While the land where countries lie has existed for millions of years, empires and countries have risen and fallen, and populations have migrated. Somewhat surprisingly, there haven’t been many countries that have continuously existed for thousands of years and it’s difficult to date exactly when a country was formed. From ancient kingdoms in Ethiopia through to the Persian Empire in Iran and thousand-year-old countries in Europe, we’ve rounded up the oldest countries in the world.
Many historians agree that Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world. While we know that human life has existed in Ethiopia for millions of years thanks to skeletal fragments uncovered, it’s generally agreed that Ethiopia developed as a country in 980 BCE. This was when one of the first kingdoms, known as the D’mt, rose to power. Ethiopia is one of the few African countries that never fell into the hands of colonizers, with the exception of when it was occupied for a few years under Italian dictator Mussolini in the 1930s.
Dating back to the Ancient Greek era, the country of Greece has remained firmly in the grasp of Grecians for at least 5,000-6,000 years. The Greeks were known to have taught the world revolutionary concepts and created the foundations of modern Western civilization. They made huge advances in science, technology, art and literature, law-making and politics, and Athens was home to the world’s first form of democracy (something that, over 5,000 years later, many countries are still trying to grasp the meaning of). While Greece today has different borders to that of Ancient Greece, and the country has passed through different hands, much of its original culture remains evident and establishes it as one of the oldest countries in the world.
While definitely not as old as Greece or Ethiopia, Portugal has maintained its firm borders for almost a thousand years, making it one of the most identifiable, oldest countries in the world. The borders of Portugal were defined in 1139 CE, meaning it is officially the oldest nation in Europe. Before the country was acknowledged as Portugal, the area had passed through the hands of many empires and civilizations. Its capital city Lisbon is known to be much older than Rome.
Japan is also a contender as one of the oldest countries in the world. The first Japanese Emperor, who is said to be the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, ascended the throne in 660 BCE according to Japanese legend. While legend doesn’t give way to fact, the country of Japan started appearing in Chinese literature in 300 CE. So whether you believe legend or not, Japan has certainly been around for quite some time. The country has passed through the hands of several dynasties and emperors, and it is still under the rule of Emperor Akihito who is said to abdicate in April 2019.
As with Greece and the Ancient Greeks, modern-day Egypt is a different territory to that during the Ancient Egyptian era. The area has passed under the Egyptian hand for millennia and Egyptian culture can date back as far as the 6th millennium BCE. Its hieroglyphics were the world’s second oldest writing system and the first Egyptian kingdom was formed in the 4th millennium BCE. The area passed through the hands of various empires over the years, such as the Persian empire and the Ottoman empire, and the country was conquered by the Arabs in the 9th–10th century CE and has remained a Muslim country ever since.
China is one of the world’s oldest and most refined civilizations, and its first dynasty, which was the Xia dynasty, is said to have lasted from the years 2070 BCE–1600 BCE. While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first Chinese dynasty emerged (as written records only arrived in the following dynasty after 1600 BCE), recent archaeological discoveries suggest the dates are correct, making it one of the oldest in the world by a long shot!
7. San Marino
The tiny country of San Marino (which is known to be one of the smallest countries in Europe) is also one of the oldest countries in the world. The country was officially created in 301 CE by its founder who was escaping persecution for his Christian beliefs. The country functions as a microstate and is completely surrounded by Italy. After centuries in business as a Republic state, San Marino wrote its official constitution, which is believed to be the world’s oldest, in 1600 CE.
The ancient country of Iran has certainly been around for a while, with historians dating it back to when it was founded circa 550 BCE under the Achaemenid Empire. The Persian Empire was created following 550 BCE and the country has passed through the hands of different rulers and empires over the years. Modern day Iran was known as Persia until the 1930s when the name was officially changed.
The Indian subcontinent has been populated for around 5,000-6,000 years and its peoples joined together to form a civilization in roughly 1500 BCE when they created the Vedic Civilization, which laid out the foundations of Hinduism. Over the following millennia, the country passed through different dynasties, with modern-day India being founded in 1947, once the country won its independence from the British Empire.
While France isn’t as old as some in this list, it still dates back a long way. Historians loosely date the founding of France to the 5th century CE, when King Clovis’s ascended to the throne. At the time, and the centuries following, the country exercised a lot of power in Europe.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in some of the world’s oldest cities, check out Plovdiv in Bulgaria, which is officially known to be the oldest, continuously inhabited city in Europe.