Walking tall: from 4 million years ago

Africa is the setting for the long dawn of human history. From about four million years ago ape-like creatures walk upright on two feet in this continent. Intermediate between apes and men, they have been named Australopithecus. Later, some two million years ago, the first creatures to be classed as part of the human species evolve in Africa. They develop a technology based on sharp tools of flint, introducing what has become known as the Stone age.

About a million years ago humans explore northwards out of Africa, beginning the process by which mankind has colonized the planet.

During the later part of the old Stone age (see Divisions of the Stone age), humans in Afica produce some of the earliest and most significant examples of Prehistoric art. Paintings on stone slabs, found in Namibia, date from nearly 30,000 years ago. Rock and cave paintings survive from widely separated areas. They range from those of the San people, in southern Africa, to others dating from about 8000 BC in what is now the Sahara.

The Sahara is also the site of the earliest new Stone age (or neolithic) culture to have been discovered in Africa.

Out of Africa: more than a million years ago

Homo erectus is the variety of human who moves out of the continent of Africa, to spread through much of Asia and Europe. This move from Africa is usually dated to about a million years ago, but this may be too recent. First reports of two skulls found in 1999 at Dmanisi, in South Georgia, describe them as 1.8 million years old.

Fossil remains of this kind have been found as far afield as Java in southeast Asia (the first to be discovered, in 1891), Beijing in northern China, and within Europe in Greece, Germany and England - in addition to numerous sites in Africa. The European skulls differ from the Asian in various ways (larger brains, smaller teeth), causing some anthropologists to classify them not as Homo erectus but as an archaic version of our own species, Homo sapiens.

While it is certain that we all descend from Homo erectus, precisely how we do so is as much disputed as any other topic in this thorny field of human origins.

One theory is that after moving out of Africa around a million years ago Homo erectus evolves towards modern man in different ways in different parts of the globe, but that the regional groups retain enough contact and sufficient interbreeding to prevent any of them evolving into a separate species.

A rival theory involves two waves of exodus from Africa. The first, it is agreed, is that of Homo erectus more than a million years ago. But by this theory Homo erectus then evolves in different parts of the world into increasingly distinct varieties of human.

The variety of human evolving during this period in Africa, according to this theory, is modern man - descending from the original Homo erectus stock.

Modern man, this theory continues, comes out of Africa in a second exodus -- perhaps about 150,000 years ago -- and subsequently becomes the only human species on earth. Other humans known to us during that period (most notably the Neanderthal man of Eurasia) are therefore different varieties evolving locally. They are all eventually replaced by modern man, in a slow colonial expansion from Africa through Asia and, eventually, into Europe.

DNA analysis of different ethnic groups has provided evidence which seems to support this second theory, for it suggests that Africa has had a stable human population longer than any other part of the globe.

Another discovery supporting the 'out of Africa' theory is the date given by new technology to human remains found in the 1930s in caves at Skhul and Qafzeh, in modern Israel. They are of anatomically modern people, similar to ourselves, but they are now known to have lived about 90,000 years ago.

Modern humans spread through Asia (and even reach Australia) by 50,000 years ago, and appear in western Europe 35,000 years ago. The people of Skhul and Qafzeh live, much earlier, in the first habitable region on the land route from Africa. This does seem to cast them as ancestral figures on a long and slow second journey out of Africa.

There are certain undisputed facts which each of the rival theories must accomodate.

We have fossils of several varieties of human from within the last million years. All ultimately derive from the same ancestor, Homo erectus. These fossil varieties differ in many of their characteristics. Yet we ourselves are now the only surving human species. To accomodate these facts, there can only be two possible explanations - regardless of which parts of the planet are involved.

Either we have evolved from several of the various descendants of Homo erectus (among which Neanderthal man is the best known), while nevertheless remaining one species. Or our particular branch of Homo erectus has replaced all the others.

The possibility that our species replaced all other humans sounds dramatic, but need not be so. On an evolutionary scale replacement is not necessarily a scene of battle and carnage.

In Britain, for example, grey squirrels are steadily driving the smaller red squirrels northwards, because the grey variety is more adaptable in its use of the available woodland. The process is likely to lead, in a relatively short time, to the replacement of one species by the other.

But while it happens there is nothing cataclysmic about it.

The spread of our species: from 60000 years ago

After Homo erectus has spread through the linked central land mass of our planet (Africa and Eurasia), he is succeeded within that region by varieties of Homo sapiens - the Neanderthals and then Modern humans. It is Modern humans who take the next step in colonizing the habitable earth.

The dates are still uncertain and much disputed. But at some time after 60,000 years ago people cross from southeast Asia to Borneo, the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia. And at some time after 30,000 years ago humans make the short but difficult leap from northeast Asia to northwest America.

Temporary bridges: 60000 – 10000 years ago

The ice ages play an essential part in mankind's advance from Asia into both Australia and America. The effect of an ice age is to lower the sea level by 100 metres and more. This narrows the gaps between many islands and sometimes even exposes a complete land ridge.

One such sunken ridge is the Sahul Shelf, under the largest stretch of sea between the Indonesian islands and Australia. Another lies between Siberia and Alaska.

The first Australians: from 60

The islands of Indonesia are like a string of beads pointing towards Australia. Stone Age hunter-gatherers no doubt find much of their food on the shores and in the shallows, and soon use rafts to reach offshore reefs. Probably the first people to arrive on slightly more distant islands have been carried there by accident rather than intention.

But there is a plentiful supply of food wherever they make landfall. With an ice age reducing the level of the Timor Sea (see Ice Ages), this series of hops for mankind sooner or later reaches Australia. The earliest traces of human habitation in the continent are now tentatively dated between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago.

The first Americans: 30000 - 5000 years ago

During the most recent of the Ice Ages, lasting from 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, an undersea ridge between Siberia and Alaska emerges from the sea. Known as the Bering Land Bridge, it lies partly south of the ice cap. It develops a steppe-like ecology of grasslands, grazed by large animals such as horses, reindeer and even mammoth.

Gradually, in many separate incursions, the Hunter-gatherers of the Siberian steppes pursue their prey across the land bridge and into America. When the melting ice submerges the bridge, about 10,000 years ago, these northeast Asians become isolated as the aboriginal Americans.

The Siberian Hunter-gatherers probably make their way along the north coast of Alaska and down through the valley of the Mackenzie river. Archaeological evidence shows that by about 15,000 years ago the central plains of America are widely inhabited. Traces of human activity at this time are preserved in the remarkable La Brea tar pit in Los Angeles. The glacial conditions further north mean that the central plains are at this time cool and moist.

During the next 5000 years, while the glacial period continues, humans penetrate far into South America.

The retreat of the ice caps (see Ice Ages) makes northern regions increasingly habitable both for large animals and for the humans who prey on them. By 8000 years ago Hunter-gatherers have moved up the eastern side of the continent into Newfoundland and the prairie provinces of Canada.

From about 7000 years ago human groups adapt to the conditions of the northern coast of Canada, living mainly as hunters of sea mammals. They spread gradually eastwards along the edge of the Arctic Circle, eventually reaching Greenland. These hardiest of all human settlers survive today as the Eskimo (or, in their own name for themselves, inuit - meaning simply 'the people').

3000 - 200 BC

Migrations: from 3000 BC

In historic times, since about 3000 BC, various clearly identifiable groups of people have moved from area to area of the globe. In doing so they have profoundly influenced the human story. There are several different senses in which such people can be identified as groups, but few involve racial distinctions.

In prehistory the movement of a group is usually evident through traces of a shared language, which the migrants bring to a new place. The spread of a cultural influence, such as styles of pottery or religious practices, will show that there was a close link between regions but will not necessarily prove permanent migration.

Sometimes large numbers of people arrive so suddenly, and with such hostile intent, that they are unmistakably recognizable as a group. They usually have a close tribal link with each other, and their names are likely to be remembered with distaste - the Huns, for example, or the Vandals.

On other occasions identifiable groups are moved in large numbers against their will. The transfer of Africans to America in the Slave trade is the most notable example, and here race comes closest to being a defining factor. But groups of voluntary immigrants to America - the Irish, for example - remain almost as identifiable in later generations and have a similar influence on the patterns of history.

There are therefore infinitely variable facets to the movement of peoples. Colonial ambitions take the Spaniards to America, where they exploit the Indian population but also interbreed with them. The same impulse takes the British to America and Australia, where they persecute the original inhabitants but themselves remain separate and exclusive. Persecution causes the Jews to move again and again during the centuries, but their own exclusiveness enables them to survive as a group.

The story of the movement of peoples given here does not attempt to keep separate these many different strands. It merely records the fascinating sequence of who has moved where and when and why.

Semitic tribes: from 3000 BC

When Prehistory shades into history, in the Middle East, there has already occurred the first identifiable movement of a group of tribes linked by their language - the Semitic tribes.

Probably originating in southern Arabia, Semitic people have spread by 3000 BC along the desert caravan routes, up through Sinai and into the Syrian desert. Five hundred years later they are an integral part of the culture of Mesopotamia, where there is a great Semitic dynasty as early as 2350 BC. Semitic tribes are the first to bring civilization to the coastal strip of Palestine and phoenicia.

Indo-Europeans: from 2000 BC

The next great identifiable movement of a large number of tribes, using related languages, is that of the Indo-europeans. By about 2000 BC tribes of this linguistic family are living as nomadic herdsmen in the steppes which stretch from the Ukraine eastwards, to the regions north of the Black Sea and the Caspian.

Over the coming centuries some of these tribes move south and west into more appealing areas - occasionally in a process akin to open warfare, and invariably no doubt with violence. But the development is much more gradual than our modern notion of an invading force.

Indo-Europeans in Asia: from 1800 BC

In Asia the first significant movement of this kind is by the Hittites, who establish themselves in Anatolia.

Subsequently the Medes and the persians become the dominant tribes on the Iranian plateau. These Indo-Iranians are related in language and culture to the Aryans who move down into India, profoundly influencing the subcontinent. Their tribal religion contributes largely to Zoroastrianism in Persia and Hinduism in India (see the Gods of the aryans).

At a much later date, one of the Indo-European tribal groups in India makes a further move south. They are the Sinhalese. They settle in Sri lanka, probably in the 6th century BC.

In doing so, they isolate themselves from the Indo-Europeans of north India, for they move to the south of a different linguistic group - the Dravidians, whose origin is unknown but whose language has no links with Indo-European. After another lengthy gap, in about the 11th century AD, members of the largest Dravidian community, the Tamils, move into Sri lanka from southern India and settle in the north of the island.

Indo-Europeans in Europe: from 1800 BC

In Europe the first Indo-European tribes to make significant inroads are the Greeks. They move south into Greece and the Aegean from the 18th century BC.

Gradually other tribes speaking Indo-European languages spread throughout Europe. From an early date Germans are established in Denmark and southern Sweden. Balts settle along the southern and eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Tribes using an Italic group of languages descend into Italy. Across the centre of Europe the Celts move gradually west through Germany into France, northern Spain and Britain.

Another wave of migrating Indo-European peoples follows on behind, pressing westwards from Asia. The Slavs move into the region of Poland and western Russia, between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers. The Scythians establish themselves in the area to the north of the Black Sea.

Any map will oversimplify patterns of tribal migration, for it must attempt to separate groups which in reality intermingle and overlap. If there is not too much pressure on the available territory, different tribes often coexist within a region. Even so, in broad terms, the tribes mentioned here from the great majority of Europeans at the time when Greece and Rome dominate the Mediterranean region.

Migration by sea in the south Pacific: 2000 BC - AD 800

Probably at first more by accident than design, the islands of the south Pacific are reached by people sailing or drifting from southeast Asia. The first to be settled are those immediately to the east of New Guinea and Australia - the region given in modern times the name of Melanesia, because of the dark skins of the inhabitants (from the Greek melas black and nesos island). The pottery of the early settlers links them with the people of the Moluccas.

In around 1300 BC seafarers make the longest step so far in this process and reach Fiji, a group of islands intermediate between Melanesia and Polynesia.

The Pacific islanders develop a twin-hulled sailing canoe which is an extremely effective sea-going vessel. In boats of this kind they continue the process of spreading eastwards through Polynesia (Greek polus many, nesos island). The first staging posts are Tonga and Samoa.

The earliest surviving trace of human occupation in these islands is about 420 BC in Tonga and 200 BC in Samoa. But colonists are likely to have arrived considerably earlier than this, since by the 1st century BC humans have reached the much more inaccessible Marquesas Islands.

The final thrust, to the most remote island groups of the Pacific, takes place from the Marquesas. Hawaii is reached in about AD 400; Easter island perhaps a century later; Tahiti and the Society Islands in about 600.

The last great step in man's colonization of the planet involves the longest sea journey of all - thousands of miles southwest from the Marquesas or Tahiti to New zealand. This is accomplished in about AD 800.

The Jewish Diaspora: from the 6th century BC

A unique strand in the story of the Movement of peoples begins in the Middle East in the 6th century BC. After the Destruction of jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar many Jews live in Egypt or Babylon. In these alien surroundings they preserve their own customs.

It is the beginning of the process by which the Jews spread throughout the world - the Diaspora - remaining always a minority in any society (until the creation of the modern state of Israel). Other tribes on the move either become a majority in their new home or are absorbed. Only the Jews, through retaining a religious and to a lesser extent a racial identity, survive through two and half millennia as a recognizable though widely scattered people.

The Jews of Alexandria demonstrate the ability of a Jewish community to flourish in a new context without losing its identity. They integrate so fully with the secular life of the city that their own first language becomes Greek. It is they who first use the word diaspora (Greek for 'dispersion') to describe Jewish communities living outside Israel.

Soon many of them no longer understand Hebrew. But they refuse to let this diminish their strong sense of a shared identity as God's special people, according to the covenant revealed in a book which they now cannot read. They commission, with Ptolemy's support and approval, the first translation of the Bible, the famous Greek version known as the Septuagint. And their Synagogue is the earliest of which there is evidence.

2nd century BC - 5th century AD

Hordes from the steppes: 2nd - 1st century BC

Two great nomadic hordes, the Xiongnu and the Yuezhi, compete for grazing pastures in the steppes to the north of China. In about 176 BC the Yueqi are defeated in a battle and their king is killed. As a result they are driven west. They establish themselves in the region north of Bactria, an outpost of Greek civilization.

For a while the fierce Yuezhi merely demand tribute from their southern neighbours, but in the 1st century BC they settle in Bactria themselves. Here, in the 1st century AD, one of their tribal chieftains establishes a powerful dynasty, known as Kushan. At the end of the century the Kushans press on into India.

The victorious Xiongnu are a constant threat to the powerful Han dynasty in China, but the Chinese hold them back with a strong military presence on the northern border. Internationally this has one very beneficial result - the opening of the Silk road.

After a century of spasmodic warfare, a section of the Xiongnu formally submit in 51 BC to China - making the necessary gesture of bringing tribute to the emperor. But this submission splits the horde. A separate group of Xiongnu move westwards into central Asia. They become lost to history, though it has been traditional to link them with the Huns who suddenly appear in the 4th century AD to plague the Roman empire.

Germans on the move: from the 2nd century BC

In the 2nd century BC, Germanic tribes move south and east from Scandinavia. The Goths and the Vandals drive the Balts east along the coast of the Baltic. Other Germans press south along the Rhine as far as the Danube, forcing the Helvetii - a Celtic tribe - to take refuge among the Swiss mountains.

Two German tribes, the Teutones and the Cimbri, even strike so far south as to threaten Roman armies in southern France and northern Italy. They are finally defeated and pressed back in 101 BC. But from the Roman point of view a long-term threat has been identified - that of the German barbarians whose territory is now the region beyond the Rhine and the Danube.

The lull before the storm: 3rd century AD

By the 3rd century AD various German tribal confederations, all of whom will leave a lasting mark on European history, are ranged along the natural borders of the Roman empire. They have settled in the territories east of the Rhine and north of the Danube and Black Sea. From here, in the great upheavals of the 4th and 5th century (known as the Völkerwanderung, 'migration of the peoples'), they will move throughout western Europe.

In the northwest, beyond the lower reaches of the Rhine, are the Franks. Further south, around the Main valley, are the Burgundians. East of the Alps, near the Tisza river, are the Vandals. Beyond them, occupying a far greater range of territory than the others, are the Goths.

The Goths are by now split into two groups. Those further east are known as the Ostrogoths, apparently meaning eastern Goths. The western group are the Visigoths, often said to mean western Goths. They prefer to intepret the name as 'valiant' Goths, declaring it unlucky to be associated with the west in which the sun sinks and dies.

The Visigoths occupy the region between the Danube and the Dniester. Beyond them the empire of the Ostrogoths stretches over a vast area north of the Black Sea as far as the river Don.

All these close neighbours of the Romans make their presence felt through continual raids into the empire. Coping with them becomes the main activity of the Roman legions. But gradually closer relationships are established through diplomacy and trade - meaning mainly a supply of slaves by the tribes in return for grain, wine and textiles from the Romans.

By the early 4th century, in the reign of Constantine, an element of stability has been achieved to the benefit both of the Romans and of their more primitive neighbours. But it is about to be upset, from about AD 370, by devastating incursions from the east.

The arrival of the Huns: AD c.370

The Huns, whose name has come to rival the Vandals as an emotive term for destructive violence, arrive in history with an impact as sudden as it is mysterious. They appear from the steppes north of the Black Sea in the late 4th century. They are not a Germanic group. It is usually assumed, on no firm evidence, that they must somehow be descended from the equally fierce Xiongnu who four centuries earlier have moved west from regions north of China.

In about 370 the Huns defeat the Ostrogoths. Six years later they descend upon the Visigoths, driving them south over the Danube. For a while they bide their time in the territories of the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. But they have already set in motion a chain reaction.

The Visigoths: AD 376-418

The Visigoths are allowed by the Romans to settle south of the Danube, but Roman demands soon provoke them into rebellion. At Adrianople, in AD 378, they inflict a shattering defeat on a Roman army. Two thirds of the Romans are killed, including the emperor, Valens, whose body is never found.

The relationship between the Roman empire and its barbarian neighbours changes dramatically. The next emperor, Theodosius, hands over the province of Moesia to the Visigoths, according them the status of foederati - federates, or allies, granted land within the empire which they, in return, are expected to defend against other barbarians. But there is an implicit danger to Rome. The loyalties of the tribesmen are to their own leaders.

From AD 395 the Visigoths become restless. They have a new ruler, Alaric, who wants more funds from the Romans, better territory, a more honourable place within the empire. In pursuit of these rather generalized aims he leads an army southwards into Greece, much of which is plundered.

By 401 Alaric and the Visigoths are in Italy. After several campaigns (and a fruitless bribe in 407 of some 2000 kilograms of gold) the Visigoths reach Rome. Their siege is twice lifted by negotation, but in 410 they enter the city. They are the first enemy intruders for exactly eight centuries - since the arrival of Celts in rome in 390 BC.

When the Visigoths leave Rome, they are laden with plunder but they have not destroyed the city. Alaric moves on south, intending to invade Africa, but he dies later in the year, still in Italy. His people wander north again into France and move briefly through the Pyrenees into Spain. In 418 they return to southwest France, or Aquitaine, where they are offered land again as Roman federates.

Rome needs all the friends she can find among the barbarians, for Gaul is no longer secure. On all sides there are intruders.

The Franks: late 4th century

The most significant (in the long term) of all the German tribes establish themselves south of the Rhine where it reaches the sea, moving from what is now the Netherlands into Belgium. They are the Franks. By the end of the 4th century they too - like the Visigoths - are enlisted by the Romans as federates, living on Roman territory and expected to defend the imperial borders.

Instead, in about 430, they attempt to push further south into Gaul. Halted by a Roman army in the following year, they settle near Tournai. This becomes the base from which, under Clovis, the Franks subdue almost the whole of Gaul by the end of the 5th century.

From the 5th century AD

The Vandals: AD 406-439

Unlike the Visigoths and the Franks, the Vandals make no pretence of cooperating with Rome. On the last day of December 406, together with other barbarian tribes, they cross the frozen Rhine near Mainz. For the next three years they ravage Gaul, before moving south in 409 into Spain. They establish themselves there until, in 417, they are invaded by the Visigoths (acting on behalf of the Romans).

By 429 the Visigoths have conquered most of the Iberian peninsula. The Vandals move on south, crossing to north Africa under the leadership of a young king, Gaiseric. In 439 Gaiseric inflicts a serious defeat on the Romans, capturing the important city of Carthage.

The Vandals in Carthage: AD 439-533

With Carthage as his base, Gaiseric dominates the western Mediterranean - much as the Carthaginians once did. He annexes Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic islands. In 455 he even invades Italy, reaching and capturing Rome. His troops plunder systematically for two weeks, carrying off many treasures (including those which Titus, in this game of imperial plunder, has taken four centuries previously from the Temple in Jerusalem). The empress and her two daughters are taken as hostages.

The independent Vandal kingdom, a thorn in the side of Rome, lasts almost a century - until destroyed by a Byzantine expedition in 533.

The Burgundians: AD 413-436

The Burgundians are not far behind the Vandals in crossing the Rhine, in 413, but they remain more modestly just a few miles west of the river, at Worms. They are dislodged from here by the Romans in 436 and are settled in southeast Gaul, to the east of the Rhône, in the region known as Savoy. Here, like the Visigoths in southwest Gaul, they are given the status of Roman federates.

When attacking the Burgundians in Worms, the Romans have worked in alliance with a much more powerful group of barbarians. But these prove unreliable allies. They are the Huns, a non-Germanic group who for nearly two decades terrorize first the eastern and then the western Roman empire.

The Huns: AD 434-453

In 434 two brothers, Bleda and Attila, jointly succeed their uncle in the leadership of the Huns. In the two generations since their defeat of the Ostrogoths and visigoths, these people have steadily won control of a large territory stretching from the Alps up to the Baltic and east as far as the Caspian. With their speed and ferocity as mounted archers, the Huns terrify their more sedate neighbours. They have developed the habit of demanding large sums in tribute from the eastern Roman empire.

One of the first acts of Bleda and Attila is to double the annual tribute of gold from Constantinople - to more than 300 kilograms a year.

When the Romans are slow to pay, Attila goes on a rampage of destruction - south over the Danube and east as far as Gallipoli (he wastes no time attacking Constantinople itself, where the great walls are impervious to mere archers, however Hunnish). The result is a new agreement in 443. The Roman arrears are calculated at 3000 kilograms of gold. The annual tribute is raised to 1000 kilograms.

In about 445 Attila murders his brother and henceforth rules without restriction.

As yet Attila has not invaded the western empire, but he is provided in 450 with an interesting pretext. He receives a ring from Honoria, the sister of the western emperor. In the accompanying message Honoria explains that an unwelcome marriage has been arranged for her; she begs Attila to rescue her from this fate. With some justification he takes this as a proposal. He accepts, and demands half the western empire as her dowry.

When Attila enters Gaul in 451, the expectant bridegroom meets his first setback. A Roman army, supported by Visigoths and Burgundians (fulfilling their obligation as federates), defeats him at an unidentified site described as the Catalaunian Plain, somewhere between Troyes and Châlons-sur-Marne.

Attila withdraws from Gaul but in the spring of 452 he invades northern Italy, sacking many towns before plague and famine cause him to turn and retreat again to the north - a happy conclusion often also credited to a timely visit by pope Leo i. In 453 the conqueror, who has earned from his Christian enemies the title 'Scourge of God', dies in his bed on the night of his wedding to a new young wife.

He already has a great many sons, whose quarrels soon dissipate the empire of the Huns. By the end of the 5th century, during which Attila has terrorized the Roman empire, the Huns have effectively faded from history. Their collapse provides a welcome opportunity for the neighbouring Slavs.

The Slavs in eastern Europe: 6th century AD

The Slavs are first referred to by this name in 518 when they press into the Roman empire across the Danube, though they have been settled for more than a millennium in the region to the north (between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers).

After the collapse of the empire of the Huns, in the 5th century, the Slavs begin to expand their territory. They move westwards into what are now the Czech republic and Slovakia and south towards the Adriatic and Aegean - where their separate political and religious development as Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, Macedonians and Bulgarians later makes the peninsula of the Balkans one of the most complex regions on the face of the earth.

Angles and Saxons: 5th - 6th century AD

With Gaul in the hands of Germanic chieftains, and the Roman legions withdrawn from Britain, land-hungry tribes are tempted by the short step across the English Channel. Among those who take this step, invading the eastern and southern coasts of England, are Angles and Saxons. They come from Denmark, from northwest Germany and from the lower reaches of the Rhine.

By the 7th century the invading Germanic tribes have restricted Celtic rule to the mountainous regions of Wales in the west of Britain and to Scotland in the north. Anglo-Saxon kingdoms become the basis of a region recognizable now for the first time as England.

The Lombards: 6th - 8th century

Originating probably in northern Germany, the Lombards move south into the region of Hungary in the early 6th century. From there, in 568, they enter northern Italy. By this time they are already Christians, but of the Arian variety - like other Germanic tribes.

By 572 the whole of Italy north of the Po is in their hands (a disaster with one positive result, in the foundation of Venice). The Lombards rule at first as an occupying force, from armed encampments, but gradually Pavia emerges as their capital city. Their presence has an immediate effect on Byzantine ambitions in Italy. The imperial territory becomes much more clearly circumscribed.

The spread of Islam

The Arab conquests: 7th century AD

One of the most dramatic and sudden movements of any people in history is the expansion, by conquest, of the Arabs in the 7th century (only the example of the Mongols in the 13th century can match it). The desert tribesmen of Arabia form the bulk of the Muslim armies. Their natural ferocity and love of warfare, together with the sense of moral rectitude provided by their new religion, form an irresistible combination.

When Muhammad dies in 632, the western half of Arabia is Muslim. Two years later the entire peninsula has been brought to the faith, and Muslim armies have moved up into the desert between Syria and Mesopotamia.

The great Christian cities of Syria and Palestine fall to the Arabs in rapid succession from635. Damascus, in that year, is the first to be captured. Antioch follows in 636. And 638 brings the greatest prize of all, in Muslim terms, when Jerusalem is taken after a year's siege.

It is a moment of profound significance for the young religion, for Islam sees itself as the successor of Judaism and Christianity. The city of the people of Moses, in which Jesus also preaches and dies, is a holy place for Muslims too. Moses and Jesus are Muhammad's predecessors as prophets. A Link with muhammad himself will also soon emerge in Jerusalem.

Muslim Persia: AD 637-751

Persia falls to the Arabs as a consequence of the battle of Kadisiya, close to the Euphrates, in 637. After their victory the Arabs sack the city of Ctesiphon (carefully sharing out the famous Spring Carpet). The last Sassanian emperor, Yazdegerd III, is five at the time. He and his court escape to the east, but he is eventually assassinated, in 651, at Merv. His name remains, even today, in use in the chronology of the Parsees. They number their years from the start of his reign in 632.

Meanwhile the Arabs win another victory over Persian forces at Nahavand in 641. They capture Isfahan in 642 and Herat in 643. Persia becomes, for a century, part of the Umayyad caliphate.

The final push eastwards for Islam, in the central Asian plateau, is in more difficult terrain and is more protracted. Throughout the second half of the 7th century there is fighting in and around the Hindu Kush, but by the early years of the 8th century the Arabs control the full swathe of territory from the Arabian Sea in the south (they enter Sind and move into India as far north as Multan by 712), up through Kandahar and Balkh (either side of the Hindu Kush) to Bukhara and Samarkand in the north, beyond the Amu Darya.

At this northern extreme they are neighbours of the T'ang Chinese. The eventual clash between these two powers, an encounter won by the Arabs, comes in 751 at the Talas river.

Muslim North Africa: from AD 642

The Arab conquest of Egypt and North Africa begins with the arrival of an army in640 in front of the Byzantine fortified town of Babylon (in the area which is now Old Cairo). The Arabs capture it after a siege and establish their own garrison town just to the east, calling it Al Fustat.

The army then moves on to Alexandria, but here the defences are sufficient to keep them at bay for fourteen months. At the end of that time a surprising treaty is signed. The Greeks of Alexandria agree to leave peacefully; the Arabs give them a year in which to do so. In the autumn of 642, the handover duly occurs. One of the richest of Byzantine provinces has been lost to the Arabs without a fight.

The Arabs continue rapidly westwards along the coast of North Africa, capturing Cyrenaica in 642 and Tripoli in 643. But these remain largely ineffective outposts. For nearly three decades the Arabs make little progress in subduing the indigenous Berber inhabitants of this coastal strip.

The turning point comes in 670 with the founding of a new Arab garrison town at Kairouan, about sixty miles south of the Byzantine city of Carthage. From this secure base military control becomes possible. Carthage is destroyed (yet again) in 698. By the early 8th century northwest Africa is firmly in Arab hands. In 711 an Arab general takes the next expansionist step. With a Berber army he crosses the straits of Gibraltar and enters Spain.

The north African coast remains from now on in Muslim hands, but it proves impossible to exercise effective control over it from the centre of the caliphate - whether in Damascus or Baghdad. Instead various local Berber dynasties win power.

These include the Idrisids (established from 790 in Fez) and the Aghlabids (ruling from 800 in Kairouan). But by far the most powerful are the Fatimids, of the Ismaili sect. Early in the 10th century they organize an uprising against the Aghlabid dynasty in Kairouan.

Arabs in Spain and France: AD 711-732

The short journey across the water from Africa, bringing an army into Spain in 711, begins the final thrust of Arab expansionism in the west. In a frequently repeated pattern of history the invaders, invited to assist one side in a quarrel, rapidly take control and suppress both squabbling parties. Within a few months the Arabs drive the Visigoths from their capital at Toledo.

Soon governors appointed by the caliph in Damascus are ruling much of Spain. The Arabs press on northwards. Their armies move into Gaul, and here at last they are halted - near Poitiers in 732.

Middle Ages

The Vikings: 8th - 10th century AD

In 793 the monks on the island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England, are unpleasantly surprised by the arrival of violent raiders from the sea. Their misfortune is the first clearly dated event in the saga of the Vikings - the last and most dramatic exodus in the long story of migration from Scandinavia, the original home of the Goths and vandals.

The name Viking is thought to derive from vikingr, a word for 'pirate' in the early Scandinavian languages. It accurately describes the Norsemen who for two centuries raid the coasts of Britain and of northwest France. But in many places the Scandinavians also settle - in the islands of the North atlantic, in the British Isles, in Normandy, in Sicily and in the very heart of Russia.

It is impossible to assign the various Viking groups at all precisely to places of origin. But broadly speaking, adventurers from the coast of Norway raid the north of England and continue round the Scottish coast to Ireland. Vikings from the same region later settle in the Scottish islands, Iceland and parts of Ireland.

The Vikings invading eastern Britain and northwest France, and eventually settling in both regions, come mainly from Denmark. The Swedes raid across the Baltic and penetrate deep into Russia as traders.

Turks and Mongols: 6th - 13th century AD

The high plateau of Mongolia, east of the Altai mountains, is rivalled only by Scandinavia as a region from which successive waves of tribesmen have emerged to prey upon more sedentary neighbours. Mongolia is the original homeland of both Turks and Mongols, two groups much intermingled in history and loosely related in their languages.

Mongolia is an ideal starting point for the movement of nomadic tribes in search of new pastures, and for sudden excursions of a more predatory nature. It lies at the extreme end of an unbroken range of open grasslands, the steppes, which reach all the way to Europe. Horsemen can move fast along the steppes. South of this nomadic highway live rich settled communities.

The emergence of the Turks from Mongolia is a gradual and uncharted process. Each successive wave makes its first appearance in history only when Turkish tribes or warriors acquire power in some new region, whether they be the Khazars, the Seljuks or one of many other such groups.

The sudden eruption of the Mongols from their homeland is different. Their astonishing expansion, spanning the breadth of Asia, can be precisely dated (to the early years of the 13th century) and can be attributed to the military genius of one man - born with the name of Temujin, but known now as Genghis khan.

Magyars: 9th - 10th century AD

The lower Danube, before the river enters the Black Sea, has been Europe's doorway to tribal groups arriving from the north and east. Here the Visigoths and ostrogoths and Slavs have first presented themselves to the Roman empire, requesting or demanding admission. And here there arrives, in889, another group.

They differ from their predecessors in that they are not Indo-Europeans. They speak a Finno-ugric language. They call themselves Magyars, but their federation of tribes is known as On-Ogur, meaning 'Ten Arrows'. The pronunciation of On-Ogur by their new Slav neighbours leads, eventually, to the name by which the Magyars are later known - Hungarians.

The Magyars have been living for several centuries near the mouth of the Don, as vassals of the Khazars. From 889 they spend a few years in the Balkans in the service of the Byzantine emperor, but soon they move on to the northwest, through the Carpathian mountains.

Since 890 their leader has been Arpad, elected prince by the chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes. His people number no more than 25,000, but together they subdue (within the space of a few years) the scattered population of the region now known as Hungary. So Arpad becomes the founder of a nation which somehow - in all the upheavals of central Europe - retains its identity and its language down through the centuries.

The arrival of the Hungarians brings a violent end to Moravia, also known as Great Moravia, the first stable kingdom established in eastern Europe. The Moravians are crushed at some time around 900. The Hungarians further demonstrate their power with a decisive victory over a German army near Bratislava in 907.

Thereafter, for several decades, the Hungarians are a profoundly disruptive force in the region, constantly raiding west into Germany and south into Italy. They are eventually subdued when the emperor Otto i defeats them on the Lechfeld, near Augsburg, in 955.

After their defeat on the Lechfeld the pagan Hungarians adopt a more conciliatory approach to their western neighbours in Germany. In 973 the supreme chieftain Géza, great-grandson of Arpad, sends an embassy to the German emperor Otto ii. And two years later Géza and his family are baptized in the Roman catholic church.

Hungary settles down as the eastern bulwark of feudal Europe. In the next generation it has a king rather than a chieftain. Even better, its first king is a saint. Géza's son, Stephen I, succeeds him in 997. He becomes the central symbol of Hungarian nationalism.

The rise of the Seljuks: 10th - 11th century AD

Seljuk is the chieftain of a group of Turkish tribes who migrate, in the late 10th century, from the steppes to the northern borders of the Persian empire - in the region around the Syr-Darya river. They embrace Islam, and are expected to play their part in the frontier defences of the Muslim world. But in the recurrent pattern of Barbarians in the suburbs of civilization, they have their own ideas. They fancy a more central position.

The obvious stepping stone towards greater power is the newly formed Turkish realm, founded by Mahmud and centred on Ghazni. Mahmud, an experienced conqueror, dies in 1030. His son, Mas'ud, becomes the focus of Seljuk attention.

Mas'ud is campaigning in the eastern part of his empire, in India, when Togrul Beg, a grandson of Seljuk, strikes in the west. Mas'ud hurries home to confront this threat. He meets the Seljuk army in 1040 at Dandandqan, to the northeast of Mashhad, and is defeated.

The Seljuks establish their base in this border region between modern Iran and Afghanistan, while Togrul Beg looks further west for even greater prizes. Persia is in a state of anarchy, ruled by many petty princes (the majority of them Shi'as). The authority of the Sunni Caliph in baghdad is no more than nominal.

Togrul Beg gradually fights his way westwards through Persia. By 1055 he is in a position to enter Baghdad itself. He does so without violence, being welcomed by the caliph as a liberator from the Shi'as. The caliph gives him the title of sultan and an ambitious task - to overwhelm the Fatimids, the Shi'ite dynasty controlling the caliph's Egyptian territories.

This is beyond the powers of Togrul Beg and his still somewhat unruly Turkish tribesmen. But for the next two generations the Seljuk dynasty retains control in Baghdad and governs a Persian empire restored to extensive boundaries.

Togrul Beg is succeeded by his nephew and then by his great-nephew, Alp Arslan and Malik Shah. By the time of Malik Shah's death in 1092, the empire stretches from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. Most significant of all, Turkish tribes loosely under Seljuk control have spread through Anatolia.

After Malik Shah's death the Seljuk inheritance is shared between so many family members that the empire loses all cohesion. Only in Anatolia does the Turkish presence have a lasting effect - as a result of the campaign conducted from 1064 to 1071 by Malik Shah's father, Alp Arslan. In Persia the collapse into chaos is hastened by an alarming new sect, the Assassins.

Byzantines and Turks: AD 1064-1071

In 1064 the Seljuk Turks, under their sultan Alp Arslan, invade Armenia - for many centuries a disputed frontier region between the Byzantine empire and neighbours to the east. Alp Arslan follows his success here with an attack on Georgia, in 1068. These acts of aggression prompt a response from the Byzantine emperor, Romanus IV Diogenes.

The armies meet in 1071 at Manzikert, near Lake Van. The battle, a resounding victory for the Seljuks, is a turning point in the story of the Byzantine empire. Within a few years there are Turkish tribes in many parts of Anatolia. Some of them are bitter enemies of the Seljuks, but the Seljuks are now the main power in this borderland between Islam and Christianity.

Throughout the 12th and 13th century Anatolia is in turmoil. Turkish tribes fight among themselves. The Byzantines try to recover their land. Crusaders, passing through and from 1204 occupying Constantinople, complicate the picture.

But the new and overriding feature is that Anatolia is now largely occupied by Turks. This fact enters the languages of the period. In addition to its many other names, the region begins to be referred to as Turkey - the land of the Turks. The new identity survives the arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century and the end of the Seljuk dynasty in the early 14th century. By then another Turkish tribe, the Ottomans, are making their mark.

Crusaders moving east: 11th - 12th century AD

In April 1095 an unusually large shower of meteors, moving rapidly through the sky, prompts a significant interpretation by the bishop of Lisieux. It means, he says, that there will soon be a great movement of Christians towards the holy places.

Maybe the bishop is already playing his part in promoting such a movement. In March of this same year the Byzantine emperor has appealed for Christian help against the Turks. In November the pope preaches a Crusade to recover the holy places of Christendom.

During 1096 western Christians duly make their way in large numbers towards Constantinople. In the early autumn a plague of locusts in the Byzantine empire is seen as providing an apt portent of the arrival of the hungry hordes of crusaders. The locusts destroy the vines but leave the corn - resulting in an interpretation even stranger than the bishop's response to meteor showers.

The meaning, they say, is that the crusaders will not harm Byzantine Christians (associated with corn and the bread of life) but will damage the Muslims (linked with the vine, rather unconvincingly in view of the Qur'an's prohibition of alcohol).

As a result of this first Crusade, for most of the 12th century there are Christian Kingdoms along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, defended and maintained by soldiers and traders from western Europe.

The numbers are small, compared to other movements of people in history, and their stay in the region as rulers is brief. But just as the great Castles of Syria are a reminder of the military presence of the crusaders, so the occasional fair-haired and blue-eyed child in villages near the Castles still seems - even today - to bear witness to their domestic lives.

The Mongol explosion: 13th century AD

The aggressive energy of one man, Genghis khan, lies behind the amazing eruption of the Mongols in the 13th century. In 1215 he reaches and captures Beijing. Samarkand and bukhara are taken and sacked in 1220. The marauder then heads south and enters India, but he turns back from this rich prize when he reaches the Indus. By 1223 his armies have moved round the Caspian and up through the Caucasus mountains to plunder cities of the Crimea and southern Russia.

This journey of conquest, unmatched in its speed and extent since the exploits of Alexander the great, is based on brilliant psychological warfare.

Several different factors explain the devastating success of Genghis khan and his armies, but superior weaponry is not one of them. The traditional riding skill of the nomads of the steppes plays, as ever, a large part; and with Stirrups now a standard part of cavalry equipment, the agility of the horsemen is greater than ever, in galloping close to the the enemy, releasing a hail of arrows and wheeling away again.

Horsemanship also plays its part in the system of communication which enables Mongol armies to coordinate their strategies. Riders gallop between well-equipped staging posts across the steppes, enabling a message to travel more than 200 miles in a day. Pigeons, too, are trained for the purpose.

But the single most important element is a ruthless use of two psychological weapons, loyalty and fear. Genghis khan makes a cunning distinction in his treatment of nomadic tribesmen and the settled inhabitants of cities and towns. A warrior from a rival tribe, who battles bravely against Genghis khan but loses, will be rewarded for his valour and encouraged to join the Mongols against the rest of the world. Only cowardice or treachery in an opposing tribe are punished.

For sedentary folk in alien lands these rules are reversed. Here treachery is positively encouraged. Spies infiltrate the towns. Informers are sought out and bribed. The Mongols are coming. There is a choice to be made.

The choice is a simple one; to fight or to surrender. News of the consequences travels fast. If a town bravely resists, the inhabitants are massacred in a public display. They are herded outside the walls to confront Mongol troopers with battle-axes. Each trooper is given a quota to despatch. A tally of ears is sometimes demanded as proof that the work is done.

Terror stalks ahead of a Mongol horde like an invisible ally. The spies in the town let it be known that a rapid surrender may well be rewarded with mercy. Usually the citizens need no persuading. The gates are opened. After sufficient plunder to keep the troops happy, the horde moves on.

The sons and grandsons of Genghis khan continue the expansion of Mongol power after his death in 1227. Their territory reaches its greatest extent when his grandson, Kublai khan, is both the great khan of the Mongols and the emperor of China. At that time the family's rule stretches from southern China to Korea in the east, and across the whole of Asia to the Euphrates and southern Russia in the west.

This empire, so rapidly built in the 13th century, will Collapse almost as suddenly in the 14th. But few people have ever moved so far or so fast, or with such devastating effect, as the Mongol tribesmen.

The Ottoman Turks: 13th - 14th century AD

During the 13th century, when many Turkish emirates are being established in Anatolia, a petty chieftain by the name of Ertughrul wins control over a limited area around Sögüt, between Ankara and Constantinople. He is succeeded in about 1285 by his son Osman, whose name is a Turkish version of the Arabic Othman. Through Osman, seen later as founder of the dynasty, his people become known as the Ottoman Turks.

Most of the Turks of Anatolia live in a style in keeping with their origins, as fierce nomads of the steppes. Riding out to war is their everyday activity. But they are also keen Muslims. They see themselves as ghazi, an Arabic word for warrior but with religious connotations.

Turks setting out on a ghaza (armed raid) are indulging in an expedition of plunder but also in a jihad (holy war). It is a potent combination. The enfeebled Byzantine empire to the west of their territory - crippled, ironically, by the Christian Fourth crusade - provides the Ottoman Turks with a natural target.

Progress is at first slow. The Ottoman horsemen lack the equipment to take fortified Byzantine towns. Instead they plunder the surrounding countryside, effectively strangling their victims into submission. Bursa, the first important Byzantine stronghold to the west, falls to them in 1326, the year of Osman's death.

After the fall of Bursa the Ottoman advance quickens. Nicaea yields in 1331 and Nicomedia in 1337. In that direction a narrow neck of land leads directly to Constantinople, but the Ottomans prefer a roundabout route. In 1354 they cross into Europe at the other end of the sea of Marmara, capturing Gallipoli. Eight years later Adrianople falls to them, severing the main route westwards from Constantinople.

A stranglehold is being applied to the Byzantine capital itself, but the Turks look first for plunder in an easier direction. They continue westwards into the Balkans, where their successes prompt the formation of the formidable Ottoman fighting force known as the janissaries.

The Turks in the Balkans: AD 1389 - 1402

A victory at Kosovo in 1389 brings Serbia under Ottoman control as a vassal state. The Ottoman sultan Murad I dies on the battlefield of Kosovo and is succeeded by his son Bayazid I, whose name Yildirim ('Thunderbolt') reflects his early military successes. The Slav kingdom of Bulgaria is fully occupied by 1393. In the following year Bayazid begins the long expected blockade of Constantinople. A Hungarian army marching as a crusade against the Turks is heavily defeated at Nicopolis in 1396. Meanwhile the sultan campaigns south into Greece. But then the Balkans and Constantinople are given a sudden reprieve.

Bayazid is confronted by a major threat in Anatolia - the arrival of Timur.

Shifts of fortune: from AD 1402

The Ottoman domain shrinks drastically after Bayazid's defeat and capture by Timur in 1402. The many small emirs of Turkey reassert their independence, as do the Balkan states. The three sons of Bayazid are left with only the family's central territories round the southern and western sides of the sea of Marmara. They fight each other in a civil war which is won by the youngest, Mehmed I, in 1413.

From this unpromising position, the son and grandson of Mehmed (Murad II and Mehmed II, whose combined reigns span nearly seventy years) achieve an astonishing recovery for the Ottoman state - posing an ever greater threat to the Byzantine empire.

Murad patiently reasserts control over much of western Anatolia, and makes equivalent headway in the Balkans. Serbia is brought back into the Ottoman fold (Murad marries a Serbian princess in 1433). Much of Bulgaria also is recovered. A strong counter-attack down the Danube in 1443 by an army of Hungarians and Poles is at first successful, until the Ottoman Turks win a decisive victory at Varna in 1444.

This steady process is continued by Murad's son, Mehmed II.

Mehmed II conquers Athens and almost the whole of the Greek peninsula in 1458-60. He then engages in a prolonged war with Venice, winning many valuable ports along the Adriatic coast. In 1463-4 he captures Bosnia where a large number of nobles convert to Islam, unlike neighbouring Serbia which remains largely Greek Orthodox - a distinction with resonance in more recent history. By the time of Mehmed's death, in 1481, Anatolia has also been recovered. Even regions north of the Black Sea are vassal states.

But the achievement which gives Mehmed his title of Fatih (Conqueror), and his secure place in history, has been his capture in 1453 of Constantinople.

Gypsies: from AD 1417

A group of some 200 nomads reach Lüneburg in north Germany in 1417. They are described as Secani. But their arrival is the first precise record of the people now known worldwide as the Gypsies.

Their name in English, and in several other languages, reflects a mistaken notion that they derive originally from Egypt. It is more probable that they come from India, moving west at some time during the medieval centuries. A romantic theory that they descend from 12,000 Indian musicians, brought to Persia for his entertainment by the emperor Bahram Gor in420, is likely to be fanciful.

Whatever their origins, the Gypsies spread rapidly through western Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Their refusal to settle and assimilate with the local population enables them to retain a separate identity. But it also provokes hostility and persecution.

This is seen, from the start, in the removal of Gypsies from western kingdoms - akin to the Expulsion of jews (whose sufferings the Gypsies also share in the 20th century). Gypsies are expelled successively from Germany (1497), Spain (1499), France (1504), England (1531), Denmark (1536), Scotland (1541) and Poland (1557).

Invariably the Gypsies have been able to make their way back into forbidden territories, maintaining an international network of their own which transcends frontiers. Their favoured activities - light metalwork (as tinkers), horse-trading (or in modern societies selling second-hand cars), street-selling, fortune-telling, music-making or seasonal agricultural work - always leave the family free to move on.

From as early as the 16th century, state authorities have attempted to force the Gypsies to settle. It is a struggle which continues to this day, when governments have the added incentive of bringing Gypsy children into a state education system.


Santa Maria Pinta and Niña: AD 1492-1493

On 3 August 1492 a little fleet of three vessels sets sail from the small Spanish harbour of Palos. Columbus is in command of the largest, the Santa Maria; the captains of the other two, the Pinta and the NiÑa, are the brothers Martin Alonso and Vicente Yañez Pinzón.

Three weeks are spent loading stores in the Canaries until, on September 6, the three ships sail west into the unknown. During the next month there are several sightings of coastlines which turn out to be illusions. At last, on October 12, a look-out on the Pinta spies real land.

San Salvador Cuba and Hispaniola: AD 1492-1493

Columbus and the Pinzón brothers step ashore on 12 October 1492 on an island in the Bahamas. They plant in the ground the royal banner of Spain, claiming the place for Ferdinand and Isabella. They name it San Salvador, after Jesus the Saviour. (It is not known which island they landed on, though one in the Bahamas now bears the name San Salvador.)

These are not the First europeans to reach the American continent, but they are the first to record their achievement. Columbus believes that he has reached the East Indies. Greeted by friendly inhabitants of San Salvador, he therefore describes them as Indians - an inaccurate name which has remained attached to the aboriginal peoples of the whole American continent. By the same token this region becomes known to Europe as the West Indies.

A few days later the explorers sail on. They pass many more islands, giving each a new Spanish name, until they reach during November the most important landfall of their expedition - the large island of Cuba, which Columbus convinces himself to be Cipango. This is a place of marvels described by Marco polo at the eastern extremity of Asia, usually now assumed to be Japan.

Beyond Cuba the next significant landfall is another large island which Columbus names after Spain itself - Española, or Hispaniola. On its shores the Santa Maria runs aground and is wrecked. Columbus decides to leave here a small colony of some forty men, with food and ammunition for a year, while he sails back to Spain with news of his achievement.

Returning with Vicente Yañez Pinzón in the Niña, Columbus reaches Palos on March 15 (amazingly the Pinta arrives in Palos later on that same day, after losing contact with the Niña a month earlier in an Atlantic storm). Columbus makes his way to the court of Ferdinand and isabella in Barcelona, where he is received with every honour. He presents the monarchs with a few captured natives of the Bahamas and some gold treasure.

This is the high point of Columbus's career. Three more voyages to America lie ahead of him, and great achievements. But from now on misfortune, often deriving from his own inadequacy as a colonial administrator, increasingly blights his endeavours.

The explorer departs on his fourth and final voyage in May 1502. It is an almost unmitigated disaster, of storms, mutinies, rotting ships’ timbers. But somehow he limps home, yet again, to reach Spain in November 1504. Since 1492 he has spent half his time in the transatlantic places he so passionately believed in long before he found his way to them.

Even more significantly, he has made the Atlantic crossing seem just an arduous journey rather than a terrifying step into the unknown. Other navigators, sailing for other monarchs, are fishing now in his waters. It is a measure of this change that Columbus himself crosses the Atlantic successfully no fewer than eight times. In a few short years the New World has become linked to Europe in what is unmistakably a new era.

New Americans: 16th - 19th century AD

The Spanish discovery of America begins the process which changes out of all recognition the population of the continent. Spanish and Portuguese colonists reduce the original inhabitants (now to become known as Indians) to an underclass in much of Latin america. In North america the smaller number of native Americans is almost wiped out by the English colonists and their successors in the United States.

The Slave trade delivers black Africans to the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries, while hardship in Europe later brings across the Atlantic large numbers of Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Jewish Immigrants. One of the world's most unmixed populations is transformed, after Columbus, into the outstanding example of ethnic diversity.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The African American: from the 17th century AD

The strong African strain within the modern population of the American continent is entirely the result of the slave trade, but its effect has been very different in the two distinct regions of the continent - Latin America and north America.

The trade begins earlier in Latin America, with the shipping of slaves across the Atlantic by The portuguese. But the Roman Catholic colonists from Spain and Portugal are less racially prejudiced than their Protestant Anglo-Saxon counterparts in the northern part of the continent. This difference in attitude has significant results.

Sexual relations between white colonists and female slaves are common in all parts of the continent. But in Latin America and the Spanish islands of the West Indies it is the norm for the resulting children to be freed from slavery, even though brought up by the mother (though she too is often freed in the circumstances). As a result a free population of very mixed blood gradually develops.

In the racially intolerant north American colonies the opposite happens. A child with any black blood is regarded as black. In almost all cases the child grows up to become one of the working slaves of the plantation.

The result is that the centuries of slavery have had a different effect in the two regions. In much of Latin America the modern population contains a considerable mixture of Amerindian, black and white blood.

By contrast, in the United States of America there is a black community intensely aware of its own identity - historically because treated as an inferior group, more recently through a rediscovery of pride in its racial origins. The black community of north America is the largest group in history to have been forcibly moved - in the horrors of the triangular trade - and yet to have retained its own identity in the new circumstances.

Triangular trade: 18th century AD

The triangular trade has an economic elegance most attractive to the owners of the slave ships. Each of the three separate journeys making up an expedition is profitable in its own right, with only the 'middle voyage' across the Atlantic involving slaves as cargo.

Ships depart from Liverpool or Bristol with items in demand in west Africa - these include firearms, alcohol (particularly rum), cotton goods, metal trinkets and beads. The goods are eagerly awaited by traders in ports around the Gulf of Guinea. These traders have slaves on offer, captured in the African interior and now awaiting transport to America.

With the first exchange of merchandise completed, the slaves are packed into the vessels in appalling conditions for the Atlantic crossing. They are crammed below decks, shackled, badly fed and terrified. It is estimated that as many as twelve million Africans are embarked on this journey during the course of the Atlantic slave trade, and that one in six dies before reaching the West indies - where the main slave markets on the American side of the ocean are located.

The most valuable product of the West indies, molasses extracted from sugar cane, is purchased for the last leg of the triangle. Back in England the molasses can be transformed into rum. And so it goes on.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The abolitionist movement: AD 1688-1808

The horrors of the slave trade do not go unnoticed in England, however hard the traders try to justify their activities (even, preposterously, proclaiming the care and consideration which they show to their precious cargo).

The first sharp prick to the public's conscience comes in 1688 with the publication of Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko (about the sufferings of an African prince and his loved one, transported by the English to slavery in Surinam). By this time the Quakers are already prominent in their condemnation of this inhuman trade, with the society's founder, George fox, speaking strongly against it. In 1772 there is a landmark case when Lord Mansfield frees James Somerset, belonging to an American master, on the grounds that he has set foot in England.

Shortly afterwards, at the time of the American colonies' fight for independence, the Quakers again give a lead. The clamour for freedom, expressed so powerfully in the Declaration of independence, can be seen as inconsistent in a population with a large African-American minority which is not in any sense free. The issue is starkly shown when the British troops fire on patriots in the Boston massacre of 1770; the first man to fall in this demonstration for freedom is a slave, Crispus Attucks.

In 1774 Quakers in Britain decide to expel any member involved in the slave trade. In the same year Quakers in Pennsylvania sets up the first abolitionist society, and in 1776 the Pennsylvania Quakers free their own slaves. The first state to abolish slavery is Massachussetts, in its new constitution of 1780. Other northern states follow suit during the next few years.

But the southern states are determined to retain slavery, which is claimed to be an economic necessity (this rift becomes evident in the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia). As a result the abolitionists concentrate their efforts on abolishing the trade in slaves, assuming that this will have the gradual effect of ending slavery itself.

A book of 1786 by Thomas Clarkson (Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species) is followed by the foundation in London in 1787 of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, with Quakers again predominant. William Wilberforce emerges as the champion of the cause in parliament.

By a coincidence the slave trade is declared illegal on both sides of the Atlantic in 1807. In America the constitutional congress has agreed in 1787, under pressure from the southern states, that no law on slavery will be passed for twenty years. As soon as the agreed time is up, legislation is enacted - outlawing the slave trade from 1 January 1808. Meanwhile in London in 1807 parliament prohibits the carrying of slaves in any British ship and the import of slaves into any British colony.

These prove hollow victories. Enough children are now being born into slavery to work the plantations, even in the rapidly expanding cotton economy of the southern states. The new cause must be the abolition of slavery itself.

At exactly the period of the campaign to end the shipping of Africans against their will to America, it is becoming official policy in Britain to transport certain British subjects against their will to Australia.

The victims in this second case are not men and women seized from their homes but Convicted felons whose fate otherwise, under Britain's ferocious criminal code, would have been death on the gallows. The two cases are not comparable, except that these and subsequent British fleets - like those of the slave traders - bring into effect another striking example of a single racial group being moved, intact, to an entirely different part of the world.

The prospect of visitors: 18th century AD

By the mid-18th century the inhabitants of Australia probably number about 300,000, spread thinly across the entire continent in an interconnecting pattern of tribal territories.

In 1770 newcomers from Europe begin visiting the most temperate and habitable region of the continent, the east coast. Captain cook, arriving in that year, is the first. In the early 1770s French explorers land on Tasmania. From 1788 Europeans begin to settle. The original Australians acquire the name by which they have subsequently been known - the Aborigines. Their lives are not about to improve.

Proposals for a penal colony: AD 1779-1786

In 1779 Joseph Banks appears before a committee of the House of Commons in Westminster and suggests that the eastern coast of Australia, which he has visited with Captain cook nine years earlier, would be an excellent destination for convicted felons transported from Britain. The landscape and the climate are such that a penal colony could survive.

Transportation is a political issue of some urgency. In 18th-century England, with a vast divide between rich and poor, the laws protecting property are draconian. Theft on even a quite trivial level is a capital offence.

Yet although such laws remain on the statute book, they are widely recognized as being unjust. More than half those condemned to death have their sentences commuted to imprisonment, and the trend is accelerated after a law of 1768 specifically grants judges this option of leniency. As a result Britain's prisons are bursting at the seams.

The preferred solution is transportation abroad. The American colonies are ideal for the purpose, and many criminals are shipped there to work as indentured servants and labourers. But after the American Revolution in 1776 this outlet is no longer available. Australia, as Banks points out, seems a viable alternative. In 1786 parliament resolves to establish a penal colony.

Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet: AD 1787-1788

Arthur Phillip, a naval captain, is given command of the first fleet transporting convicts to Australia. He is also to be governor of the colony of New South Wales.

The fleet which sails from Portsmouth in May 1787 consists of eleven ships carrying some 750 convicts (nearly 200 of them women), 400 sailors and 200 marines to keep discipline. By October they are at the Cape of good hope, their last contact with civilization. Here they take on board a large number of animals of various kinds for the proposed settlement. On 20 January 1788 they reach their intended destination, Botany Bay. It has been given this enticing name by Cook and banks, but those expected to settle here find it barren and unprepossessing.

On January 21 Phillip sails a few miles north and finds the great natural harbour of Port Jackson. Here he selects an inlet with a good water supply as the site for the new colony. He names the place Sydney Cove in honour of the home secretary, Viscount Sydney.

A prefabricated house of wood and canvas, designed in London for the governor, is erected at the centre of the settlement. Tents are put up for the marines and the convicts, with a separate encampment a little distance away for the women - who are kept on the ships until everything is ready. On February 6 they disembark. After a pep talk from the governor and a religious service there are festivities of celebration.

One of the difficulties of this particular colony immdiately becomes apparent. At the inaugural party some of the convicts are caught stealing food. They are flogged, and one of them is banished to a rock in the harbour on a diet of bread and water.

The harsh reality is that this community, lacking agricultural skills and accustomed to living by theft, is ill equipped to till the virgin soil and produce food to sustain the colony. By the end of the year the situation seems desperate. It is compounded by deteriorating relations with the native Australians, the Aborigines. Friendly at first, their attitude to the newcomers changes once it seems evident that they intend to stay.

This inaugural party is soon followed by inevitable difficulties in the founding of the first British settlements in Australia. But it is the beginning of an extraordinary movement of one clearly defined group of people, from the British isles, to another region on the other side of the globe.

It will be a pattern repeated half a century later in the British colonization of New Zealand. In both cases British culture is transplanted, almost unaltered, to provide the dominant language and pattern of life throughout large self-contained land masses - a phenomenon unique in the story of the movement of peoples.

19th century America

The Great Removal: AD 1838-1839

In the early 19th century the descendants of British settlers in America impose on their neighbours a series of brutally enforced migrations. In the colonial period the British and the American Indians have often fought and made treaties in the difficult process of coexistence. But the two groups have not often been directly competing for space.

This changes during the 1820s, most noticeably in the western parts of Georgia where the Cherokees have developed a prosperous settled existence round their capital city of New Echota. Land-hungry Georgians want these rich acres. The state of Georgia is eager to help in acquiring them, in exchange for new Indian territory west of the Mississippi.

During the 1830s the situation worsens. In 1833 the state of Georgia raises funds by holding a lottery of seized Cherokee property, including even the government buildings of New Echota. Eventually one faction of the Cherokee leadership signs a treaty selling the Cherokee lands to Georgia and agreeing to move west by 1838. The Cherokee council unanimously rejects the treaty, but the senate in Washington ratifies it.

By 1838 the Cherokees have not moved. In that year federal troops are sent to Georgia to enforce the removal of the Indians. The Cherokees are rounded up into camps and are then despatched under guard on a long march to the west.

Of 18,000 Cherokees displaced from their traditional lands in this way, it is calculated that as many as 4000 fail to survive what becomes known as the Trail of Tears to the area now designated as Indian Territory.

Neighbours of the Cherokee are moved at the same time. The chief victims are four other southeastern tribes (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Creek) who have also adopted many of the white man's customs. They are described by American settlers, together with the Cherokee, as the Five Civilized Tribes. Their enforced migration in the late 1830s becomes known as the Great Removal. It is calculated that about 100,000 are driven from their land, and that more than 20,000 die on the journey west.

The broad plains of the new Indian Territory are promised to the tribes as their own land 'as long as the grass grows and the rivers run'. But within a few decades the pressure of white settlement sends this agreement the way of earlier treaties. As it turns out, the grass grows and the rivers run only until 1907. By that time so many homesteads have encroached on the Indian Territory that the region is admitted to the union as Oklahoma, the 46th state.

In the Slave trade and the Great Removal, the story of America contains two of the three main instances of large ethnic groups being forcibly resettled thousands of miles from home. (Stalin, in the USSR in the 1930s, provides the third.)

The trail to Oregon California and Utah: AD 1841-1850

The term Great Migration has been applied to two separate movements of people during the 1840s. One is the stream of immigrants drawn across the Atlantic to the Land of liberty, headed by the Irish from 1845. The other is the move westwards by American pioneer families to settle the regions bordering the Pacific. This begins a little earlier. The Great Migration of 1843 establishes the fame of the Oregon Trail.

In the 1840s the most westerly region which can be considered a settled part of the United States is Missouri. It is here, in the aptly-named town of Independence, that brave and optimistic families assemble to prepare for the dangerous journey west.

In the early years Oregon is the destination. American missionaries, working there among the Indians from 1834, send home word of the region's rich potential. The first small group of families attempts the trail in 1841. Thirty-two people complete the journey safely, increasing Oregon's American population by 20%. They join missionaries and trappers who together number only about 150.

The Great Migration of 1843 is more ambitious. As many as 1000 people set off west guided by a Presbyterian missionary, Marcus Whitman. Their wagon wheels begin to mark out the route across the plains which becomes known as the Oregon Trail.

The Conestoga wagons on the open plains provide a romantic image, as the prairie schooners much loved by film directors in the 20th century. Soon there are a great many of them. The trail is about 2000 miles long and in places as much as ten miles wide, with the wagon drivers spreading out to avoid the dust and to find grazing for their horses, mules and cattle. In one summer, that of 1850, as many as 50,000 people make the journey, which lasts from four to six months.

The route goes northwest through the prairie to the Platte river. The wagons then follow the Northern Platte tributary (past Fort Laramie) before making their way to the Sweetwater river. Moving up this towards its source brings them to the South Pass through the Rockies.

Beyond the South Pass there are several alternative routes, but from 1847 only a minority of the wagons coming through the pass are headed for Oregon.

An increasing number of travellers are now Mormons, on their way to a safe haven near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. And from 1849 the trail is used by an unprecedented horde of wagons, moving now in feverish haste. Gold has been found in California. The new immigrants are the famous forty-niners. Of the 50,000 who swarm through the South Pass during 1850, as many as 40,000 are prospectors desperate to find their fortune.

The Mormons and Salt Lake City: AD 1846-1896

The Mormons' great trek to the west could hardly have started in worse circumstances. In February 1846 the first groups begin to cross the Mississippi, which is about a mile wide at Nauvoo. The river is freezing but not yet frozen. Several craft capsize, drowning their passengers. A few days later the river is covered in ice and wagons and animals can be driven across.

At last the entire expedition is over the river (they are travelling heavy with all their possessions, including 30,000 head of cattle) but progress is slow through marshy regions even after snow and torrential rain have given way to summer heat. It becomes evident to their leader, Brigham Young, that they must sit out the next winter beside the Missouri.

The place which they call Winter Quarters, on the west bank of the Missouri, becomes an established staging post. Here Mormon parties in later years prepare for the last stretch of the journey. After this first winter, of 1846-7, Brigham Young sets off again. His pioneers join the Oregon trail at the Platte river, but they keep to the north bank - safely separate from the other 'gentile' immigrants moving along south of the stream.

By July 1847 the vanguard is through the South Pass and into Salt Lake valley. Within a few months the rest of the group follow safely, some 1600 people. By 1869, when the Railway arrives, about 80,000 have made the arduous journey in wagons or on foot from Winter Quarters.

Brigham Young selects the site for Salt Lake City before returning to Winter Quarters to bring out another group of Mormons in 1848. Meanwhile the ground is being marked out according to a plan for the city of Zion drawn up by Joseph smith. The Temple is to be built at the centre of a rectangular grid of main streets forming large square lots, each of ten acres.

Founded as a religious community, the new Salt Lake City makes no distinction between church and state (in this respect even going beyond Calvin's Geneva). Districts are administered by leaders who are both bishop and magistrate. The highest executive body is the Council of the Twelve Apostles, of which Brigham Young is senior member for thirty years.

These circumstances give the Mormons of Salt Lake valley a strength unique among settlers. Those who arrive here combine the toughness of pioneers with the discipline and obedience of monks and nuns.

Under the strong leadership of Brigham Young small groups of families are sent into neighbouring regions to establish outposts of the Mormon community (similar to the settling of colonies in the early Roman republic). In these places, extending north into modern Idaho, ambitious programmes of irrigation are carried out. Riches are conjured from the desert. Non-Mormon pioneers, moving on further west, trade with the Saints for fresh produce on their journey.

Salt Lake City thrives and - as Brigham Young intends - becomes the centre of a world-wide community of Latter Day Saints. Brigham Young himself, as early as 1840-1, spends a year in England preaching the message and gathering in converts. As a result of his efforts, and of others after him, many Mormon pioneers on the trail through the Rockies are immigrants from Europe.

Mission work remains a central theme of the Mormon community, with thousands of full-time missionaries today in numerous countries. Many are young men devoting two years of their lives to the cause. In the 1990s there are some 10 million Latter Day Saints around the world.

As early as 1849 Brigham Young applies for his community to be admitted to the union as the state of Deseret (a word from the Book of Mormon meaning 'honeybee', to signify industry). Congress instead grants the status of a territory, under the name Utah.

During the next forty years there are frequent attempts to achieve statehood, but they founder on one issue - polygamy. It becomes public knowledge in 1852 that Joseph smith had many wives and that the Mormons have made a religious principle of this practice. Brigham Young is said at first to have been averse to the idea of polygamy, but he overcomes his scruples quite convincingly. He becomes husband to seventy women and is survived by forty-seven children.

Such information is not well-received in the rest of the United States. Polygamy joins slavery as one of the great moral crusades of the time. Congress passes a succession of polygamy laws from 1862. Prosecutions, leading to fines and gaol sentences, are brought against selected polygamous families in Utah. Meanwhile the Mormon leadership conducts a lengthy legal campaign, arguing that these laws conflict with the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

Eventually a judgement by the US supreme court in 1890, reinforcing the polygamy laws, persuades the Mormon leadership to abandon both the principle and the practice. Utah is duly admitted to the union in 1896 as the 45th state.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Land of liberty: 19th century AD

In the 18th century the movement of Europeans to Australia has been associated very specifically with lack of liberty. By contrast the United States of America seems essentially the land of liberty (at any rate for those who are not slaves or American Indians). From the mid-19th century this is a beacon which signals strongly to many in Europe.

The accelerating migration of Europeans to north America from the 1840s is unique in the story of the movement of peoples. When great tribes migrate, whether they be Celts or Goths or Huns, there is of course an economic element; they are moving into regions where food or wealth is more easily available. But for the most part they move as a group rather than on individual impulse.

The difference in the 19th century is that the migration is an economic decision made separately by thousands of young men or married couples, seeking a better life for themselves or their families in another place. (A founding father in this tradition is surely the Viking who sets off with his family in874 to settle in Iceland.)

The Irish are the first in this new stream of people across the Atlantic, escaping the devastation of the Great famine of 1845-7. They are soon followed by large numbers of migrants from Germany, where reactionary regimes threatened by revolution (as seen in the turmoil of 1848) give the ambitious and the prudent a double motive to leave.

Once the first wave of immigrant families is established, their success encourages others to follow them. So the Irish and the Germans soon become a significant proportion of the American population. The figures are striking. In 1860 approximately 4 million residents in the United States have been born elsewhere - some 1.6 million in Ireland and 1.3 million in Germany (compared to about half a million in England, Scotland and Wales).

When combined with their children born in the States, these figures suggest that the new Irish and German communities are each already about 3 million strong - perhaps as much as 10% of the population (31 million in 1860). And these figures are in addition to older Irish and German groups already present in colonial times.

These statistics are from the period just before the Civil war which finally frees America's slaves. The beacon of liberty encouraging the immigrants is thereafter untarnished, and it soon stands as a physical symbol to greet the shiploads arriving from Europe.

Victory for the north in the Civil war prompts a French historian, Edouard de Laboulaye, to propose that France (much associated with Liberté) should present an appropriate statue to the American nation. Paid for by the contributions of the French people, and sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the gigantic copper-sheathed lady with a lamp is first assembled in Paris in 1885.

The statue, just over 150 feet high, is then dismantled and is shipped across the Atlantic (like so many other immigrants). Reassembled on Bedloe's Island, in the channel approaching New York harbour, the statue is ready to be dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in 1886. Its official title is Liberty Enlightening the World, but it soon becomes known simply as the Statue of Liberty.

Close to Bedloe's Island is Ellis Island, used from 1892 to 1943 as the immigration station for ships arriving from Europe. So Liberty herself becomes the first glimpse of a new life for the swelling stream of immigrants. In a census of 1900 as many as 1.7 million Americans have been born in Ireland, and 2.7 million in Germany.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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