How can we define which countries are the oldest in the world? Such task may be a tricky one, since past History events may indicate that the ancient Roman Empire was a country, or, for instance, if countries that no longer exist should be considered. Historians may contest the list as such definitions can be subjective. Countries like Greece, Italy and Germany are recent although with very old cultures and this because, before being countries, each of them was only a sum of several independent city-states.
And then we have Egypt, one of the oldest countries in the world. However, the country of the Pharaohs was under the rule of foreign empires for so long that, when it became an independent country again, almost nothing was left of its original culture. As such, our list of the most ancient countries in the globe is based on a methodology using data independence with data collected from the World Factbook of the CIA.
1. Ethiopia — 980 BC
Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in the African continent, considered one of the oldest in the world. The first kingdom known to have existed in Ethiopia was the kingdom of D’mt, which rose to power around the 10th century BC. It is the only African country that evaded colonial rule. In addition to being a very old country, Ethiopia is one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today who study the oldest features of humanity. In 1972, Donald Johanson and Tim D. White discovered Lucy, a 3.2 million year old hominid skeleton. A recent discovery of a H. sapiens skull along Ethiopia’s Omo River determines that the Homo sapiens is at least 36,000 years older than once thought.
2. Japan — 660
The first time Japan was mentioned is in 1st century AD texts of Chinese history. Japanese civilization can be traced back to its first pottery that’s about 16,000 years old. Between 1635-1852, Japan had little contact with the world due to a law known as the Sadoku Edict, that restricted trade, banned foreign travel by Japanese, banned Christianity and made Japan off limits to most foreigners. The 2 main religions in this country are Shinto with 51.82%, and Buddhism with 34.9%.
3. Iran — 550 BC
Formerly known as Persia, Iran is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, beginning with the formation of the kingdom of Elam in 2800 BC. The earliest archaeological findings from Persia date to the Paleolithic era, 100,000 years ago. By 5000 BC, Persia hosted sophisticated agriculture and early cities.
Iran reached the height of its power during the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC and which, to its greatest extent, comprised large parts of the ancient world, stretching from the Indus Valley in the east to the Thrace and Macedonia, on the northeast border of Greece, becoming one of the largest empires the world has ever known.
4. China — 221 BC
China’s earliest archeological records date back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), over 3,000 years ago. In this highly populated country, with more than a billion people from many ethnic groups, the most present is the Han people with 91.6%.
The famous Great Wall was not a one-off construction. It was first built as a defensive barrier during the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Then Emperor Qin Shihuang consolidated the Wall to secure China’s northern border. Throughout the history of this nation, there were many dynasties that were predominantly imperial. The last dynasty ruled until 1912 when the country was established as a republic.
5. Armenia — 190 BC
In 600 BC, the kingdom of Armenia was established under the Orontid dynasty, which existed under various dynasties until 428. The kingdom reached its greatest size between 83 and 69 BC in the reign of Tigranes, the Great, becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region. In 301, Armenia became the first officially Christian country in the world, taking as the official state religion.
In 1915 the Ottoman government orchestrated the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians, an act known as the Armenian Genocide. Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies it was genocide, yet several governments recognize the genocide.
6. San Marino — 301
San Marino claims to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. It was founded on 3 September, 301 by Marinus de Rab. Legend has it that Marinus left Rab, then a Roman colony, in 257, when the future emperor, Diocletian, issued a decree requesting the rebuilding of the walls of the city of Rimini, which had been destroyed by Lebanese pirates.
San Marino has one of the highest per capita income in Europe, despite not being highly industrialized,. Tourism is the main source of income for the country, thanks to its proximity to the port of Rimini, on the Adriatic Sea. Other sources of income are banks, electronic products and ceramics. Vineyards and cereals are grown and sheep are raised in the fields.
7. Serbia — 768
Serbia’s independence came from the moment the principality of Serbia was formed. However, this region was always under the influence of various empires, such as the Ottoman Empire. The Serbian people ended up never losing their identity despite long centuries of foreign occupation thanks to the Orthodox religion and the Cyrillic alphabet that always differentiated them from the invaders. Having a distinct t religion and alphabet have contributed to maintain Serbia’s identity as a nation many centuries after occupation
Archeological excavations have proven that human settlements existed in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, for more than 7000 years. Serbia is the second largest exporter of Raspberries in the world. Besides raspberries, Serbia is the leading exporter of plums, prunes, apples and pears in Europe.
8. France — 846
Of the 67 million people, the French are the largest ethnic group in this country. Throughout history, the French people included the populations of Gauls, Latins, Franks, among others. In the 19th century there were many migrations and the government advocated assimilation through which immigrants had to adhere to French values and cultural norms.
9. Denmark — between 800 and 701
Denmark has a total population of 5 million people and it is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, despite the cold weather. The Danish enjoy a high standard of living and high values in relation to education, health, protection of civil liberties and democratic government. Furthermore, Denmark is known for having the largest social mobility brand globally, with 50% of Copenhageners cycling to and from work every day.
10. Austria — 976
The total population of Austria is more than 8 million people. The capital of Austria is historic Vienna, the former seat of the Holy Roman Empire and a city renowned for its architecture. The origins of modern Austria date back to the time of the Habsburg dynasty when most of the country was under the Holy Roman Empire. After the collapse of the Habsburgs, Austria used the name of the Republic of Germany-Austria, which was later banned under the two treaties, Versailles and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, when the country changed its name to Austria.
11. Hungary — 897 -1000
Hungary’s total population is over 9 million. Hungarians are also known as Magyars and they are not just an ethnic group, but a nation. Hungarian language is known as Magyar and is the direct descendent of the language spoken by the Huns. It is not an Indo-European language and has only two related languages in Europe — Finnish and Estonian. Moreover, the Hungarian people have various subgroups, depending on their local linguistic and cultural characteristics. Some of them are the Székelys, Csángós, Palóc and Jász people. The country fell under communist rule following World War II. Communism in Hungary ended 1989 and the country became a parliamentary republic. It joined NATO in 1999 and the EU five years later.
12. Portugal — 1143
Portugal as a country was established during the early Christian Reconquista. Founded in 868, the County of Portugal gained prominence after the Battle of São Mamede, in 1128. The Kingdom of Portugal was later proclaimed following the Battle of Ourique, in 1139, and independence from León was recognized by the Treaty of Zamora 1143. Today, the total population of Portugal is more than 10 million.
The Portuguese share a common culture and speak Portuguese as their primary language. The predominant religion of this country is Christianity, mainly Roman Catholicism. The Portuguese are known for its sailors who have crossed the oceans and discovered many countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Portugal has become an increasingly popular tourist destination and destinations such as Lisbon, Porto, Alentejo, Algarve, Madeira and the Azores Islands attract more visitors year after year.
13. Mongolia — 1206
According to Factbook Report 2020, there are around 3 million people in Mongolia, a country with plenty of ethnic groups. Khalkha Mongol, which is written with the Cyrillic alphabet, is the official language of Mongolia and the primary language of 90% of Mongolians. Other languages used in Mongolia include different dialects of Mongolian, Turkic languages, such as Kazakh, Tuvan, and Uzbek, and Russian. Russian is the most common foreign language spoken in Mongolia, although both English and Korean are used as well. The Mongols are best known to history for their conquests. In the 13th century, they spread the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia.
14. Thailand — 1238
Thailand was actually known as Siam until 1939 (and again from 1945 to 1949).This country has a total population of 68 million people, of which 97.5% are from the ethnic group Thai. Burmese are a minority at 1.3%. The country’s population is largely rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeast, and northern parts of the country. Indeed, Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice.
15. Andorra — 1278
Andorra is one of the smallest countries in Europe and is located between the Spanish and French border. It gained independence in 1278 and its total population is 77,456, based on the latest United Nations (UN) estimates of 2022. The Catalan is the official language of this multicultural country. Even though the UN was founded soon after the end of WWII, Andorra didn’t join the UN until 1993, having waited 48 years to join. They waited until the end of the Cold War not to violate their neutrality.