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Hellenistic Greece . Social and Political Context

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hellenistic greece
Hellenistic Greece
  • Social and Political Context
    • Philip of Macedon was succeeded by his son Alexander (356-323 B.C.) who ruled from 336 to 323 B.C. During his short reign conquered most of the known world advancing in the east to the Indus River. Geography demanded development of administrative system centered in large cities
    • Capital cities became wealthy and required suitable public monuments
    • Bureaucracy displaced citizenry resulting in death of the polis.
    • Intensified interaction with the east: new cultures, new religions
    • Development of cosmopolitan society united primarily by shared language
  • Art and Literature
    • Public monuments celebrated power of the ruler
    • Opulent lifestyle of the wealthy called for more elegant and lavish art
    • Cosmopolitan taste wanted more variety: interest in the exotic and unusual, extremes of emotion and condition, as well as groups that interact with each other and with the environment.
    • Aristotelian aesthetic, i.e. appreciation of physical world and of the transitory
    • Rejection of classical idealism
consequences for art
Consequences for Art
  • Wealth of new merchant class stimulated demand for private art.
  • Opulent life required extravagant works that could satisfy sophisticated tastes.
  • Cosmopolitan culture fostered taste for exotic or innovative subjects.
  • Philosophical cynicism conducive to artistic interest in transitional states since ultimate unchanging truth does not exist.
hellenistic naturalism depicts people at different stages of life and in different conditions
Hellenistic naturalism depicts people at different stages of life and in different conditions.

Head from Antikythera, ca. 250-225 B.C.

Drunken Old Woman, ca. 230-200 B.C.

Head from Delos, ca. 100 B.C.

Statue of Demosthenes, Roman copy of bronze original by Polyeuktos, ca. 280 B.C.

the goddess appears in more intimate settings either holding a mirror or taking a bath
The goddess appears in more intimate settings, either holding a mirror or taking a bath

2 different Roman copies of bronze original by Doidalsos of Bythinia of the so-called “Crouching Aphrodite,” ca. 250 B.C.

Aphrodite of Melos, ca. 150 B.C.

Collectors wanted art that included representations of exotic subjects or subjects in a transitory condition, e.g., sleeping.

Barberini Faun, ca. 220 B.C.

Marsyas from a group depicting the Slaying of Marsyas, ca. 200 B.C.

Boxer, ca. 80 B.C.


Monument commemorating Pergamene victory over Gallic invaders reflects willingness to view the enemy as noble. Sculptures were created by Epigonos of Pergamon.

Monument Commemorating Victory over the Gauls

Gallic Chieftain holding his Dead Wife, ca. 200 B.C.

Dying Gallic Trumpeter, ca. 220 B.C.

details of the frieze from the altar of zeus at pergamon
Details of the Frieze from the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon

Hekate attacking Klyeios with Otos and Algaeos fighting Artemis and her dog.

Athena battling the Giant Alkyoneus

Detail of Alkyoneus (note deep cutting)

Group of Nereus and Doris fighting the giant Okeanos

nike of samothrace ca 220 190 b c musee du louvre paris 8 pythokritos of rhodes
Nike of Samothrace, ca. 220-190 B.C., Musee du Louvre, Paris. 8’; Pythokritos of Rhodes ?
roman art and architecture
Roman Art and Architecture
  • Social and Political Context
    • Rome traditionally founded in 507 B.C. as a Republic: 2 consuls elected annually, senate and various assemblies.
    • By the end of the fifth century had conquered immediately surrounding region, fourth century gained domination of Italy, Third century moved into southern France, southern Spain and northern Africa. Second century invaded Balkan peninsula and Greece while continuing to expand northwards.
    • By 27 B.C. Rome dominated the Mediterranean, and Octavian/Augustus combined the full array of government powers to create the Principate (the empire in disguise).
  • Art and Literature
    • The Roman artistic response was intended to enhance the power of the Empire.
    • Public art in an elevated Greek style celebrated Rome’s history and ruler. At the same time retained Roman tradition of verism to celebrate character.
    • Historical monuments promoted the power of the emperor.
    • Roman poet Virgil composed an epic poem, The Aeneid, recounting the journey of Rome’s founder, Aeneas, from Troy to Latium, the region around Rome./
    • Roman engineering relying on bricks and concrete provided public services and facilitated communication

Ara Pacis, dedicated ca. 13 B.C. to commemorate settlement between Augustus and the Senate, approximately 34.5’ by 38’. Classical style is used to emphasize the significance of the subject.


Augustus of Prima Porta, ca. 20 C.E., Marble, ht. 6'8", Museo Vaticano, Rome. This statue of Augustus is based on Polkleitos’s Doryphoros. The relief on the breastplate uses mythological scenes to emphasize Augustus’s divine heritage. Commemorated recapture of Roman legionary standards.


Arch of Titus (top) 81 C.E. with relief showing sacking of JerusalemColumn of Trajan, completed 113 C.E. (below), ht. 30 m., depictsTrajan’s victories in Dacia.


Laocoon, Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Polydoros of Rhodes, early 1st century B.C., Vatican Museum, Rome. Based on a story from the Trojan War told most notably by Virgil in the Aeneid.


Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate, And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate, Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore. Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore, And in the doubtful war, before he won The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town; His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine, And settled sure succession in his line, From whence the race of Alban fathers come, And the long glories of majestic Rome. O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate; What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate; For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began To persecute so brave, so just a man; Involv'd his anxious life in endless cares, Expos'd to wants, and hurried into wars! Can heav'nly minds such high resentment show, Or exercise their spite in human woe? Against the Tiber's mouth, but far away, An ancient town was seated on the sea; A Tyrian colony; the people made Stout for the war, and studious of their trade: Carthage the name; belov'd by Juno more Than her own Argos, or the Samian shore. Here stood her chariot; here, if Heav'n were kind, The seat of awful empire she design'd. Yet she had heard an ancient rumor fly, (Long cited by the people of the sky,) That times to come should see the Trojan race Her Carthage ruin, and her tow'rs deface; Nor thus confin'd, the yoke of sov'reign sway Should on the necks of all the nations lay. She ponder'd this, and fear'd it was in fate; Nor could forget the war she wag'd of late For conqu'ring Greece against the Trojan state.

Opening lines of The Aeneid by Virgil, written 29-19 B.C. to help legitimate Augustus’s claim to power.

Besides, long causes working in her mind, And secret seeds of envy, lay behind; Deep graven in her heart the doom remain'd Of partial Paris, and her form disdain'd; The grace bestow'd on ravish'd Ganymed, Electra's glories, and her injur'd bed. Each was a cause alone; and all combin'd To kindle vengeance in her haughty mind. For this, far distant from the Latian coast She drove the remnants of the Trojan host; And sev'n long years th' unhappy wand'ring train Were toss'd by storms, and scatter'd thro' the main. Such time, such toil, requir'd the Roman name, Such length of labor for so vast a frame. Now scarce the Trojan fleet, with sails and oars, Had left behind the fair Sicilian shores, Ent'ring with cheerful shouts the wat'ry reign, And plowing frothy furrows in the main; When, lab'ring still with endless discontent, The Queen of Heav'n did thus her fury vent: "Then am I vanquish'd? must I yield?" said she, "And must the Trojans reign in Italy? So Fate will have it, and Jove adds his force; Nor can my pow'r divert their happy course. Could angry Pallas, with revengeful spleen, The Grecian navy burn, and drown the men? She, for the fault of one offending foe, The bolts of Jove himself presum'dto throw: