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Classic European periodization of world history

Under periodization refers to the division of history in the era ( "periods") or time periods with common features .

The term "periodization" is seen by some authors as problematic because it etymologically (Greek: periodos - "cycle") suggests a cyclical view of history . As a replacement, the more neutral term of the historical structure was proposed. However, this has not been generally accepted.

Features, function and requirements

The subdivisions into epochs are - similar to the spatial divisions - quite flexible, i.e. the boundaries between them are fluid. Furthermore, they are often applied differently from region to region, as certain features do not appear in some regions of the world or appear at very different times.

A structure of the story is indispensable for its meaningful development. It can help to gain a historical overview and facilitate the classification of historical processes and structures. Through systematic bundling of the complex past, periodization is also able to organize the relevant learning processes and support them by serving as an orienting “memory aid”.

A structure always follows certain categories, i. that is, it presupposes a decision as to which features are considered to be decisive for the delimitation of an epoch. For this decision, some (especially earlier) authors claim "objectivity", others (more modern ones) emphasize that subjective or changeable social values ​​and perspectives are always included in this decision, and that periodizations, like all scientific results, are only approximations can be an objective picture of reality that needs to be revised as knowledge increases. So be aimed at is the objectivity of history .

The prerequisites for periodizations include not only the socially influenced evaluation of prominent features of the course of history, but also the technical means of historical research available in each case . The more research finds out, the more features of the historical process have to be "sorted" into epochs. This can make new periodizations necessary.


With Christoph Cellarius , the division into three major epochs became permanently established in European historical studies at the beginning of the 18th century . Between the ancient and modern epochs there was a period called the Middle Ages , which was dated from approx. 500 AD to approx. 1500 AD.

On the basis of this large three-way division of history, further subdivisions are made, such as: Ancient Orient ; Greco-Roman antiquity (with further subdivisions into: archaic and classical Greece , Hellenism , Roman Empire ), late antiquity ; then early Middle Ages , High Middle Ages, and late Middle Ages ; finally early modern times and modern times (or also: modern times). Such classification approaches also exist for contemporary history .

In modern world historiography , which is shaped by globalization experiences , these traditional periodizations are criticized as Eurocentric . Various suggestions are made that at least take a closer look at the interrelationships in the Eurasian region. Occasionally the “empty” epoch designations of the classical periodizations are criticized as they say little about the particularities of the respective epoch.


  • Johan Hendrik Jacob Van Der Pot: Interpretation and Periodization of History. A systematic review of theories and beliefs. Brill, Leiden, Boston, Cologne 1999 (preview).
  • Jürgen Osterhammel : About the periodization of modern history. In: Reports and treatises of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Vol. 10, 2006, pp. 45-64, urn : nbn: de: bsz: 352-opus-82804 .
  • Jacques Le Goff : history without epochs? An essay . Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2016. ISBN 978-3-8053-5055-6 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Periodization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Christian König: Periodization. In: Universität Regensburg: Propaedeutic Course History (PDF)
  • Markus Bernhardt , Justus Cobet , Amalie Fößel and others: building blocks for studying history. A reader for introductory seminars at the Historical Institute. University of Duisburg-Essen, 2012, Chapter module: Periodization systems , pp. 15–35 (PDF)

Individual evidence

  1. See Imanuel Geiss , Geschichte griffbreit , Vol. 6, Hamburg 1979, p. 25.