The lifespan of ancient civilisations

In the graphic below, the University of Cambridge’s Luke Kemp compiled a list of civilisations to compare how long they lasted.

One way to look at the rise and fall of past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations (which I have amended).

Pinch/zoom to enlarge (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Civilisation [Duration in years]

Ancient Egypt, Old Kingdom [505]

Ancient Egypt, Middle Kingdom [405]

Ancient Egypt, New Kingdom [501]

Norte Chico Civilisation [827]

Harappan Civilisation (Indus Valley Civilisation) [800]

Kerma [400]

Akkadian Empire [187]

Elam Civilisation (Awan Dynasty) [157]

Minoan Civilisation (Protopalatial) [500]

Xia Dynasty [500]

Third Dynasty of Ur [46]

Old Assyrian Empire [241]

Middle Assyrian Empire [313]

Neo Assyrian Empire [322]

Elam Civilisation (Eparti Dynasty) [210]

First Babylonian Dynasty [299]

Old Hittie Empire [250]

Minoan Civilisation (Neopalatial) [250]

Shang Dynasty [478]

Mycenae [400]

Vedic Civilisation [1000]

Middle Hittite Kingdom [70]

Elam Civilisation (Middle Elamite Period) [342]

New Hittite Kingdom [220]

Olmecs [1000]

Phoenicia [661]

Zhou Dynasty (Western Period) [351]

Kingdom of Israel and Judah [298]

Chavin Culture [700]

Urartu [225]

Kushite Kingdom [1150]

Etruscans [404]

Zhou Dynasty (Eastern Zhou Spring Period) [330]

Zhou Dynasty (Eastern Zhou Warring States Period) [411]

Ancient Rome [244]

Elam Civilisation (Neo-Elamite Period) [203]

Phrygia [43]

Lydia [144]

Magadha Empire [364]

Chaldean Dynasty (Babylon) [87]

Medean Empire [66]

Orontid Dynasty [540]

Scythians [800]

Mahanjanapadas [200]

Carthage [667]

Achaemenid Empire [220]

Roman Republic [461]

Nanda Empire [24]

Ptolemaic Egypt           [302]

Classical Greek [265]

Hellenistic [177]

Maurya Empire [137]

Seleucid Empire [249]

First Chera Empire [500]

Early Chola Empire [500]

Maghada-Maurya [90]

Parthian Empire [469]

Satavahana Dynasty [450]

Qin Dynasty [14]

Xiongnu Empire [184]

Han Dynasty (Western Period) [197]

Numidia [156]

Teotihuacans [735]

Kingdom of Armenia [442]

Hsiung Nu Han [120]

Sunga Empire [112]

Andhra [370]

Aksumite Empire [1100]

Kanva Dynasty [45]

Three Kingdoms of Korea [725]

Saka [140]

Roman Empire [525]

Han Dynasty (Eastern Period) [195]

Kushan [200]

Bactria [70]

Ptolemaic [290]

Liu-Sung [250]

Gupta [90]

Hun [100]

Byzantine [350]

Yuen-Yuen [30]

Toba [130]

White Hun [100]

Visigoth [240]

T’u Chueh Turk [90]

Avar [220]

Western Turk [70]

Luke Kemp is a researcher based at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. 

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