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


see also:


Artists that Changed the World






The Culture of the Greeks and Romans



see also:

Greek and Roman Myths in Art

The Odyssey of Homer

illustrations by John Flaxman


see also EXPLORATION (in Russian):

Homer  "Iliad "and "Odyssey"




The 1 Greek and 2, 3 Roman civilizations of antiquity are regarded today as the origins of Western civilization. The Greek thirst for knowledge and structure and the Roman achievements in political organization have shaped European culture to the present day, and their influence has radiated out to other parts of the world as well.

1 Greek theater in Syracuse
2 Forum Romanum
3 The Roman theater of Leptis Magna, Libya

Greek Literature and Philosophy

There are vastly differing opinions concerning the essential nature of ancient Greek culture. The Greeks are regarded as the true inventors of political and historical thought, but also as the proponents of rationalism and science. Their complex system of myths and gods continues to fascinate, and their sense of art and aesthetics is admired.

In addition to their contribution to political evolution, the Greeks influenced Western attitudes and literature with their early epics, particularly 4 Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (ninth century B.C.). While 5 Hesiod, in his Theogony, wrote about the fates of the gods, Homer made the human and social aspects of individually fashioned figures the focus of his epic tales. For this reason, the Greeks are considered to be the forerunners of later Western Individualism.

4 Homert; Hesiod

Pandora in front of Prometheus and Epimetheus,
from Hesiod's Theogony

The Greek culture, with its thirst for knowledge, was the first to make the conceptual transition from myths to Logos. The Greeks no longer believed in a world ordained solely by the gods, but sought to understand the world around them by inquiring into the origin of things and the ordering structure of the cosmos. From the 7 Ionian natural philosophers of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., the search for the primary building blocks of life and for the governing principles that guide nature dominated Greek thought through the appearance of Socrates, Plato, and 6 Aristotle. These three great philosophers replaced the capricious gods with natural laws and so stimulated the development of sciences, including mathematics, physics, and engineering.

As a result of intensive observation of nature, biology developed, along with a self-awareness of humans as observers and manipulators of nature. This self-awareness found expression in a desire for political freedom and independence, which for a long time hindered the creation of a united Greek state. It took the wars against Persia and pressure from Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great to bring about a cosmopolitan Hellenism that culturally overarched and politically united the city-states. It was the formation of the Diadoch empires of Alexander and the Diadochi that first made possible the link between Eastern and Western cultural influences that went on to characterize the Mediterranean area.

7 Anaximander, natural philosopher from Milet,
with sundial, ca. 610-546 â.ñ

6 The school of Aristotle,
fresco by G. A, Spangenberg, 1883-88

see also text


and collection

Aristotle and P


The Achievements of Roman Civilization

Roman culture appears more "practical" than that of ancient Greece. Its outstanding contributions to intellectual-historical development lie more in state administration and law—areas in which they shaped subsequent history—than in philosophy. Collections of laws were written and then continually supplemented—from the biblical Ten Commandments to the comprehensive Justinian Codes.

Even the ethical philosophy of 12 Cicero or Seneca was written in the service of the Roman Empire and Rome's claim to political and cultural world dominance.

12 Marcus Tullius Cicero,
Roman orator, politician, and writer

In its early period, 14 Rome was a small, free republic with an almost puritanical code of laws.

14 The center of ancient Rome during Emperor Septimus Severus's reign, artist's reconstruction

In the course of its ambitious expansion, Rome gradually overwrote its own laws in favor of foreign, particularly Hellenistic, ideas of governance, which it then integrated into its concept of empire; this was particularly the case under the rule of Julius Caesar. The adoption and integration of foreign cults and ideas eventually allowed for the ascendancy of Christianity, a sect of Judaic origin, until it was established as the religion of all territories of the empire. Within its vast realm, Rome projected the image of a disciplined and militarily invincible organizing power.

Proof of the Roman Empire's impressive engineering capabilities can be seen not only in the many 10 temples and magnificent buildings in Rome and other important centers but also in the garrisons and settlements constructed throughout the empire, the well-developed road networks, the 9 aqueducts, the luxurious thermal baths and 8 villas, and even the capital's ingeniously devised 13 sewage system.

8 Villa Hadriana in Tivoli, built under Emperor Hadrian
9 The Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, first ñ a.d.
10 Arch of Titus, part of the Forum Romanum, 81 A.D.

Roman culture demonstrated the intense interaction of the empire's center and its provinces. Rome exported its state and administrative structures and imported finished products, luxury articles, and art—along with ideas and religions. The innumerable military triumphs of the consuls and emperors were celebrated with imposing state celebrations. Under the motto of "bread and circuses," the emperors of Rome, and later also of the Byzantine Empire, entertained the masses with chariot races and bloodthirsty 11 gladiatorial combat in great arenas such as the "Circus Maximus" or Colosseum.

The long existence of the Roman Empire is impressive considering the many upheavals, political reorientations, and the constant social unrest that shaped its history. It developed from a republic founded in the sixth century B.C. to a sprawling world empire by the beginning of the Christian era and survived even the fall of the city of Rome itself in 476 a.d. The Roman legacy was carried on not only by the Byzantin Empire, lasting until 1453, but also by Charlemagne at his coronation in 800 as emperor of the Frankish-German Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne combined the Roman idea of universal emperor and belief system of Christianity, with its supranational and intercultural ideals, and thereby ushered in the first renaissance of classical thought in the transition from Roman antiquity European to the Middle Ages.

13 Cloaca Maxima in Rome, sewage pipe
leading to the Tiber River

11 Gladiators, relief, ca. 50 a.d.


Crete and Mycenae -
The Beginnings of Greek Culture

2500- 750 B.C


 Greece was the earliest influential culture of the West. The Minoan and Mycenaean cultures were its first manifestations. The Minoan culture on Crete was characterized by palace cities, extensive trade networks, and sophisticated artwork, while the mainland culture of Mycenae was warlike and its architecture dominated by castles and defensive structures. The myth of the Trojan War, set in the Mycenaean era, clearly illustrates ancient Greece's self-image as a fiercely protective defender of its honor and freedom. The Trojan episode facilitated Greece's assertion of its cultural independence.

Minoan Crete

The 1 Minoan culture is the oldest precursor of Greek culture. Minoan Crete maintained intensive trade contacts throughout the Mediterranean area. The characteristic cult symbols of the Minoans were the double ax (the sacred labrys) and the bull.

1 The Phaistos Disc, burnt clay impressed with Minoan hieroglyphics, 1700-1 600 B.C.

Between 2500 and 1300 B.C., Minoan culture developed on the island of Crete on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The oldest high civilization of the area, it has been named after Minos, a mythical ruler of Crete in the city of Knossos. The settlements of the first Minoans—farmers who probably emigrated from Asia Minor—were situated in the east of the island. From here, the Minoans spread throughout Crete. Crete's favorable geographical position encouraged a flourishing trade with Phoenicia and the states of the ancient Near East. Cultural influences and important raw materials reached Crete from Egypt and Mesopotamia.

On Crete, there is evidence of metalworking and the production of faience such as 2 Kamares ware, which was exported throughout the Mediterranean. The Minoans had a developed commercial and urban life, while they cultivated vines and olive orchards to produce wine and olive oil.

The head of the Minoan pantheon was a great 3 goddess, so it is often assumed that the original culture was a matriarchy.

The Minoan religion, in which the king acted as high priest, had its shrines on mountains or in caves, and practiced human sacrifice to pacify the gods. Nevertheless, there were no monumental statues of deities.

The symbols of the great goddess were the 4 double ax (labrys), the 5 bull, and stylized 7 bull's horns (bucmnia). The bull had great significance as a sacrificial animal.

The 6 wall paintings from this period often depict humans leaping over the backs of charging bulls. Indications of a warlike tradition that was characteristic of the later Greeks are less apparent on Crete.


2 Clay vessel, example of Kamares ware,
ca. 1800 B.C.

3 Sculpture of a goddess,
17th century B.C.

4 Minoan vessel,
decorated with the double ax motif


5 Late Minoan vessel for donatives,
shaped like a bull's head

6 Acrobats leap over the back of a charging bull,
Minoan fresco,1 6th century B.C.



7 Set of bull's horns decorate the entrance
to the palace of Knossos


The Palace Cities of Crete

The Minoan palace cities on Crete were political, economic, and cultural centers and were laid out according to a uniform pattern. The most significant of these was the capital palace city of Knossos.

The Minoan social order, which centered on the ruler, was reflected in the layout of their cities. The king's palace was always at the center. It served as a political, economic, and cultural focal point. The king probably exercised religious functions, but neither the names nor representations of the rulers have survived. The palaces had a uniform layout. The palace wings contained a great number of rooms in a labyrinth arrangement and were grouped around a rectangular interior courtyard, complete with a modern drainage system providing flushing latrines. Notable colorful 11 fresco wall paintings dating back to 2000 B.C. display a wide range of subjects. Art had a primarily decorative function in the early periods, but naturalistic representations of plants, 9 people, and animals, for example 12 dolphins, later came to predominate.

9 Minoan prince carrying lilies and wearing a feather crown, Minoan relief. 16th century B.C.

11 Frescoes in the throne room Knossos

12 Ceiling frescoes depicting
dolphins in queen's Throne Room
in the palace of Knossos

The most important palace on Crete was that of 8, 10 Knossos with its two- to four-story palace wings.

It was first discovered by archaeologists in 1834 and is situated around four miles from Candia. It was excavated in 1900 by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Villas and houses were arranged around the palace, while the burial sites were located outside the city. At its height, 80,000 people probably lived in Knossos. There may have been as many as a thousand rooms, all skillfully lit by natural light. An earthquake destroyed the early palace at Knossos about 1750 B.C. It was rebuilt and encompassed more than 200,000 square feet, which suggests that the ruler of Knossos had a position of supremacy on Crete. Subsequent earthquakes on Crete also leveled a portion of these buildings.

Besides Knossos, palace cities existed in Malliain the north, Zakros to the east, and Phaistos farther south. This last was built on terraces at different levels. There was also the "summer residence" of Hagia Triada. Minoan settlements were found outside Crete on Santorini (Thera), but the island was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1628 B.C. About 1450 B.C. Crete, including Knossos, was overrun by the Myccnaeans. The assault of the Dorians around 1230 B.C. led to the destruction of the Mycenaean culture, including the high civilization on Crete. By 1100 B.C., Crete had become part of mainland Greek culture.

8 Hall of the Double Axes" in the palace of Knossos

10 Palace of Knossos ca. 1 520 B.C.,



Minos and the

According to legend, King Minos of Crete was the son of Zeus and Europa.

He failed to sacrifice a white bull sent from the sea by Poseidon, and for this the sea god took revenge. He made Minos's wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull, and she bore a half-man, half-bull monster, the Minotaur. The king confined the Minotaur in the Labyrinth constructed by Daedalus.

Sevenyouths and seven maidens were sacrificed to him annually until Theseus finally defeated and killed him. Minos died in Sicily and became a judge of the underworld.


Theseus slays the Minotaur,
detailed miniature painting
on the inside surface of a clay bowl


The Mycenaean Culture and Troy

The Mycenaean civilization was characterized by its warrior aristocracy and its fortified cities. The saga of Troy plays an essential part in illustrating the character of these warrior kingdoms.

Around 1600-1200 B.C., the Achaians migrated from the north into Greece, where they established city-states in the Aegean islands, in Attica, and on the Peloponnesus. Homer uses the term Achaians to refer to all the Greeks.

They maintained a 2 martial social structure, which was mirrored in the arrangement of their palaces, castles, and cities. Most of the castles in which the warrior aristocracy resided were fortified and the cities enclosed by walls.

2 Mycenaean warriors mount wooden
chariots and prepare for battle

For a long period of time, the most important city was 4, 6 Mycenae, after which the whole Aegean culture of this period is named.

4 The Lion Gate at Mycenae
6 Fortified castle in the area of Mycenae, second century B.C.

Little is known of the social organization of the Mycenaean city-state.

It was probably a centrally administered palace bureaucracy with close ties between the religious cult and its rulers such as Atreus and his son 5 Agamemnon.

5 The "treasury of Atreus" or the "tomb of Agamemnon," tomb, 14th ñ B.C.

The economy was based primarily on agriculture and 1 metal-working.

1 Decorated dagger made of bronze,
gold, silver, and niello, 16th century B.C.

There were military conflicts among the various Aegean seats of power, as well as with Minoan Crete and the states of Asia Minor, such as Troy. There is still no clear consensus about the causes behind the fall of the Mycenaean culture. Natural catastrophes or internal social upheaval may have led to the demise of this civilization sometime between 1200 and 1000 B.C.

7 Excavation works in Troy,
led by Hemrich Schliemann, 1870-1882

The destruction of Troy by the Greeks, as immortalized by Homer's Illiad, is undoubtedly connected with the migratory movements of aggressive sea peoples such as the Philistines, who drove whole populations from their territories. Nevertheless, the sagas of heroism in the battle for Troy became a model for the whole culture of classical Greece.

German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began the 7 excavation of Troy in 1870 in the mound of ruins at Hissarlik, in modern Turkey.

He believed the account in the Iliad to be historical reality and therefore dated his finds— treasures of gold and silver Ironi the second stratum of his excavation, which he reached in 1873, including what he believed to be the 3 "Mask of Agamemnon"— to the time of the Trojan War.

However, his oldest finds were distinctly older (ca. 2500-2200 B.C.) than this chronology suggests, in 1874, Schliemann also started excavations of Mycenae, where he found relics of a civilization which linked Greece and Cyprus.

3 The "Mask of Agamemnon," from the 16th century B.C.



From Homer's Iliad

"And then, last, Achilles drew his father's spear

from its socket-stand -weighted, heavy, tough.

No other Achaean fighter could heft that shaft,

only Achilles had the skill to wield it well:

Pelian ash it was, a gift to his father Peleus

presented by Chiron once, hewn on Pelion's crest

to be the death of heroes."



The Trojan War

The Trojan Horse stands amid the ruins of the fallen city


Achilles kills Hector
outside the walls of Troy

According to Homer's Iliad, the Trojan War began with the abduction of Helena—the wife of Menelaus of Sparta—by Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy. Under the leadership of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus, the Greeks began a ten-year siege of Troy.

The climactic episode in Homer's account is the victory of the Greek hero Achilles over the Trojan hero Hector. A ruse by Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin)— the "Trojan horse"—decided the war in favor of the Greeks. The partisanship of the gods and the moral ambiguity of the conflict characterize Homer's work.


The Rape of Helena, by Guido Reni, 1631



Trojan War

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Legendary conflict between the early Greeks and the people of Troy in western Anatolia, dated by later Greek authors to the 12th or 13th century bc. (See Troy.) The war stirred the imagination of the ancient Greeks more than any other event in their history, and was celebrated in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, as well as a number of other early works now lost, and frequently provided material for the great dramatists of the Classical Age. It also figures in the literature of the Romans (e.g., Virgil’s Aeneid) and of later European peoples down to the 20th century.

In the traditional accounts, Paris, son of the Trojan king, ran off with Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, whose brother Agamemnon then led a Greek expedition against Troy. The ensuing war lasted 10 years, finally ending when the Greeks pretended to withdraw, leaving behind them a large wooden horse with a raiding party concealed inside. When the Trojans brought the horse into their city, the hidden Greeks opened the gates to their comrades, who then sacked Troy, massacred its men, and carried off its women. This version was recorded centuries later; the extent to which it reflects actual historical events is not known.

The Trojan War

The Classical legends of the Trojan War developed continuously throughout Greek and Latin literature. In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the earliest literary evidence available, the chief stories have already taken shape, and individual themes were elaborated later, especially in Greek drama. The story of the Trojan origin, through Aeneas, of Rome helped to inspire Roman interest; Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid contains the best-known account of the sack of Troy. Finally there are the pseudo-chronicles that go under the names of Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius.

The Trojan War fought between the Greeks and Troy originated in the following manner. King Priam of Troy was wealthy and powerful; by his wife Hecuba and by concubines he had 50 sons and 12 daughters. But his son Paris was invited to judge which of the goddesses Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena was entitled to receive the golden apple marked by the goddess Eris (Discord) “for the most beautiful.” Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in the world: he therefore awarded her the apple and went to Greece, where he won the love of, and eloped with, Helen, wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta.

To recover Helen, the Greeks launched a great expedition under the overall command of Menelaus’s brother, Agamemnon, king of Argos or Mycenae. The Trojans refused to return Helen. Small towns in or near the Troad were sacked by the Greeks, but Troy, assisted by allies from Asia Minor and Thrace, withstood a Greek siege for 10 years. The gods also took sides, notably Hera, Athena, and Poseidon for the Greeks, and Aphrodite (who had a son, Aeneas, by the Trojan Anchises, grandson of Assaracus), Apollo, and Ares for the Trojans. The Iliad, which is set in the 10th year of the war, tells of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, who was the finest Greek warrior, and the consequent deaths in battle of (among others) Achilles’ friend Patroclus and Priam’s eldest son, Hector.

After Hector’s death the Trojans were joined by two exotic allies, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, and Memnon, king of the Ethiopians and son of the dawn-goddess Eos. Achilles killed both of these, but Paris then managed to kill Achilles with an arrow. Before they could take Troy, the Greeks had to steal from the citadel the wooden image of Pallas Athena (the Palladium) and fetch the arrows of Heracles and the sick archer Philoctetes from Lemnos and Achilles’ son Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus) from Skyros; Odysseus and Diomedes achieved all these. Finally, with Athena’s help, Epeius built a huge wooden horse. Several Greek warriors hid inside it; the rest of the Greek army sailed away to Tenedos, a nearby island, pretending to abandon the siege. Despite the warnings of Priam’s daughter Cassandra, the Trojans were persuaded by Sinon, a Greek who feigned desertion, to take the horse inside the walls of Troy as an offering to Athena; the priest Laocoon, who tried to have the horse destroyed, was killed by sea-serpents. At night the Greek fleet returned, and the Greeks from the horse opened the gates of Troy. In the total sack that followed, Priam and his remaining sons were slaughtered; the Trojan women passed into slavery in various cities of Greece. The adventurous homeward voyages of the Greek leaders were told in two epics, the Returns (Nostoi; lost) and Homer’s Odyssey.

The few Trojan survivors included Aeneas, whose descendants continued to rule the Trojans; later tradition took Aeneas’s Trojans to Italy as the ancestors of the Romans.

Medieval legends
Medieval European writers, unacquainted with Homer firsthand, found in the Troy legend a rich source of heroic and romantic storytelling and a convenient framework into which to fit their own courtly and chivalric ideals. The chief sources for medieval versions of the story were fictitious eyewitness accounts of the Trojan War by Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius. The key work in the medieval exploitation of the Trojan theme was a French romance, the Roman de Troie (1154–60), by Benoît de Sainte-Maure.

Later medieval writers used the Roman de Troie until it was superseded by a Latin prose account, the Historia destructionis Troiae (c. 1287; “History of the Destruction of Troy”), by Guido delle Colonne. The French author Raoul Le Fèvre’s Recueil des histoires de Troye (1464), an account based on Guido, was translated into English by William Caxton and became the first book to be printed in English as The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye (c. 1474). See also Trojan War.

Trojan horse
huge, hollow wooden horse constructed by the Greeks to gain entrance into Troy during the Trojan War. The horse was built by Epeius, master carpenter and pugilist. The Greeks, pretending to desert the war, sailed to the nearby island of Tenedos, leaving behind Sinon, who persuaded the Trojans that the horse was an offering to Athena that would make Troy impregnable. Despite the warnings of Laocoon and Cassandra, the horse was taken inside. That night warriors emerged from it and opened the city’s gates to the returned Greek army. The story is told at length in Book II of the Aeneid and is touched upon in the Odyssey. The term Trojan horse has come to refer to subversion introduced from the outside.

in Greek mythology, son of the mortal Peleus, king of the Myrmidons, and the Nereid, or sea nymph, Thetis. He was the bravest, handsomest, and greatest warrior of the army of Agamemnon in the Trojan War. According to Homer, Achilles was brought up by his mother at Phthia with his cousin and inseparable companion Patroclus. One of the non-Homeric tales of his childhood relates that Thetis dipped Achilles in the waters of the River Styx, by which he became invulnerable, except for the part of his heel by which she held him—the proverbial “Achilles’ heel.”

The later mythographers related that Peleus, having received an oracle that his son would die fighting at Troy, sent Achilles to the court of Lycomedes on Scyros, where he was dressed as a girl and kept among the king’s daughters (one of whom, Deïdamia, bore him Neoptolemus). Hearing from the soothsayer Calchas that Troy could not be taken without Achilles, the Greeks searched for and found him.

During the first nine years of the war, Achilles ravaged the country around Troy and took 12 cities. In the 10th year a quarrel with Agamemnon occurred when Achilles insisted that Agamemnon restore Chryseis, his prize of war, to her father, a priest of Apollo, so as to appease the wrath of Apollo, who had decimated the camp with a pestilence. An irate Agamemnon recouped his loss by depriving Achilles of his favourite slave, Briseis.

Achilles refused further service, and consequently the Greeks floundered so badly that at last Achilles allowed Patroclus to impersonate him, lending him his chariot and armour. Hector (the eldest son of King Priam of Troy) slew Patroclus, and Achilles, having finally reconciled with Agamemnon, obtained new armour from the god Hephaestus and slew Hector. After dragging Hector’s body behind his chariot, Achilles gave it to Priam at his earnest entreaty. The Iliad concludes with the funeral rites of Hector. It makes no mention of the death of Achilles, though the Odyssey mentions his funeral. The poet Arctinus in his Aethiopis took up the story of the Iliad and related that Achilles, having slain the Ethiopian king Memnon and the Amazon Penthesilea, was himself slain in battle by Priam’s son Paris, whose arrow was guided by Apollo.

mythical hero of Troy and Rome, son of the goddess Aphrodite and Anchises. Aeneas was a member of the royal line at Troy and cousin of Hector. He played a prominent part in the war to defend his city against the Greeks, being second only to Hector in ability. Homer implies that Aeneas did not like his subordinate position, and from that suggestion arose a later tradition that Aeneas helped to betray Troy to the Greeks. The more common version, however, made Aeneas the leader of the Trojan survivors after Troy was taken by the Greeks. In any case, Aeneas survived the war, and his figure was thus available to compilers of Roman myth.

The association of Homeric heroes with Italy and Sicily goes back to the 8th century bc, and the Greek colonies founded there in that and the next century frequently claimed descent from leaders in the Trojan War. Legend connected Aeneas, too, with certain places and families, especially in Latium. As Rome expanded over Italy and the Mediterranean, its patriotic writers began to construct a mythical tradition that would at once dignify their land with antiquity and satisfy a latent dislike of Greek cultural superiority. The fact that Aeneas, as a Trojan, represented an enemy of the Greeks and that tradition left him free after the war made him peculiarly fit for the part assigned him, i.e., the founding of Roman greatness.

It was Virgil who gave the various strands of legend related to Aeneas the form they have possessed ever since. The family of Julius Caesar, and consequently of Virgil’s patron Augustus, claimed descent from Aeneas, whose son Ascanius was also called Iulus. Incorporating these different traditions, Virgil created his masterpiece, the Aeneid, the Latin epic poem whose hero symbolized not only the course and aim of Roman history but also the career and policy of Augustus himself. In the journeying of Aeneas from Troy westward to Sicily, Carthage, and finally to the mouth of the Tiber in Italy, Virgil portrayed the qualities of persistence, self-denial, and obedience to the gods that, to the poet, built Rome.

The Aeneid (written c. 29–19 bc) tells in 12 books of the legendary foundation of Lavinium (parent town of Alba Longa and of Rome) by Aeneas after he left the burning ruins of Troy to found under supernatural guidance a new city with a glorious destiny in the West.

When Troy fell to the Greeks, Virgil recounts, Aeneas, who had fought bravely to the last, was commanded by Hector in a vision to flee and to found a great city overseas. Aeneas gathered his family and followers and took the household gods (small images) of Troy, but, in the confusion of leaving the burning city, his wife disappeared. Her ghost informed him that he was to go to a western land where the Tiber River flowed. He then embarked upon his long voyage, touching at Thrace, Crete, and Sicily and meeting with numerous adventures that culminated in shipwreck on the coast of Africa near Carthage. There he was received by Dido, the widowed queen, to whom he told his story. They fell in love, and he lingered there until he was sharply reminded by Mercury that Rome was his goal. Guilty and wretched, he immediately abandoned Dido, who committed suicide, and Aeneas sailed on until he finally reached the mouth of the Tiber. There he was well received by Latinus, the king of the region, but other Italians, notably Latinus’ wife and Turnus, leader of the Rutuli, resented the arrival of the Trojans and the projected marriage alliance between Aeneas and Lavinia, Latinus’ daughter. War broke out, but the Trojans were successful and Turnus was killed. Aeneas then married Lavinia and founded Lavinium.

The death of Aeneas is described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. After he had fallen in battle against the Rutuli, his body could not be found, and he was thereafter worshiped as a local god, Juppiter indiges, as Livy reports.

in Greek legend, king of Mycenae or Argos. He was the son (or grandson) of Atreus, king of Mycenae, and his wife Aërope and was the brother of Menelaus. After Atreus was murdered by his nephew Aegisthus (son of Thyestes), Agamemnon and Menelaus took refuge with Tyndareus, king of Sparta, whose daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen, they respectively married. By Clytemnestra, Agamemnon had a son, Orestes, and three daughters, Iphigeneia (Iphianassa), Electra (Laodice), and Chrysothemis. Menelaus succeeded Tyndareus, and Agamemnon recovered his father’s kingdom.

When Paris (Alexandros), son of King Priam of Troy, carried off Helen, Agamemnon called on the princes of the country to unite in a war of revenge against the Trojans. He himself furnished 100 ships and was chosen commander in chief of the combined forces. The fleet assembled at the port of Aulis in Boeotia but was prevented from sailing by calms or contrary winds that were sent by the goddess Artemis because Agamemnon had in some way offended her. To appease the wrath of Artemis, Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice his own daughter Iphigeneia.

After the capture of Troy, Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, fell to Agamemnon’s lot in the distribution of the prizes of war. On his return he landed in Argolis, where Aegisthus, who in the interval had seduced Agamemnon’s wife, treacherously carried out the murders of Agamemnon, his comrades, and Cassandra. In Agamemnon, by the Greek poet and dramatist Aeschylus, however, Clytemnestra was made to do the killing. The murder was avenged by Orestes, who returned to slay both his mother and her paramour.

in Greek legend, son of Telamon, king of Salamis, described in the Iliad as being of great stature and colossal frame, second only to the Greek hero Achilles in strength and bravery. He engaged Hector (the chief Trojan warrior) in single combat and later, with the aid of the goddess Athena, rescued the body of Achilles from the hands of the Trojans. He competed with the Greek hero Odysseus for the armour of Achilles but lost, which so enraged him that it caused his death. According to a later story Ajax’ disappointment drove him mad. On coming to his senses he slew himself with the sword that he had received as a present from Hector. The legend has it that from his blood sprang a red flower that bore on its leaves the initial letters of his name, AI, letters that are also expressive of lament. Ajax was the tutelary hero of the island of Salamis, where he had a temple and an image and where a festival called Aianteia was celebrated in his honour.

in Greek mythology, the son of Thestor (a priest of Apollo) and the most famous soothsayer among the Greeks at the time of the Trojan War. He played an important role in the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that begins Homer’s Iliad. According to the lost poems of the Epic Cycle (a collection of at least 13 ancient Greek poems, many of them concerning the Trojan War), Calchas foretold the duration of the siege of Troy, demanded the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, daughter of Agamemnon (king of Mycenae), and advised the construction of the wooden horse with which the Greeks finally took Troy. It had been predicted that he should die when he met his superior in divination; the prophecy was fulfilled when Calchas met Mopsus (who was the son of Apollo and Manto, the daughter of the blind Theban seer Tiresias), after the war, at Claros in Asia Minor or at Siris in Italy. Beaten in a trial of soothsaying, Calchas died of chagrin or committed suicide.

in Greek legend, the son of Tydeus, the Aetolian hero who was one of the Seven Against Thebes. Diomedes was the commander of 80 Argive ships and one of the most respected leaders in the Trojan War. His famous exploits include the wounding of Aphrodite, the slaughter of Rhesus and his Thracians, and seizure of the Trojan Palladium, the sacred image of the goddess Pallas Athena that protected Troy. After the war Diomedes returned home to find that his wife had been unfaithful (Aphrodite’s punishment) and that his claim to the throne of Argos was disputed. Fleeing for his life, he sailed to Italy and founded Argyripa (later Arpi) in Apulia, eventually making peace with the Trojans. He was worshipped as a hero in Argos and Metapontum. According to Roman sources, his companions were turned into birds by Aphrodite, and, hostile to all but Greeks, they lived on the Isles of Diomedes off Apulia.

in Greek legend, the eldest son of the Trojan king Priam and his queen Hecuba. He was the husband of Andromache and the chief warrior of the Trojan army. In Homer’s Iliad he is represented as an ideal warrior and the mainstay of Troy. His character is drawn in most favourable colours as a good son, a loving husband and father, and a trusty friend. His leave-taking of Andromache in the sixth book of the Iliad, and his departure to meet Achilles for the last time, are movingly described. He is an especial favourite of Apollo, and later poets even described him as son of that god. His chief exploits during the Trojan War were his defense of the wounded Sarpedon, his fight with Ajax, son of Telamon (his particular enemy), and the storming of the Greek ramparts. When Achilles, enraged with Agamemnon, deserted the Greeks, Hector drove them back to their ships, which he almost succeeded in burning. Patroclus, the friend of Achilles, who came to the help of the Greeks, was slain by Hector with the help of Apollo. Then Achilles, to revenge his friend’s death, returned to the war, slew Hector, dragged his body behind his chariot to the camp, and afterward round the tomb of Patroclus. Aphrodite and Apollo preserved it from corruption and mutilation. Priam, guarded by Hermes, went to Achilles and prevailed on him to give back the body, which was buried with great honour. Hector was afterward worshipped in the Troad and also at Tanagra, east of Thebes.

in Greek legend, the most beautiful woman of Greece and the indirect cause of the Trojan War. She was daughter of Zeus, either by Leda or by Nemesis, and sister of the Dioscuri. As a young girl she was carried off by Theseus, but she was rescued by her brothers. She was also the sister of Clytemnestra, who married Agamemnon. Her suitors came from all parts of Greece, and from among them she chose Menelaus, Agamemnon’s younger brother. During an absence of Menelaus, however, Helen fled to Troy with Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam; when Paris was slain, she married his brother Deiphobus, whom she betrayed to Menelaus when Troy was subsequently captured. Menelaus and she then returned to Sparta, where they lived happily until their deaths.

According to a variant of the story, Helen, in widowhood, was driven out by her stepsons and fled to Rhodes, whose queen, Polyxo, hanged her in revenge for the loss of her husband Tlepolemus in the Trojan War. The poet Stesichorus, however, related in his second version of her story that she and Paris were driven ashore on the coast of Egypt and that Helen was detained there by King Proteus. The Helen carried on to Troy was thus a phantom, and the real one was recovered by her husband from Egypt after the war. This version of the story was used by Euripides in his play Helen.

Helen was worshipped and had a festival at Therapnae in Laconia; she also had a temple at Rhodes, where she was worshipped as Dendritis (the tree goddess). Like her brothers, the Dioscuri, she was a patron deity of sailors. Her name is pre-Hellenic and in cult may go back to the pre-Greek periods.

in Greek legend, son of King Priam of Troy and his wife Hecuba, brother of Hector, and twin brother of the prophetess Cassandra. According to Homer he was a seer and warrior. After the death of Paris in the Trojan War, Helenus paid suit to Helen but when she rejected him for his brother, Deiphobus, he withdrew in indignation to Mt. Ida, where he was captured by the Greeks. Other accounts, however, relate that Odysseus captured him, or he surrendered voluntarily in disgust at the treacherous murder of Achilles. He told the Greeks that in order to capture Troy they must gain possession of the Trojans’ image of Pallas Athena (the Palladium), and they must slay Paris with the help of Achilles’ son Neoptolemus and of Philoctetes, who possessed the bow of Heracles.

Helenus and Andromache, his brother Hector’s widow, were later taken by Neoptolemus to Epirus. After Neoptolemus’ death, Helenus married Andromache and became ruler of the country. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Book III, Aeneas visits them on his way to Italy. They have reconstructed a new Troy, and Aeneas must found a new city.

in Greek legend, a seer and a priest of the god Apollo; he was the son of Agenor of Troy or, according to some, the brother of Anchises (the father of the hero Aeneas). Laocoön offended Apollo by breaking his oath of celibacy and begetting children or by having sexual intercourse with his wife in Apollo’s sanctuary. Thus, while preparing to sacrifice a bull on the altar of the god Poseidon (a task that had fallen to him by lot), Laocoön and his twin sons, Antiphas and Thymbraeus (also called Melanthus), were crushed to death by two great sea serpents, Porces and Chariboea (or Curissia or Periboea), sent by Apollo. A much better-known reason for his punishment was that he had warned the Trojans against accepting the wooden horse left by the Greeks. This legend found its most famous expressions in Virgil’s Aeneid (ii, 109 et seq.) and in the Laocoön statue (now in the Vatican Museum) attributed by Pliny the Elder to three Rhodian sculptors, Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus. The statue was for a time in the palace of the Emperor Titus (ad 79–81). After its rediscovery during the Renaissance, it regained its exalted reputation, inspiring Gotthold Lessing’s famous essay on art, Laocoon (1766).

in Greek mythology, son of Tithonus (son of Laomedon, legendary king of Troy) and Eos (Dawn) and king of the Ethiopians. He was a post-Homeric hero, who, after the death of the Trojan warrior Hector, went to assist his uncle Priam, the last king of Troy, against the Greeks. He performed prodigies of valour but was slain by the Greek hero Achilles. According to tradition, Zeus, the king of the gods, was moved by the tears of Eos and bestowed immortality upon Memnon. His companions were changed into birds, called Memnonides, that came every year to fight and lament over his grave. The combat between Achilles and Memnon was often represented by Greek artists, and the story of Memnon was the subject of the lost Aethiopis of Arctinus of Miletus (fl. c. 650 bc).

In Egypt the name of Memnon was connected with the colossal (70-foot [21-metre]) stone statues of Amenhotep III near Thebes, two of which still remain. The more northerly of these was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 27 bc, resulting in a curious phenomenon. Every morning, when the rays of the rising sun touched the statue, it gave forth musical sounds like the twang of a harp string. This was supposed to be the voice of Memnon responding to the greeting of his mother, Eos. After the restoration of the statue by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (ad 170) the sounds ceased; they were attributed to the passage of air through the pores of the stone, caused chiefly by the change of temperature at sunrise.

in Greek mythology, king of Sparta and the younger son of Atreus, king of Mycenae; the abduction of his wife, Helen, led to the Trojan War. During the war Menelaus served under his elder brother Agamemnon, the commander in chief of the Greek forces. When Phrontis, one of his crewmen, was killed, Menelaus delayed his voyage until the man had been buried, thus giving evidence of his strength of character. After the fall of Troy, Menelaus recovered Helen and brought her home. Menelaus was a prominent figure in the Iliad and the Odyssey, where he was promised a place in Elysium after his death because he was married to a daughter of Zeus. The poet Stesichorus (fl. 6th century bc) introduced a refinement to the story that was used by Euripides in his play Helen: it was a phantom that was taken to Troy, while the real Helen went to Egypt, from where she was rescued by Menelaus after he had been wrecked on his way home from Troy and the phantom Helen had disappeared.

in Greek legend, the son of Nauplius (king of Euboea) and Clymene and a hero of the Trojan War. Palamedes is a prominent figure in post-Homeric legends about the siege of Troy. Before the war, according to the lost epic Cypria, he exposed the trickery of Odysseus, who had feigned madness to avoid military service; by placing the infant Telemachus in the path of Odysseus’ plow in the field, he forced that king to admit his sanity.

During the siege of Troy, Palamedes alternated with two other Greek heroes, Odysseus and Diomedes, in guiding the army in the field, but his ability aroused their envy. In the Cypria the other two drowned Palamedes while fishing or persuaded him to seek treasure in a well, which they thereupon filled with stones. In various lost tragedies, Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Odysseus had an agent steal into his tent and conceal a letter that contained money and purported to come from King Priam of Troy. They then accused Palamedes of treasonable correspondence with the enemy, and he was stoned to death. His father, Nauplius, avenged him, first by visiting the homes of Greek leaders and encouraging their wives to commit adultery and, then when the men were at sea, burning a light to lead their ships onto dangerous rocks.

Palamedes had a reputation for sagacity, and the ancients attributed a number of inventions to him, including the alphabet, numbers, weights and measures, coinage, board games, and the practice of eating at regular intervals.

in Greek legend, son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba. A dream regarding his birth was interpreted as an evil portent, and he was consequently expelled from his family as an infant. Left for dead, he was either nursed by a bear or found by shepherds. He was raised as a shepherd, unknown to his parents. As a young man he entered a boxing contest at a Trojan festival, in which he defeated Priam’s other sons. After his identity was revealed, he was received home again by Priam.

The “judgment of Paris” was and continues to be a popular theme in art. According to legend, Paris, while he was still a shepherd, was chosen by Zeus to determine which of three goddesses was the most beautiful. Rejecting bribes of kingly power from Hera and military might from Athena, he chose Aphrodite and accepted her bribe to help him win the most beautiful woman alive. His seduction of Helen (the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta) and refusal to return her was the cause of the Trojan War. During the war Paris seems to have had a secondary role: a good warrior but inferior to his brother Hector and to the Greek leaders whom he faced. Menelaus would have defeated Paris in single combat, but Aphrodite rescued him, and the war continued.

Near the end of the war, Paris shot the arrow that, by Apollo’s help, caused the death of the hero Achilles. Paris himself, soon after, received a fatal wound from an arrow shot by the rival archer Philoctetes.

Greek legendary hero who played a decisive part in the final stages of the Trojan War.

He (or his father, Poeas) had been bequeathed the bow and arrows of the Greek hero Heracles in return for lighting his funeral pyre; Philoctetes thus became a notable archer. En route to Troy he was incapacitated by a snakebite, and he was left behind on the island of Lemnos. After a seer revealed that Troy could be taken only with the aid of Heracles’ bow and arrows, the Greek warriors Odysseus and either Diomedes or Neoptolemus went to Philoctetes and persuaded him to accompany them to Troy. There he was healed of his wound and killed Paris (son of Priam, king of Troy), by which action he paved the way for the city’s fall. He subsequently returned home but later wandered as a colonist to southern Italy, where he ultimately died in battle.

The theme of this story was used by the ancient Greek writer Sophocles in his Philoctetes.

Greek mythological hero in the Trojan War, leader of the force from Phylace and other Thessalian cities west of the Pegasaean Gulf. Though aware that an oracle had foretold death for the first of the invading Greeks to land at Troy, he was the first ashore and the first to fall. His bride, Laodameia, was so grief stricken that the gods granted her request that Protesilaus be allowed to return from the dead for three hours. At the expiration of the time she accompanied him to the underworld, either by taking her own life or by immolating herself in the flames in which her father burned the waxen image of Protesilaus that she had been cherishing.

in Greek legend, son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Laodameia, the daughter of Bellerophon; he was a Lycian prince and a hero in the Trojan War. As recounted in Homer’s Iliad, Book XVI, Sarpedon fought with distinction on the side of the Trojans but was slain by the Greek warrior Patroclus. A struggle took place for the possession of his body until Apollo rescued it from the Greeks, washed it, anointed it with ambrosia, and handed it over to Hypnos and Thanatos (Sleep and Death), by whom it was conveyed for burial to Lycia. This episode is illustrated on the famous Euphronius Vase, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In later tradition, found in Apollodorus’s Library and Epitome, Book III, Sarpedon was the son of Zeus and Europa and the brother of King Minos of Crete. Expelled from Crete by Minos, he and his comrades sailed for Asia Minor, where he finally became king of Lycia. There a sanctuary (Sarpedoneum) was erected in his honour.



The Dorian Migrations

The migration of the Indo-European Dorians into Greece led to the gradual settlement of the whole region. Individual clans and communities developed, and these eventually merged together into cities.

The immigration into Greece of Indo-European Dorian tribes out of the Balkan region followed in the wake of the sea peoples around 1000 B.C. In a series of waves, the Dorian Greeks settled first in central Greece and then, about 1150 B.C., also in the Peloponnesus. Dorian tribes settled in the Cyclades, on Crete, and on the coast of Asia Minor as well. They vied with with the Phoenicians for maritime supremacy.

The tribes soon divided into separate subgroups: the Spartans, the Messenians, the Argives, and the Northwestern Greeks, among others. With the development of individual clans and distinct communities came the beginnings of the later city-states and their struggles for independence.

The day-to-day lives of these early Greeks were described by Homer: The house (oikos) was the family's living space, and the lot (kleros), a clan's or family's portion of land, was the nucleus of its private property. Family members were subordinate to the head of the family. This world was confined within strict boundaries; warfare and cults led to personal ties to aristocracy or warlords. However, with a modicum of politics and administration, several families or communities could ultimately unite and form a city (polis), usually located on a fortified elevation.


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