• Shalini Guha

Ancient Art: Brief History of Art and Culture

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Art is an important glimpse into history because it is often one of the few things to survive. It can tell us stories, relate the moods and beliefs of an era, and allow us to relate to the people who came before us.

Did our ancestors have a name for their art form? Did they refer to themselves as Artists?

What was it like to develop techniques and colors? What was it like to build and beautify a civilization?

If you want answers just the way I do, then let’s explore the history we think we know of.....


Ancient art refers to the many types of art produced by the advanced cultures of ancient societies with some form of writing, such as those of ancient Mesopotamia, India, China, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Though, the timeline and period for which the term ‘Ancient Art’ is used is still debatable Some categorize it as the period after Prehistoric and some say it is from the earliest Paleolithic to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and the nomadic tribes. It also includes the work found in classical civilizations like the Greeks and Celts.

  • Bronze Age Art (3000 to 1100 BCE): The Bronze Age was characterized by the production of the metal bronze, the development of a wide range of functional and precious metalwork, and an increase in economic productivity and the consequent emergence of skilled workers, many of whom were involved in artistic activity, albeit of a semi-functional nature. Ornamental and decorative designs on helmets, body Armour, swords, axes-heads and other weapons became more widespread.

  • Iron Age Art (1100 to 200 BCE): The Iron Age witnessed the fast and widespread use of iron and iron tools, resulting in greater prosperity and a huge upsurge in metalwork, especially around the eastern Mediterranean and in Greece. The Hittites, who lived during the Bronze Age (now part of Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria), may have been the first to make steel.

The Iron Age began around 1200 B.C. in the Mediterranean region and Near East witnessing the collapse of several eminent Bronze Age civilizations, including the Mycenaean Civilization in Greece and the Hettite Empire in Turkey. Ancient cities including Troy and Gaza were destroyed, trade routes were lost and literacy declined throughout the region.


Ancient Art differed and yet had similarities from one region to the other. Here are a few prominent civilizations and their Art.

Mesopotamia (3500-331 BCE):

  • The Sumerians gave us Ziggurats, temples, and lots of sculptures of gods.

  • The Akkadians introduced the victory stele, whose carvings forever remind us of their prowess in battle.

  • The Babylonians improved upon the stele, using it to record the first uniform code of law. The Assyrians ran wild with architecture and sculpture.

  • The Persians put the whole area and its art on the map, as they conquered adjacent lands.

Egyptian Art (31st century BC-4th century AD): The Egyptians built tombs, pyramids, and the Sphinx and decorated them with colorful pictures of the gods they believed ruled in the afterlife.

The function of Egyptian art was twofold.

  • Glorify the Gods, including the Pharaoh and facilitate human passage into the after-life.

  • To assert, propagandize and preserve the values of the day which made their Art traditional and conservative.

Aegean Art: This category of ancient art of classical antiquity - a precursor of Greek art (c.650-27 BCE). The Aegean Art period encompasses works from the Grecian area (ancient Greece).

  • The Mycenaean (Early Greeks): The palaces of the Mycenaean rulers decorations represented different interests and were illustrated in rather rigid and formal hunting expeditions and chariot processions. Plastic art was essentially limited to relief sculpture rather than statues.

  • The Cyclades (an island in the Aegean Sea): All that remains of Cycladic Art is a number of marble carvings of standing female nudes with folded arms. Made up of wedge-shaped bodies, and oval faces devoid of any facial features except for outlined eyes and noses, these fetish-figures are reminiscent of fertility.

  • The Minoan art (island of Crete and other Aegean Islands): The Minoan was named after Minos, the legendary king of Crete. The Minoans were a nation of craftsmen and merchants who enjoyed dancing, bull fighting, from which comes the Minotaur. They were enthusiasts of highly decorative art. Their palaces were built like comfortable intimate country villas, with sophisticated plumbing.

Greek Art (650-27 BCE): Ancient Greek art includes much pottery, sculpture as well as architecture. Greek sculpture is known for the Contrapposto, the standing figures. The art of Ancient Greece is usually divided stylistically into three periods: the Archaic, the Classical and the Hellenistic.

Indian Art: By the 2nd century BCE, Indian art had found a style of its own, expressing movement, naturalism and contemplation. The earliest artistic forms date back to the 1st Century to 3rd Century BCE as per the evidences found in Ajanta Caves. The first sculptures in India are dated back to the Indus Valley Civilization (approx. 5500 BCE). Later, as religious beliefs developed, India produced some of the most magnificent bronzes in the world, as well as unrivaled Temple carvings, some in huge shrines.

Roman Art (507 BCE-337 CE): Roman architecture and engineering was always glorious but its paintings and sculptures remained largely imitative of Greek art.Borrowing freely from the Greek and Etruscan cultures, they created their own style which increasingly stood for power.

What we got to learn, is not even 1% of the History our ancestors had created. Because they moved forward, they built a civilization and so today we are building our life upon it. Every time is a modern time for the one who lived through it. Let’s see what and how else, our History of Art is decorated.

Until the time we meet again...

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