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


The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.


The epics of Homer, the wars of Caesar, and temples and palaces characterize the image of classic antiquity and the cultures of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. They are the sources from which the Western world draws the foundations of its philosophy, literature, and, not least of all, its state organization. The Greek city-states, above all Athens, were the birthplace of democracy. The regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and great parts of Northwest Europe were forged together into the Roman Empire, which survived until the time of the Great Migration of Peoples. Mighty empires also existed beyond the ancient Mediterranean world, however, such as those of the Mauryas in India and the Han in China.


Alexander the Great



The Great Migration of Peoples

375-568 A.D.


The formation of great tribes on the Rhine and Danube rivers put immense pressure on the Roman Empire in the third century. At first it was possible to hold the Germans back, and when necessary they were included in the empire, where they were welcomed as soldiers. The appearance of the Huns in 375 changed the situation. They triggered a massive migratory movement that the Roman Empire, which officially divided into Western and Eastern parts in 395, was unable to oppose. The Romans were forced to accept the founding of Germanic kingdoms on imperial territory until finally, in 476, the last Western Roman emperor was deposed by the Germans. Only the Eastern Empire, later Byzantium, survived the upheavals during the mass migrations.


The Migrations of the Germanic Peoples

The Huns stormed out of the Eurasian steppes in 375, driving some of the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths out of their settled regions north of the Danube and the Black Sea. Other Germanic tribes -were also on the move.

Even before the Hun invasion of 375, the Romans were forced to cede territory to the Germanic tribes.

The Romans were unable to repel the incursion of the 1, 2 Franks across the lower Rhine in 350, and were forced to accept a settlement.

The Franks were granted the status of allies and pacified with payments of money, Some of their leaders were appointed to posts in the Roman army and, after the fall of the empire, gained independence in Gaul.

Some Germanic leaders rose to become imperial generals—even commanders of the Roman army—and, like 3 Stilicho at the time of the division of the Roman empire in 395, were the power behind weak emperors.

The German Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor in 476.

1 Warrior's helmet, seventh century

2  Frankish stone carving,
seventh ń

3 General Stilicho with his wife and son, ivory carving, ca. 400

The 5 migration of peoples began with the Huns driving the Goths out of their homeland in 375. The Goths, who most likely originated in Scandinavia, settled the area south of the Baltic Sea along the Vistula River during the first and second centuries a.d. and had reached the Black Sea and the Danube by the third century. From there, they raided both Greece and Asia Minor. During the second half of the third century, the Goths divided into the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.

5 Germanic caravan, wood engraving, 19th century

After the Huns attacked in 375, many Visigoths fled south over the Danube border, and their victory over the 6 Romans at Adrianople in 378 led to an alliance.

6 Romans battle the Goths, wood engraving, 19th ń

After the Roman Empire's division in 395, the Visigoths effectively used the rivalry between East and West Rome to their advantage.

The Visigoth king Alaric fought many battles against the Western Roman general Stilicho, invading Italy in 401 and then 4 plundering Rome in 410.

4 Plundering of Rome in 410 per Alaric, king of the Visigoths

The Vandals in Rome

Alaric receiving the presents of the Athenians

The burial of Alaric in the bed of the Busento River, 1895 lithograph

When the Visigoths moved on in 418, the emperor offered them the south of France. There they established a kingdom that later stretched on into Spain.

The majority of the 9 Ostrogoths initially joined forces with the Huns.

After the death of the Hun king Attila, they settled in Eastern Roman territory as allies.

The Ostrogoth king, 8 Theodoric, who was raised in Constantinople, marched into Italy in 488 in the name of the Fastern Roman emperor Zeno, defeated the Western Roman regent Odoacer in 493, and founded his own realm.

In the meantime, at the turn of the fifth century, another wave of Germanic peoples pushed out of their former settlements in Central and Eastern Europe towards the West. In 406-407 the Vandals and Burgun-dians crossed the Rhine and moved into Gaul.

9 Ostrogothic eagle clasp, ca. 500

8 Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths,
image on a coin, ca. 500


The 7 Vandals continued over the Pyrenees, settling in Spain by 409, while the Burgundians established their own kingdom on the Rhine.

7 Nicasius, Bishop of Reims, kneels before the Vandals, sculpture, 13th century

Under increasing pressure from Visigoth attacks encouraged by the Western Roman emperor, the Vandals under King Gaiseric crossed over to North Africa in 429. There they founded an empire with its capital at Carthage, depriving Rome of lands valuable for growing grain.

From the Baltic Sea coast, groups of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, under the leadership of 10 Hengist and Horsa, set off in the middle of the fifth century for Britain, which had been abandoned by the Romans around 400.

The Germans drove the Celtic Britons into Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. The Saxons who had remained on the continent were able to fend off the Franks, and Christianization was not widespread until the end of the eighth century.

The last of the important Germanic tribes to join the migration were the Lombards, who until the fifth century had lived between the Elbe and the Danube.

Driven out by the equestrian nomadic Avars, under 11 King Alboin they left their homeland and occupied a region in northern Italy that came to be named after them—Lombardy—in 568. This is considered the end of the Great Migration.

The widespread migration of peoples led to the fall of the Roman Empire and a westward shift of the areas settled by the Germans and the Slavs who followed. The union of late antiquity and Germanic tradition in the culture of the Visigoths, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and Lombards characterized the culture of Europe in the early Middle Ages.

10 Hengist and Horsa land on the British coast,
wood engraving, 19th century

11 King Alboin entering Pavia,
wood engraving, 19th century


Hengist and Horsa landing in England


Assassination of Alboin, King of the Lombards (1859) by Charles Landseer




During the Great Migration of Peoples, Ulfilas (or Wulfila) was an influential leader of the Germans. In 341 he was ordained "bishop of the Goths" and about 370 he translated the Bible into Gothic. Because he was an adherent of Arms, the Goths and most of the other Germanic tribes came to be called Arians. This led to conflicts with the Romans in the territories conquered by the Germans and hindered an integration of the two groups of peoples. The acceptance of Catholicism by the Franks, and later by the Visigoths and Lombards, eased their acceptance by the native inhabitants and lent their empires greater stability.

Ulfilas explains the gospel to the Goths,
engraving, 1890




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