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 Rule of the Generals and Imperial Rome

74 B.C.-192 A.D.


The Empire under Augustus and His Family

Emperor Augustus reorganized the political structure of the Roman state. His reforms were successful and the modernized state proved stable under the rule of his successors.

In 27 B.C., the senate bestowed upon the victorious Octavian the title 1 augustus ("the exalted") and the office of princeps ("first citizen").

1 Augustus

He was ultimately promoted via a number of intermediary offices to the position of impemtor ("emperor") Caesar Augustus. He was seen as the emperor of peace, a savior who was ultimately venerated as a deity. Augustus carried out a reorganization of the empire's administration, its provinces, and the tax system. He implemented strict moral and marriage laws with the aim of revitalizing the ancient civic virtues of Rome. "Pax Augusta"—peace in the empire and an end to all party conflicts—was declared as the highest state goal and integrated into the state religion. Augustus recognized the increasing professionalization of the military and thus set up a standing army of 28 legions. He continued Marius'sand Caesar's policy of rewarding veterans with state lands.

The emperor shrewdly avoided the excessive adulation of his person. He reinforced his position as the focus of centralized power, yet always maintained good relations with the Senate. Rome's economy rapidly recovered from the decline that had resulted from the civil war. The Age of Augustus was not only one of increasing wealth but also of abundance in art and literature.

After Augustus' death in August, 14 a.d., his stepson 2 Tiberius continued his policies.

His attempts at including the Senate in the administration of the government failed, however, and he withdrew, embittered, to Capri in 27. The Praetorian Guard, an elite detail of the emperor's personal bodyguards, which later became a "state within the state," then made its first attempt to seize power.

Following the intermezzo of the megalotnaniacal Caligula (37-41)—who terrorized the Senate and honored a horse with a consulship— Claudius (41-54), an idiosyncratic but capable regent, became emperor. Under his rule, the transition from republic to a state centered on the emperor was completed, and parts of the British Isles were conquered.

His stepson 3 Nero (54-68) ruled wisely and benignly at first, while still under the influence of his teacher, the philosopher Seneca.

But gradually he lost his grip on reality, perhaps due to his inordinate admiration of the Greeks and the cult of his person. The administration of his empire was taken over by minions.

2 Tiberius



3 Nero


Caligula Depositing the Ashes of his Mother and Brother in the Tomb of his Ancestors, by Eustache Le Sueur, 1647
Gratus proclaims Claudius emperor, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, c. 1871.

The death of Seneca, by Luca Giordano, 1684

The Death of Seneca,
by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615

4 Persecution of Christians after the fire in Rome in 64 a.d.

4 Christianswere persecuted and blamed for the
devastating fire in Rome in 64.

With revolts in the provinces Nero killed himself in 68,
ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty.




The Peace Realm of Augustus

Virgil, The Aeneid, book 1, foretelling the reign of Augustus:

"Then dire debate and impious war shall cease,
And the stern age be soften'd into peace:
Then banish'd Faith shall once again return,
And Vestal fires in hallow'd temples burn:
And Remuswith Quirinus shall sustain.
The righteous laws, and fraud and force restrain...."



Virgil and two muses, mosaic from the house of Virgil in Hadrumetum, Sousse, Tunisia



The Flavians and the Adopted Emperors

The Flavian dynasty consolidated the Roman Empire. The adopted emperors built on this reinforced empire and ushered in its golden age.

In 69 a.d., in the vacuum left by Nero, four emperors claimed Rome.

Vespasian, the governor of Judea and founder of the Flavian dynasty, prevailed.

9 Vespasian

He balanced the treasury deficit through better economic administration and increased taxation—his sewer tax became known by the motto "Pecunia ďîď olet" ("Money doesn't stink").

He began the construction of the 6 Colosseum in Rome, reorganized the army, and tied the provinces closer by extending the right to citizenship.

6 Colosseum in Rome, construction begun under Vespasian, 72 a.d.

6 Colosseum in Rome, construction begun under Vespasian, 72 a.d.

6 Colosseum in Rome, construction begun under Vespasian, 72 a.d.

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome,1883

Pollice Verso ("Thumbs Down") by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1872


Under his successor 11 Titus (79-81), the cities of Pompeii and Herculancum were destroyed by the 12 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

11 Titus

12 Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

A computer-generated depiction of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 which buried Pompeii (from BBC's Pompeii: The Last Day). The depiction of the Temple of Jupiter, facing the forum, and the Temple of Apollo, across the portico to the left, are nonetheless inaccurate, and the shown state of the porticoes around the forum is also at least questionable, as they all appear intact during this recreation of the 79 eruption; it is widely known that at least the Temples of Jupiter and Apollo had been destroyed 17 years before, during the 62 earthquake, and that they had not been rebuilt by the time the city was finally destroyed in the 79 eruption


The Triumph of Titus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1885
The composition suggests a love affair between Titus and Domitian's wife Domitia Longina.


The Last Day of Pompeii, by Karl Brullov


The Flavian era ended with the murder of Titus' brother and successor 5 Domitian (81-96).

5 Domitian

The ensuing era was that of the "adopted emperors"—each emperor adopted his most capable successor—and is considered the most humane of the Roman Empire. The rule of law was guaranteed and charities and social institutions were founded.

7 Trajan (98-117), who was proclaimed optimus princeps by the Senate, was victorious in wars against the Dacians and Parthians and in North Africa, and the empire was at its most extensive.

7 Trajan; Column of Trajan 113 AD

Roman carroballista, a cart-mounted field artillery (relief detail)


 Dacian warriors storm the Roman fortifications

Trajan's final address to his victorious troops (right), after the native Dacian population had departed (left)

The era of Hadrian (117-138)— a general and admirer of Greek culture—and the peace-loving Antoninus Pius (138-161) is considered to be the golden age of the Roman Empire.

Influenced by Stoicism, both aimed for a multiethnic and multicultural empire and developed a defensive foreign policy, which led to securing the borders, for example, in the form of Hadrian's Wall in Britain.

Marcus Aurelius (161-180), who was sometimes referred to as the "philosopher on the emperor's throne," wanted to dedicate himself to the preservation of peace, yet was forced to wage defensive wars on the empire's borders.

These were primarily against the Marcomanni, in northern Italy, and the Quadi in the Danube region, Egypt and Spain. Marcus Aurelius broke with the tradition of adoption and named his son Commodus (180-192) as successor. With Commodus' murder, however, the system of adoption collapsed.


Antoninus Pius

8 Marcus Aurelius




The Greek Philosophy of Stoicism

The Greek philosophy of Stoicism became popular in Rome during the 2nd century a.d. The Stoics' ethic was modesty and the conscientious performance of one's duty.

 Peace of mind— "stoic" calm—justice, rational self-control, and humanity were considered the highest goals.

The Stoics' ideal state included the whole world and built on the equality of all men before the law of divine reason. Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius were all Stoics.



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