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What is the World's Oldest Country?

Updated July 23, 2021 | Kristin Templin

Enduring Civilizations

Over the past thousands of years, civilizations, empires, and countries have risen and fallen. Some of these have been erased from history leaving very little behind while others have shaped the world today in tremendous ways. This constant state of change has left many people questioning how old the countries that exist today actually are and what links they had with earlier empires. If you're interested in other country rankings, check out our list of the smallest countries.

When does a country become a country?

This is something that historians haven't been able to agree on. There is no real consensus as to what the oldest country in the world is because it is really hard to create a benchmark that makes sense for all countries around the world.

So? when does a country actually become a country?

Is it the time when its first recorded civilization started, like the Sumerians in Iraq? The Sumerians ruled over Babylonia more than 6,000 years ago.

Or is it the time when a country started to first take the shape and culture that we know and recognize today like China did by the end of the Warring States Period in 221 BCE or Japan did around the third century CE?

Or when they proclaimed their independence like the United States did in 1776? Is the United States older than Egypt which became independent in 1922?

Or when they first adopted their constitution as India did in 1950? If this is the case, could you really say that Australia is older than India because they adopted their constitution in 1901?

What are the world's oldest countries?

Obviously, this lack of clarity makes it really hard to say unanimously what the world's oldest nation is. However, there are some things that are basically indisputable. No matter how you look at it, there are some civilizations that are old - very, very old. While they may not have been unified countries throughout their entire history, they culturally and geographically resemble what we think of today. These are what are generally considered to be the oldest countries in the world and, unsurprisingly, most of them are centered around Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The oldest country in Europe is probably Greece. The former city-state (and current capital city) Athens may be the oldest city on the continent.

Below is a list of five of the oldest countries in the world. This list is certainly not exhaustive and other countries that could be included include Armenia, Ethiopia, San Marino, and Greece.

India

Rising from the Indus Valley civilization, India began to take its current shape in 1,500 BC at the start of the Vedic Civilization. This is when the foundation of Hinduism began and the cultural aspects of India began to take hold. However, throughout the next 2,500 years,the Indian subcontinent was governed by many different rulers and the area that comprises India today was made up of many different kingdoms. Before India achieved independence in 1947, it was most recently governed by the British and, prior to that, the Mughals. Both had a profound impact on the country and many of the things that the world associates with India today came into existence during the 500 years of British and Mughal rule.

Based on this, India can be anywhere between 2,500 years old and just over 70 years old but it is more or less unanimously considered to be one of the oldest living civilizations today.

China

Starting along the Yellow River in Northern China, Chinese civilization has outlasted virtually every other ancient civilization. Although the political structure of the modern-day People's Republic of China that began in 1949 is very different from Imperial China, the country has largely maintained the same borders, language, and culture for the past 2,400 years.

At the absolute earliest, China's mytho-historical Xia Dynasty (the first dynasty to rule in China) is claimed to have ruled nearly 4,000 years ago. The first confirmed rulers, the Shang Dynasty, ruled in 1600 BC. But, the most recognizable foundations of Chinese culture began in the late Zhou Dynasty around 2,400 years ago. This makes it not only one of the oldest countries in the world but, like India, it is also one of the oldest civilizations still in existence. China can be considered to be anywhere between 2,400 years old and 72 years old.

Egypt

Ancient Egypt has left behind many architectural wonders along the banks of the Nile River including the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World that still exists today. Egypt became unified all the way back in 3100 BC and in theory, this should make it one of the oldest countries in the world. However, the culture of Ancient Egypt varies greatly from the Egypt we know today due to a number of different empires that conquered the territory, including the Persians and the Greeks. Egypt became part of the Islamic Caliphate in 969 AD and it is still a majority Muslim country today. The land continued to change hands and it officially came under the rule of the British Empire in 1882. It wasn't until 1922 that Egyptian proclaimed their independence and became a sovereign state. Based on this, Egypt can be anywhere between 5,000 and 99 years old.

Iran

Throughout history, the borders of Iran have continuously expanded and then receded and although it was once the biggest empire in the world (the Achaemenid Empire or Achaemenid Persia) from 550 - 330 BC, the government structure and culture have changed massively since then. Iran became a Muslim country around 650 AD and although foreign influences have at times held sway over the country, Iran has largely maintained its sovereignty. In 1979, the Pahlavi Dynasty was overthrown during the Islamic Revolution and Iran officially became an Islamic Republic.

Like the other countries on this list, Iran's age varies significantly based on what you consider conditions should be the benchmark. Based on this, it is estimated to be anywhere from 2,500 years old to 42 years old.

Japan

According to legend, Japan officially began to exist as a country in 660 BCE under the rule of the first emperor Jimmu. While this date hasn't actually been proven, there are Chinese texts that mention the existence of Japan in roughly 300 AD. Japan began to develop the cultural characteristics that we consider "Japanese" between 794 AD - 1185 AD.

Based on this, Japan can be anywhere from 2,600 years old to 1,200 years old. Unlike some of the other places on this list, it is undeniable that Japan has a very long history as a state and regardless of the benchmark that you use, it is indisputably one of the world's oldest countries.

As you can see from the list above, it is really difficult to pinpoint the exact age of a country. However, the intriguing histories of these countries and empires have left us with a treasure trove of antiquities that continue to awe and inspire people today and we are incredibly lucky for that.

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