Asia is a continent divided up into 4 major regions. These regions are the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. Civilizations have existed on the continent for thousands of years but what are the 4 oldest countries in Asia?
How to Identify Asia’s Oldest Countries
Because of the dynamic nature of the development of culture on the Asian continent, determining the exact moment that a country began is tricky. An answer can’t be rooted strictly in the current political regimes as they’re informed by deep histories and ancient religions.
The countries chosen for this list earned their place because their current boundaries contain a rich and ancient history reflected in the dominant culture today. They weren’t chosen based on the dates of individual sovereignty around the end of colonialism.
The 4 Oldest Countries in Asia
These are 4 of the oldest countries in Asia:
4. India in 2500 BCE: Oldest Extant Major Religion
India is one of the cradles of civilization and it is postulated that there has been hominid activity in the area for over 2 million years. The earliest settlements date to around 7000 BCE with the beginnings of the Indus Valley Civilization beginning around 3300 BCE.
The Indus Valley Civilization built brick houses according to urban planning, drainage, and water supply. Nonresidential buildings dedicated to particular crafts and skills existed like metallurgy.
Historians know from artifacts and written inventories that a spice trade existed in India by 3000 BCE. By 2500 BCE, a fully developed lifestyle existed. The dense population centers were dispersed by the turn of the millennium due to drought.
The Vedic Period began in 1500 BCE which saw the creation of the Hindu Vedas. Hinduism is a 4000-year-old religion originating in India. It’s the oldest continually practiced religion on earth and today it has 900 million adherents with 95 percent of believers living in India.
The Vedas ushered in the introduction of the caste system as well. From there, India traded hands with different empires that added their literature and religious ideals to the regional culture.
Some parts of the Indian subcontinent came into contact with Islam as early as the eighth century. The Islamic Delhi Sultanate of the Middle Ages successfully warded off the Mongol Invasions from 1221 to 1327.
By the 1750s, the British were in the country and established the East India Company. The company fell during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the British relinquished control in 1947.
3. China in 2697 BCE: Oldest Written History in Asia
The earliest foundation of Chinese culture was laid by the Yellow Emperor named Huang-ti who may have ruled from 2697 to 2597 BCE. The government established during this time would be emulated for centuries. He is the emperor that encouraged the development of silk, law, medicine, music, and agriculture.
From there, his descendants were the Five Emperors. The great flood of the Yellow River happened and power was transferred to Yu after he dedicated himself to stopping the deluge.
Yu the Great took over after the last of the mythical Five Emperors gave him the throne sometime after 2070 BCE. This history is contested since the first official records of this dynasty are from about 1300 BCE.
After Yu the Great, the Xia Dynasty was established through succession. The oldest dynastic civilization on earth is possibly the Xia Dynasty though this is debated.
Today, China has more citizens than any other country at 1.4 billion individuals. Its official name is the People’s Republic of China and it’s been in power since the mid-twentieth century. The Chinese monarchy collapsed in 1912 and the most recent civil war ended with the current communist government coming into power.
2. Vietnam in 2879 BCE: Oldest in South Asia
There have been prehistoric hominid cultures in the Vietnam region for 20,000 years. Before that, human ancestors existed in the area for 500,000 years.
The first organized dynasty was established in 2879 BCE called the Hồng Bàng dynasty. This ruling body may be a myth as no physical evidence has been uncovered verifying its existence. There is evidence suggesting that the culture in Vietnam around 2100 BCE knew how to keep a lunar calendar with stone tools.
One well-documented civilization that forms the foundation of today’s Vietnamese identity is the Dong Son Culture around 1000 BCE. This community partook in agriculture, advanced bronzeworking, politics, and defined social structures. It was built around the need for an organizing body related to trade between tribes in the region.
Today, Vietnam is a one-party socialist republic with its latest constitution going into effect on November 28, 2013. This is an authoritarian government that restricts citizens through rules against freedom of assembly, the press, and religion. It is currently led by the Communist Party of Vietnam.
1. Iran in 7000 BCE: Oldest Continual Civilization
The influence of Iranian culture extends well beyond the country’s present-day borders. Some of its historic territories included the current countries of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
Despite years of expansion and shrinkage as well as periods of external rule, Iran always re-establishes its independence with its identity intact. The earliest known true settlements in Iran existed as long ago as 7000 BCE and the area has been continually inhabited ever since.
There is evidence of sophisticated human agricultural communities in the area going back well over 10,000 years. There was also a sizeable Neanderthal presence in Iran.
Iran was called Persia until the middle of the twentieth century. Islamic influence started around 650 CE when Muslims conquered Persia and this new religious regime continued for a few hundred years.
Around 1219 CE, the Mongols invaded Iran and their dominance lasted less than 100 years. Islamic rule prevailed again by 1295 CE. Around the middle of the 1300s, the Black Death took the lives of around 30 percent of Iranians.
Turmoil continued and the region changed hands and religions several times. This rotation through foreign powers over many centuries ended in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution overthrew the contemporaneous monarchy and established today’s Islamic Republic. The current government is a mixture of democracy and theocracy.
Today’s political climate is tense both domestically and internationally. Internationally, Iran’s nuclear capabilities are a hot topic of discussion. Domestically, citizens’ rights are at the forefront.
Protests erupted in the country on September 16, 2022, after Jina Amini died. She was arrested for violating hijab laws and died hours later. The police said it was a heart attack but eyewitnesses have accused authorities of police brutality.
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