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An age is a longer section of history or the history of the earth that is characterized by unifying characteristics . Often the term is used synonymously with epoch , period or era . The concept of the age often has a different or at least a more specific meaning in different scientific disciplines and subject areas (including history , chronology and geology ).


The periodization of history in antiquity or antiquity , the Middle Ages and modern times goes back to the 16th century and was popularized by the Halle scholar Christoph Cellarius (1638–1707). Previously, world history was divided into the four empires from the book of Daniel ( Babylonian Empire , Mederreich / Persianreich , Alexanderreich and Roman Empire ).

The most important historian of historicism , Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), raised the epochs to spiritual essential units in 1854, which are worth recognizing for their own sake:

"Every epoch is immediate to God, and its value is not based on what emerges from it, but in its very existence, in its own self."

In practice, however, the historists saw great differences in the value of the individual epochs: Ranke claimed, for example, that the antiquity of India and China was “fabulous”, but that their current state was “more part of natural history ”.

The Berlin historian Johann Gustav Droysen (1808–1884) already recognized that the epochs do not exist objectively and outside of human consciousness, who noted in his 1868 history that they were only “forms of observation [...] that the thinking mind gives to what is empirically available in order to grasp them all the more surely. "

In historical materialism , the three ages of history were referred to as the slave-holding society , feudalism, and capitalism , which would be followed by socialism, and after that communism as a classless society . It was assumed that these ages or social formations would follow one another with an almost natural law necessity. This periodization of world history, which was state doctrine in the real socialist states of the Eastern Bloc and was also received in Western societies, lost its attractiveness after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the approximately simultaneous linguistic turnaround of the 1990s.

In the 1950s, the Polish-American Eastern European historian Oskar Halecki (1891–1973) tried to establish an alternative division into epochs : He proposed a Mediterranean age that ended around 800, a European one that lasted until 1800, and then an Atlantic age , but could not prevail.

From a historical-theoretical perspective, reservations have long been expressed against the three-part division of history into ancient, medieval and modern times, which would not suffice to capture the diverse cultures and the historical partial developments. Above all, the Eurocentrism of this scheme is criticized. At the same time, the division of history into epochs, which in turn are subdivided into various sub-epochs according to different criteria, is an indispensable aid in historical studies , in the history of art and literature . The Prehistory uses a proprietary three-age system with Stone Age , Bronze Age and Iron Age .

Further definitions

  • In mythology , ages or world (time) aging (cf. ahd. Weralt "human age", from which nhd. World arose) are periods of time that together form a so-called world cycle . These cycles are said to have been separated from each other by catastrophes in which the respective “worlds” perished. Often one speaks of "suns" instead of ages, since in every new age a "new sun" is said to have appeared in the sky.

Mythical ages

All epics , religions and world views are based on mythical images of history, with human history appearing as a sequence of cosmological ages with specific conditions. These ideas are often, but not always, linked to the idea of ​​a cyclical repetition of the sequence. They were or are widespread in different variants around the world. Conspicuous similarities reveal a traditional context and make it possible to discover a primordial myth. This original myth comprised at least four world ages, separated from each other by catastrophes. The four planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars as well as four metals (originally gold, silver, "ore" and iron) were assigned to them. The present was classified in the last or worst age.

From this original myth, some researchers, due to the catastrophic end in each case, infer a catastrophic past in human history that first led to this myth. However, these approaches are currently more of a side-stream in historical research .


Hesiod , one of the earliest Greek writers, distinguished the following ages with five human sexes in his poem Werke und Tage :

  • Golden age
  • Silver Age
  • Brazen or Bronze Age
  • Age of Heroes
  • Iron Age

Even Philo in describing about the eternity of the world , the vision of the Stoics , after our world at periodic world fires would reshaped. Also report Anaximenes , Anaximander , Diogenes of Apollonia , Aristarchus of Samos , Ovid , Plato or Heraclitus of recurring world destruction and then re-starting ages.


In his encyclopedia Origines, Isidore of Seville (around 560–636) prophesies that there will be six world ages. Each age would last a thousand years. In the seventh age that we are in, the world would perish. The first age began with Adam , the second with Noah , the third with Abraham , the fourth with Moses , the fifth with King David , the sixth with the birth of Jesus Christ . The teaching of the Six World Ages arose in analogy to the six days of creation. Through the work of the Church Father Augustine, the teaching of the Six World Ages became the most widespread conception of the Middle Ages. As a result, different ideas developed in Christianity (see article Dispensationalism ).


According to Hinduism , cycle after cycle is repeated over and over again, whereby at the end of the great cycles the world perishes in a cataclysm of dissolution ( pralaya ).

The smallest cycle is divided into four world ages ( Yugas ):

In the first age of the world, the Krita Yuga ( Satya Yuga ), the law of life ( Dharma ) that has taken shape in it is fully realized. The power of the Holy Dharma dwindles by a quarter from age to age. In Treta-Yuga there are only 3/4 of the Dharma , and in Dvapara-Yuga only 1/2 of the Dharma. In Kali-Yuga, 1/4 is the weakest and therefore worst state. The completion of the respective age corresponds to its duration, the Satya Yuga lasts 4 × 432,000 years, but the Kali Yuga only 1 × 432,000 years.

The four Yuga form a great age, called Maha-Yuga , which lasts a total of 4,320,000 years for humans or 12,000 years in the calendar of the gods. 1,000 Maha-Yugas is a Brahma day ( Kalpa ) that lasts 4,320,000,000 years. A Brahma day is followed by an equally long Brahma night. The life of a Brahma is 100 Brahma years. Then there is a state of complete meltdown for another 100 Brahma years. A complete world cycle therefore lasts 4,320,000,000 × 2 × 360 × 100 = 311,040 billion human years. This is followed by further cycles.


The concept of the three ages originally comes from early Indian Buddhism, but only found widespread use and widespread use in Chinese and from then on in all of East Asian Buddhism . It describes the decline of Buddhist teaching in three phases and played a major role in the development of later teaching traditions.


In ancient Chinese scriptures, the bygone ages are referred to as "Kis" and ten such Kis are counted from the beginning of the world to Confucius . In the ancient Chinese encyclopedia Sing-li-ta-tsiuen-chou , the time between two catastrophes that end each age and begin a new one is considered a "great year".

Indigenous America

Also in America with the Incas , the Aztecs and the Mayas myths about world ages and these ending catastrophes have been found. Alexander von Humboldt quoted the sixteenth-century Spanish writer Gomara: “The nations of Culhua or Mexico believe, according to their hieroglyphic paintings, that before the sun now shining on them, four others in turn had already been extinguished. These four suns correspond to as many ages in which the human race was destroyed by floods, earthquakes, general conflagration and the effects of devastating storms. "

Much of the stone inscriptions found in the Yucatan relate to world disasters. "The oldest of these fragments (katuns or calendar stones of the Yucatans) generally refer to great catastrophes which, repeated at intervals, rocked the American continent, and of which all the nations of this continent have preserved a more or less clear memory."

Theosophy and Anthroposophy

The Theosophy , one of the Russian-American occultist Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) eclectic mainly from spiritualism compiled and Hinduism esoteric world view , takes seven root races of mankind, which are embedded in a cyclical view of history from 311 trillion years. These are the lunar forefathers, the Hyperboreans , the Lemurians , the Atlanteans , the Aryans and two other root races that are said to only develop in the future. Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy , a further development of theosophy, adopts a similar scheme of seven “epochs”, “main periods” or “ages” of the spiritual development of mankind.

See also

Catastrophic end of myth (olog) ical ages:

Cyclical sequence of ages:


Web links

Wiktionary: Age  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Epoch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: era  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Period  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Leopold von Ranke: About the epochs of modern history. Lectures given to King Maxmillian II of Bavaria in the autumn of 1854 at Berchtesgaden. Lecture from September 25, 1854. Quoted from Christoph Cornelißen : Epoch. In: Stefan Jordan (Hrsg.): Lexikon Geschichtswwissenschaft. A hundred basic terms. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, p. 71.
  2. Georg Iggers : New History. From historicism to historical social science. An international comparison. dtv, Munich 1978, p. 33.
  3. Quoted from Friedrich Jäger: Epochs as concepts of meaning in historical development and the category of the modern age. In: Jörn Rüsen (Ed.): Interpret time. Perspectives - Epochs - Paradigms. transcript, Bielefeld 2015, p. 313.
  4. Wolfgang Küttler : Historical Materialism . In: Stefan Jordan (Hrsg.): Lexikon Geschichtswwissenschaft. A hundred basic terms. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, p. 168 ff.
  5. ^ Oskar Halecki: Europe. Limits and structure of its history. Hermann Gentner Verlag, Darmstadt 1957. Review by Robert Schneebeli, in: Swiss Journal for History 10 (1960), issue 1, p. 92 ff .; Karl Vocelka : History of the Modern Age 1500–1918. Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2010, p. 20.
  6. Erich Bayer (ed.): Dictionary of history. Terms and technical terms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 289). 3rd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-520-28903-2 , p. 124; Christoph Cornelißen: Epoch. In: Stefan Jordan (Hrsg.): Lexikon Geschichtswwissenschaft. A hundred basic terms. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002, p. 70 f.
  7. Claus Dettelbacher: In the mulberry grove. The doctrine of the 4 world ages: introduction to the traces of cyclical time. Reception, interfaces, philosophy of history. With constant consideration for Julius Evola. 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-6253-3 .
  8. ^ HC Warren: Buddhism in Translations . 1896
  9. ^ Heinrich Robert Zimmer : Indian Myths and Symbols. 7th edition. Diederichs, Munich 2000, pp. 18–24
  10. H. Murray, J. Crawfurd et alii: An Historical and Descriptive Account of China . 2nd edition 1836
  11. Alexander von Humboldt: Researches II
  12. ^ C E. Brasseur de Bourbourg: S'il existe des sources de l'histoire primitive du Mexique dans les monuments égyptiens . 1864
  13. Garry W. Trompf: Macro History. In: Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Ed.): Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism . Brill, Leiden 2006. pp. 713 f.