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The Ancient History tag seems to have a broad swath of time covered in it. How would we define what the scope of ancient history is?

For example, this question asks about the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, which on wikipedia is stated to have happened around the 9th century (800 a.d.). This question references Genghis Khan, who existed in around the 12th century.

  • I'd certainly remove the tag from the Mayan and Mongol questions, but it is otherwise a useful tag that denotes an accepted period (history up to ca. 500 or the beginning of the Middle Ages). – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 11:23
  • I agree with Cerberus - it is a well-defined term. While not applicable to events outside Europe (so Maya and Mongols are out), for European events it refers to a well-defined time period. What this tags needs is a summary so people stop using a naive interpretation of its meaning. – Wladimir Palant Nov 2 '11 at 12:11
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    @Wlad: I'm not so sure it only applies to Europe. I'd say the Near East up to the Indus and North Africa should certainly be included (but Russia less typically so). India probably too. China and Japan, doubtful. The Americas, even more doubtful. I mean, I'd never use it for the Olmecs, but I wouldn't really say it was even totally impossible. But the 900-AD Maya question is both too far away and too late, so that's a clear case; and the Mongols are far too late by any standard. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 12:50
  • @Cerberus: Yes, probably better to say - the Mediterranean area and everything that was connected to its development. – Wladimir Palant Nov 2 '11 at 14:44
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From Wikipedia on Ancient History:

Ancient history is the study of the written past from the beginning of recorded human history to the Early Middle Ages.

"Ancient History" is actually quite a clear period: from the dawn of history (defined as that time from which we have written sources) until the Middle Ages, so ca. 500. The precise date of a period is rarely clear, and this is no exception; but it isn't any less clear than the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or the (Early) Modern Era. None of this is seriously disputed by historians. So it is a useful tag. From Wikipedia on Antiquity:

Antiquity (noun) and ancient (adjective) may refer to:

  • any period before the Middle Ages, but still within the period of human history or prehistory. The term is most often used of Classical Antiquity, the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

  • "Ancient history" generally, and may be used of any historical period before the Middle Ages

    Ancient Near East

    Late Antiquity is used of the period between classical antiquity and the Middle Ages

    African Antiquity

    Ancient Iran (Persia)

    Ancient China

    Ancient Egypt

    Ancient Greece

    Ancient India (disambiguation)

    Ancient Japan

    Ancient Rome

    Ancient languages

    Ancient music

Similarly, there is a fairly accepted definition of Early Modern History, though the boundaries are slightly less clear:

In history, the early modern period of modern history follows the late Middle Ages. Although the chronological limits of the period are open to debate, the timeframe spans the period after the late portion of the Middle Ages (c. 1500) through the beginning of the Age of Revolutions (c. 1800).

I agree that perhaps Contemporary History (1800–present) will become obsolete eventually; but it will perhaps outlast this website, and the term is common among historians. I'd prefer "19th Century" and "20th Century" as tags for that.

  • Well, I think the Migration Period (along with the fall of the Western Roman Empire) is the accepted start of the Middle Ages. While the process took some hundred years it is usually possible to classify European events as Late Antiquity or Early Middle Ages. – Wladimir Palant Nov 2 '11 at 12:08
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    @Wlad: 476 may be a reasonable start, but it is not really undisputed. When I took Mediaeval History, the first hour or so was about what the most appropriate boundary was. My professor explained the different options and problems. Good history textbooks mention the issue too. One could take the final conquest of Rome by the Ostrogoths, or the death of Justinian, or even the conversion of Constantine. In the end, it doesn't really matter a great deal. (Some will even question what counts as a "century": my class about the 19th Century started in 1815 and ended in 1914, I believe.) – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 12:43
  • Well, I'm convinced. As long as the term is clear and not likely to be understood, and that it is further enforced as to what it refers to, if it remains a static and understood definition then I am fine with it. – Grace Note Nov 2 '11 at 14:36
  • I find it amusing that as much as we question the use of wikipedia for answers to question on the site, on occasion it's use to define scope is not in question. – MichaelF Nov 2 '11 at 17:03
  • @Grace: Woohoo! – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 17:14
  • @Michael: Well, I used Wikipedia merely to illustrate my personal authority, hehe. Seriously, it is a widely used term like this. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 17:15
  • @Cerberus, understood. No complaints about that, just the rash of anti-Wikipedia comments lately made me chuckle at this. – MichaelF Nov 2 '11 at 18:02
  • @Mich: Yeah, people feel insecure and superfluous! The Wiki has become so amazing over the years. No-one would have imagined we'd have this now. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 18:06
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Kill it! It's the purpose of a tag to be specific. Otherwise I fear a lot newcomer will choose it.

At least one should have spend so much effort when asking a question that one can give a better context or more exact epoche than ancient history

I made a list of imo useful tag categories in another meta-question

Wikipedia list of time periods


Edit:

On cerberus answer:

while we all probably not disagree here that it is a used term in historical sciences, I still don't think its useful for searching and also takes away one tag from the maximum tag number (5 is few for such a broad topic like history). I used on all of my questinos 4-5 tags and imho 2 time-tags should be maximum.

If we consequently now tag all questions here belonging to ancient history (covering several milleniums till middle ages), probably 50% of the questoins here can be tagged "ancient history". Then the tag isn't really useful anymore for searching, the topic of the question is always explained in the question title anyway. It's like a "script languages" or "ancient philosophy" tag, it covers too many times in too many diff. places, but no historical topics, developments belonging/influencing to each other. Do we need three time tags like ancient history, roman empire, 2nd century. This is imho redundant. And cerberus examples just show to me that everybody understands ancient differently. A tag should be clear and specific. A tag is not a definition, we use them on stackexchange for a working subscription and searching system, not to categorize by definitions historians made. If we would have a maximum number of tags of 8-10, I have no problem, but I fear and hope the history.SE gets really big and alot of questions and there is some reason why SE sites "only" have 5 tags and it will not be changed in near future

According to my wikipedia link above im fine with "ancient rome, greek, egypt" tags (still very broad tags but at least covering a specific region the questioner should be really able to tell).

  • I hardly ever use tags, but I decided to click on "ancient-history" in Grace's answer, and I actually got a pretty neat page with question about the period I am interested in most. It was only a single page, so not that broad a search term. It seems useful as it is now. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 17:19
  • @Cerberus because we NOW have only 200 questions, im pretty sure we will have 2000 in a year, what then, you get 1000 questions by clicking this tag and its useless without defining time period more exact. I use tags on and on when searching stackexchange, it's the killer feature compared to wikipedia. If you dont use them anyway, why you bother/answer here ;) – Hauser Nov 2 '11 at 17:30
  • A tag that is too broad is a different kind of problem but no less applicable here. But, can this period be broken down properly into better sub tags? – Grace Note Nov 2 '11 at 17:41
  • @Grace: The only possibility I see is a regional division, like ancient-greece etc. But then someone interested in Antiquity as a whole (like me) couldn't find all those questions at once. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 17:48
  • @Hauser: Perhaps not. But even if it is a great many questions, I still think many people might want to look at all questions about ancient history at once. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 17:49
  • @grace I mentioned the "ancient rome, greek egypt" terms as much more appropriate tags. Also we cannot put cerberus definition into a tooltip, I fear there will be no common definition why people tag here a question as "ancient". Especially when somebody asks about ancient asian history and the answerer/visitor first has to find out what rough time period the question is all about. At least a tag should specify a known epoche imho and not several milleniums where on event and region not relates to several others in this ancient time. – Hauser Nov 2 '11 at 17:53
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    @Cerberus I highly doubt you will read and understand all this questions as I doubt there is any professor in history being expert in every field of ancient history, its just too big and too much doesnt belong to each other. Sooner or later you have to focus and specialize, you cannot read and know everything. My main problem is people will tag always "ancient history" and put no effort in what was the exact time and cirumstances a question deals with, a lot of "ancient history" tagged questions will probably be google/wikipedia questions – Hauser Nov 2 '11 at 18:02
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While on the subject of this, I would recommend obliterating any of these "relative" general tags. The century tags give you exact periods. World War 2 happened at a very specific time. The Middle Ages, while disputed on the exact length at times, are still a very specific period of time that is defined as being that time. These all work as tags because when someone looks at that period, they know when it is supposed to be.

The existence of this question is evidence to the contrary when it comes to periods where their definition is relative to the current period. is actually more problematic because of its nebulous nature - when does ancient start? It is simply not an understood term.

Similar tags include and , and these illustrate more strongly the issue with relative general tags since their period of operation is likely to be affected in near future of this website. Early modern extends how far back? In a few years, does it still count as early modern, will we have to remove tags?

Tags are not meant to be dynamically changing - they're intended to be a static descriptor that helps you strongly identify what a question is about. If a tag's validity is affected by the passage of time because it is relative to present day, then it is extremely suspect as a tag. This kind of effect is a bit more visible on other sites like Gaming, where we have "old-games" and "retro-games" tags that just no one is sure what counts as that because of how fast the game generations span out. On History, it'll take centuries to affect things like , but it still is far more useful if there is a more definitive descriptor about the actual era in question.


On a side note, there is . I'm not as strong a history buff, so I don't know if there's truly an accepted and solid period of time that is "Ancient Greece" that isn't just "Greece really long ago". If it is an accepted and solid period time that is not defined solely by its relation to present-day Greece, the tag works.

  • Ancient Greece is a well-accepted term among historians: it simply means Greece during ancient history. See my answer below. – Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 11:24

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