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



Celts, Slavs, and Germanic Tribes



The Culture and Society of the Ancient Germans

The ancient Germans were described by Roman writers as an especially warlike people. They successfully defended themselves against Roman conquest and, despite the lack of a unified leadership, came to pose a serious threat to the Roman Empire.

By the first century B.C., the ancient Germans, whose exact origins are unclear, had spread from the northeast down to the plains of the Rhine and the river
Danube. German societies were split into various tribes, each dominated by a warrior aristocracy, which based its power on property and personal allegiances. In times of war, kings were also chosen to lead the armies. During the period of the great migrations, the office of king became permanent.

The population practiced 4 agriculture and animal husbandry and was divided into a noble elite, freemen, and slaves.

They traded extensively with the Roman Empire.

Elected judges officiated at the 1 community assembly and also heard legal cases.

Legal verdicts were aided by oaths and considered the judgment of God. Personal conflicts often resulted in bloody feuds.

4 Germanic tribal village

1 A tribal assembly, known as a "Thing,"
attended by all freemen


Despite near continuous 3 conflict with the Romans, in which Arminius was the greatest threat, from the first century a.d. on, Germans were increasingly recruited into the Roman army as mercenaries, eventually coming to dominate it.

The Romans admired the physical size and fighting power of the Germans, as well as their sparse, simple life. The Roman historian Tacitus emphasized the frenzy into which the warriors transported themselves before battle and called it "Teutonic rage."


Tacitus on the Religion of the Germanic peoples

"At a stated time of the year, all the various peoples descended from the same stock, assemble with their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by their superstitious awe as in times of old. There, by publicly performing a human sacrifice, they commence the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship."

Giant stones in the Teutoburg Forest,
a pagan ritual site


War and battle also played a large role in German religion and 2 mythology, which was permeated with the fights of pugnacious gods against giants and demons.

3  Two warriors, one with a horned helmet, the other with a wolf mask, perform a war dance for Odin, bronze stamp used for the decoration of helmets, sixth century

2 Illustration of Twilight
of the Gods, stone relief,
tenth century



The 5 war god Wodan (Odin), who was most likely also the chief of the Germanic deities, received fallen soldiers in his castle, Valhalla.

The gods were worshiped in holy sites or at natural monuments.

These rituals apparently included animal, and even 7 human, sacrifice.

The Germanic world of fantasy is known primarily through medieval epics and myths such as the Edda, based on early Icelandic poems. The earliest written firsthand accounts— oracles, magic formulas, and curses—were written in runes and date from the second century a.d.

Only in Scandinavia were texts of significant length written in runes, most notably on 6 gravestones.

5 Germanic gods Odin, Thor, and
Frei, tapestry, twelfth century

7 Head of a strangled male,
human sacrifice,
found in a peatbog in Denmark

6 Rune engraving showing the arrival of a
warrior in Walhall and the story of the
blacksmith Wolund, imestone, eighth-ninth century


A depiction of Odin entering Valhalla riding on
Sleipnir from the Tjangvide image stone


A depiction of Odin riding Sleipnir from
an eighteenth century Icelandic manuscript


Odin and the Volva (1895)
by Lorenz Frolich

The sacrifice of Odin (1895)
by Lorenz Frolich



Odin with Gunnlog (1901) by Johannes Gehrts

see also text

"The Poetic Edda"




Icelandic literature

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Body of ancient Icelandic literature contained in two 13th-century books commonly distinguished as the Prose, or Younger, Edda and the Poetic, or Elder, Edda. It is the fullest and most detailed source for modern knowledge of Germanic mythology.

The Prose Edda.
The Prose Edda was written by the Icelandic chieftain, poet, and historian Snorri Sturluson, probably in 1222–23. It is a textbook on poetics intended to instruct young poets in the difficult metres of the early Icelandic skalds (court poets) and to provide for a Christian age an understanding of the mythological subjects treated or alluded to in early poetry. It consists of a prologue and three parts. Two of the sections—Skáldskaparmál (“The Language of Poetry”), dealing with the elaborate, riddle-like kennings and circumlocutions of the skalds, and Háttatal (“A Catalog of Metres”), giving examples of 102 metres known to Snorri—are of interest chiefly to specialists in ancient Norse and Germanic literature. The remaining section, Gylfaginning (“The Beguiling of Gylfi”), is of interest to the general reader. Cast in the form of a dialogue, it describes the visit of Gylfi, a king of the Swedes, to Asgard, the citadel of the gods. In answer to his questions, the gods tell Gylfi the Norse myths about the beginning of the world, the adventures of the gods, and the fate in store for all in the Ragnarǫk (Doom [or Twilight] of the Gods). The tales are told with dramatic artistry, humour, and charm.

The Poetic Edda.
The Poetic Edda is a later manuscript dating from the second half of the 13th century, but containing older materials (hence its alternative title, the Elder Edda). It is a collection of mythological and heroic poems of unknown authorship, composed over a long period (ad 800–1100). They are usually dramatic dialogues in a terse, simple, archaic style that is in decided contrast to the artful poetry of the skalds.

The mythological cycle is introduced by Voluspá (“Sibyl’s Prophecy”), a sweeping cosmogonic myth that reviews in flashing scenes the history of the gods, men, and dwarfs, from the birth of the world to the death of the gods and the world’s destruction.

It is followed by Hávamál (“Sayings of the High One”), a group of disconnected, fragmentary, didactic poems that sum up the wisdom of the wizard-warrior god, Odin. The precepts are cynical and generally amoral, evidently dating from an age of lawlessness and treachery. The latter part contains the strange myth of how Odin acquired the magical power of the runes (alphabetical characters) by hanging himself from a tree and suffering hunger and thirst for nine nights. The poem ends with a list of magic charms.

One of the finest mythological poems is the humorous Thrymskvida (“Lay of Thrym”), which tells how the giant Thrym steals the hammer of the thunder god Thor and demands the goddess Freyja in marriage for its return. Thor himself journeys to Thrym, disguised as a bride, and the humour derives from the “bride’s” astonishing manners at the wedding feast, where she eats an ox and eight salmon, and drinks three vessels of mead.

The second half of the Poetic Edda contains lays about the Germanic heroes. Except for the Völundarkvida (“Lay of Völundr”; i.e., Wayland the Smith) these are connected with the hero Sigurd (Siegfried), recounting his youth, his marriage to Gudrun, his death, and the tragic fate of the Burgundians (Nibelungs). These lays are the oldest surviving poetic forms of the Germanic legend of deceit, slaughter, and revenge that forms the core of the great medieval German epic Nibelungenlied. Unlike the Nibelungenlied, which stands on the threshold of romance, the austere Eddic poems dwell on cruel and violent deeds with a grim stoicism that is unrelieved by any civilizing influences.



The Prose Edda

The Poetic Edda


see also text

"The Poetic Edda"


The Poetic Edda

Georg von Rosen
Odin, the Wanderer

Gustaf Cederstrom
Helgi, Svava and either Sigarr

Marten Eskil Winge
Loki and Sigyn



Carl Frederick von Saltza
A depiction of Skadi

Carl Frederick von Saltza

Carl Frederick von Saltza
A giantess




Carl Larsson
Thor and Loki in drag

Carl Larsson
Fenja and Menja

Carl Larsson
Heimdallr as Rigr




Carl Larsson

Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom
Odin and Saga




Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom




Jenny Nystrom

Jenny Nystrom
Gudrun and her sons

Jenny Nystrom
Aegir's daughters


The Ancient Germans and the Romans

Beginning in the first century B.C., there were constant clashes along the Rhine and Danube rivers between the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire.

From as early as the first century B.C., there were regular clashes along the Rhine and Danube rivers between the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire. Even before the Great Migration of Peoples that began in the third century a.d., the Romans came into conflict with nomadic Germanic tribes such as the Cimbri and Teutoni, who had moved south during the second century B.C. The defeats inflicted on several Roman armies sent to the aid of threatened Celtic tribes triggered a panic in Rome in 113 B.C., as residents feared another sacking of the city like that of the Celts under Brennus.

Under Marius, however, the army turned the tide and 8, 9 annihilated the Cimbri and Teutoni around 102-101 B.C.

The next great challengc was an invasion of Gaul by the Germanic warlord Ariovistus. Again, the Celts were dependent on Roman aid. Caesar repelled the Germans in 58 B.C. and went on to conquer all of Gaul. From this point on, the Rhine and Danube marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire, but the Germans continued to send small raiding parties into the empire.

From 12 B.C., the Romans sought to eradicate the problem by occupying all the lands up to the Elbe.

8 Cimbrian women in battle against the Romans, engraving, 19th century

9 A legionnaire apprehends a fleeing
German woman with her chiid,
plaster mold of a second century a.d. relief

It was only after the defeat of the Roman governor Varus, in the 9 a.d, 10 Battle of Teutoburg Forest, that the Romans abandoned these plans of conquest.

10 The Battle of Teutoburg Forest, painting, 19th century

On the north side of the Rhine and Danube, only the Agri Decumates, in the area between the two rivers, stayed in Roman hands: it was protected by à 11 fortified border (a "limes"), reinforced with palisades, trenches, and watchtowers.

Despite the regular incursions, the Romans were able to keep the divided Germanic tribes in check until the second half of the second century, when larger tribes, such as the Alemanni and Franks, began to emerge. It was only with great effort that Marcus Aurelius was able to repel the Marcomanni and Quadi, who had settled between the Elbe and Danube, around 170. The occupation of the Agri Decumates by the Alemanni and the Suebi in 260, along with the settlement of Frankish allies on the empire's territory, foreshadowed the changes that finally led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

11 The Saalburg, a Roman stone fort,
on the limes of the Danubian frontier



Armin of the Cherusci

The Cherusci prince Arminius —later Germanized to "Hermann"—was originally an ally of Rome. He trained in the Roman army, was a citizen of Rome, and fought for the Romans against other Germanic tribes. It was only when the governor Varus tried to introduce the Roman tax and legal systems in Germania that he rebelled and defeated the Roman forces. He was murdered by relatives who feared his growing power around 21. In the 19th century, with a total disregard for history, he was pronounced the "defender of the Germans."

Collossal statue of Armin (Hermann)
of the Cherusci, built in the Teutoburg Forest, 19th ñ




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