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 Severan Dynasty

Lucius Septimius Severus consolidated the power of the military within the state and thereby laid the foundations for the reign of the military emperors in the third century a.d. Under the rule of his dynasty, Eastern influences increasingly shaped Rome.

Five generals competed for the throne after Commodus's death.

The North African 3 Septimius Severus triumphed in 193.

3 Emperor Septimius Severus accuses his son Caracalla of an attempted murder

He consolidated the empire, reorganized its finances, and equalized the status of the inhabitants of Italy and the provinces. Septimius Severus transformed the empire into a military monarchy by ignoring the Senate, replacing the Praetorian Guard with his own troops, and appointing loyal military men to increasingly power-
ful civil offices. He thus led the way for the military emperors that would follow.

His son 1 Caracalla murdered his co-regent and brother Geta in 212 and encouraged a fusion of Roman and Eastern cults.

1 Caracalla

Caracalla and Geta by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1907




The Baths at Caracalla by Lawrence Alma-Tadema


Supported by the army and the Praetorian Guard, his was a reign of terror. When he failed in his campaign against the Parthians. he was assassinated by the commander of the Praetorians, Macrinus, who himself became emperor in 217-218.

The rule of Caracalla's Syrian cousin 2 Elagabalus (Heliogabalus, 218-222), a priest of the sun god of Emesa (Elah-Gabal), was a new low point for the Roman emperors.

2 Elagabalus (Heliogabalus or
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus)

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema


He held extravagant nocturnal celebrations and founded secret cults. His attempt to make the Syrian sun cult the official state cult undermined the identity of the Roman Empire.
His cousin Alexander Severus (222-235) who was born in Palestine tried another course. He strengthened the Senate and, advised by the lawyer Ulpian, governed strictly in accordance with old Roman law. However, it became clear that the emperor could no longer rule against the will of the military and the Praetorian Guard.

After the Praetorians 4 murdered Ulpian in 228.

Alexander Severus and his mother, who had great influence over her young son, fell victim to an assassination plot of his officers after his luckless expeditions to Mesopotamia and Egypt and against the Germanic Marcomanni. The army finally achieved total control of the Roman Empire.

4 Ulpian's murder before Emperor Severus and his mother, wood engraving, 1876



The Severan Women

The Severan women consistently played an important role in the reigns of their male relatives. The wife of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, daughter of the sun-priest Bassianus of Emesa, was highly respected and established a circle of scholars around her.

Her sister Julia Maesa was the grandmother of the emperors Eliiga-halus and Alexander Severus and energetically campaigned for their coronation.

Her daughters Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, both mothers of Roman emperors, exercised great influence on the rule of their sons, with whom thev were both murdered.




Julia Domna

Julia Maesa

Julia Soaemias

Julia Mamaea



The Military Emperors

The period of military emperors (235-284 A.D.), with its unclear succession rules and rapid changes of emperors and usurpers, was extremely unsettled. Only the last of the military emperors were able to achieve stability within the empire.

The 50 years that constituted the rule of the military emperors is also called the "crisis of the third century." It was an extremely turbulent era: 26 emperors and 40 usurpers were crowned—and murdered. Many of the emperors were officers of Illyrian-Pannonian origin; most were at war throughout their reigns. Often, competing emperors appeared and the empire fell apart. Rome was being forced into the defensive: from the beginning of the third century Germanic tribes, primarily the Goths, threatened the empire from the west. By the middle of the century, the Danube region, Asia Minor, and Greece had all been lost. In the Middle East, the newly founded Persian Empire of the Sassanids forced the Romans into retreat there.

Emperor Valerian (253-260) was captured by the Persians after a crushing 5 defeat in 260.

5 Triumph of Shapir I, king of the Sassanids, over the
Roman Emperors Philippus and Valerian in the battle
near Edessa in 260

In 258 the usurper Postumus separated Gaul from the empire and founded a Gallo-Roman Empire that survived him.
The Syrian governor of 11 Palmyra, Odaenathus, declared himself independent and forced Rome to recognize him as "governor of all the East."

11 View of Palmyra in Syria

After his death, his widow 8 Zenobia took the title of empress.

It was the last of the soldier-emperors that finally restored stability to the empire.

9 Claudius II Gothicus (268-270) held off an invasion of the Alemanni in northern Italy and triumphed over the Goths on the Danube.

Aurelian (270-75), the most significant military emperor, had the 10 Aurelian Wall built around Rome and drove the Goths out of upper Italy for good in 270-271.

He then marched into the Orient and destroyed the Kingdom of Palmyra (273) and reincorporated Egypt into the Roman Empire. Aurelian reorganized the economy and administration and installed the cult of the Syrian god Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") as the unifying cult of the empire; the festival for this god on December 25 was later adopted by the Christians as Christmas.

8 Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra,
after her arrest by Emperor Aurelian

9 Claudius II Gothicus

10 The Aurelian Wall


Zenobia (240-after 274) was a Syrian queen who lived in the 3rd century. She was a queen of the Palmyrene Empire and the second wife of King Septimius Odaenathus. Upon his death she became the ruler of the empire. In 269, she conquered Egypt, expelling the Roman prefect, Tenagino Probus, whom she beheaded when he led an attempt to recapture the territory. She then proclaimed herself queen of Egypt. She ruled Egypt until 274, when she was defeated and taken as a hostage to Rome by Aurelian. Zenobia appeared in golden chains in Aurelian’s military triumph parade. Impressed by Zenobia, Aurelian freed her and granted her an elegant villa in Tibur (modern Tivoli, Italy). She became a prominent philosopher, socialite and Roman matron. Prominent Romans are counted as her descendants.


Zenobia Found by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxess by Adolphe-William Bouguereau




Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra, by Herbert Schmalz


After Aurelian, 6 Probus (276-282) pacified the recently reclaimed Gaul and pushed the Franks back across the Rhine, which was once again defended as the empire's border.

He also settled Germanic tribes as colonists or took them into the ranks of his army.

After his 7 murder, conditions once again became unstable until Diocletian—building on the achievements of Aurelian and Probus— gave the empire a new character.

6 Marcus Aurelius Probus

7 Aurelian is murdered near Byzantium in 275


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