering and warfare.

7 c.670 BC Invention of ironworking: metallurgy is the key to further technical, economic and military developments.

8 c.551 BC Birth of Confucius, the founder of one of the world’s major philosophical systems.

9 490 BC Battle of Marathon: the Greeks repel a Persian invasion, securing the survival of Greek culture and science.

10 486 BC Birth of Buddha, founder of one of the world’s major religions.

11 327 BC Empire of Alexander the Great reaches into India: the first example of a long-term and often violent interrelationship between Europe and Asia.

12 202 BC Hannibal is defeated by Rome: the victory is essential to secure the survival and expansion of Roman civilisation.

13 27 BC Founding of the Roman Empire: this is the start of the classic period of Roman domination in Europe and the Mediterranean.

14 c.5 BC Birth of Jesus Christ, founder of the many branches of Christianity. The exact date is disputed.

15 AD 105 First use of modern paper: this replaced stone, slate, papyrus and vellum as a cheap and convenient medium.

16 AD 280 Unification of China under the Western Chin dynasty creates the political shape of modern China.

17 AD 312 Roman Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity: this made it possible for Christianity to spread across Europe.

18 AD 476 Fall of the Roman Empire in the West ends 800 years of Roman hegemony. The creation of moderen Europe begins.

19 c.AD 570 Birth of Muhammad, founder of one of the world’s great religions.

20 c.AD 730 Printing invented in China: an essential step in mass communication/ administration/cultural dissemination.

21 AD 800 Charlemagne crowned Emperor of the new Western Empire. This marked the point at which Europe began to reintegrate. The Holy Roman Empire lasts for 1,000 years.

22 1054 Schism of Greek and Latin Christian Churches divides Christianity permanently into two geographical and denominational halves.

23 1088 First university founded in Bologna, Italy: the start of a modern conception of higher learning and universal knowledge.

24 1206 Genghis Khan begins his conquest of Asia. This has a major impact on Asian development and the movement of peoples.

25 1215 Magna Carta signed by King John at Runnymede: this is the origin of the modern concept of constitutional rule.

26 1453 Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks: Almost 500 years of Turkish domination of the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East begins.

27 1455 First book printed with moveable type: Johannes Gutenberg’s revolution in printing technology makes mass-market reading possible.

28 1492 Christopher Columbus discovers the New World, bringing the Americas into a global trading/cultural system.

29 1509 Invention of the watch: essential to a modern economy and administration, this introduces the concept of regular timekeeping.

30 1517 Martin Luther launches the Reformation. It is the start of Protestant Christianity and the idea of religious individualism.

31 1519 Cortes begins his conquest of South America, which becomes part of the wider world economic and political system.

32 1564 William Shakespeare is born: his plays make fundamental statements about the human condition.

33 1651 Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is published: this is the origin of the modern idea of civil society, equality before the law and egoistic individualism]

34 1687 Isaac Newton publishes Principia Mathematica, the foundation of modern physics.

35 1776 American Declaration of Independence determines the political evolution of the New World and the rise of American power.

36 1789 French Revolution marks a fundamental break with the tradition of monarchy; the “rights of man” are enshrined.

37 1815 Battle of Waterloo: the Napoleonic Empire ends, and with it Napoleon’s ambition to rule and reform all of Europe.

38 1825 Rocket steam locomotive built, marking the start of the railway age of cheap, fast land transport.

39 1859 Publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. His theory of evolution transforms the view of Man and his environment, and belief in God.

40 1885 Benz develops first petrol-driven car, starting the most profound technical and social revolution of the modern age.

41 1893 New Zealand introduces unrestricted women’s suffrage. At this point women win the principle of full political equality.

42 1905 Einstein’s theory of special relativity published. It transforms the nature of modern physical knowledge.

43 1917 Russian Revolution creates the first successful, long-term revolutionary state.

44 1918 End of the First World War. The Habsburg and Ottoman empires collapse; maps of Europe and the Middle East are redrawn.

45 1939 Outbreak of Second Worldd War: 50 million die worldwide from 1939-45 in the world’s largest and most deadly conflict, which ends the long age of imperialisms.

46 1945 End of Second World War; when the first nuclear bomb is detonated, mankind develops the means to destroy itself.

47 1949 Communist China founded: China is created as a single territorial unit with a common administration and a modernising economy.

48 1959 Invention of the silicon chip is the major technical invention of the past century, making possible the computer age.

49 1960 First contraceptive pill made available for women, who can now make their own biological choices about reproduction.

50 1989-90 Collapse of Communist regimes in Europe: marks the end of the long communist experiment; Asian communism is also transformed.