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



The Rise and Fall of a World Power:
From Macedonia to the Diadochoi



Alexander's Goals and Failure

Alexander's Empire at his death in 323 BC.

Alexander alienated himself from his troops by demanding he be revered as a deity. His ambitious goal was the cultural unification of East and West in his world empire. Alexander's plans became increasingly unrealistic and his grip on power loosened.

Like his father, Alexander went to great lengths to achieve his ambitious goals. He presented himself as liberator of the peoples he conquered and observed their traditions. Along the way, he became increasingly fascinated with Oriental cultures. When he began demanding the Oriental custom of prostration before the king
(proskynesis) from his subjects, he alienated himself from his old Greek and Macedonian comrades-in-arms, who resisted this "custom of slaves." After the death of his friend Hephaestion in 324 B.C., the king became increasingly isolated and indulged in heavy bouts of drinking.

In that same year he declared himself the 7 son of the Egyptian national deity Amun and forced the Greeks and Macedonians to worship him as a god.

7 Alexander depicted as Amun, coin

Alexander's plans for a cultural fusing of East and West were far reaching. He himself married the Bactrian princess 8 Roxana in 327 B.C., and he then arranged the 9 mass marriage of 80 of his close associates and military leaders with Persian noblewomen in 324. These marriages were part of a long-term plan to provide a future elite for his empire that would be personally bound to him and carry the legacy of both cultural areas. Exactly how far his plans extended for a world empire—which also included the founding of a large number of cities—is disputed.

Ultimately, Alexander had to give in to reality and the demands of his army. The situation in Europe and, above all, in Macedonia eventually slipped out of his control. Antipater, Alexander's governor in Europe, was strong enough to resist his command that the Greek cities readmit all their exiles who had served in his army. The last months of his life were overshadowed by megalomaniacal plans, feverish delirium, and contradictory political goals—such as an expedition for the conquest of Arabia. On his deathbed. Alexander took leave of his army and passed his signet ring to Perdiccas, one of his generals, yet he failed to designate a successor to rule Macedonia or any other part of his empire.

In June of 323 B.C., Alexander 10 died in Babylon at the age of 33 from a fever or (as many historians suspect) as a result of being gradually poisoned by one of his many enemies.


8 Alexander The Great and Roxana by Pietro Rotari


9 From the throne. Alexander watches the mass wedding at Susa with Stateira,
the daughter of Darius, at his side


10 A gravely ill and feverish Alexander takes leave of loyal members of his army from his deathbed


Entry of Alexander into Babylon, Charles Le Brun



Quintus Curtius Rufus,
The History of

"To be sure, it is obvious to anyone who makes a fair assessment of the king that his strengths were attributable to his nature and his weaknesses to fortune or his youth."



Silver coin of Alexander (336-323 BCE). British Museum


The Kingdoms of the Diadochoi

After his death, Alexander's generals divided his empire among themselves. Only those who limited themselves to a distinct territory were able to assert themselves as founders of a dynasty.

As Alexander had designated no successor, a power struggle erupted immediately after his death in 523 â.ñ at the early age of 33. He had succeeded in making the concept of monarchy, which had been peripheral to the Greek world, a model for the succeeding Hellenistic kings. The diadem became the symbol of monarchy. Each of his generals wanted a share of his crumbling empire. Among these Diadochoi (successors) there were plenty of strong leaders—in fact, there were simply too many competing against each other.

At first, Perdiccas of Orestis, a general who had distinguished himself in the Indian campaign, attempted to use the signet ring he had received from Alexander to legitimize a role as "regent of the empire" until Alexander's young 1 son, Alexander IV Aigos, came of age.

1 Roxana, the widow of Alexander the Great, with her son
Alexander IV Aigos are received by the Macedonian commander Eumenes

However, those Diadochoi who sought to uphold Alexander's plans for a world empire were defeated, and Perdiccas was murdered in 321 B.C. Only those who chose a specific country in which to build up their power base succeeded. The Diadochoi also carried the cosmopolitan Hellenistic culture, which in many areas fused Greek-Macedonian and Oriental elements, into the empire. Thus Greek culture and philosophy influenced societies in countries far from Greece.

The Diadochoi states were strongly aligned with the personalities of the rulers. Each king legitimized himself as a conqueror and military leader who was able to hold and manage his territory. His power was not limited by a constitution.

The successful Diadochoi established 2 dynasties.

2 Tetradrachmon commissioned by a
Macedonian or Seleucid dynasty,
ca. 31 1-280 B.C.

These, however, were often characterized bv family feuds among the descendants, the Epigones.

Many of Alexander's officers established small kingdoms, primarily in Asia Minor.

One of these was the Macedonian Philetaerus who, in 283 B.C., founded the kingdom of the Attalids of Pergamon, which has become particularly well known due to its impressive buildings such as the 4, 5 "Pergamon altar."

Pergamon became a leading power in Asia Minor, made an alliance with Rome to help bring peace to the region, and brought forth significant cultural achievements.

Its library was founded by Attains I (241-197 B.C.), Philetaerus's grandson. Pergamine parchment was pioneered when supplies of Egyptian papyrus for manuscripts were cut off. In 133 B.C. when Attains III died. Pergamon fell to the Romans.

4 Pergamon altar, the lower section of which is a frieze depicting mythological scenes of gods fighting animals and giants,
reconstruction of the western section

5 Eastern frieze of the Pergamon altar

5 Eastern frieze of the Pergamon altar, showing a battle of gods and Titans

3 Statue of a dying warrior, found in Pergamon
ca. 210 B.C.



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