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



Classical Greece from the Culture of the Polis to the End of Independence



In the wake of the Dorian invasions, city-states with a high degree of political organization developed in the Greek territories. These city-states proliferated around much of the Mediterranean and the Greeks combined their resources in the defense of their territories against the Persians. However, tensions soon developed between the major powers of Athens and Sparta, culminating in the Peloponnesian Wars. The war left Sparta with hegemony over Greece, but eventually its strength also collapsed, sapped by numerous minor wars against other states. After a short period of rule by Thebes, the system of city-states disintegrated as the Greek peninsula was caught up in Macedonian plans for a great empire.

The Organization of the Polis

The polis (city-state), where public life was governed and precisely regulated by laws, was based on the political participation of its citizens. The conception of freedom associated with the city-state was central to Greek identity.

1 Greek warrior, statuette,
 mid-seventh century B.C.

The early Greek cities were settlements of between 500 and 1500 1 men fit for military service, who lived in the surrounding area.

Most of the city-states had a central acropolis ("upper city"). In the eighth century B.C., religious and communal sites and festivals linked the cities.

The oracle of 4, 5 Apollo at Delphi and the Olympic games of 3, 6 Olympia are examples of this tendency.

Relations between citizens, who were the minority of a city's population, were regulated by established laws. The proportion of the population that qualified as citizens, and thus participated actively in public life, varied between city-states. Polis was a legal term that described the city and its surrounding area. A council of elders and officials was elected for a fixed period of time by a public assembly of citizens to which they were accountable. The cities demonstrated a large degree of internal cohesion in defending their ideal of self-sufficiency (autarky) against foreign domination. The Greeks considered themselves "politically free"—superior to the "bound barbarians" of the Eastern monarchies.

4,5 The Temple of Apollo at Delphi


3 The Column of Zeus in the Temple at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Word


6 Olympia, from left: gymnasium, theater, old wall, Heraion, Kronos Hill, Zeus temple, treasure house, stadium, ceremonial gate

Greek 2 society was nonetheless divided into the aristocracy and the non-aristocracy. The aristocracy was distinguished by high levels of property ownership and proficiency in warfare. The non-aristocracy was made up of the rest: free peasants, tradesmen, the landless, and slaves. Slaves became an integral part of Greek society's economic structure at an early stage. They tended to be either former inhabitants of colonized lands, prisoners of war, or indentured servants. Most performed manual labor, but an educated minority held positions as private tutors or secretaries in their master's household. Greek society was patriarchal, though the private ideal was that ot a harmonious familv life.

2 Greek youth playing

see also text


and collection

Aristotle and P



Extract from Aristotle's Poetics

"He who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state is said by us to be a citizen of that state; and, generally speaking, a state is a body of citizens sufficing for the purposes of life."

Aristotle by  Rembrandt van Rijn



The Colonization of the Mediterranean Region

An agrarian crisis in Greece led to mass emigration and the colonization of most of the Mediterranean area. Some colonies, particularly those in Sicily, became leading cultural centers.

The Greeks had long demonstrated an interest in surrounding  lands, but it was not until the agrarian crisis of the eighth century B.C. that large-scale colonization began. Increasing indebtedness and servitude among the farmers led to uprisings in many regions and ultimately to migratory pressures.

Between 750 and 500 B.C., a wave of seaborne migration began, from Greece to islands and coastal areas throughout the Mediterranean. In about 735 B.C., colonists founded Naxos at the foot of Mount Etna in Sicily, followed by Syracuse. From 650 B.C., Greeks settled the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea. as well as Asia Minor. Between about 550 and 500 B.C., Ionians occupied Sardinia and Corsica, while Athenians moved into the Tyrrhenian Sea and reached as far as present-day Nice and Barcelona. With a growing population and booming Mediterranean trade, the colonies flourished.

Most colonies continued to consider themselves part of the Greek cultural world and maintained contact with their parent cities. In the fourth and third centuries B.C., favored by wars on the Greek mainland, 7, 11 Syracuse and 10 Agrigento on Sicily became the leading 8 cultural centers of the "West Greeks." At the same time they were forced to defend themselves against the growing threat posed by the 9 Carthaginians and Etruscans.

The presence of numerous profiteers and exiles contributed to political conditions in the colonies that were frequently unsettled. Military and political leaders often seized power and were known as "tyrants." The tyrants of Sicilian Syracuse— such as Dionysius the Elder, who extended his power into Sicily and southern Italy, or Agathocles, who is remembered for his struggle against the Carthaginians— are a well known group.

7 Greek theater in Syracuse, originally constructed in the time of Hieron I, ca. 470 B.C., partially rebuilt in 238 B.C.
10 The ekklesiasterion, where citizens' assemblies (ekklesia) took place, built in the sixth century B.C. in Agrigento
11 Temple of Apollo and Artemis in Syracuse

8 The Charioteer of Delphi,
votive tribute from Polyzalos of Sicily

9 Battle of Himera against the Carthaginians,
Sicily, 480 B.C.



Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse

Dionysius (ca. 430-367 B.C.) took the rich of Syracuse to court on behalf of the populace, who elected him to a generalship in 405 B.C. He seized power as tyrant the same year, strengthening the army and fortifying Syracuse against the Carthaginians. Dionysius succeeded in conquering Sicily and concluding peace with powerful Carthage in 392. He invited philosophers, including Plato, and poets to his court and became well known as a writer of tragedies.

Plato at the court of the tyrant
Dionysius in Syracuse



The Omnipresence of War

Due to the regional organization of the city-states, war and conflict increasingly defined the lives of the Greeks. As a result, methods of warfare evolved rapidly.

The self-contained organization of the polis, and the struggle of each for autarky or hegemony, created shifting alliances and led, as is vividly illustrated in Homer's epics, to constant wars, which came to overshadow the lives of the Greeks. There was an underlying sense of Greek cultural homogeneity and unity, but this was not reflected by their political alliances. Thus, the strength of the tightly-bound communities also proved a weakness for the Hellenic world. Greek city-states fought among themselves over land, influence, and privileges. Local conflicts often spread rapidly when neighboring cities intervened. Undeclared minor wars consisting of raids and the theft of goods were commonplace.

With the increasing size and importance of the cities, warfare with rivals—both on land and at sea—became the main focus of the politicians. Men capable of military service, who usually joined the battles for a couple of months each year, began to enter the service of the warring states as met -cenaries, even joining the army ot the Persian king.

By the seventh century B.C., individual combat as described by Homer had disappeared in favor of battles between armies.

The Greeks adopted the chariot from the East and attacked with 2 heavily armed and well-armored warriors called 1, 4, 5 "hoplites."

They advanced in groups of hundreds— units known as "phalanxes." The art of war increasingly became a profession, with professional strategists and tacticians taking the place of military leaders who had traditionally led the charge.

From the sixth century on, the narrow and maneuverable 3, 6 trireme ("three-oared") vessel—with 170 oarsmen on three decks and a pointed bow—redefined marine warfare.

The ship itself had become a weapon that could ram into other vessels and cause huge damage. Shipbuilding experienced an enormous upswing and brought great prosperity to those cities with shipyards. The procurement of wood, however, cost vast sums of money.

2 Iron weapons, ca. 820 B.C.

1 Hoplite with shield,helmet, and spear,
Greek vase painting

4 Hoplite with shield and spear,
marble relief, ca. 500-490 B.C.


5 Hoplites putting on armor, Greek vase painting

Greek vase painting, ca. 550 B.C.


3 Rowers on an Athenian trireme

6 Greek triremes carry out maneuvers in the fifth century B.C.


Greek vase painting, ca. 480 B.C.



Greek vase painting, ca. 500 B.C.

Greek vase painting, ca. 500 B.C.


Greek vase painting, ca. 510 B.C.


Greek vase painting, ca. 520 B.C.


Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy