Ancient Greek Art

Time Period 600-30 B.C.E.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #1 - Greek art is characterized by a pantheon of gods celebrated in large civic and religious buildings.

  • Greek art is studied chronologically according to changes in style.

  • Greek works are not studied according to dynastic rule, as in Egypt, but according to broad changes in stylistic patterns.

  • Greek art is most known for its idealization and harmonic proportions, both in sculpture and in architecture.

  • Greek art has had an important impact on European art, particularly in the eighteenth century.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #2 - Much ancient writing survives in the fields of literature, law, politics, and business. These documents shed light on Greek civilization as a whole, and on Greek art in particular.

  • Greek writing contains some of the earliest contemporary accounts about art and artists.

  • Epics form the foundation of Greek writing. The texts were first transmitted orally, but later were written down.


The collapse of Aegean society around 1100 B.C.E. left a vacuum in the Greek world until a reorganization took place around 900 B.C.E. in the form of city-states. Places like Sparta, Corinth, and Athens defined Greek civilization in that they were small, competing political entities that were united only in language and the fear of outsiders.

In the fifth century B.C.E. the Persians threatened to swallow Greece, and the city-states rallied behind Athens’ leadership to expel them. This was accomplished, but not before Athens itself was destroyed in 480 B.C.E. After the Persians were effectively neutralized, the Greeks then turned, once again, to bickering among themselves. The worst of these internal struggles happened during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.E.) when Athens was crushed by Sparta. Without an effective core, Greek states continued to struggle for another century.

This did not end until the reign of Alexander the Great, who, in the fourth century B.C.E., briefly united the Macedonians and Greeks, by establishing a mighty empire that eventually toppled the Persians. But because Alexander died young and left no clear successor, his empire crumbled away soon after his death. The remnants of Greek civilization lasted for another hundred years or so, until it was eventually absorbed by Rome.