ANTIQUITY (8th – 5th Century BCE)

c. 800 – 500 BCE: Archaic Greece

c. 8th Century BCE: The Iliad and the Odyssey composed by Homer

c. 500 – 323 BCE: Classical Greece. Plato and Aristotle produce the foundational texts of western philosophy. Classical sculpture and architecture flourish

323 – 146 BCE: Hellenistic Greece

146 BCE: Greece becomes a province of Rome

30 BCE – 476 CE: The Roman Empire, initiated by the rise of emperor Augustus

29 – 19 BCE: Virgil composes the Aeneid, an epic poem depicting the journey of the Trojan Aeneas after Troy’s defeat in the Trojan war, and a foundational myth of Roman civilization

43 ­– c. 420: Roman invasion and occupation of Britannia (the modern-day island of Great Britain, which encompasses England, Wales, and Scotland)

307 – 337: Reign of Constantine the Great leads to adoption of Christianity as official religion of the Roman Empire and the Christian conversion of the inhabitants of Brittania

c. 405: Completion of Latin translation of the Bible that becomes standard for the Roman Catholic Church

The British Isles before 1800THE MIDDLE AGES: (c. 450 – 1500):

c. 450 – 1100: Old English Period

c. 450: Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain begins after Roman occupation recedes. Several Germanic peoples from the northwest coast of Europe and Scandinavia begin migration to the British isle. Primary kingdoms in Beowulf include the Danes (Sheildings), the Geats, and the Swedes (Shylfings). Others tribes include the Angles, Franks, Frisians, Heatho-Bards, Jutes, Waegmundings

c. 450 – ? c. 600: Historical setting of Beowulf (after beginning of Anglo-Saxon migration but before it is completed). Sometimes called the Germanic Heroic Age. The events of the poem, though not all are historical, take place on the Frankish and Saxon coasts of northern Europe, and in Scandinavia.

597: St. Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to Kent (south-east England) begins conversion of Anglo-Saxons to Christianity

c. 658-680: “Caedmon’s Hymn,” earliest poem recorded in English, composed

c. 700: Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity largely completed

731: Bede completes Ecclesiastical History of the English People

? c. 750 – ?: Beowulf composed. Author unknown

c. 787: First Viking raids on England

c. 1000: Beowulf transcribed into manuscript form

1066: Norman Conquest by William I establishes a French speaking ruling class in England

christ1095 – 1221: The Crusades

c. 1100 – 1500: Middle English Period

c. 1135 – 1138: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin History of the Kings of Britain gives pseudohistorical status to the Arthurian and other legends

? c. 1165–80: Marie de France, Lais in Anglo-Norman French

c. 1170 –91: Chretien de Troyes, chivalric romances about knights of the Round Table

1215: The Magna Carta (Great Charter of the Liberties of England) is signed by King John after his barons put pressure on him to do so. The charter secures 1.) Freedom of the Church of England 2.) Liberty and customary rights of London and the towns 3.) Right to trial 4.) Limitation on the Kings ability to collect new taxes without consent of his council of vassals, which eventually became Parliament

c. 1304 – 21: Dante writes the Divine Comedy, an epic poem in three parts in which an eponymous protagonist journeys through the underworld, purgatory, and the heavens.

c. 1327-1368: Petrarch writes the poems, many of them in the Petrarchan sonnet form and most concerning the theme of love, that go into his collection Il Canzoniere (the Song Book)

Pieter_Bruegel-triumph_of_death1348 – 50: The Black Death ravages Europe, creating a demand for labor in cities and increasing social mobility

c. 1350 – 51: Boccaccio writes the Decameron, a story in which several members of the Italian aristocratic class escape the threat of plague by fleeing to a rural villa where they tell 100 tales to pass the time

c. 1375–1400Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

c. 1387 – 99: Chaucer (1343-1400) writes The Canterbury Tales

1454: The Gutenberg Bible, the first major book to be produced with the aid of moveable type, is printed (in Latin) in Germany

1476: William Caxton sets up the first printing press in England


1485: Henry VII (or Henry Tudor), Earl of Richmond of the house of Lancaster, defeats King Richard III, of the house of York, at the battle of Bosworth Field (which is represented in the climax of Shakespeare’s play Richard III). Henry VII becomes the first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty, ushering in a period of political stability that lasted a century. This is often cited as the end of the Middle Ages. The period of Tudor reign between 1485 and 1603 is often referred to either as the English Renaissance or the Early Modern period

1508-12: Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Rome. He is one of many artists and writers who contributed to the Italian Renaissance 

1517: Martin Luther writes the 95 theses condemning the sale of indulgences and general corruption of the Catholic Church. This sparks the Protestant Reformation, which began to spread especially in Germany and northern Europe

1534: Henry VIII declares himself the head of the English church, effectively making England a Protestant nation

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth

1558-1603: Reign of Queen Elizabeth ushers in a period in which the literary arts, especially drama, flourish in England

1590: Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen (books 1-3) is published

1595: Sir Philip Sidney’s  The Defense of Poetry is published. Philip emphasizes the morally instructive value that poetry has in its presentation of an imaginative ideal

1596: Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen (books 4-6) is published

1592-1611: William Shakespeare is active as an actor and playwright in London

1599: The Globe Theater opens

1603: King James succeeds Elizabeth after her death, inaugurating the Stuart dynasty

c. 1604-5: Shakespeare writes King Lear

1609: Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence of 154 sonnets is published by Thomas Thorpe, without Shakespeare’s guidance and possibly without his permission



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