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



The Persian Wars

The threat of Persian expansion led to the first military alliance among the Greek city-states. This Greek alliance succeeded in preventing the Persians from entering Europe.

The political changes that took place throughout the Middle East after 550 B.C. finally forced the Greeks to abandon their inward-looking policies. After the Persian kings Croesus and Camby-ses II had brought the Middle East—including Egypt and Asia Minor—under their control, Darius I (the Great) sought to extend his realm into Europe. Many of the smaller Greek cities had already sought protection under his rule, and the Greek exiles also counted on him to subjugate the city-states.

The Greeks regarded the Persians with a mixture of admiration and contempt; admiration for their 8 fighting strength and cultural wealth, but contempt for their despotic political system.

In 500 B.C., Greek cities in Anatolia, under the leadership of Histiaeus, ruler of Miletus, attempted to revolt against Persian rule. The rebellion failed in 494, but it provided Darius with a reason to move his armies west. In 491, Persian messengers demanded the submission of all Greek cities. When these demands were rejected, the Persian army and fleet were dispatched across the Aegean Sea in 490 to punish Eretria and Athens. The Persians subjugated the Cy-clades, destroyed Eretria, and then advanced into the Bay of Marathon. In the face of this threat, Athens and Sparta buried their rivalry and fought together.

Under the leadership of the Athenian general Miltiades they defeated the Persians at 7, 9 Marathon.

A messenger is supposed to have run all the way to Athens with news of the victory, collapsing dead after delivering the message; he was the first 10 "Marathon runner."

8 Persian archer

7 Battle of Marathon, October 9, 490 B.C

9 Burial-mound of the Athenians
who died in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.


10 Messenger brings news of the Greek victory from Marathon to Athens,
by Luc-Olivier Merson, 1869


11 Xerxes I, whom the Greeks particularly despised, continued the work of his father, Darius, and marched his troops across the Hellespont into Greece in 481 B.C.

11 Xerxes at the Hellespont
by Jean Guident

Responding to the renewed threat, the Athenian statesman Themistocles oversaw the construction of a new war fleet, and once again a Greek alliance was formed, this time led by Sparta. The large Persian army advanced along the Greek coast accompanied by a large fleet. After a dramatic land-battle in the narrow pass of Thermopylae, the Greeks were forced to retreat. The Persians then captured and burned Athens in 480 B.C., marking a low point in the fortunes of the Greeks.

Later in the year a Greek victory in a pitched sea battle at 12, 13 Salamis changed the course of the war.

The Greeks chased the demoralized Persian army to Plataea, in Boeotia, where they won a crushing victory in 479 B.C. The Persian threat was thus averted and the episode entered Greek folklore as a glorious triumph.

12 Ships engage in the Battle of Salamis,
September, 480 B.C.

13 Main forces in the Battle of Salamis,
the Greek fleet shown in green,
the Persian fleet shown in red


Battle of Salamis

Battle of Salamis
by Wilhelm von Kaulbach


From Aeschylus's The Persians

"Advance, ye sons of Greece, from thraldom
Save your country, save your wives, your children,
The temples of your gods, the sacred tomb
Where rest your honour'd ancestors."


The Rise of Athens

From the beginning Athenian political life was shaped by the legal system. The famous lawmaker Solon was the architect of numerous reforms. After a period under the rule of the tyrants, Cleisthenes broadened citizen participation in government to weaken the aristocracy.

Athens, the city under the protection of the goddess 2 Athena, whose symbol was the 3 owl, always held a special position in Greece.

It was considered the "cradle of democracy." The highest organ of Athenian government was the Areopagus (council). Its members were initially confined to the aristocracy, but later archons (rulers)—magistrates who were elected annually for six centuries, came to predominate between 683 and 84 B.C. In 630 B.C. growing social unrest and an attempt to dislodge the council prompted the lawmaker Draco to draw up a harsh code of laws (from which the word "Draconian" derives).

2 The Goddess Athena,
bronze statue, ca. 375-340 B.C.

3 Owl of Athena and olive branch on an Athenian coin


In 594, the Athenians elected 1, 4 Solon as archon.

He championed the notion of the "rule of law" on all levels and introduced wide-ranging legal reforms. In the sixth century Athens was suffering from a social crisis brought on by spiralling debt among the poorer classes. Solon sought to remedy this with reforms, establishing legal protection against the arbitrary use of power and abolishing the enslavement of the indebted.

Although Solon worked for the balance of the interests of all groups, Peisistratus seized power in Athens as tyrant in 556 B.C. Peisistratus extended Athene's influence beyond the Aegean, laid the foundation for the city's economic rise, further reformed the legal code, and erected grand public structures such as the Temple of Zeus in Athens. His sons Hip-parchus (assassinated in 514) and Hippias succeeded him, but when he was deposed and driven out in 510 the old system was restored.

In 508-507 B.C. the new archon, Cleisthenes, brought about a complete change in the political structure. He divided Attica into ten geographical sections, called "phyles," which elected their own administrators and provided their own hoplite regiments.

1 The Athenian lawmaker, Solon


4 Solon defends his laws against criticism from Athenian citizens, painting by Noel Coypel, 1699


Each oi these phyles sent 50 representatives to the newly created "Council of the Five Hundred," the highest political assembly, which convened on the Athenian 5 Agora.

In this way Cleisthenes created a system of local administration and severed the ties between the citizens and the aristocracy.

Cleisthenes is also credited with instituting 6 "ostracism," by which supporters of tyranny could be temporarily exiled from the city.

5 Stele, found on the Agora, celebrating
the anti-tyrant law of Eucrates, 337-336 B.C.

6 Shards of pottery inscribed with the name of
Themistocles, an Athenian who was exiled
under the ostracism law in 470 â.ń.


From Solon's Fragment

"My heart commands me to instruct the Athenians thus: Where no law is given, much evil will befall the state. Where there is law, the whole is united in beautiful order. Those who do wrong, shackle it by doing so." (3,30)



Athens as a Great Power

Athens came to dominate Greece through the Delian League, originally established to fight the Persians. This hegemony inevitably provoked resistance from other city-states, most notably Sparta. Domestically Athenian democracy reached its high point under Pericles.

Athens emerged from the Persian Wan in a position of considerable strength.

Under archon 9 Themistocles, Athens exercised a growing dominance over the Delian League, which had been founded in 477 against the Persians.

By extorting financial contributions from the league's members, Athens extended its hegemony over most of Greece. Conflict with the stronger members, above all Sparta, became inevitable. Athens used force to crush revolts in league member cities. Meanwhile, the smoldering war with the Persian Empire finally ended with the Peace of Callias in 448, under which Athens abandoned the attempt to drive the Persians out of the Mediterranean and the Persians agreed to respect the independence of all the Greek cities in Anatolia.

While Athens was pursuing aggressive policies against neighboring states, internally it continued to move towards democracy. Under the leadership of Ephialtes, the Athenians stripped the judicial power from the Areopagus in 462-461 B.C. and gave it to the jury courts, thus placing judicial power in the hands of the citizens. Six thousand lay judges were drawn by lots.

This was implemented by Ephialtes' protege, 7 Pericles, who, beginning in 443, was reelected each year as the strategist who guided Athens's destiny.

He established equality before the law and made the city assembly a democratic council before which every citizen had the right to petition. Officials were appointed by drawing lots.

9 Themistocles stands before Artaxerxes I

7 Pericles


The impressive 11, 12 public buildings and 8, 10 theater plays ensured that Pericles' period in office would be considered Athens's golden age.



11, 12 The Parthenon or Temple of Athena the Virgin, on the Acropolis, Athens


8, 10 The Dionysios Theater in Athens



An Athenian army commander, statesman, and archon, Themistocles designed the Piraeus naval harbor in 493-492 B.C. He was never popular with his fellow citizens, despite playing a crucial role in Athens's rise to power, most notably as a commander during the the Battle of Salamis.

His enemies and critics managed to have Themistocles ostracized in ca. 470 â.ń, and this was followed by the pronouncement of a death sentence. He died or committed suicide abroad sometime after 460 B.C. as a vassal of the Persians.


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