Ds9 and I are both visual learners. You can describe something to us, or tell us where something is located, but unless we SEE it with our eyes, the memory will be lost on us. Ds9 and I have been learning some ancient history, about how various empires took over this area or that, over this time period or that. But we needed to SEE what that meant, with the entire atlas as a reference. Luckily, we weren't the only ones. After gobs, and you know I mean gobs, of research, here are the two best options out there for framing up the events of western history. Both are free.
Option #1 - Map of Imperial History. This animated interactive flash website shows you the spread and regions of all the greatest empires of the "world", as relates to the middle east. And as you'll see, that covers just about all of them. It's a lovely map, and my first choice because it's so simple and to the point. Pros: very well made, easy to read; covers 1450 BC to 1980 AD - quite an inclusive time span; doesn't require any software installation; quick moving. Cons: It doesn't show the rise and fall of lesser civilizations; doesn't include Chinese empires or Russia. Note: the company who made this also made several other fascinating maps, including a map showing the spread of different types of governments, and a map showing the spread of the world's major religions.
Option #2 - Atlas of World History. This interactive animated piece of software takes seconds to install, and is great if you want an option that has more detail than the options above. Pros: covers almost the entire globe except the Americas; includes the rise and fall of smaller civilization; runs continuously over a steady rate of time so you can see just how the civilizations grow; allows you to customize your choice of map, time frame, and starting year. Cons: software must be downloaded, though small and easy to install; timeline ends at the year 1000 AD, though it does start quite a bit earlier, at the year 3000 BC. If you want to preview the software before installing it, here is a sample video of lesser quality that will give you an idea of what it can do.
Both of these options are great for a (almost) global perspective, and I recommend them both. If you happen to be looking for an option that shows the animated history of Europe, with its' ever-changing boundaries, here are my 1st and 2nd choices for that (both are Youtube videos), though I have not researched options for this region as extensively.