The 55 Most Important Events in Human History

For those who don’t have time to wade through the entire Timeline of Human History, I have created a list of the Most Important Events in Human History by collecting and combining several lists of 10, 25, 50 or 100 “most important events” or “events that changed the world” from the Internet and combining them into one meta-list, which is presented below in chronological order.  As with many such lists, the results are unlikely to win universal approval.  For example, I find the list biased toward Western (in particular American) civilization and overly focused on war, religion and dead white men.  There is also a bit of “comparing apples to oranges” because some of the important events happened in an instant and others occurred over many years or decades.  Despite these caveats, I think it is safe to say that all the events listed here are important to understanding human history.  For a much fuller picture, check out the world history timeline: Part 1: Prehistory to 1499, Part 2: 1500-1799, Part 3: 1800-1899, Part 4: 1900-Present.

1.  The First Cities Emerge in Mesopotamia: c. 4000-3100 BCE (Iraq)

2.  The Rise of Ancient Greek Civilization: c. 800-429 BCE  (Greece)
—- c. 800-700 BCE: Greek City-States Emerge
—- c. 600-575 BCE: Solon’s Constitutional Reforms in Athens
—- 490 BCE: The Greeks Stop the Persian Invasion at the Battle of Marathon
—- 461-429 BCE: The Age of Pericles in Athens: Golden Age of Arts and Culture, featuring Socrates, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Herodotus, Thucydides & Hippocrates.

3.  The Rise and Fall of Ancient Roman Civilization: c. 753 BCE-476 CE (Italy)
—- 753 BCE: Founding of Rome (traditional date)
—- 509 BCE: Founding of Roman Republic (traditional date)
—- 202 BCE: Battle of Zama: Rome under Scipio Africanus Defeats Carthage under Hannibal (Tunisia)
—- 49 BCE: Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon, Starting Roman Civil War
—- 27 BCE: Roman Senate Cedes Power to Augustus, Marking Start of Roman Empire
—- 27 BCE-180 CE: Pax Romana, Period of Relative Peace in Roman Empire 
—- 312 CE: Emperor Constantine Wins Battle of Milvian Bridge and Converts to Christianity
—- 476 CE: Odoacer Deposes Romulus Augustus, Marking the Fall of the Western Roman Empire

A map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent, under Emperor Trajan.

A map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent, under Emperor Trajan.

4.  The Life of the Buddha and Birth of Buddhism: c. 563-400 BCE (India)

5.  The Life of Confucius and Birth of Confucianism: 551-479 BCE (China)

6.  Alexander the Great Creates an Immense Empire: 336-323 BCE (Greece)

Alexander the Great's Empire as of.

Alexander the Great’s Empire at its peak.

7.  The Life of Jesus and the Birth of Christianity: c. 4 BCE-70 CE (Israel)
—- c. 4 BCE: Birth of Jesus
—- c. 29 CE: Crucifixion of Jesus

8.  The Life of Muhammad and the Birth of Islam: 570-630 CE (Saudi Arabia)
—- 622 CE: The Hejira

9.  Pope Leo III Crowns Charlemagne the First Holy Roman Emperor: 800 CE (France, Germany)

Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire.

Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire.

10. Norman Conquest of England: 1066 CE (UK)

11. First University Established, at Bologna: 1088 CE (Italy)

12. Pope Urban II Calls on Christians to Wage the First Crusade: 1095 CE (Italy)

13. For 675 Years, Japan Is Ruled by Hereditary Military Dictators Called Shoguns: 1192-1867 CE (Japan)
—- 1192 CE: Shogun Minamato no Yorimoto Overthrows Emperor, Establishing First Shogunate
—- 1867 CE: Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu Abdicates to Emperor Meiji, Ending Shogun Rule

14. Genghis Khan Establishes a Vast Mongol Empire: 1206-1227 (Central Asia, China)

Genghis Khan's empire.

Genghis Khan’s empire.

15. Nobles Force King John to Sign the Magna Charta Restricting His Powers: 1215 (UK)

16. The Renaissance: The Rediscovery of Classical Knowledge Brings About Innovations and Achievements in Arts and Culture: c. 1300-1600 (Italy, Europe)

17. The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) Devastates Europe: 1347-1348 (Europe)

18. The Inca People Create the Incan Empire: 1438-1533 (Peru, South America)

The Incan Empire.

The Incan Empire.

19. Gutenberg’s Printing Press Brings Moveable Type Printing to the West: 1440-1455 (Germany)
—- c. 1455: The Gutenberg Bible Is the First Mass-Produced Book

20. The Ottoman Turks Take Constantinople, Marking the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire: 4/6/1453-5/29/1453 (Turkey)

21. Columbus Arrives in the West Indies; European Conquest of the Americas Begins: 1492  (The Bahamas)

22. Michelangelo Paints the Sistine Chapel Ceiling: 1508-1512 (Rome, Italy)

The Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling.

23. Martin Luther Sends his 95 Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, Marking the Start of the Protestant Reformation: 10/31/1517 (Germany)

24. The Spanish under Cortes Begin Conquest of Aztec Empire, then at its Peak: 1519(Mexico)

A map of the Aztec Empire just before the Spanish invasion.

A map of the Aztec Empire just before the Spanish invasion.

25. Suleiman the Magnificent Rules Ottoman Empire During Period of Great Expansion: 1520-1566 (Turkey)
ottoman empire under suleiman

26. Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica Explains Universal Laws of Motion and Gravitation: 1687 (UK)

27. The Widespread Adoption of the Flying Shuttle and the Invention of the Spinning Jenny Mark the Beginning of the Industrial Revolution: 1760-1764 (UK)

28. American Colonists Protest New Taxes in the Boston Tea Party: 12/16/1773 (US)

29. The American Revolution: 1775-1783 (US)
—- 4/19/1775: The Battles of Lexington and Concord
—- 7/4/1776: America Issues its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain 

30. The French Revolution: 1789-1799 (France)
—- 6/20/1789: The Tennis Court Oath

31. The Medical Revolution: 1796-1885 (UK; US; France)
—- 1796: Edward Jenner Uses Live Cowpox Virus to Create the First Vaccine, for Smallpox (UK)
—- 3/30/1842: Crawford Long Uses Ether as an Anesthetic in Surgery for the first time (US)
—- 1860-1864: Louis Pasteur’s Experiments Prove Germ Theory of Disease (France)
—- 1885: Pasteur Is the First to Use Weakened Virus to Make Vaccine, for Rabies (France)

32. The Battle of Waterloo: Armies Led by the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher* Defeat the French under Napoleon, ending the Napoleonic Wars: 6/18/1815 (Belgium).

33. The British Empire Rejects Slavery: 1807-1833 (UK)
—- 1807: The Slave Trade Is Abolished in Great Britain
—- 1833: Slavery Is Abolished in Great Britain

The official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society.

The official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society.

34. Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species, which Proves that Natural Selection is the Mechanism of Biological Evolution: 1859 (UK)

A first edition copy of Darwin's Origin of Species.

A first edition copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

35. Election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President Leads Southern States To Secede, Sparking Civil War over Slavery Issue: 1861-1865 (US) 
—- 7/1-3/1863: Union Victory at the Battle of Gettysburg Marks the Turning Point of the War

36. European Powers Colonize Africa: 1880s (Europe, Africa)
—- 1884-1885: At the Berlin Conference, European Leaders Divide Up Africa.

A map showing the colonization of Africa by European powers.

A map showing the colonization of Africa by European powers.

37. New Zealand Becomes the First Nation to Grant Suffrage to Women: 1893 (N.Z.)

38. Orville & Wilbur Wright Fly the First Heavier-than-Air Powered Aircraft: 12/17/1903 (US)

The Wright Brothers' first powered flight, December, 1903.

The Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, December, 1903.

39. Albert Einstein Publishes the Special Theory of Relativity: 9/26/1905 (Switzerland)

40. World War I: 1914-1918 (Europe, Asia, Africa)
—- 6/28/1914: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo Triggers War

41. The Bolsheviks under Lenin Take Control of Russia in the October Revolution: 11/7-8/1917 (Russia)

Lenin speaks to a crowd in 1917.

Lenin speaks to a crowd in 1917.

42. Global Depression Follows Crash of U.S. Stock Market: 1929-1940 (US; Europe; Asia)
—- 10/29/1929: U.S. Stock Market Crashes

43. Nazi Party Leader Adolf Hitler Is Appointed Chancellor of Germany: 1/30/1933 (Germany)

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering wave to a torchlight parade in honor of Hitler's appointment as chancellor.

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering wave to a torchlight parade in honor of Hitler’s appointment as chancellor.

44. World War II: 1939-1945 (US, Europe, Asia, Africa)
—- 9/1/1939: Germany Invades Poland, Triggering WW II.
—- 12/7/1941: Japanese Surprise Attack on U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor; U.S. Enters War.
—- 1/20/1942: At the Wannsee Conference, Nazis Make Plans to Exterminate the Jews (Germany)
—- 6/6/1944: Allied Armies Invade Nazi-Occupied France on D-Day
—- 8/6, 9/1945: U.S. Drops Nuclear Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

45. The United Nations Is Formed: 1945-1946 (Europe, N. & S. America, Asia, Africa, Australia)
—- 10/24/1945: UN Charter Takes Effect, with 51 Member Nations
—- 1/10/1946: First Meeting of General Assembly (UK)

The first meeting of the UN General Assembly took place in London, UK on January 10, 1946.

The first meeting of the UN General Assembly took place in London, UK on January 10, 1946.

46. The Cold War: 1945-1989 (US, Russia, Europe)
—- 3/5/1946: Winston Churchill Gives “Iron Curtain” Speech (US)
—- 1961: Building of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin (Germany)

47. Chinese Communists under Mao Tse Tung Proclaim the People’s Republic of China After Defeating the Kuomintang: 10/1/1949 (China)

48. U.S. Civil Rights Movement: 1954-1968 (US)
—- 5/17/1954: The U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Brown v. Board of Education that Segregated Education Is Unconstitutional
—- 12/1/1955: Rosa Parks Refuses to Sit in the Back of the Bus, Sparking Montgomery Bus Boycott
—- 8/28/1963: Martin Luther King, Jr. Leads March on Washington, Makes “I Have a Dream” Speech

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington.

49. The Vietnam War: 1955-1975 (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos)

50. Soviet Union Launches Sputnik, First Man-Made Satellite: 10/4/1957 (Russia)

51. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration Approves the First Contraceptive Pill: 5/9/1960 (US)

52. U.S. President John F. Kennedy Is Assassinated in Dallas, Texas: 11/22/1963 (US)

53. Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon and Walk on its Surface: 7/20-21/1969 (US, Moon)

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon is a 1969 photograph by Neil Armstrong.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon is a 1969 photograph by Neil Armstrong.

54. The Cold War Ends: 1989-1991 (Europe, Russia)
—- 11/9/1989: Opening of Gates Between East and West Berlin; Demolition of Berlin Wall Begins (Germany)
—- 1989-1990: Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe
—- 12/26/1991: Soviet Union Is Dissolved

Germans celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989.

Germans celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989.

55. Terrorists Attack New York City and Washington, D.C., Destroying World Trade Towers and Sparking “War on Terror”: 9/11/2001 (US)

september 11

September 11, 2001 – New York City.

*[sound of horse neighing]