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 Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes

ca. 1000-200 B.C.


Up to the fourth century B.C., Indo-European mounted nomads ranged the wide steppes of the Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan until the advancing Huns triggered the "Great Migration of Peoples." But even before this, individual tribes left the region and moved into the Mediterranean area, the highlands of Iran, or India. Some, such as the Hittites, Medes, Persians, or the later Parthians, settled down and established kingdoms. Others stayed on the move and were, like the Cimmerians, eventually annihilated by enemies or withdrew back to their original territory of settlement, as the Scythians did.

The Scythians, Sakians, and Sarmatians

Outsiders have frequently sought to divide nomads of the Eurasian steppes into various peoples and tribes. Greek and Roman authors, in particular, attempted to transcribe the flexible organization of these peoples into categories familiar to them.

The homeland of the 2 Scythians is thought to have been in the area of present-day Kazakhstan. Some began to move westward in the first millennium B.C. while the rest—the Sakians—remained. The Scythians drove the Cimmerians, another nomadic people, out of their homeland north of the Black Sea.

They 4 crossed the Caucasus and pushed down into Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. The Persian kings were constantly at war with the various nomadic peoples on the northern borders of their kingdom. In 530 â.ñ.

2 Fight between a tiger and wolf.
Scythian gold plate, sixth ñ. â.ñ.

4 The Earth according to Herodotus, showing the Scythians
and the Massagetae in the far northeast, wood carving, 19th century


1 Cyrus II fell in battle against Tomyris, the Queen of the Massagetae, part of the Sarmatian tribe related to the Scythians and Sakians. Darius I's attempt to subjugate the Scythians in 513-512 B.C. also failed.

1Tomyris kills King Cyrus II.
Book illustration, 14th century

The Persians and other Near East rulers recruited nomads as mercenaries for their armies or made alliances with them. Even in Athens, Scythians were used as police. These peoples and tribes never formed fixed units for a long period of time, but rather joined into confederations under a common figure when an outside threat made it necessary. The Scythian high king Atheas, who died in battle in 339 against Philip II of Macedonia, was one such leader.

Starting in the third century B.C., the Scythians were slowly absorbed by the Sarmatians, and by the first century B.C. only a small group in 5 Crimea remained.

During the "Great Migration of Peoples," most of the Sarmatians merged with the Goths and the Huns. The Sakians arrived in India around 100 B.C., where they established kingdoms that survived for centuries.

5 Scythians offer milk to the Roman poet Ovid living in exile
on the Crimean Peninsula, painting by Delacroix, 19th century


The Scythian Culture and Society

The Scythians left no written records of their own. Greek and Roman sources, along with archaeological finds, provide the only information about their lives.

The leaders of the Scythians were princes and were buried in elaborate burial mounds called kurgans. The dead were often embalmed and interred in a central burial chamber. Many times, the horses of the deceased were buried with them in adjoining chambers, highlighting the importance of these animals to the Scythians.

Weapons and finely worked 6 gold objects were common burial gifts; other items included drinking 9 vessels, jewelry, and armor, and pictures of hunting, battles, or banquet scenes. Domesticated animals seem to have frequently accompanied the dead to their tombs.

Women were also buried with weapons of war, which seems to suggest that not only queens like Tomyris but also common Scythian women may have fought in conflicts.


6 Beard comb with a carved handle showing
Scythian soldiers in combat, ca. 500 B.C.

9 Scythian warriors, gold vessel, fourth century B.C.


10 Women riding on horses in a procession, stone relief, fifth century B.C.



The "Wild" Scythians

Come, friends! let's not shout
and scream
like Scythian drunks
but let us study our wine,
and accompany its drinking
with beautiful songs.

(Anacreon, Greek lyric poet, sixth century B.C.)



3 Sarmatian cavalrymen on armored horses,
detail from Trajan's Piliar, Rome, 113 a.d.

Some historians have cited this as a possible historical basis for the Greek myth of the Asiatic women warriors, the Amazons.

One of the main facts known about the Scythians was their custom of "blood brotherhood," which was widespread among warriors and formed the basis for lifelong fighting bands.

The 3 mounted warriors were lightly armed and wore coats of chain mail for protection. In the hands of skilled archers, poisoned arrows could do great damage from a distance. For close combat, the short sword, battle-ax, and spiked mace were the preferred weapons. Their battle technique— a short, fast attack followed by immediate retreat—was widely feared and gave them the advantage over unwieldy armies of infantry. The Scythians also practiced trade, agriculture, and herding. Scythian grain, furs, livestock, and slaves were exported through the Greek colonies on the Crimean Peninsula.



An Amazon warrior, marble statue, Roman copy of the Greek original, fifth century B.C.


Scythian women warriors, who even led armies, perhaps served as a model for the Amazons of Greek mythology. Like the Scythians, the Amazons were supposed to have lived on the shores of the Black Sea.

They only temporarily lived together with men. Of their children, they only raised the girls. The girls' left breasts were burned off so that later they would not hinder them shooting the bow and arrow—thus, perhaps, the origin of the name Amazon, from amazos (Greek for "without breast").

Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., however, wrote about a matriarchal society in Asia Minor that also could have served as a model for the Amazons.


Marble statue of a wounded Amazon
Roman, imperial period, 1st-2nd century A.D.
Copy of a Greek bronze statue of ca. 450-425 B.C.


Battle of the Amazons, by Peter Paul Rubens


Peter Paul Rubens with Jan Bruegel the Elder, The Battle of the Amazons, about 1598


Dying Amazon, by Franz von Stuck,1905



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