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.



Syria and Palestine

3000-332 B.C.


1 Syrian with lioness
and ram, ivory statue,
ninth century B.C.

1 Syria and Palestine were of great strategic importance as military, commercial, and cultural crossroads between the early high civilizations of Egypt, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean Sea. The constant wrestling for control over the area by the bordering powers prevented the formation of a unified state. Only after the upheavals caused by the sea peoples created a power vacuum was it possible for the kingdoms of David and Solomon to emerge, for a short time, as regional powers. At the same time, the Phoenicians built up a trade empire that reached from the coasts of West Anatolia to the edge of the Atlantic.


The Canaanites and the Amorites


The Canaanites and the Amorites developed a high civilization that fused together stylistic elements from the whole of the Ancient Orient and demonstrated the bridging role of Syria and Palestine.

The early inhabitants of Palestine are called Canaanites, those of Syria Amorites or East Canaanites. Linguistically both groups belong to the Semites. They never experienced political unity but lived in city-states ruled over by princes or priest-kings.

The remains of the Canaanite city of 2 Jericho date back to around 9000 B.C. and are considered the earliest evidence of urban life. Over the centuries, the rulers of Egypt, the Hittite Empire, Assyria, and Babylon competed against each other for control of Palestine and Syria.

The trading centers situated on the Mediterranean coast held a special position among the city-states.

At first, 3 Byblos was the busiest of them. The city had enjoyed trading relations with Egypt since the third millennium B.C. and was the most important port for exports of Lebanese cedar, as well as 4 luxury goods that were manufactured there for the Egyptian market. In the middle of the 13th century B.C., Ugarit, situated farther north, replaced Byblos as the preeminent port city.

The Mycenaean 6 merchants had their own quarter in the city, which bears witness to trade relations with the Aegean cultures.

By allying alternately with the Hittites and the Egyptians, the 5 kings of Ugarit were able to maintain their independence until around 1200 B.C., when Ugarit was overrun by the sea peoples and completely destroyed.

Subsequent archaeological excavations of the previous site of the city of Ugarit, present-day Ras Shamra, have uncovered a number of libraries containing ancient manuscripts written in at least four different languages.


2 Foundations of a round tower in Jericho, 7000 a.c.

3 Ruins of the Temple of Obelisks in Byblos


4 Example of Egyptian gold jewelry from Byblos, 19th century B.C.


5 The king of Ugarit hunting, detail on a golden plate,
14th—13th century B.C.

6 Two men agreeing on a contract,
limestone relief from the city of Ugarit,
14th century B.C.


Baal, bronze statue, 14th—13th ñ


Baal, or the female form Baalat, was the name of the chief deity of Canaanite and Amorite cities. They also worshiped other gods, such as the fertility goddess of war, Astarte. In Palestine, the monotheistic cult of Yahweh vied for followers with the older Baal cults and ultimately triumphed over them.


Baal, bronze statue, 14th—13th ñ


The Phoenician City-States

The Phoenicians are considered the most accomplished seafarers of antiquity. Throughout the Mediterranean and beyond they conducted trade, founded colonies, and spread their culture, which was in the tradition of the Canaanites and Amorites.

Following the devastation caused by the sea peoples, the focus of trade shifted south from Syria towards the territory of present-day Lebanon. The Greeks called this region "Phoenicia" ("purple land") after a precious dye produced there. As in Canaanite and Amorite times, Phoenicia was divided into city-states ruled by 7 kings and great trading families. With the decline of Mycenaean and Minoan competition, the 12 Phoenicians controlled Mediterranean trade as far as the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.

They founded numerous 8 colonies, including Carthage ("new city") around 814 B.C., which was later to become the most important sea power in the Western Mediterranean.

7 A king with lotus stems, ivory tablet, eighth-seventh century B.C.

12 Phoenician merchant ship at sea,
clay relief

8 Ruins of a Phoenician colony in Sa Caleta on Ibiza,
founded ca. 650 B.C.

The net of Phoenician 11 trade relations reached beyond the Mediterranean to the British Isles and the Canary Islands, and it is even possible that Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa about 600 â.ñ.

11 Phoenician merchants trade, wood engraving, 19th century

They kept their knowledge of the ocean beyond the "Pillars of Hercules"—the Strait of Gibraltar—absolutely secret and spread 10 horror stories about the area to frighten off their competitors.

10 Phoenician silver coin decorated
with the image of a merchant ship
harried by a sea monster

9 Sidon and Tyre were the two most important Phoenician city-states, and their rulers were closely tied to the kings of Israel and Judah. In the tenth century B.C., Hiram I of Tyre supported King Solomon in the construction of a fleet for a trading expedition to the Red Sea. Tyre reached its apogee under Ittobaal I, who subjugated rival Sidon in the ninth century B.C. By this time, the Phoenicians were coming under increasing military pressure from the land powers, Assyria and Babylon, who demanded tribute from the cities. Only Tyre, situated on an impregnable island, was able to withstand the enemy forces. Phoenicia lost Sidon but remained independent despite a 13-year siege by Nebuchadressar II of Babylon that ended in 573 B.C. The Persians, on the other hand, accepted the autonomy of the Phoenicians, who made up the majority of the Persian fleet in battles against the Greeks.

It was Alexander the Great who first succeeded in conquering Tyre in 332 B.C., after a seven-month siege during which he built a causeway from the mainland to the island city. The Phoenicians were later ruled by the Diadochoi and the Romans but still managed to keep their cultural and religious identity alive.

9 View over Sidon with Lebanon in the distance,
chalk lithograph. 19th century


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