|Map of the world in 1570 by Abraham Ortelius|
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good map is surely worth much more than that. To understand the broad ebbs and flows of world history I find that it is very useful to be able to look at a map that shows what state controlled what territory at any given time. I have included some links to sites showing historical maps of the world. Both of them have issues (neither of them are particularly fast when it comes to loading times) and they are ultimately works of interpretation so, with a different interpretation of the source material the boundaries would often be slightly different. But insofar as I can tell, they are generally quite accurate.
The first link is to an interactive site. This site excludes the Western Hemisphere and focuses on Eurasia. It comes with a description of world history at the time, which is useful for understanding why the maps change as they do. Unfortunately the site is not properly maintained and there are occasional technical issues with maps not displaying properly. The link to the site is here.
The second site is more universal in scope but does not contain associated text to explain what is going on. Nevertheless, it should give you an excellent idea of what the world looked like at a particular date. The link to the site is here.
These sites are brilliant for inquisitive minds. If you have a broad knowledge of history and a fair idea of what is going on you will not be too surprised at the general picture but quite often the maps will show kingdoms on the peripheries, small states that are often passed over when history is told. Once one is aware of the existence of these forgotten empires you can start to research them and discover their stories. Enjoy.