Although human life began to form millions of years ago, the earliest signs of human civilizations appeared fairly recently in the human timeline. Some of the earliest civilizations developed around 6500 BCE, when people stopped living nomadic lives and began to settle in and develop one area. These early settlements soon gave rise to massive cities and the idea of separate countries and nations followed.
Some of the earliest countries formed not long after civilization developed and all of the countries on this list were formed thousands of years ago.
7. Iran – Founded c.550 BCE
Ancient Iran, which was known as Persia in the Western world until 1935, was founded around 550 BCE under the Achaemenid Empire. Prior to the rise of the Persian Empire, several groups of people lived in the area that would later become Iran – this included the Elamites, who were a pre-Iranian civilization that settled in the far West and Southwest region of modern-day Iran and the Medes, who had control of most of Iran until the Persians stepped in.
Cyrus II (commonly known as Cyrus the Great) established the Persian Empire around 550 BCE after he conquered the Median, Lydian, and Babylonian empires and gained control of Iran. The Achaemenid Empire ruled Iran until Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 330 BCE. Modern-day Iran was founded in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution ended the monarchy and an Islamic Republic was established.
6. Japan – Founded 660 BCE
Japan often cites 660 BCE as the date of the country’s founding as this was when the first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu ascended the throne and began Japan’s imperial dynasty. Emperor Jimmu’s is considered a mythic legendary emperor of Japan and is believed to be a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu – he is recorded as Japan’s first emperor in two early chronicles, Kojiki, and Nihon Shoki.
The earliest emperors of Japan, following Emperor Jimmu, are presumed to also be legendary as there is not sufficient evidence that they actually existed. While historians can’t be sure whether or not these early emperors really existed, they do know that the people began arriving in Japan from Asian mainland around 13000 BCE and the earliest recorded history of Japan occurred during the Kofun period (c.250 AD – 538 AD). Although Emperor Jimmu’s story is most likely a myth, Japan celebrates its National Foundation Day on February 11th as a tribute to Emperor Jimmu’s ascension in 660 BCE.
5. Greece – Founded c.800 BCE
The Archaic period of Greece is one of the country’s most prominent time periods as it laid the foundations for Greek’s Classical period, which is known for establishing the foundations of modern western civilization. This period in Greece’s history started sometime around 800 BCE after Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages. During the Archaic period, the Greeks made advances in art, poetry, and technology, but the most important thing to be invented during this time period was the polis, or city-state. The polis would go on to define Greek political life for hundreds of years.
Also during this time period, the Greek alphabet was developed as well as the earliest institutions of democracy. Ancient Greece was followed by Roman Greece, Byzantine Greece, and Ottoman Greece, with the modern Greece period starting in 1821 after the Greek Revolution.
4. Ethiopia – Founded c.980 BCE
Human life has been around in Ethiopia for millions of years as skeletal fragments belonging to Australopithecus afarensis, an apelike creature that may have been the ancestor of modern humans, that were found in the area are thought to be about 3.4 million – 2.9 million years old. As life flourished in Ethiopia, complex societies began to develop and one of the first kingdoms established was Dʿmt, which lasted from c.980 BCE – c.400 BCE. The people of this kingdom developed irrigation schemes, used plows, grew millet, and made iron tools and weapons.
After the fall of Dʿmt, the Aksumite Kingdom rose to power around 100 AD and ended sometime in 940 AD. This kingdom was followed by the Zagwe Dynasty, and the Solomonic Dynasty after that – Ethiopia would continue to be ruled by a monarchy until 1974. Ethiopia is one of the only countries in Africa to never be colonized by a European power, but it was occupied by the Italians from 1936 – 1941.
3. India – Founded c.1500 BCE
People have been living in the region in the Indian subcontinent since around 3300 BCE, starting with the Indus Valley Civilization. Although these early people formed one of the world’s earliest urban civilizations, the beginnings of India as a nation started with the Vedic Period which lasted from c.1500 BCE – c. 600 BCE. This time period is named for the texts of Vedas, which were orally composed in Vedic Sanskrit and provided details of the Vedic culture. The Vedic Civilization laid the foundation of Hinduism (the Vedic texts are still sacred to modern Hindus) as well as several cultural aspects of the Indian subcontinent that still exist today.
The first kingdoms or Janapadas started to form c.1200 BCE and lasted until the end of the Vedic period. The end of the Vedic period led to the rise of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism in India and the beginning of the powerful dynasties that would rule India for the next three millennia. Modern-day India was founded in 1947 after the country gained its independence from the British Empire.
2. China – Founded c.2070 BCE
The first Chinese dynasty was the Xia Dynasty which lasted from c.2070 BCE – 1600 BCE. There are no first-hand records from the Xia Dynasty as the written history of China dates back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BCE – 1046 BCE) – however, the Xia Dynasty is mentioned in historical chronicles such as the Bamboo Annals, the Classic of History, and the Records of the Grand Historian.
Until excavations in the 1960s and 1970s uncovered sites that provided strong evidence for the existence of the Xia Dynasty, many people believed that it was more myth than fact. China’s dynastic period lasted until 1912 when the Qing Dynasty ended and the republic was formed. The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 and continues on as modern-day China.
1. Egypt – Founded c.3100 BCE
Although ancient Egyptian civilization can trace its roots back to around 6000 BCE, when various groups of hunter-gatherers settled in the Nile River Valley, Egypt’s first dynasty is dated c.3100 BCE and is classified as the oldest country in the world. Around this time period, Upper and Lower Egypt were unified into a single kingdom by King Menes – Menes is actually the Egyptian word for founder and many historians believe that founder of Egypt was a ruler named Narmer.
King Menes was able to establish control over the entire navigable length of the Nile and established the capital in Memphis, a city near modern-day Cairo. This first dynasty was the first of a series of dynasties that would go on to rule over Egypt for the next three millennia until it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Modern Egypt was founded in 1953 after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.