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 Early States of Mesopotamia

CA. 3OOO-539 B.C.


The Old Assyrian and Middle Assyrian Kingdoms (ca. 1800-1047 ..)

The Assyrian kingdom developed in the north of Mesopotamia at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Due to their superior methods of warfare, the Assyrians were feared by neighboring peoples.

The city of Ashur was a hub of  Mesopotamian trade with Syria,  Anatolia, and Iran. Its rulers laid claims to an empire as early as the time of 2 Shamshi-Adad I and briefly assumed independence (Old Assyrian Kingdom, ca. 1800-1375 ..) before coming under the sovereignty of the Hurrites of Mitanni. Assyria became an independent state under the "great kings" of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom (1375-1047 .).

In the middle of the 14th century B.C.. Ashur-uballit I (1365-1330 B.C.) broke from Mitanni and forged close ties with Egypt and Babylon. Adadnirari I (ca.1305-1275 B.C) extended the kingdom at Babylonia's expense and was known by the title "King of All."

2 Clay tablet bearing the signature of the Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad I, 1813-1781 B.C.

Assyria's transformation into an expansive military power  with a well-trained 3 army began in the 13th century under rulers  Shahnaneserl (1274-1245 ..) and Tukulti-Ninurta I (ca. 1294-1208 B.C.). Tukulti-Ninurta I immortalized his deeds in his Tiikulti-Ninurta Epic, which then became the model for the personal  aggrandizement of Assyrian rulers. According to the Assyrian religion, the state god Ashur had destined his people, over whose welfare the 4 genies watched, for world dominance.

The Assyrians subjugated their neighbors in a series of devastating military 1 campaigns, often conducted with great brutality.

The inhabitants of the conquered territories were 5 deported in the tens of thousands into other parts of the Assyrian Empire, where they were used as forced labor. Revolts of the subjugated regions were considered a crime against the "divine world order" and were crushed with cruel punitive expeditions.

5 Prisoners of war being carried away into slavery in the Assyrian empire,
women and children riding on a wagon drawn by oxen; stone relief, seventh . ..

1 Assyrian fighter kills his enemy, ninth century B.C.
3 Assyrian spear-carrier, eighth c. B.C.
4 Winged genie, ninth century B.C.

Tiglath-pileser I (ca. 1115 1077 B.C.) extended the empire into northern Syria and Asia Minor. After occupying the Phoenician trading cities, he levied tribute on them. Alongside these military conquests he also promoted scientific research, particularly with regard to zoology, and oversaw the compilation of a great library and encouraged cultural developments. After his death, the expansion of the Middle Assyrian Kingdom came to an end. Pressure from the Aramaean tribes seeking to break into the fertile lands of Mesopotamia, and a revived Babylonian kingdom, ushered in a period of Assyrian decline. The ancient capital of Ashur was later abandoned in favour of  Nineveh, a new capital on the banks of the upper River Tigris.



The Assyrian Method of Fighting

"Impetuous they are, full of rage, as the storm god transformed,
They plunge into the tangle of battle, naked to the waist,
They test the ribbons; they tear the robes from their bodies,
They tie their hair, the swords they let dance in circles
Jumping about, naked weapons in hand,
The wild warriors, the lords of war,
They stormed ahead, as if lions would seize them."

(from Tukulti-Ninurto Epic)



The Neo-Assyrian Empire (883-612..)

Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and its expansions.


During the period of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (883-612 B.C.), the military power of the Assyrians expanded through Palestine and Israel, and into Egypt.

Assyria experienced a renewed period of expansion under King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.). Annual military campaigns were waged in order to break the resistance of neighboring kingdoms, and the conquests were followed by brutal mass executions.
Succeeding Ashurnasirpal, Queen Sammu-ramat, also known as Semiramis, conducted the empire's affairs very successfully. She 6rst acted as regent for her son, Adadnirari III (810-783 B.C.), and then continued to exert a significant influence over the throne even after he came of age. A succession of weak kings, rebellious provincial governors, and the growing power of Urartu threatened the empire. These dangers were averted after Tiglath-pileser III seized power in 745 B.C. and set about refashioning the Kingdom and overseeing renewed military success. He advanced into Gaza in the west, conquered Babylon in the south, and triumphed over the ruler of Urartu. In addition to reviving Assyrian military fortunes, Tiglath-pileser proved a capable administrator, strengthening the empire by reordering the provinces and standardizing laws. His economic planning involved the forced relocation of the empire's subjects.

His successor, Shalmaneser V, went on to conquer Samaria in -22 . and subjugated Israel, as it had ceased to pay 6 tribute.

6 Emissaries from King Jehu of Israel
bringtributes, ninth century B.C.

7 Sargon II (721-705 B.C.) with a high dignitary,
perhaps Crown Prince Sennacherib


In 721 B.C. a new dynasty was founded by 7, 9 Sargon II.
His son Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) destroyed Babylon in 689 and had his capital. 8 Nineveh, magnificently enlarged by an army of forced laborers. Both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal sought to conquer Egypt, but were unable to maintain control due to the great distances involved, as well as domestic intrigues originating with their own relatives. In 646 the Elamites were conclusively defeated and, together with the last small Hittite states, absorbed by the new Assyrian Empire during the seventh century B.C.

Ashurbanipal was a great art collector, and in Nineveh he built the largest cuneiform library of antiquity, holding copies of almost all the significant works of the ancient Near East. The empire declined under his successors, until finallyweakened by Scythians' attacks it fell to the conquests of the Medes and the Babylonians.

8 The palace and temple area of Sargon II at Khorsabad (Dur Sharrukin), Iraq, artist's reconstruction
9 The king's palace at Nineveh, artist's reconstruction


An Assyrian winged bull, or lamassu, from Sargon's palace at Dur-Sharrukin.



Queen Semiramis of Assyria

Queen Sammu-ramat (Semiramis) of Assyria, who reigned as regent after the death of her husband,
is cloaked in legend. She allegedly had innumerable lovers and distinguished herself as a ruler and military commander.
She is also credited with the construction of the "Hanging Gardens" of Babylon.

Semiramis Puts Down an Uprising in Babylon
, painting by Matteo Rosselli, 17th century A.D.



The Ancient Kingdom of Babylon

The city of Babylon in the heart of Mesopotamia rose to become the new dominant power in the region during the second millennium B.C.

Following the fall of the third dynasty of Ur, the old Babylonian Empire was the dominant power in Mesopotamia. The 1st dynasty of Babylon was descended from the Semitic Amorites. Their most famous member was King Hammurapi, who is best known for his 1 Code of Hammurapi, considered to be the first detailed legal code of antiquity.

It presents a collection of cases in 282 provisions for all of the areas of law then recognized. The punishments prescribed for the crimes accorded with the principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" and went from whipping and maiming to death by impaling, burning, or drowning. Hammurapi, who called himself "the shepherd of the people," described in the foreword of his code how the Babylonian chief deity Marduk had charged him with introducing law and justice to his people.
Soon after Hammurapi's death, the ancient kingdom of Babylon came under pressure from external enemies such as the Hittites, who rose to prominence after 1650 b.c. From about 1531 to 1155, the Kassites ruled Babylon; after 1155, it was under the control of the Elamites and the second dynasty of the city of Isin (ca. 1157-1026 B.C.). A prominent representative of this dynasty was Nebuchadressar I, who repulsed the Elamites and Assyrians in successful campaigns.
Eventually Babylon, which had already been weakened by invading Aramaean tribes, came under the rule of the Assyrian Empire.

From the Epilogue of the Code of Hammurapi

I Hammurapi... have, not withdrawn myself from the men,
whom Bel gave to me, the rule overwhom Mardukgave to me,
I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place.
1 expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them.
I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom
Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Mardukgave to me,
I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place.
I expounded all great difficulties,
I made the light shine upon them.

Hammurapi's law column,  with the king in front of a deity, ca. 1700 B.C.



The Neo-Babylonian Kingdom of the Chaldeans  625-539 B.C.

The greed for power and the luxury of the Neo-Babylonian Kingdom served as the Old Testament model for the depths of iniquity.

Neo-Babylonia empire 540 b.c.

The Chaldeans, one of the Semitic tribes of Aramaeans, moved into southern Mesopotamia in about 850 B.C. and rose up against Babylon's Assyrian rulers. Eventually they prevailed. Nabopolassar (625-605 B.C.) founded the Neo-Babylonian Kingdom and defeated the Assyrians in 612 b.c. by capturing and destroying Nineveh on the east bank of the Tigris.

Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadressar, known in the Bible as 2 Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c), dedicated himself primarily to 3 constructing imposing buildings. In the temple district of Babylon, he had a 5 processional passage and the Ishtar Gate built and decorated with colored relief tiles.

The passage led to a massive central 4 ziggurat, which may have inspired the 6 "Tower of Babel."

His palace's 9 hanging gardens became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Babylon was also a world center for the sciences, above all of astronomy, astrology, and the mantic arts.


2 Seal with the name and title of Nebuchadressar II, 604-562 B.C.
Reconstruction sketch of Babylon under Nebuchadressar II
4 Model of the ziggurat of Babylon built under Nebuchadressar II

5 Festive procession in Babylon; still from the film The Fall of Babylon, 1916


Martin John, The Fall of Babylon, 1831


9 Reconstruction sketch of the hanging gardens of Babylon, 18th century a.d.


The Tower of Babel

Nebuchadressar ll's tower in Babylon, a five-tiered temple in honor of the chief god Marduk, had a square base of around 300 feet (91 m) per side and was about 295 feet (90 m) high. It was called "Ete-menanki" ("House which is the foundation of heaven and earth"). The top was reached by climbing three staircases on the south side. The top levels comprised a two-story temple and were covered in blue tiles. According to Genesis 11:1-9, it reached to heaven and was a symbol of human pride, which was punished by the Babylonian confusion of tongues.

Tower Building at Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 16th century A.D.


Militarily, Nebuchadressar II directed his activities against Egypt and then Palestine. In 597 B.C. he plundered 7 Jerusalem for the first time when it refused to make tribute payments, and in 587 he then destroyed the city.

Its inhabitants were led into 8 "Babylonian captivity" and employed as forced labor. Of the Phoenician city-states, only Tyre was able to withstand conquest by Nebuchadressar.

His successors were weakened by family feuds, and eventually the usurper Nabonidus managed to reconsolidate the empire and repulse the invading Medes in 553 B.C. In 550 he installed his son Belshazzar (also known as Nidintabel and Nebuchadressar III) as regent in Babylon and withdrew to the Oasis of Teima. When he returned in 539 it was already too late; the Persians under Cyrus II had annihilated the armies of Belshazzar and entered Babylon.

7 Nebuchadnessar Besieges Jerusalem,
illumination from a medieval Bible translation, 14th century A.D.

8 Slaves transport a stone block,
still from the film Metropolis, 1927



Belshazzar's Fall

In Biblical tradition (Daniel 5), Belshazzar insulted his God, whereupon a hand appeared and wrote "Menetekel" on the wall, which the king interpreted as a warning of the imminent fall of Babylon. The king was murdered that night.

Belshazzar's Feast
Rembrandt van Rijn, 17th century a.d.




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