Old World

Old World

Synonym of Afro-Eurasia

The term "Old World" (Latin: Mundus Vetus) is an archaic 16th century term for Afro-Eurasia that originated in Europe c.1493, after Europeans had become aware of the existence of the Americas.[1][2] The term is one of several terms utilized to categorize and classify peoples and nations many view as having origins in colonialism and, by extension, racism.[3] The term expresses Eurocentrism as it was used to contrast the continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia in the Eastern Hemisphere, previously thought of by Europeans as comprising the entire world, with the "New World", a term for the newly encountered lands of the Western Hemisphere, particularly the Americas.[4] While located closer to Afro-Eurasia within the Eastern Hemisphere, Australia is considered neither an Old World nor a New World land, since it was only discovered by Europeans after the distinction had been made; both Australia and Antarctica were associated instead with the Terra Australis that had been posited as a hypothetical southern continent.

  Old World
Map of the "Old World" (the 2nd-century Ptolemy world map in a 15th-century copy)
This T and O map, from the first printed version of Isidore's Etymologiae (Augsburg, 1472), identifies the three known continents (Asia, Europe and Africa) as respectively populated by descendants of Sem (Shem), Iafeth (Japheth) and Cham (Ham).


In the context of archaeology and world history, the term "Old World" includes those parts of the world which were in (indirect) cultural contact from the Bronze Age onwards, resulting in the parallel development of the early civilizations, mostly in the temperate zone between roughly the 45th and 25th parallels north, in the area of the Mediterranean, including North Africa. It also included Mesopotamia, the Persian plateau, the Indian subcontinent, China, and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

These regions were connected via the Silk Road trade route, and they had a pronounced Iron Age period following the Bronze Age. In cultural terms, the Iron Age was accompanied by the so-called Axial Age, referring to cultural, philosophical and religious developments eventually leading to the emergence of the historical Western (Hellenism, "classical"), Near Eastern (Zoroastrian and Abrahamic) and Far Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism) cultural spheres.

Other names

The mainland of Afro-Eurasia (excluding islands or island groups such as the British Isles, Japan, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and the Malay Archipelago) has been referred to as the World Island. The term may have been coined by Sir Halford John Mackinder in The Geographical Pivot of History.[5]


  1. "How we classify countries and people—and why it matters". BMJ Glob Health. Retrieved 6 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. "Old World". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  3. "Dear scientists: stop calling America the 'New World'". Nature. Retrieved 6 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "New world". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  5. See Francis P. Sempa, "Mackinder's World" Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. American Diplomacy (UNC.edu). Retrieved 8 September 2018.

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