Ancient Near Eastern Art

TIME PERIOD: 3500 B.C.E. -641 C. E.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #1 - Ancient Near Eastern art concentrates on royal figures and gods.

  • Ancient Near Eastern art takes place mostly in city-states of Mesopotamia.
  • Art from this region is one of the foundations of art history.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING #2 - Ancient Near Eastern art is inspired by religion; kings often assume divine attributes.

  • Figures are constructed within stylistic conventions of the time, including hierarchy of scale, registers, and stylized human forms.
  • Ancient Near Eastern architecture is characterized by ziggurats and palaces.


The Ancient Near East saw the birth of world civilizations, symbolized by the first works of art that were used in the service of religion and the state. Rulers were quick to see that their image could be permanently emblazoned on stelae that celebrated their achievements for posterity to admire. The new invention of writing created a systematic historical and artistic record of human achievement.

Common characteristics of Ancient Near Eastern art include the union of human and animal elements in a single figure, the use of hierarchy of scale, and the deification of rulers.

Because the Mesopotamian river valleys were poor in stone, most buildings in this region were made of mud-brick and were either painted or faced with tile or stone. Entranceways to cities and palaces were important; fantastic animals acted as guardian figures to protect the occupants and ward off the evil intentions of outsiders.