Ancient Worlds, cover

Richard Miles' book, and the BBC televisions series it supports, explores the history of western civilization from the establsihment of the first cities in what is now Iraq.

Ancient Worlds cover the period from just before 5,000BC, the Bronze Age, to the end of the Classical period with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. Miles tells a story that is, almost entirely, centred on the eastern Mediterranean and what is now called the Near or Middle East.

Revolution: The First Cities

The story begins with the founding of the first cities, at Uruk, in the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in southern Iraq. This Sumerian civilization grew out of collaboration between clans to become a major empire. The history then moves to Egypt, a period that will be more familiar to most western readers. This comes about as growing trade exported civilization across the region, and wide and it carries it further afield as empires wax and wane.

Subsequent parts cover the more familiar history as the story moves west to the classical world and the eventual decline of their power and influence after spreading civilization more widely.

The story moves on through time and geography of the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean. The history of the ancient worlds and the roots of western civilisation continue through:

  • The End of the Bronze Age and its Aftermath
  • Ancient Greece and the Tyranny of Freedom
  • Age of Kingship: Alexander and the Hellenistic Age
  • The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic


The final section covers the building blocks of empire and the growth and rise of Christianity across he Roman Empire. It provides the foundation for civilisation to eventually move west through Europe and beyond.

More than History, Ancient Worlds is a Story Told Well

Ancient Worlds is more than a history; it is a good read as Richard Miles has the storyteller's touch. It provides the reader with a substantial overview of how western civilization developed from its origins in the Near East. Most readers with some interest in history will be aware of the classical period of Greece, Rome and even Egypt but may have only a rudimentary knowledge of civilization's earlier origins in Mesopotamia. Ancient Worlds pulls it all together into a very readable and colourful story.

Ancient Worlds is a substantial hardback. Lavishly illustrated in colour on high quality glossy paper, it does Richard Miles' work full justice. Ancient Worlds reflects the high production values of the BBC documentary with which the book is associated.

It helps the reader pull an often piecemeal knowledge of the period and region into a complete whole. Even with nearly 300 pages, it can still only give an overview of a complex and turbulent history. Ancient Worlds is a good start for anyone seeking to get a more complete understanding of the period and region; it will fill in many gaps in the coverage for a popular readership. For many amateur historians Ancient Worlds may well trigger a desire to find out more.

Ancient Worlds, The Search for Origins of Western Civilization (2010, ISBN: 978-0-713-99794-1) by Richard Miles is published in hardback by Allen Lane.

The Author: Richard Miles

Richard Miles teaches classics at the University of Sydney and formerly as Newton Trust Lecturer in the Faculty of Classics and Director of Studies at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. He is a widely published author and director of archaeological excavations in Carthage and Rome.


First appeared on Suite101


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