Forgotten Kingdoms

The area between Egypt and India contains the world's oldest known civilisations: Uruk, Babylon, pharaonic Egypt - and also was the birthplace for several of the world's cultures and religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.The list of dates on the right shows this in more detail.

Ostensibly all these ancient civilisations died out long ago. Any long-dead king from ancient Babylon, or pharaoh, would not recognise much in the modern Middle East. The region's capital cities, its political entities and languages have all changed.

Yet religion often preserves, in its rituals and language, customs and habits that otherwise have become extinct. So it is with the surviving minority faiths of the Middle East - and with certain strands of Islam, too. The Mandaeans who lived for centuries in Iraq's southern marshes are the closest thing there is to descendants of ancient Babylon. The Zoroastrians of Iran keep alive the ideas and rituals of the ancient Persian Empire. The Druze, who practise a version of Islam, have preserved the ancient world's veneration for the Greek philosophers.

These traditions are under threat both from actual persecution and the spread of modernity and globalization. But these communities still do exist, as shown on the map above. You can see more about them by clicking here.

7000 First known agricultural settlement in what is now Iraq
2560 Great Pyramid built in Egypt
1900 Indo-Europeans arrive in India perhaps including ancestors of the Kalash people
1842 Babylon emerges as an independent city state
1000 Probable date of composition of the Zoroastrian scriptures the Avesta
740/722 Assyrians attack Israel take some of its people into captivity – later known as the “Ten Tribes”; Samaritans say that their ancestors were spared
587 Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem deports leading Jews to Babylon; on their return forty years later Jewish-Samaritan hostility increases
550 Approximate date of renovation of moon-temple at Harran: temple survives well into Islamic era
332 Alexander the Great conquers Persia destroys Persepolis; soon after passes Hindu Kush
70 Sack of Jerusalem by the Romans and destruction of the Second Jewish Temple
274 Death of Mani founder of Manichaeism; Mandaeans already exist in Iraqi Marshes
312 Constantine is the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity
634-654 Arab Muslims conquer all lands from Morocco to Iran
900 Islam becomes majority religion in Egypt
1017 The Druze faith is first openly taught in Cairo
1160 Death of Sheikh Adi one of the key figures in the development of the Ezidi religion of northern Iraq
1258 Sack of Baghdad by Genghis Khan
1263 Birth of Ibn Taymiyyah conservative critic of Druze and other heterodox Muslims
1401 Tamerlane’s sack of Baghdad
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