Research: The Greeks and their Neighbours

Who were the Greeks or Hellenic people and where did they occupy in the Mediterranean?  apart from the Greek peninsular there was no clearly defined geographic area but the civilization stretched across the Aegean Islands, outposts of shores of the Black Sea, Sicily, Southern Italy, coasts of Anatolia and the south coasts of France and as far west as Spain.  They were a maritime nation only linked by the see with no political unity of government – the Hellenic world consisted of small autonomous states which were often at war with one another and ruled either by single individuals or small groups or by the majority.  The words of ‘tyranny’ (single individual ruling), ‘oligarchy’ (ruled by few people or dominant class or government), ‘democracy’ (ruled by the people or elected agents of the people’ and also the word ‘polis’ (self governing state and where we get the word ‘politics’ today from) are all of Greek origin.  So if this civilization was so wide spread and without a single government the question must be what is the defining factor that links them all? simple – culture.

Prior to 800 BC the Hellenic world was illiterate but around this time a script was developed from the Phoenician alphabet which spread throughout the civilization.  The customs and the arts were the same wherever you were in the Hellenic world and this defined the peoples – anyone who didn’t speak their language were considered ‘barbarians’.  The Greeks thought themselves to be superior to everyone else and managed in imposing their beliefs in themselves on others  – they even considered themselves superior to the Egyptians, Persians and Mesopotamians who were all great civilizations in their own right and often their cultures had influences on the Greek arts.

It strikes me that the Greeks through all the wars and the far reaching geographical nature of their civilization they were a nation of unrest, economic shifts, political development and yet their art and technical skills of their sculpture, pottery and paintings still form the very basis of the Western Canon today and with one of my earliest memories being of looking up at the Parthenon and seeing some of the great sculptures in Athens itself they were also a nation whose art has never, in my view, been surpassed in terms of its skill.

So to get back to how I am meant to be doing this notes I will only refer to my diagrammatic drawings, like the one pictured and keep my notes in the background for checking and doing the single page summary of the assignment:



  • Monarchy gave way to aristocracy (‘rule by the best’) and also to polis which was the self governing state (first experimented within around 800 BC) – Greece was not one single political unit but many autonomous states each self governing and included tyrannical governments where there was a single ruler too. Aristocratic rule became common in Hellenic world and overseas city states and by end of Archaic period the autonomous and numerous states give way to city states with either democratically or aristocratic ruling that meant the patronage of the arts by wealthy members of society and consequently encouraged artistic development.
  • As polis state developed distinctive characteristics of Greek art came about around the same time – Greeks first started to experiment with polis city states around 800 BC.
  • Developing civilisation with colonies founding in Sicily (Syracuse) and South Russia (733 BC and 654 BC)
  • Persians tried to invade Marathon but defeated in 490 BC.
  • Reforms in Athens by Solon in 594 BC created the basis for a democratic state.  This  had far reaching effects because under another leading politician, Themistocles, in the early days of democracy, the naval power of Athens strengthened and not only were the Athenians able to defeat the Persian invasion of Athens in 484 BC but also the strong navy meant new trading freedoms as the Greeks entered what became known as the Classical Period.
  • Solon’s reforms were the very basis for a democratic state as he freed the citizens and meant no one was a slave but the exceptions were foreign slaves and women which meant ONLY men could vote.  Due to Themistocles purchasing the silver mines near Athens and using the silver to make coins he persuaded the people to invest in the naval ships and bearing in mind it was the poor who rowed the ships it meant the votes of the poor as important as the votes of the wealthy.
  • These reforms also reinforced the fact that the Hellenic world was very much a male dominated society – the sculptures were largely based around the male form and when female statues were sculpted they were never nude as modesty prevailed.
  • Market for art in the Hellenic world larger than vaster empires such as Egypt and Iran.  Athens in particular was an artistic centre.
  • Despite the political unrest and the conflicts that continued into the Classical period the arts and intellectual activity flourished.
  • Pericles (leader of Athens from 460-429 BC) won support of power by providing jobs to build public buildings and from diverting funds meant for protection against more Persian invasions which was a controversial move at the time but Pericles effectively gave democracy its definitive form.  The jobs were meant to be for the free people of Athens but in reality many employed were the foreign slaves of the wealthy but this did not seem to dim Pericles popularity as he was responsible for the majority of the public buildings of Athens that were open to all the people and not just the wealthy or the elite.
  • Late Classical period was on of artistic decline but the ruling classes of northern Greece developed a taste for luxury and indulged in mosaics, gold, vases and similar arts as symbols of status.


  • After development of script in around 800 BC the Hellenic world started to emerge from what has been called the Dark Age and from this preceding period only two forms of art survived – pottery and ironwork and as the Greeks entered the Archaic period painting, sculpture and architecture begin to emerge so the skills of those craftsman developed.
  • Wealthy patronage as the political status of the Hellenic world changed meant that artistic development was encouraged but the opportunities were also very few on a large scale.
  • Athens was the greatest city in the terms of the history of art and encouraged the artistic developments that then spread throughout the Hellenic world.
  • Life sized statues, small gold jewellery, pottery and panel paintings meant a premium on artistry and artists competed to improve on predecessors efforts.
  • Arts flourished particularly during the Classical period as they had moved away from the  simplicity of the earlier periods but had none of the elaboration of later periods either – the Parthenon on the Acropolis as an example.
  • Artists had  freedom of movement and so could travel within the Hellenic world and found that tyrants were great patrons.
  • Painters in the Classical period were as highly regarded as sculptors by wealthy patrons and unlike the idealism that developed in the sculptural world the painters were renowned for their naturalism and differentiated from the rest of Europe in this aspect.
  • Mosaics start to appear in buildings in the late Classical period and so new artists in this field develop.
  • Introduction of coins which are in fact miniature works of art in their own right and can accurately date the period due to the imprint or style of the art on the coin so I would presume the metal workers who produced them were high valued.


  • Development of Egyptian method of preparing a block for carving by drawing outlines of the face on it – Archaic period sculpture only has 2 viewpoints as general rule (limited number) – front and back and Egyptian techniques were developed to be able to be used with marble.
  • Proto-geometric vessels with severe patterns that echoed form of pot and how it was made and geometric vessels were more elaborately painted with spaces between bands of patterns filled with other patterns and sometimes men and animals.
  • Archaic forms of the kouros statutes with their rigidity developed into the more relaxed naturalistic style that was viewed from 4 different points and developments in carving meant the latter statues (Kritios Boy) were carved as one organic form where the different body parts found a natural balance – the sculptors learnt to not separate the torso and instead developed methods of ensuring the eye swept around the body of the sculpture (such as the exaggerated pelvic lines) and by putting emphasis on the muscles the 4 view points emerge and the potential of movement is seen.   This was a crucial and major development.
  • Architecturally the use of columns in temples changed and developed to support a roof which carried the walls of a chamber or cella and only internal columns needed where the width of the building necessitated.
  • Optical refinements during the Classical period developed to correct buildings viewpoints i.e. columns were placed closer together at the ends or sloped inwards at the tops to give illusions of straightness or evenness – this I find particularly clever because this is in relation to perspective for the view on the ground.
  • Sculptors learnt the use of ‘modelling lines’ in the form of deeper furrows and edges on clothing to give vitality to clothes when seen from below and the use of lines going counter direction to the body which meant a female body covered by clothes still revealed the fuller and founder form beneath and gave a definite sensuality to the sculpture.
  • Lost wax technique also developed for bronze work – literally the bronze was cast from hollow molds that were cast around carved wax and then the melted bronze poured in which melted the was.  This technique was highly skilled and just emphasized the mastery of the Greeks of metal work – sadly most bronze statues have not survived because bronze is recyclable like other metals.
  • Myron was skilled for his naturalistic work and the Discobolus was sculpted on a single plane and high relief as if to be viewed from below whereas Polyclitus took account of multiple viewpoints and he developed theories about bodily proportions that became highly respected in later Roman times.  The concept of Idealisation developed from the Naturalistic style – in doing so the skills of the sculptors must have had to change somewhat by the mere fact of the idealised figure being more exaggerated in its form and being what was considered ‘the ideal’ (much like when you see a photoshopped image that has been altered to suit what a country deems the ideal beauty for perhaps a female model).   A painter in the 5th century BC, Zeuxis, apparently used 5 models to create his ideal form for one singular female and such techniques were employed in sculpture too.  Polyclitus wrote his treatise (Canon) on the symmetria or proportional relationships that made up the ideal form as you could not just use one set of images or a few set models to create an idealistic form but had to take into account of how each body part relates to each other – this was a major development in the artistic world of the Classical period and the statues of the Idealistic period have become part of what we know as the Western Canon for arts.
  • Stylish elegance took over from the sturdiness and air of detachment of early Classical period in the 4th century BC and can be seen in the first female nude sculpture – this would have meant the development of techniques that would define this or maybe just an adaptation of the techniques to allow for this elegance and softness of form seen in the female statues (nudity was rare in ancient Greece due to the aforesaid male dominant society).
  • 6th century BC – black figure technique primarily used for pottery where figures shown in black on orange-red ground (most evidence of painting is through the survival of pottery) and this technique was highly skilled – essentially the technique of silhouette.
  • Before beginning of 5th century the reverse technique of red figure process developed as an alternative and meant that the paintings were more light illuminated and therefore could develop from just a conceptual image but to show scenes with movement and does not require the head to be just in profile and therefore could give an impression of emotion or character as well as the impression of space.
  • Foreshortening in painting and sculpture first appeared in 5th century.
  • Red-figure process thought to have developed so that the potters could emulate the work of the painters who worked on a much larger scale and did not have the restrictive range of colours.
  • White-ground work on lekythoi developed – these vessels usually held oil for cleaning and burial rites but the process was much closer to that of panel painting than the previous red or black-figure work. Technique involved white slip that after firing was painted with tempera colours (literally pigments mixed with an tempering medium such as egg yolk to enable the pigments to stick to the vessel) that unfortunately also rubbed off with frequent use and hence few survive.  Nothing was found in European art for another 2000 years so this really was a major development for Greek artistry and you can only imagine what the vessels must have looked like.
  • Stelae or grave memorials that survive show also the development of working in marble – these were non-religious in their form and usually upright slabs but through their use the running drill was developed that obviously would be of crucial importance for sculpture.
  • Architectural developments also included the theatre or tholos and the amphitheatres that survive demonstrate wonderfully the ideal of architecture as geometric forms which is a repeating theme throughout architecture to this day.
  • As stated above mosaics began to appear and therefore the tools and techniques to produce them developed.
  • Coins appeared due to the realisation of their use for trading purposes and the styles of the coins are of artistic importance as they show developing or changing styles and are miniature works of art as I state previously – the tools again to produce them would need to be develop and an adaptation of the process of working in silver  to produce them.


  • Orientalizing style apparent as the start of the Archaic period – originated in West Asia and was dominant on pottery – characterised by colour scheme of red, black and buff colour scheme as well as oriental motifs.
  • Daedalic style of carving was at the beginning of this period and was rudimentary in form – Daedalus is considered the founder of sculpture
  • Naturalistic style of statues developed in 5th century BC
  • Free standing statues of Archaic period are mostly of young male nudes known as kouroi – stiff attitude, varying facial expressions from impassive to loutish and ‘all knowing’ eyes (note korai is fully clothed female equivalent).
  • In architecture there was originally the Doric order which was the earliest style and also the simplest.  The Ionic style  which developed had volutes on the capitals (the top of the columns) – the volutes were the scroll like carvings that replaced the plainer tops of the columns of the Doric order columns and also the columns stood on a base that separated the column from the stylobate which was the platform.  The Corinthian order (oldest known survival of a column is around 450-420 BC so right at the beginning of the Classical period) and was known for thin columns with very elaborate capitals decorated with leaves and scrolls.
  • Doric style temples – style of building evolved over 2 preceding centuries and was essentially stone sculpture without mortar and a decoration that is now a recognisable feature but at the time of only functional significance.
  • Ionic style originated in Greek cities and eastern Aegean and Asia Minor – it was less austere, slender columns and delicate moldings and the aforesaid volute capitals.
  • Severe or early Classical style retained traces of earlier Archaic.
  • Naturalism style – more natural carvings of figures (realistic in many ways) gave way to the Idealistic style which was literally the ideal ideas of the male and female form and therefore were more generic but also exaggerated muscles and lines.  The drapes of the female clothing went from a more rigid pleating on the folds to softer and the figures of the females also had a sensuality develop about them whilst still retaining a coyness.
  • Sculpture also developed from a 2 dimensional viewpoint through to 3 dimensional or even 4 and as such developed senses of movement in the statues and on paintings too.  The Greeks learnt to convey the movement of the warriors and people portrayed and like with the development from naturalism to idealism this was based primarily on the use of modelling lines in much the same way ‘line’ and mark making is used by artists of all genres today.
  • Mid 5th BC crucial to the art world at the time with the Idealistic style and development of sculptural techniques – Myron the sculptor demonstrating perfectly what the Greeks called ‘rhythmios’ which was basically the composition of the statue where the limbs are in perfect balance with one another but in a complex balance of form and my favourite statue of the period is the Discobolus which demonstrates this exquisitely.  There is not a sense of movement in the statue as the statue is in fact between movements but every muscle is shown in for me what seems a naturalistic form but at the same is idealistic in that it seems exaggerated too.  Question for me is whether the Discobolus is naturalistic or idealistic.


  • Plato who studied under Socrates – key philosopher and mathematician of Classical Greece and also teacher of Aristotle
  • Homer who wrote the Homeric Epics, Illiad and Odyssey – first great author and writer of first known literature – known as a poet – Plato describes him as the first great teacher of the tragedians i.e. the tragedies that were performed in later theatrical productions.   Plato also describes him as the leader of Greek culture and it is believed, according to the historian Herodotus, to have lived around 850 BC and his works are certainly crucial to the Western Canon.
  • Herodotus – Greek Historian of 5th century BC and to many known as the ‘father of history’ and set out his work in a way we recognise today as  tried to separate fact from myth whilst also noting his sources.
  • Sappho – poet who wrote poems to young brides written about 600 BC – page 120 World History of Art
  • Pliny the Elder (later Roman period) who recounts idealistic and realistic styles and describes both the difference and the theories – he wrote as a naturalist and historian and his work Natural History was used as a basis for scientific knowledge for many centuries but wrote of the differences of idealism and realism in the Hellenic world. Also wrote the most valuable ancient account of Greek and Roman art.
  • Stoic philosopher Protagorus of 480-410 BC described as a travelling teacher and wrote ‘man the measure of all things’ which was in reference to the concept of individual relativity that was deemed quite revolutionary at the time and has been interpreted in different ways and can be understood in the debate of proportional relationships and the sculptures of the 5th century.
  • Aristotle – pupil of Plato and great author of dramatic poetry but also of the constitution of Athens which is the longest papyrus text of Greek literature to have survived.


  • Assyrian luxury articles at end of 8th century BC asserted ‘animating influence on Greek art’ – Assyria was at height of its power at end of that century.
  • Greece ‘brought’ into West Asian current – the Orientalizing style was developed as a result of trading and Corinth painter is thought to have possibly been influenced by metal or textiles from West Asia at the beginning of the 7th century BC.
  • Eastern influence on art through trading with neighbouring countries and civilisations
  • Syrian and Phoenician influence
  • Egyptian influence – particularly important regarding techniques and skills learnt, copied and developed in sculpture
  • All above influenced the art and the paintings on pottery and as mentioned techniques learnt or copied or developed from these influences – the techniques of the Egyptians in particular with the way they drew the lines of faces onto blocks of stone that were then developed into use with marble.
  • Many gold workers in Greece made work for neighbouring civilisations such as the Scythians of Southern Russian and hence you can see the influence in a vessel with animalistic style handles.
  • Techniques of post and lintel (stone columns and turntables) learnt from Egyptians but turned temples effectively inside out – as stated Egypt was a major influence on Greek art.
  • Religious festivals and the athletic games were a major influence on the arts throughout the Hellenic world and dictated many of the statues of the Gods or of idealised Greek athletes and or done for the patrons of the athletic games.  Works of art done as offerings to the Gods or temples too.


SCYTHIANS:  these were the most prominent of the mounted nomads and had a taste for Greek goods in particular the work of the goldsmiths.  The Scythians are an elusive civilization and little is known of them to this day but they are known to have been around in 7th century BC (around the same time as the Sarmatians) and also were known for their Animal style of art which literally uses stylized animals in their gold work, pottery and textiles and much is thought to have developed from paintings of which none have survived except for the tattoo found on a chieftain’s arm (his body was found perfectly preserved in Mongolia) – tattoos indicate an important use of decorations on the skin and are an art form in themselves. The animal style can also found on a saddle cover found in the same frozen tomb – this saddle cover is incredibly detailed with various motifs derived from Chinese rituals and West Asia and subsequently incorporated into their own style.  Influence for the Scythians came from West Asia, Egypt,  Persia (a Persian rug was also found) and also Greece of whom they were particular fans of the art work  of the goldsmiths, potters and bronze-workers – Herodotus is known to have travelled there in the 5 century BC and wrote down what he found.  Due to the lifestyle of the Scythians (they were a menace to neighbouring countries for many centuries and the Great Wall of China was started to keep them out in the 3rd century BC) and their art developed as an alternative to the Mediterranean art and in WHA it states “the conflict between the two determined much of the subsequent history of painting and sculpture in Europe” but they still also valued Greek craftsmanship nonetheless!

HALLSTATT AND LA TENE:  two civilisations and the first earlier one with origins in Austria and the second with origins in Switzerland.  the earlier Hallstatts (or Hallstatt period) was when the peoples known as Illyrians, Celts and Germans settled in central, south eastern and northern Europe and were a warrior upper class farmers.  The change in their burials in around the 7th century BC suggests a change in their social structure as they developed from cremated urns to richly furnished tombs similar to the Scythians.  This in turn suggests a change to the status of artists as the items for the tombs of chieftains and such like would have been of high value so the skills would have been prized.  The Hallstatt Iron Age Culture shows also the influence of the Scythian gold workers who were more accomplished at this time and speaks of the confrontation between the north and south Mediterranean art but at the same time there is strong evidence of the influence of the Geometric art of ancient Greece so the assumption is that some bronze workers may have learnt their crafts directly in Greece itself or were possibly taught by Greeks.   Celtic chieftains of the La Tene period though valued Greek art as much as the Scythians and there is enough reason to believe the Greeks exported many works of art but the artistic style of Scythians and Greeks were assimilated into their own artistic style. There is also evidence of West Asia and also from Etrusia too but the Celts rejected as much influence as they took and what they did take they broke  down into their own styles – the Greek key motif for instance and the Greek scrolls are now what we recognise as Celtic designs.  The art form of these civilisations is described as ‘non-representational or non-organic’ in WHA and this sums up perfectly what seems to be a very unidentifiable style that still has a style and elegance and sense of refinement that is undeniably their own.

IBERIANS AND SARDINIANS:  The Iberians developed on the south coast of Spain and their script developed from Phoenician and Greek influences but has never been translated.  Sculpture was in 3 dimensional forms that must have been derived from Greece so techniques were clearly influenced and the figures and bronze figures have survived – these are thought be votive offerings to unknown deities.  The Sardinians main relics were those of the nuraghi  which are the  round towers or cones of Cyclopean masonry that had round corbelled domes within.   Sometimes connecting thick walls also had corbelled passages and underneath the nuraghi were chambers surrounding wells and springs which must have been of religious significance.  It is thought the building techniques were learnt either in Minoan Crete or Helladic Greece. The sculpture of the Sardinians was also distinct and they, like the Greeks at the same time, used the lost wax technique and many were thought to be votives for shrines.  The figures are delightfully simple in style with arms simply styled and the figure according to WHA ‘rudimentarily schematized’ but despite the simplicity one example speaks of a real happy little character – this style almost reminds me of folk art found in other European countries or of the type carved from wood in Inuit cultures.

ETRUSCANS:  These people are basically Italian – originally known as Rasenna – and were obviously based on the Italian peninsular.  Originally they were agricultural communities that began to form into cities and were known to be amongst the best organized inhabitants of the Italian peninsula.  They had a wealthy upper class and were originally monarchical but then became republic and their civilization for 100 years or so was a rival to Archaic Greece.  Their language is, like the Iberian’s, still not understood and their origins are unknown – Herodotus thought West Asia but this cannot be proven either way. The Etruscans were not political and the original monarchical rule was similar to that of the Greek poleis but without the frequent wars.  Rome was ruled by Etruscan kings until 510 BC. The style of the Etruscans was a mix but essentially very down to earth and un-idealistic and it is the Etruscans who made the bronze She Wolf that became the symbol of Rome so their form of sculpture and bronze statues was a different form of idealization was much simplified from the Greek ideal.  They were also known for being great purchasers of Greek artefacts and had many Greek artists working in Etruscan cities – Etruscans craftsman were clearly highly valued due to the expenditure on time and skill showed the wealth of the patrons and when combined with the materials the arts were clearly status symbols.  The Etruscans were known for love of adornment in mirrors and caskets etc  and so it is clear the metal workers were highly valued and highly skilled. There is a clear influence of Greece throughout their culture but these were respected as a people who were a totally separate civilization.  The Archaic style was introduced to Etruria through imports and this became a defining style that they were resistant to change despite the developments in style in Greek art through to the Classical period and this is particularly apparent in sculpture.  Architecturally and paintings wise we know of their style through the elaborate tombs and these speak of symmetrical planning and a taste for rich decoration – the temples were smaller than in Greece though and the cella divided into 3 to worship 3 different cult figures and also the temples seem to have more columns too.  Etruscan art was focused more on mortal human beings rather than the Gods of Greece – the emphasis was on the here and now and life rather than the spiritual world beyond. Naturalism also persisted in Etruscan art but is more restrained than in Greece – the example of the bronze head of Brutus shown in WHA on page 164 is a wonderful example of this and also shows the skill of the bronze worker.

Overall I feel that the Etruscans were, for me, the most like the Greeks but also the most different too and the fact that Greece was such a major influence is apparent in their art of all forms – I also like the fact that they took what they found the most attractive and could not see the need to change and this shows in their persistence with the Archaic style.  The She-Wolf is the most well known for many of the Etruscan bronzes and rightly so as the workmanship is simply exemplary but the statue of Brutus in a later period surpasses it and also shows the survival of the skills to that later period.

If I could pick one civilization to go back in time to I always thought it would be Hellenic Greece in either the Archaic or Classical period but now I wonder if I would instead choose the Etruscans as their love or adornment and also the here-and-now in their art is more appealing in many ways but if I could choose to travel with one singular person then it would have been with Herodotus for the lands and peoples he travelled to research which at the time would have been unusual and also had all the aspects of an explorer and the journeys must have been fraught with danger and problems but nonetheless without his writings we would know even less of the people except for from their artefacts alone.


Building the Ancient City: Athens and Rome (TV Documentary). BBC, BBC2. 8 pm 20 August 2015

…. please note websites all accessed July and August 2015

World History of Art: Hugh Honour and John Fleming: Laurence King Publishing: revised seventh edition

Travels in the History of Architecture: Robert Harbison: Reaktion Books 2009

The Art of Ancient Greece: The Walters Art Museum: Philip Wilson Publishers, London 2008

FOOTNOTE:  During the course of the studying of this period I have learnt that the roof of the Parthenon on the Acropolis was used to store the money of the city – it was effectively the bank.


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