Visual History of the World




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Artists that Changed the World
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First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
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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



Celts, Slavs, and Germanic Tribes



Celtic Culture and Society

The Celtic culture is differentiated from other ancient cultures primarily by its lack of writing. In all other respects, it achieved a very high level in social differentiation, material culture, economy, and trade.

The Celts had no unified national identity, but were instead subdivided into many tribes and clans who alternately formed alliances and fought with one another, according to political necessity. In early times the tribes were led by kings, who were later replaced by assemblies of the nobility.

The 2 princes stood out among the nobles, distinguishing themselves through exceptional wealth and influence. They also led the armies into battle in times of war.

They were buried in large 5 burial chambers with valuable funerary objects.

Below the nobility was the broad mass of the 7 populace, and subordinate to them were the serfs.

The rigid system of allegiances and personal loyalties was of great importance.

2 Celtic warrior nobility, sandstone statue, fifth century B.C.

5 Celtic burial mound in southern Germany, ninth-fifth century B.C.

7 Celtic woman and her warrior husband,
chalk drawing, 19th century

The princes held extensive properties, exacted tolls and taxes, and even minted their own 3 coins.

3 Celtic gold coin, second century B.C.

Agriculture and animal husbandry formed the basis of the Celtic economy.

In addition, 6 metalworking and ceramic-production reached a high level of sophistication under the distinct influence of the Etruscans, Romans, and Greeks.

6 The Gundestrup Cauldron, made of silver,
discovered in 1891 in a bog in Denmark, 1st ñ. B.C.

The Celts lived on individual farms or in 8 villages, with larger settlemerits growing up around important seats of the nobility.

In the second century B.C., 1 fortified cities were also built.

The 4 Druids, who formed a priestly caste, enjoyed particular esteem.

They performed religious rites and made prophecies, as well as passing legal judgments.

8 Reconstruction of a Celtic
village in Ireland

1 Reconstruction of the defensive walls
of a Celtic settlement

4 Druidic meeting in a stone circle,
still from a film


9 Deities and ancestors were worshiped —occasionally with human sacrifices—in man-made 12, 13 shrines as well as at springs, rivers, or trees.

The Druids imparted their knowledge through an exclusively oral tradition. The history of the Celts was also passed on orally through the poems of the bards, in which—as in the legend of King Arthur— historical events were interwoven with mythical tales.

9 The god Cernunnos, detail on the
Cauldron of Gundestrup, first ñ. â.ñ.

12 Cape Arcona on the island of Rugen,
a sacred site for pre-Christian Slavs

13 Celtic stone circle in Ireland
created ca. 150 B.C.



The Legend of King Arthur

The epic tale of King Arthur reflects the clashes between the Celtic Britons and the Germanic Anglo-Saxons. Some elements reoccur repeatedly in its numerous literary versions. Among these are Arthur's triumph over the Anglo-Saxons, his famous round table, and the unfaithfulness of his wife Guinevere. He has been identified with a number of historical figures, including a Roman named Lucius Castus and the Celtic King Riothamus.




see also texts:



"King Arthur and of his Noble Knights" by SIR THOMAS MALORY

"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"


TENNYSON ALFRED "Idylls of the King"




see also:

Alfred Tennyson

"Idylls of the Kin

(illustrations by G. Dore)




Gustave Dore
Edyrn with His Lady and Dwarf Journey to Arthur's Court




"Arturian Legend"

(Pre-Raphaelite's and
Beardsley's Vision)






Edward Burne Jones
The last sleep of Arthur in Avalon

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
Arturian Legend




Arturian Legend

The body of stories and medieval romances, known as the matter of Britain, centring on the legendary king Arthur (q.v.). Medieval writers, especially the French, variously treated stories of Arthur's birth, the adventures of his knights, and the adulterous love between his knight Sir Lancelot and his queen, Guinevere. This last situation and the quest for the Holy Grail (the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper and given to Joseph of Arimathea) brought about the dissolution of the knightly fellowship, the death of Arthur, and thedestruction of his kingdom.

Stories about Arthur and his court had been popular in Wales before the 11th century; European fame came through Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (between 1135 and 1139), celebrating a glorious and triumphant king who defeated a Roman army in eastern France but was mortally wounded in battle during a rebellion at home led by his nephew Mordred. Some features of Geoffrey's story were marvelous fabrications, and certain features of the Celtic stories were adapted to suit feudal times. The concept of Arthur as a world conqueror was clearly inspired by legends surrounding great leaders such as Alexander the Great and Charlemagne. Later writers, notably Wace of Jersey and Layamon, filled out certain details, especially in connection with Arthur's knightly fellowship.

Using Celtic sources, Chrétien de Troyes (q.v.) in the late 12th century made Arthur the ruler of a realm of marvels in five romances of adventure. He also introduced the theme of the Grail into Arthurian legend. Prose romances of the 13th century began to explore two major themes: the winning of the Grail and the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere. An early prose romance centring on Lancelot seems to have become the kernel of a cyclic work known as the Prose Lancelot, or Vulgate cycle (c. 1225). The Lancelot theme was connected with the Grail story through Lancelot's son, the pure knight Sir Galahad, who achieved the vision of God through the Grail as fully as is possible in this life, whereas Sir Lancelot was impeded in his progress along the mystic way because of his adultery with Guinevere. Another branch of the Vulgate cycle was based on a very early 13th-century verse romance, the Merlin, by Robert de Boron, that had told of Arthur's birth and childhood and his winning of the crown by drawing a magic sword (see Excalibur) from a stone. The writer of the Vulgate cycle turned this into prose, adding a pseudo-historical narrative dealing with Arthur's military exploits. A final branch of the Vulgate cycle contained an account of Arthur's Roman campaign and war with Mordred, to which was added a story of Lancelot's renewed adultery with Guinevere and the disastrous war between Lancelot and Sir Gawain that ensued. A later prose romance, known as the post-Vulgate Grail romance (c. 1240),combined Arthurian legend with material from the Tristan romance.

The legend told in the Vulgate cycle and post-Vulgate romance was transmitted to English-speaking readers in Thomas Malory's late 15th-century prose Le Morte Darthur. At the same time, there was renewed interest in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia, and the fictitious kings of Britain became more or less incorporated with official national mythology. The legend remained alive during the 17th century, though interest in it was by then confined to England. Of merely antiquarian interest during the 18th century, it again figured in literature during Victorian times, notably in Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In the 20th century an American poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, wrote an Arthurian trilogy, and in England T.H. White retold the stories in a series of novels collected as The Once and FutureKing (1958). Camelot (1960), a musical by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe, was based on White's work.

Encyclopædia Britannica


The Early Slavs

The advance of the Huns in the late fourth century A.D., and the resulting migratory movements of the Germanic tribes, provided the stimulus for the movement of the Slavs. At first they settled in the regions deserted by the Germans, but then increasingly headed south into the Balkans.

The Slavs probably originated north of the Carpathian Mountains between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers. During the Great Migration of Peoples, they spread out and began following the withdrawing Germanic tribes in the fifth century a.d. The Slavs went as far west as the Elbe River and the Baltic Sea and as far east as Kamchatka. In the south, they were at first halted at the Danube, on the border of the Byzantine Empire. However their raiding parties soon led them to Ragusa and up to the gates of Constantinople.

The Slavs eventually crossed the Danube in great numbers and settled the Balkan region. Ancient writers refer to them as Sarma-tians and Scythians.
The Slavs of the Danube region were dominated from the sixth to the eighth centuries by the Avars, an equestrian tribe. In the ninth century, the Magyars, who originated in the Eurasian steppes, settled in present-day Hungary. The region settled by the Slavs split between western, eastern, and southern Slavic groups, who developed separately from one another.

The basis of the communal life of the early Slavs was the clan, several of which would band together to form a tribe. Ancient descriptions picture them as industrious pastoral peoples. In the sixth century subsistence farming still prevailed and crafts were little developed.

Articles such as drinking 11 vessels and tools were produced mainly for domestic needs.

Only gradually did clan leaders become a distinct class— and only where the Slavs were not dominated by foreign powers. In the seventh century, the fortified 10 castles were built. Little is known of the religion of the early Slavs except that they worshiped nature deities. Christianity was introduced in the ninth century by Cyril and Methodius, the former giving his name to the Cyrillic alphabet.

11 Slavic urns, ninth-tenth century

10 Excavation of a Slavic fortification,
in Mecklenburg, northern Germany



Under the Yoke of the Avars

"Eachyear the Avars came to the Slavs to spend the winter and slept with the wives and daughters of the Slavs: the Slavs tolerated other perfidies as well, and also paid tribute to the Avars. The sons, however, which the Avars hadfathered with the women and daughters of the Slav menfolk, would not tolerate this brutal oppression and refused to subject themselves to the Avars."

From the Chronicles of Fredegarius

The Avars humiliate the Slavs,
forcing them to draw their carts like packhorses,
book illustration, 15th century



Philipp Cluver

Germaniae antiquae libri tres

Leiden, 1616

Philipp Cluver (1580, Danzig – 31 December 1622, Leiden) German geographer and historian


Germaniae antiquae libri tres, Plate 11


Germaniae antiquae libri tres, Plate 17


Germaniae antiquae libri tres, Plate 18


Germaniae antiquae libri tres, Plate 24



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