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.


see also text

KING SOLOMON "Song of Songs"

see below collection:



Syria and Palestine

3000-332 B.C.


The Early Israelites and the Kingdoms of David and Solomon


David subjugated neighboring Aramaean territories until his realm eventually reached from the Euphrates River in the north to the Red Sea in the south. He was succeeded by his son 5 Solomon, who maintained close diplomatic and trade relations with the Phoenidans, Arabs, and Egyptians.

In 8 Jerusalem, Solomon built a magnificent 9 temple as the center of the Yahweh cult. There were already signs that the kingdom's power had peaked, however. Some of the Aramaean vassals regained their independence, while tax pressure, unpaid forced labor, and Solomon's tolerance of foreign cultures were stirring up discontent internally among the Israelites.

Despite this, Solomon is remembered well by posterityóprimarily for his proverbial 6 wisdom.

5The wedding of Solomon and the Egyptian
pharaoh's daughter, painting, Ů 17th century

6 Solomon settles an argument of two women claiming
to be the mother of a child, book illustration, 13th


8 View of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the so-called
Dome of the Rock, built in Islamic times

Sacrifice scene in the temple of Jerusalem


Holy Temple


see also text


"Song of Songs"




By Shira Schoenberg



The biblical King Solomon was known for his wisdom, his wealth and his writings. He became ruler in approximately 967 B.C.E. and his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in the north to Egypt in the south. His crowning achievement was the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Almost all knowledge of him is derived from the biblical books of Kings I and Chronicles II.

Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba. Solomon was not the oldest son of David, but David promised Bathsheba that Solomon would be the next king. When Davidís elder son Adonijah declared himself king, David ordered his servants to bring Solomon to the Gihon spring where the priest anointed him while David was still alive. Solomon inherited a considerable empire from his father.

At first Solomon was faced with opposition. Two of Davidís closest advisors, Joab son of Zeruiah and the priest Abiathar, sided with Adonijah. When Adonijah came to Solomon and requested the kingís servant as a wife, Solomon saw that this was a veiled threat to take over his kingdom and sent a messenger to kill Adonijah. He banished Abiathar to the city of Anathoth. Solomon then followed his fatherís last instructions in which David had ordered him to kill both Joab and one of his fatherís enemies, Shimei son of Gera. Solomon thus overcame the last potential threats to his kingdom. He then appointed his friends to key military, governmental and religious posts.

Solomon accumulated enormous wealth. He controlled the entire region west of the Euphrates and had peace on his borders. Kings I states that he owned 12,000 horses with horsemen and 1,400 chariots. Remains of stalls for 450 horses have in fact been found in Megiddo. Solomon strengthened his kingdom through marital alliances. Kings I records that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, although some regard this number as an exaggeration.2 He had a large share in the trade between northern and southern countries. He established Israelite colonies around his province to look after military, administrative and commercial matters. The empire was divided into twelve districts, with Judah constituting its own political unit and enjoying certain privileges.

Although Solomon was young, he soon became known for his wisdom. The first and most famous incident of his cleverness as a judge was when two women came to his court with a baby whom both women claimed as their own. Solomon threatened to split the baby in half. One woman was prepared to accept the decision, but the other begged the King to give the live baby to the other woman. Solomen then knew the second woman was the mother.

People from surrounding nations also came to hear Solomonís wisdom. He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. He wrote the Song of Songs, the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

One of the most celebrated visits to Solomon was that of the Queen of Sheba, who came from southern Arabia. Historically, Arabia was a country rich in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Solomon needed Shebaís products and trade routes; the queen of Sheba needed Solomonís cooperation in marketing her countryís goods. The queen came to Solomon with camels carrying spices, gold and precious stones. She asked him questions and riddles and was amazed at his wisdom.

Once Solomonís empire was tranquil, he began to build the Holy Temple. He received wood from King Hiram of Tyre and imposed a compulsory labor service on both the Israelites and the foreign nations that were under his control. His workers built the structure of the Temple, its decorations and its vessels. The Temple took seven years to complete. It was built of stone and cedar, carved within and overlaid with pure gold. When it was done, Solomon dedicated the Temple in a public ceremony of prayers and sacrifices.

Solomon was also renowned for his other building projects in which he used slave labor from the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. He spent 13 years building his own palace, and also built a city wall, a citadel called the Millo, a palace for the daughter of Pharaoh (who was one of his wives) and facilities for foreign traders. He erected cities for chariots and horsemen and created storage cities. He extended Jerusalem to the north and fortified cities near the mountains of Judah and Jerusalem.

Solomonís downfall came in his old age. He had taken many foreign wives, whom he allowed to worship other gods. He even built shrines for the sacrifices of his foreign wives. Within Solomonís kingdom, he placed heavy taxation on the people, who became bitter. He also had the people work as soldiers, chief officers and commanders of his chariots and cavalry. He granted special privileges to the tribes of Judah and this alienated the northern tribes. The prophet Ahijah of Shiloh prophesied that Jeroboam son of Nebat would become king over ten of the 12 tribes, instead of one of Solomonís sons.

Outside Solomonís kingdom, Hadad, of the royal family of Edom, rose up as an adversary of Israel. Rezon son of Eliada, ruler of Aram also fought Solomon, and created tension between the two kingdoms that was to last even after Solomonís reign ended.

Solomon died in Jerusalem after 40 years as ruler of Israel. He was buried in the City of David. His son, Rehoboam succeeded him as king. Under Rehobaumís rule, Solomonís empire was lost and his kingdom was divided into two parts.


Artist's depiction of Solomon's court (Ingobertus, c. 880).


Nicolas Poussin. The Judgment of Solomon


Piero della Francesca. The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon


Piero della Francesca. The Queen of Sheba Meeting with Solomon (detail)


Konrad Witz. King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba


Francesco del Cossa.
The Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba


Tintoretto. The Queen of Sheba and Solomon (ca. 1555). Prado Museum


Frans Francken II. The Idolatry of Solomon


Nicolaus Knupfer. Queen of Sheba before Solomon, 1640s


Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Giovanni Demin, c. 1825


The Judgement of Solomon, Henri-Frederic Schopin, 1842


The Queen of Sheba, Mark Gertler, 1922.


The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

The competing claims of Solomon's successors led to a division of the kingdom. But even thereafter, the rulers of Judah and Israel were subject to strong, primarily religious opposition internally, while external pressure from the Assyrians and Babylonians increased.

After his death in 926 B.C., Solomon's kingdom collapsed. His son Rehoboam, who wanted to continue Solomon's centralist policies, was recognized as king by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, while northern tribes instead chose 10 Jeroboam I, one of Solomon's old adversaries.

The northern kingdom, Israel, was continually shaken by dynastic change. Under King 12 Ahab and his queen Jezebel, a daughter of Ittobaal I of Tyros, social evils and the Baal cult that the queen supported provoked the resistance of the religious leader and prophet 13 Elijah.

10 Seal of King Jeroboam I of Israel,
tenth century B.C.

12 Ahab and Jezebel arrange the murder of
Naboth in order to steal his vineyard,
book illustration, 15th century

13 Prophet Elijah kills a Baal priest wood
carving, 19th century


Upon the instructions of another prophet, Elisha, Jehu usurped the throne about 845 B.C. and killed the widowed Jezebel, her son King Joram, and many Baal adherents. In Judah, too, where the dynasty of David had retained power, the prophetsóIsaiah and Jeremiah in particularówere politically prominent. They criticized not only the religious and social conditions but also the foreign policies of their kings.

These policies were greatly influenced by the 11 Assyrian dominance of the Near East. Beginning in the ninth century B.C., the Assyrians intervened in the royal succession in Israel and then in Judah, helping enthrone their own candidates, who in return offered tribute payments.

Attempts to win independence with the aid of Egypt led to Israel's destruction in 722 B.C. The Assyrians occupied the land, ravaged Samaria, and displaced the population. After Nebuchadressar II expelled the Assyrians and Egyptians from Palestine, he installed Zedekiah as king in Judah. When Zedekiah rebelled in 587 B.C., Nebuchadressar devastated Jerusalem and annexed Judah.

Most of the population was then deported into 14 "Babylonian captivity."

11 King Jehu of Israel and the Assyrian king,
sculpture, ninth century B.C.

14 The Israelites are deported to Babylon,
painting, 19th century



Criticism of Rulers in the Bible

Criticism of rulers in the Near East as recorded in the Bible is unique in its sharpness. The prophet Jeremiah warned the king of Judah and predicted deportation by the Babylonians:

"Say unto the king and to the queen, 'Humble yourselves, sit down: for your principalities shall come down, even the crown of your glory. ... Judah shall be carried away captive all of it, it shall be wholly carried away.'"

(Jeremiah 13:18-19)



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