Timeline: 4th Century BCE (400 to 301)

400  Zoroastrianism is the faith of many Persians. The Zoroastrians believe in a struggle between their god, Mazda, and the devil. They believe that the birth of their founder, the prophet Zarathustra, was the beginning of a final epoch that is to end in an Armageddon and triumph of good over evil. Perhaps Persian officials or merchants in Judah are passing Zoroastrian notions to the Jews, who at this time have respect for Persians and the late Cyrus II, who freed the Jewish captives in Babylon.

399  Democrats, back in power in Athens and afraid of enemies, condemn the aristocratic philosopher Socrates to death. Socrates wants people to question, and he pretends to be without conclusions. He believes in a god like that of his teacher, Anaxagoras. Like Xenophanes he thinks that the gods of Homer are examples of bad behavior. Greeks are looking upon Homer's writing as divinely inspired and as a reference for religious thought. Those who sentence Socrates at least pretended to be believers in the gods of the common people, and they consider Socrates subversive and against democracy.

396  Antisthenes is around forty. He has founded a school of thought called Cynicism. He is disgusted by the world around him and what he sees as the worthless quibbling of refined philosophy. He has left the company of other philosophers and preaches to common people in market places using simple language. He tells people that virtue demands withdrawal from involvement with a world that is immoral and corrupt. But dropping out is meaningless to people trying to survive.

394  Rome, now grown to about thirty by twenty miles, responds to a request from the Etruscan city of Clusium for help against an attack by a Celtic people called Gauls.

390  The Gauls attack and almost destroy Rome. Rome is determined to be stronger. They are to adopt new military weaponry, dropping the spear in favor of a two-foot long sword. The Romans also begin to use helmets, breastplates and a shield with iron edges. And they are to reorganize their army.

387  The philosopher Plato turns forty. He returns to Athens from exile and starts his own academy. Plato dislikes democrats and the likes of Protagoras (the sophists). He is an aristocrat who dislikes the world around him, including aristocratic rule, and he favors a society divided into classes and run by philosophers. He believes that abstractions are real unto themselves rather than representations, that words are absolutes rather than convention and representative of meaning. He understands nothing about the body allowing the brain to function. The heavens, he believes, are nothing but perfection, including perfect circles. He belongs to the Pythagorian tradition in philosophy. And like his mentor, Socrates, he is a monotheist.

380  Carthage has begun trading with Africans to their south, sending iron through the Sahara. Iron smelting has appeared in what we now call Nigeria. The use of iron is improving hunting and forest farming, which is helping to build population pressures that send Bantu speaking people migrating eastward.

371  Sparta has made a mess of policing other Greek city-states. Sparta is no longer the society it was a century before. It is defeated by Thebes. Greeks recognize that Sparta's domination has ended, and new coalitions form across Greece.

360  Jerusalem has been rebuilt and the power of Judaism's hereditary priesthood is firmly established. If a father finds his son rebellious and disobedient he can take him to the city elders and have him stoned to death. In a dispute that goes to court, a man judged wicked is whipped, but no more than forty times. Priest scribes have described the Hebrews as descendants of Noah and Noah's forebears as the first family of humankind. And the priest scribes describe the god of the Jews as supreme above all other gods. Moses is described as living during the time of the kingdoms of Moab and Edom, and Abraham is described as living when the Chaldeans were in possession of Sumer. Jewish law permits slavery, but the enslavement of a fellow Jew is restricted to seven years.

350  Hindu stories, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are being put into writing. They are from oral tradition, and, like Homer's Iliad, they focus on the power of the gods and praise the heroism and virtues of warrior-princes. The heroes of these sacred stories are devoted to truth, have a strong sense of duty and affection for their parents.

344  The Athenian orator Demosthenes turns forty. Of marriage he has said or will say: "We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health and wives to bear us lawful offspring."

344  Also, Aristotle turns forty. He had been a student of Plato. He dislikes Plato's utopia and believes more in empiricism than does Plato. His empiricism: If you do not believe that rivers begin as little streams in mountains, follow them upstream. He likes to categorize everything, including things biological. He believes in syllogistic logic – consistency from the general to the specific. He believes in harmony and balance, that the best is between extremes, including a balance between state power and individual freedom. He believes in the god of Anaxagoras. He dislikes communism and supports slavery.  He is for a balance between individualism and a totalitarian enforcement of collective interests.

338 (Aug 2)  An army from the nation-state of Macedonia, led by its king, Philip II, defeats the combined forces of the Greek city-states Athens and Thebes, at the Battle of Chaeronea.

337  Philip II has created a strong and unified nation in Macedonia. He is devoted to Greek culture and has hired Aristotle to tutor his son, Alexander. He imposes unity on the divided Greek city-states and creates the Hellenic League, which meets for the first time in the city of Corinth.

336  Philip II is assassinated. Alexander becomes king.

334  Alexander begins warring against Persia, he and his army moving through the Persian empire, from Asia Minor, to Egypt, across Persia, into the Hindu Kush and the Indus Valley.

331 (Oct 1)  Alexander defeats an army of Persia's King Darius III and his Greek mercenaries, at the Battle of Gaugamela.

323  Alexander returns to his new capital, Babylon. He wants cooperation and brotherhood across his empire and has plans for expanded commerce and extending his rule to Italy. Then he dies, at thirty-two. Myth is still the dominant way of considering the past, and many myths about Alexander are to develop.

322  Alexander's Persian wife, Roxana, gives birth to Alexander's child, Alexander IV. Alexander's generals have sworn to keep Alexander's empire together, but for some Macedonians it is unthinkable that their king should be the son of a barbarian Asian woman.

321  In India, competition between kingdoms produces one dominant power under Chandragupta Maura, founder of a new dynasty.

316  Alexander the Great's mother, Olympias, has claimed rule in Macedonia, has raised an army and is supporting the legitimacy of Roxana's son, Alexander IV. Macedonia is overrun by her opponents and she is killed.

311  Alexander IV is executed, and his mother, Roxana, also dies. Former subordinates of Alexander the Great have been fighting each other and are dividing his empire. Alexander's former bodyguard, Ptolemy, is making himself king of Egypt.

305  A former officer in Alexander's army, Seleucus, considers himself emperor across Persia and into lands east of Persia. He attempts to recover lands taken by Chandragupta that had been a part of Alexander's Empire. Chandragupta turns back Seleucus' drive and Seleucus is forced to agree to peace terms. Chandragupta then conquers into the Himalayas and the rest of northern India.

301  Chandragupta abdicates in favor of one of his sons and withdraws with a Jainist sage to a religious retreat. There, while appealing to God for relief from a drought, he fasts to death.

5th Century BCE (500 to 401) | 3rd Century BCE (300 to 201)

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