Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


First Empires

ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.


The Middle East was the cradle of mankind's first advanced civilizations. In Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, which extends in an arc from the north of the Arabian Peninsula east through Palestine to Mesopotamia, the first state structures emerged in parallel with the further development of animal husbandry, agriculture, trade, and writing. The first great empires, such as those of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Persians, evolved at the beginning of the third millennium B.C., out of small communities usually clustered around a city. Similar development also occurred on the Indian subcontinent and in China, where quite distinct early advanced civilizations took shape as well.


The golden mask of Tutankhamun, a jewel of ancient Egyptian artwork,
 showing the pharaoh in a ceremonial robe decorated with the heraldic animals, the vulture and cobra, ca. 1340 B.C.



The Hittites

CA. 1570-CA. 650 B.C.


The Hittites were an Indo-European people who migrated out of the steppes north of the Black Sea and into Asia Minor during the second millennium B.C. From there they pushed into Syria and Mesopotamia, where they established an empire that competed with Egypt's New Kingdom for supremacy in the Near East. The empire came to an end under the onslaught of the sea peoples in 1200 ..


The Old Kingdom
ca. 1570-1343 ..

The Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in ca. 1290 BC,
bordering on the Egyptian Empire (green)

The Hittites encountered an old, highly developed civilization in Asia Minor from which they adopted numerous cultural developments and religious concepts.


One of the oldest cities of the world, Catal Huyuk, existed in Anatolia possibly as early as 7000 B.C.

The city on the west coast of Asia Minor, known as 5 Troy (Ilium) from Homer's Iliad and referred to as "Wilusa" by Hittite sources, also belonged to the cultural area of ancient Anatolia. The Hittites first settled, however, in central Anatolia in the land of the Hattis, from whom their name may have derived. There they lived in numerous, independently ruled communities until about 1630 B.C., when King Labarnas II established political unity and moved his capital to the ancient city of Hattusa, after which he took his name Hattusilis I.

5 Artist's reconstruction of ancient Troy

Hattusilis expanded the borders of the Old Kingdom that he had founded through 1 military campaigns in western Asia Minor and northern Syria. His grandson, Mursilis I, conquered the important Syrian trading center, Aleppo, and reached Babylon with his armies around 1600 B.C.

In addition to his role as commander of military forces, the Hittite king also held, together with his queen, religious offices in the state cult as the 3 weather god and sun goddess respectively. The queen participated in council meetings, had her own chancellery, and also maintained independent diplomatic relations with other princes. After the death of the king, she retained her offices and titles as his widow.

In general, 4 women, whether they were 2 married, widowed, or divorced, were well provided for. Hittite law also appears to have been rather progressive in comparison with the other cultures of the Near Hast, as the death penalty was rarely imposed. The assassination ot Mursilis I by his brother-in-law Hantilis around 1590 . led to turmoil around the throne and a revolt of the nobility. Because of the instability in the leadership. the Hittites lost control of Syria to the Hurrite Mitanni kingdom and were forced to focus on Anatolia.

1 Archer and charioteer, ninth century B.C.
2 A Hittite couple, ca. 800 B.C.
3 The Hittite weather god with a bundle of lightning bolts beneath the winged sun disk
4 Hittite women, spinning, eighth-seventh century B.C.



The Hittite Gods

Hittite gods

The Hittites were called the "people of the thousand gods." Apart from their own, they took up many of the deities and religious concepts of their neighbors. A deity pair associated with the weather and the sun was always at the head of the Hittite pantheon and was worshiped in the official national cult. Above all, vegetation, mountain, and water gods also played a role in daily religious life.

Hittite gods



The New Kingdom
ca. 1335-1200 ..

The rise of the Hittites marked the beginning of the New Kingdom. Weakened by fierce battles with Egypt, the empire managed to settle the conflict only to ultimately  be destroyed by the sea peoples.

After a transitional and chaotic phase in which the Hittites contended with enemies such as the Gashga people in their immediate vicinity, Suppiluliumas I (reigned 1380-1346 B.C.), brother of Arnuwanda, established the Hittite empire by defeating the Mitannian kingdom and making vassals of the Amorite princes in Syria about 1335 B.C. He fortified his capital and organized the state, dividing it into provinces ruled by princes. He installed his son Telipinus in Aleppo as priestking of the weather god, who was worshiped there as well.

Suppiluliumas, his son 7 Mursilis II, (reigned 1345-1315 B.C.), and his grandson Muwattalis (reigned 1315-1290 ..) were all drawn into conflicts with Egypt, which had been allied with the Mitanni and also claimed hegemony over Syria.

7 Earthenware plaque with the seal of King Mursilis II
in Hittite hieroglyphics and cuneiform script, ca. 1300 b,c.

In about 1285, Muwattalis and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II fought at the 6 Orontes River in Syria in the 9 Battle of Kadesh. No clear victor emerged, although Muwattalis was able to maintain his hegemony over Syria. It was only after Hattusilis III signed a treaty with the Egyptians in 1259 .. that peace between the two exhausted powers was secured for the remainder of the century. During this period, disputes within the royal family and with the nobility led to political disintegration. Catastrophic crop failures and famine made  the import of grain from Egypt necessary and compounded the empire's difficulties. The weakened empire of the Hittites was no longer able to withstand the onslaught of the sea peoples, particularly the Greek Achaians.

The Orontes River in Syria

9 Three marching soldiers, ninth century B.C.

The line of 8 Hittite kings ended abruptly with Suppiluliumas II around 1200 B.C. The capital, Hattusa, was completely demolished by unknown attackers. They may have been raiding Gashga peoples, former soldiers, or even the city's own populace. Troy, a Hittite vassal state located in present-day Turkey, was also destroyed at this time.

Only in southeastern Anatolia and northern Syria did small, independent Hittite kingdoms survive, lasting into the seventh century B.C. They were finally overrun by the advance of  the Neo-Assyrian Empire, while the rest of Anatolia sank into a "Dark Age" until the appearance of the Phrygians and Lydians.

8 Statue of a late Hittite king, ninth century B.C.



The Peace Treaty between Hattusilis III and Ramses II

"Look, Reamasesa-mai-amana, the great king, the king of the country of Egypt, is at peace and fraternity with Hattusili, the great king, the king of the country of Hatti. Look, the children of Reamasesa, the great king, the king of the country of Egypt, they will be forever in a state of peace and of fraternity with the children of Hattusili, the great king, the king of the country of Hatti. They will remain in the line of our bond of fraternity and of peace; the country of Egypt and the country of Hatti will be forever in a state of a and of fraternity as it is with us...."

Peace treaty in cuneiform script, 1259 B.C.




Kingdoms on the Borders of the Fertile Crescent

ca. 1500-546 B.C.


Besides the great empires of the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Egyptians, there were many, often short-lived kingdoms in Asia Minor, North Syria, and Mesopotamia. They served as buffer states between the great powers and were frequently occupied by foreign soldiers. They were also sought after as partners in alliances and agreements to secure trade routes passing through their territories. During periods when their more powerful neighboring empires fell into crisis or collapsed, they sometimes won a precarious status of independence and occasionally rose to positions of considerable power and influence in the region.

Mitanni and Urartu


In the north of the Fertile Crescent lay the Mitannian kingdom of the Indo-Iranian Hurrites. After a period of Hittite supremacy, the Kingdom of Urartu supplanted the Kingdom of Mitanni.

Around 1500 B.C., at the time of the fall of the Hittite Old Kingdom, the Hurrites founded the Kingdom of Mitanni, of which they formed only a small ruling elite. At its peak, between 1450 and 1350 B.C., the kingdom stretched from the Mediterranean coast through Syria to East Anatolia, Armenia, and North Mesopotamia, where Assyria was a vassal state of the Hurrites. The first written evidence, using the Akkadian alphabet, dates from the beginning of the third millennium B.C., with inscriptions over the next 2000 years in Akkadian, Sumerian, Hittite, Ugaritic and Hebrew, as well as in Hurrite. At first, Egypt competed with the Hurrites for control of Syria, but then the pharaohs of the 18th dynasty formed an alliance with them against the renewed and mounting threat of the Hittites. The alliance was then sealed over many generations through marriage. Eventually, after the Middle Assyrian Kingdom had forcibly liberated itself from Mitannian dominance, the Hurrites were subdued by the Hittites under King Suppluliuna, who elevated the Hittite state to its maximum splendor, in about 1335 .c.

In Urartu, a region on Lake Van in 4 East Anatolia, descendents of the Hurrites established various kingdoms after the fall of the Hittite New Kingdom in 1200 B.C. when it was invaded by many tribes. These merged to create a unified state around 860 B.C.

4 Landscape in East Anatolia

The economy was based primarily on 1, 3 ore mining and processing, along with agriculture and trade.
Fierce disputes with the Neo-Assyrian Empire over the control of trade routes and ore deposits developed in the eighth century. The Assyrians allied themselves with the Cimmerians, an Indo-European nomadic people, and defeated Urartu in 714. The story of Urartu comes to its ultimate end in 640 .. with the invasion of the Scythians, who followed the Cimmerians. At the same time, Armenians entered Urartu territory from southwestern Europe. The area remained a bone of contention between the great powers, including the Roman Empire, the Farthians, and the Sassanians.

Bronze helmet from Urartu, eighth century B.C.

3 Bronze votive tablet from Urartu, showing the weather god Teisheba


The 2 kings of Urartu expanded their kingdom into the Caucasus, East Anatolia, and northwest Iran.

2 Urartian language stone


Urartu Sphinx

Part of a throne with deity on a bull


Phrygia and Lydia

Following the end of the Hittite empire around 1200 B.C., Anatolia experienced a cultural decline until the Phrygians in the eighth century . In the seventh century the Lydians carved out an extensive area of territory in which they established powerful kingdoms.

The 7 Phrygians emerged from the Balkans around 1100 B.C. and penetrated into Asia Minor. By the eighth century, there was a thriving Phryrian kingdom in the center of Anatolia that maintained cultural and trade relations with the Greeks in the west and the Urartians and Assyrians in the east.

The 5 Lydians then gained control of the western part of Asia Minor. They defeated the Cimmerians and attempted to expand their kingdom westward over the Greek colonies on the coast of Anatolia (Ionia), as well as over the entire Anatolian highlands. Their eastern border, by agreement first with the Medes and later with the Persians, was fixed at the Halys River in north-central Anatolia.

7 Phrygian Bronze Helmet, sixth century B.C.

5 Remainder of the Temple of Artemis
in the Lydian capital Sardis,
steel engraving, 19th century

King Croesus's golden broach

The last Lydian king, 6 Croesuswhose 8 wealth became proverbial conquered almost all of the Greek coastal cities. He then turned eastward after the Oracle of Delphi prophesied that a great empire would fall if he crossed the Halys. Thus feeling assured of victory, Croesus crossed the river in 546 B.C. and marched against Persia but was defeated by the Persian king Cyrus IIthe prophesy came true, but it was his own great kingdom that fell.

According to legend, Croesus was 11 pardoned shortly before he was to be burned at the  stake, and he may later have become an official f at the Persian court.The Phrygians and Lydians lived on, not only in myths but also , in the cultural legacy they left to the Greeks and the Romansthe cults of Dionysus and of the "Great Mother" Cybele.

They also introduced the practice of 9 minting coins to Europe.

9 Lydian gold coin from Croesus's reign,
sixth century B.C.

Croesus on the pyre, Attic red-figure amphora,
500490 BC, Louvre


1st century BC marble statue of Cybele
from Formia, Campania

Cybele with her attributes, a Roman marble,
c. 50 CE, Getty Museum


6 Tomb statue of
King Croesus,
ca. 520 B.C.

11 Croesus, about to be burned at the stake,
is shown mercy by Cyrus,
wood engraving, 19th century

Babylon:Croesus on the Funeral Pyre


8 Solon before Croesus, Croesus boasts about his treasures before the Athenian lawgiver and traveler Solon,
painting by Gerard van Honthorst. 1624


Croessus and Solon


Croesus Receiving Tribute from a Lydian Peasant, by Claude Vignon.


The area's significant deposits of gold inspired the 10 myth of King Midas, son of Gordius, the legendary founder of the kingdom, and the goddess Cybele. Midas committed suicide at the beginning of the  seventh century when the Cimmerians, who were being driven westward by the Scythians, burned the Phrygian capital, Gordium, to the ground.

10 Midas's daughter is turned to gold by his touch,
colored lithograph, 19th century


The Legend of Midas

The legend of Midas relates how Dionysus granted the king his wish that everything he touched would turn to gold. However, when even food and drink turned to gold, he was pushed to the verge of starvation. Then the god commanded him to bathe in the Pactolus River to be freed of his gift, ft was said that this was the reason the little river in Asia Minor had such a wealth of gold. In another myth, Midas was given the ears of an ass by Apollo because he favored Apollo's rival in a contest he judged. Midas concealed his ears under a Phrygian cap. Erroneously interpreted as the cap of liberty, it later became the symbol of freedom during the French Revolution.

Midas and Bacchus, by Nicolas Poussin



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