About 120,000 years ago, a group of so-called modern
people wandered. Homo sapiens sapiens, north of
Africa through Egypt and across Sinai to Israel, but this
group died out 90,000 years ago.
85,000 years ago, people crossed the Bab el-Mandeb Strait
on the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, which was narrower
than it is today, and further along the South Asian coasts
some 75,000 years ago. 20,000-30,000 years ago, groups of
people in Central Asia had migrated westward into Europe and
eastward through the Central Asia Bering Strait. In ancient
Stone Age, various hunter and gatherer cultures developed in
large areas of Asia.
The oldest organized civilizations known originated in
the area known as the "fertile crescent" of the Middle East,
where farming and domestication of important domestic
animals, such as cattle, were developed at the earliest. A
temple area in Göbeli Tepe in southeastern Turkey from about
10,000 BCE. is the oldest known place of religious worship
and one of the earliest expressions of agricultural culture
(younger Stone Age).
Asia's ancient history is first and foremost a
series of river cultures that developed into powerful
kingdoms, such as in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) at
Euphrates and Tigris, the Indus culture at Indus, in India
around the Ganges and in China around Huang He. The kingdoms
of Mesopotamia followed one another; the Akkadian, the
Sumerian, the Hittite, the Babylonian, and the Assyrian. A
short-lived New Babylonian kingdom went down when it was
conquered by the Persians in 538 BCE. In the last centuries
BCE. the Persian Empire stretched from Indus in the east via
Central Asia to the Mediterranean in the west.
In India there were great national formations from the
300s BCE, while changing Chinese dynasties from around 1000
BCE. ruled over very large areas further northeast.
Other significant state formation was the Phoenician
Empire, with the center of today's Lebanon and the Persian
Empire. With Alexander the Great's kingdom, European
influence reached Indus for the first time. After the death
of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. his empire was divided
into several units: the party empire that became the Roman
Empire's most important opponent in the east, the New
Persian Sassanian empire of the 20th century CE, and the
Arab-Islamic kingdoms that emerged in the 600's.
The Arab Caliphate was the largest of several kingdoms in
Asia in the 7th century; it stretched from present-day
Pakistan in the east to Spain in the west. The Arab
expansion to the west was halted by Karl Martell in 732
while the Chinese expansion westward along the Silk Road was
halted by the Arabs in 751.
In the 1300s, the horsemen created the Mongols the
largest empire that has ever existed except the Soviet
Union. After China was conquered, the vast realm dissolved
into smaller parts loosely bound together.
Contact with Europe
In 1498, the Portuguese found Vasco da Gama the sea
route to India. This initiated a competition between
European naval powers, primarily Portugal, Spain, the
Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, for warehouses
for trade and colonies, and European civilization has since
prevailed in Asia. India became a British colony with a
certain self-reliance for the Indian princes. Spain took the
Philippines, the Netherlands Indonesia and the South Asian
mainland except Thailand became French. Russia gradually
expanded its territory east to the Pacific.
In East Asia, other countries' competition with Russia
began in the mid-1800s. American trade and mission also
prevailed. Other nations' infiltration of China began after
the Opium War between 1839 and 1842, during competition from
Russia and eventually also from Japan. The economic
infiltration of China took the form of concessions and
forced abandonment of port cities. China avoided becoming a
colony because it was more resilient than India, but was
almost split up after the Japanese-Chinese War (1894–95).
Find a list of countries in east Asia, check
The United States conquered the Philippines from Spain in
While China was primarily exploited economically, Japan
mimicked the West's military technology and
industrialization and became an expanding great power after
1900. Russia-Japan competition led to a war in 1904-1905
that led the Russians to be expelled from Korea and Manjury.
In 1937, Japan annexed Male Jury, and attempts to
incorporate northern China led to war in 1937. This lasted
The westernmost part of Asia was until the First World
War under Ottoman (Turkish) influence, but following the
defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus, Trans-Jordan (Jordan)
and Palestine came under British rule and Syria and Lebanon
under French mandate. Afghanistan became independent in
1919. The Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of Yemen,
was united into the one kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1927.
Other areas in the Middle East became independent from the
1930s: Iraq in 1932, Lebanon and Syria in 1941, and Jordan
and Israel. in 1948.
In the first half of the 20th century, there was a
burgeoning nationalism in Asia partly as a national
expansionist policy and partly as liberation from colonial
Significant parts of World War II were fought in Asia and
the Pacific. Japan conquered large areas in China,
Indochina, and the Pacific, but suffered definite defeats in
World War II following the bomb blasts over the Japanese
cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Partly because of the weakened position of European
powers after World War II, a period of decolonization in
Asia followed. Among the largest new independent states were
the Philippines (1946), India and Pakistan (1947) and Burma
(1950). Malaya became an independent state in 1957, and a
federation that also included Singapore, Sarawak and
Northern Borneo was established as the Malaysia Federation
in 1963. Singapore was ousted and then independent in 1965.
East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh in 1971.
After prolonged fighting, China gained a relatively
stable communist regime in 1949. China occupied Tibet in
1951 and neighboring Sikkim became an Indian state in 1975.
In 1945, Vietnam, and in 1949 Indonesia and Laos became
independent countries. Cambodia became independent in 1953.
An eight-year war and division into two zones along 17th
latitude would make Vietnam the world's bloodiest war scene
(the Vietnam War), which, after a US intervention war and
defeat, led to the reunification of the country in 1975 and
war in Laos and Cambodia. From the mid-1970s, political
conditions in Southeast Asia stabilized.
In contrast, conditions in the ever-conflicting Middle
East tightened. The unrest centers were Israel and Lebanon,
and the areas of the Gulf of Persia after the revolution in
Iran in 1978-79. A war was fought between Iran and Iraq in
The United States twice attacked dictator Saddam
Hussein's Iraq, the first time during the Gulf War in 1991
and the second time in 2003 when Hussein was removed from
power. The US pulled out of Iraq in 2013, currently haunting
political turmoil and terrorist attacks. In 2012, there was
political turmoil in Iran as well.
Tensions between the US and USSR from 1945 and China from
1949 were expressed in many places in Asia: through the
communist revolution in 1949, the Korean War (1950–1953) and
the civil war in Vietnam from the mid-1950s to 1975. Armed
Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia (1975-1978) increased
the tension between Vietnam and China. China's relations
with the USSR were aggravated by the Soviet intervention war
in Afghanistan (1979-1980); this was subdued when the Soviet
forces withdrew from the country (1988–1989). China's
relations with the Soviet Union improved in 1989 and to
Vietnam in 1992.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a
number of new West and Central Asian republics emerged:
Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and
The relationship between Pakistan and India on the one
hand, and between India and China on the other, is
characterized by mutual suspicion. China has long wanted to
take over Taiwan; since about 2000 the two countries are in
addition rival economic powers. The relationship between
China and Vietnam, as well as between China and Japan, is
also complicated. In 1997, China regained its sovereignty
over Hong Kong and Macao in 1999.
Following the terrorist attacks on New York and
Washington, DC in the United States on September 11, 2002,
the Islamic Fundamentalist Movement of the Taliban refused
to extradite the terrorist-wanted chief Osama bin Laden. US
forces in Afghanistan sent "coalition forces" to remove bin
Laden and crush the Taliban. Bin Laden was killed in
Pakistan in 2012, but the Taliban still provides political
resistance. Muslim further terrorist attacks hit Bali in
2002 and Mumbai in 1993 and 2008, among others.
Since the 1990's, Asia has been America's most important
foreign policy area, a position challenged by China.
Currently, there is a relatively stable balance of power
between the two countries in Asia. Asian nuclear powers
today (2013) are Russia, Pakistan, India and China,
allegedly also Israel and North Korea. An agreement on
enriching uranium for use in nuclear reactors was signed
with Iran in November 2013. The only Asian countries
"allowed" to have nuclear weapons are Russia and China
(these countries had such weapons before the
non-proliferation agreement was implemented in 1968).
In Asia, the wave of demonstrations and protests in the
Arab world that began in 2010 led to a change of government
in Kuwait in 2011, a change of power in Yemen 2012, 4
changes in government in Jordan, violent protests in Iraq
and protests in Lebanon and Oman. The most dramatic blow was
the bloody civil war that has been going on in Syria since
In recent decades, a number of Asian countries have
approached Western democratic models.