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



Intellectual Innovations in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries â.ñ.

In the two centuries after 500 B.C., significant intellectual developments took place in Greece. This was initiated by the great tragedians and early historians and by the Sophists, whose philosophy was answered by that of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

1 Sophocles;  2 Euripides;  3 Aristophanes;  4 Plato;  5 Aristotle;  6 Socrates


The fifth and fourth centuries â.ñ. were a time of 10 intellectual regeneration in many fields. In the fifth century, the three most important tragedians of antiquity—9 Aeschylus, 1 Sophocles, and 2 Euripides— were all working in Athens. They used myths and historical tales to illustrate subjects such as man's inconstant fate, guilt, and atonement. In the fourth century, similar subjects—but with an emphasis on human weaknesses—were dealt with in comedies, most notably by 3 Aristophanes.

In parallel to this creative effervescence, the first philosophy of history, or historiography, emerged with Herodotus in the middle of the fifth century. He was followed by Thucydides a few decades later.

Herodotus is credited as the "father of history" for his original use of universal historical contexts in writing on the Greco-Persian wars. History was no longer seen as merely "a game of the gods" but rather became a combination offerees and people actors; causes and motives were examined and suggested.

In philosophy, the Sophists ("teachers of wisdom") renounced the natural philosophy of the sixth century and set out in a new direction, which led to the end of the old order. As provocative philosophers of enlightenment, they saw thought, critical reasoning, and rhetoric as the basis of all knowledge, behavior, and customs. Man became "the measure of all things."

Complementing this, the three great Greek philosophers began the development of ethical thought, 6 Socrates, who was preoccupied with the moral responsibility of the individual, was put on trial in 399 B.C. and sentenced to drink a cup of poisonous hemlock for "corrupting the youth of Athens."

His student 4, 7, 11 Plato was inspired by the unjust death of his teacher, and took Socrates' teachings, notably his dialogues, as a
principle from which he designed an ethics-based, hierarchically structured order of all that exists. In his Politeia ("Republic"). Plato contemplated the nature of the ideal state and developed the idea of philosopher-kings. Around 385 B.C. he founded 8 an academy of philosophy in Athens, where he taught for many years.

Later 5 Aristotle, whom Plato "converted," took as his starting point individual things and created an all-encompassing system of the sciences. He introduced the thought processes of natural science and the observation of nature into the history of ideas.

7 Logic and Dialectic, typified by Aristotle and Plato,
relief by Luca della Robbia, 1437


8 The School of Athens, fresco by Raphael, 1508-11



From Herodotus' History, Book 1:

"I shall go forward with my history, describing equally the greater and the lesser cities. For the cities which were formerly great have most of them become insignificant; and such as are at present powerful, were weak... I shall therefore discourse equally on both, convinced that human happiness never continues long in one stay."



The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David


10 Significant artists, poets, and philosophers of the Age of Pericles,
print with color added later, ca.1852

9 Performance of Aeschylus' Agamemnon in Athens;
the play recounts the return of the King of Argus
from the Trojan War, colored wood engraving, ca. 1865

11 Plato and his scholars in the academy
of philosophy that he established in Athens,
steel engraving, ca. 1850


The Political Environment

After the Peloponnesian War, Sparta was forced to defend its supremacy in Greece against the struggle for autonomy by the city-states. It was eventually defeated by Thebes.

The Peloponnesian War altered the balance of power. Athens had failed in its imperialist ambitions and was forced to relinquish hegemony to Sparta.
However, a general peace on the Greek peninsula proved elusive. The war had left deep scars on almost all of the cities allied with the two main combatants. In virtually every polity, citizens were divided into pro-Athenian advocates of democracy or pro-Spartan advocates of the old oligarchic order. There was social unrest—for example, in Corcyra—and small civil wars.

Following Athens's capitulation in 404 B.C., Sparta's allies— above all Corinth and Thebes— demanded the destruction of the city to break Athenian power once and for all. Sparta, which had already achieved its objectives, opposed this. Meanwhile, the cities formerly under Athenian rule demanded the autonomy that Sparta had promised them during the war—and showed little inclination to exchange Athenian domination for Spartan. However, Sparta removed the democratic governments in these cities and reinstated the old oligarchic parties.

Fresh unrest also broke out on the Peloponnesus. Around 400 B.C., the Persians again occupied the Greek cities in Anatolia. Sparta attempted to force the Persians out with military action in 400-394, but with money and promises of liberation, the Persians persuaded Thebes, Argos, Corinth, Athens, and the central Greek states to side with them against Sparta.

Although Sparta had some success against the individual city-states, as in the 12, 13 second battle of Coroneia (394 B.C.), the alliance backed by Persian gold was too large to overcome.

In the ensuing King's Peace of 387-386, Sparta was forced to recognize Persian supremacy in Asia Minor and the autonomy of the other Greek cities. Sparta was visibly weakened—a signal for its former allies to shake off Spartan control once and for all. Thebes took the initiative. Under the command of General 14 Epaminondas, who developed a new military strategy with an attack from the left flank, the Theban army defeated the Spartans at Leuctra in Boeotia in 371. Sparta was broken, and within a few decades, Thebes became the leading state in Greece. This lasted until a new power—Macedonia under Philip II—challenged the order.

12 Victory of the Spartans at the second
 Battle of Coroneia, 394 B.C.

13 Naval engagement during the second
Battle of Coroneia in 394 B.C.


14 The Death of Epaminondas after the battle against the Spartans led by Mantineia in 362 B.C.,
painting by Isaak Walraven


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