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



From Constantine to the Rise of Byzantium



The Empire under Justinian and Heraclius

Under Justinian I, Byzantium became the leading power in Europe both politically and culturally. Heraclius reorganized the empire and gave Byzantium a structure that endured to its end.

In foreign affairs, Justinian pursued the establishment of Byzantine dominance in the West, repulsion of the Persians in the East, and above all the elimination of the restless Germanic tribes. The kingdoms of the Vandals in North Africa (533-534) and the Ostrogoths in Italy (551-553) came under Byzantine rule.

In keeping with the idea of 8, 11 imperial divine rule, Justinian elaborated Byzantine court ceremonies in a strongly religious vein ("caesaropapism") and subjugated the patriarchs and popes of Constantinople and Rome.

Justinian's most significant work was the civil code of laws begun in 528. The Code of Justinian decisively set the pattern for the whole of European legal history. Under his rule, the empire experienced the first literary and artistic flowering of its own independent culture.

8 Mary with Jesus between Constantine and Justinian,
mosaic, Hagia Sophia

11 Crucifixion scene with Constantine and Helena
under the cross

He also invested the enormous state budget in buildings of extraordinary magnificence, such as the 6, 10 Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and in the development of the cities.

6 The Hagia Sophia, completed 360; rebuilt under Emperor Justinian 532-537
10 Interior of Hagia Sophia

Justinian's successors were occupied in wars against the Persians, Avars, and Bulgarians and embroiled in religio-political disputes. In 610 the general Heraclius rose to prominence and took the emperor's throne. He went on to mold the character of the Byzantine Empire. At first, however, he found himself on the defensive. In 614 Jerusalem fell to the Persians, and in 626 the Persians and Avars jointly laid siege to Constantinople. However, once the Persians were driven out of Anatolia, things changed. The Byzantines advanced into Persian territory and in 627 reclaimed Jerusalem. Heraclius now restructured the empire, reorganized the Orthodox Church, divided the empire into military districts, and crushed the power of big landowners. Above all, as the official state, administrative, and military language, he replaced Latin with the Greek used by the church and the people. The imperial title of augustus was replaced with basilcios. Heraclius thereby achieved the final stage of development in the Greco-Byzantine character of the empire.

The Heraclian dynasty that ruled until 711, as well as the following rulers, had to contend with 9 Arab and Bulgarian invasions in the seventh through ninth centuries, which were a mortal threat to the empire.

9 The siege of Constantinople by
the Arabs in 717, book painting, 13th

Internally, the empire was shaken from 711 to 843 by violent religious controversy regarding the 7 veneration of icons.

The emperor and patriarchs fell victim to the icon disputes, and several provinces were able to gain their independence by civil war. Despite this, Byzantium's structures and borders remained largely intact.


7 Mother of God of Vladimir,
icon from Constantinople, 12th13th century

See also collection :

Russian Icons


Hagia Sophia




Plan and Section


Hagia Sophia Interior






Hagia Sophia, mosaics







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