Category: Digital Exhibition


Jennifer Ocampo

Throughout history, art has been used as a language to express a society’s religious and cultural values. This is no different in ancient cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. Faith is such an important part of life for the earliest of civilizations. The belief in multiple gods provides answers for the people of these cultures. It gave these people an incentive to provide and worship for their deities in order to obtain proper vegetation and happy lives. The gods were in control of their happiness—if they did not do what they were meant to do, the gods would punish them. If they did not perform the proper rituals, make the correct sacrifices, or worship in the correct way, it could cause famine and lead to death.

Each of these deities has a purpose in these societies. Some are gods of war, some gods of the sun, and some are the gods of fertility and mankind. Throughout this exhibition of ancient polytheistic religions (and one monotheistic one), we will learn about the role that each of these deities play part in. Beginning in Mesopotamia, we will explore first the patron goddess Inanna, the daughter of Anu and in charge of growth and vegetation. Next we will explore further into the Near East where their patron god is Shamash, the God of Justice. We will then travel to Akkad, home of the self-appointing god, Naram-Sin. After that we will travel to Egypt, where we will explore the traditional beliefs of Egyptian polytheism through the god Horus before diving into the monotheistic rule of King Akhenaten and the Aten. Next we will travel to Greece and learn about Athena, the goddess of war and patron deity of Athens. Finally we will end with the ancient Romans, a society that based their religious beliefs heavily on the Greek, and study their version of the sun god Apollo. Each of these regions has its own ways to worship its deities, and all of it is documented through art.


Inanna: The Goddess of Mesopotamia 

Babylonian, Winged Goddess, called “Lillith” (Possibly Ishtar/Inanna), attended by owls and lions. 2025-1763 B.C.E., terracotta relief panel, 51 cm, Norman Colville Collection, London. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Babylonian, Winged Goddess, called “Lillith” (Possibly Ishtar/Inanna), attended by owls and lions. 2025-1763 B.C.E., terracotta relief panel, 51 cm, Norman Colville Collection, London. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

Inanna, also known as Ishtar or Astarte, is one of the deities heavily worshiped by the people of the Mesopotamian river valley, also known as the “black-headed” people. She goes by many names and is usually accompanied by animals. She is the twin sister of the sun god Shamash and daughter of Anu, or Enki, and Aya. She came to more prestige as time went on, following the idol of her father. She is known for her lustful sexuality and often associated with the planet Venus. In the article “Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna,” she is described as being “queen of the night sky where she flared as a living torch, and she rules the day as well, coming down to walk about in human form among her people (Grahn, 58).” The people of Mesopotamia worshipped her for being a fierce warrior and protector of her people, as well as being the decider of the ancient civilization’s political welfare. She is not “motherly” or “nurturing,” but rather a provider for her people.

She was the patron deity of Uruk, one of the world’s first civilizations of ancient Sumer and the largest city in the ancient world at its absolute height. Archeologists date the city of Uruk back to around 4500 B.C.E. It is unknown where these people came from but they are the people who first invented a written language and use a pottery wheel. Found at the sights of ancient Mesopotamian city-states like Uruk and Babylon are vast amounts of pottery, seals, and archeological remains—many of which feature ancient deities known to those cultures, like Inanna.

There are many legends surrounding her. One of the lesser known is the legend of her encounter with the human Su-kale-tuda. It is a story of one of her journeys on earth when she was inspecting her people. While napping under a willow tree, she was ravaged by a black-headed youth. After waking, Inanna realizes the horrifying truth of what has happened to her and immediately contemplates what to do about her attacker. She hunts him down for several days. When she does not find him immediately, she punished the people of Sumer by turning their water into her blood and refused to reenter her shrine until her attacker was handed to her. She eventually found him and sentenced him to death., and the myth ends with praise sung to her. It is important to note that the goddess is never self-pitying but merely outraged. She never complains of pain but only seeks vengeance (Grahn, 61). This myth is important to the people of Mesopotamia because it teaches them that she is the one who ultimately decides their fate. It also teaches the black-headed people to fear her, and to disrespect her virtue is unacceptable and punishable by death.

Inanna was believed to be in charge of keeping her land fertile and providing healthy vegetation for her people. She is also a protector. The image provided shows a winged goddess, most likely Inanna, attended by owls and lions. It is right to assume that this image is of Inanna because she was the most worshipped goddess in Babylon at the time this was made. Most of the legends that surround her happened when she was in her human form inspecting the land. In this image, she is a goddess with wings. This image shows her in her most dutiful state. Like the legend of her and Su-kale-tuda, this image also shows us her reign over the ancient Sumerian people—as a goddess and someone way more powerful than them. She is one of the oldest deities in history, and she helps start a long tradition of polytheistic religions.



Shamash: The Patron God of Ancient Babylonia 

Babylonian, The Code of Hammurabi. 1792-1750 B.C.E., engraved black basalt, 225 cm, The Louvre, Paris, France. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Babylonian, The Code of Hammurabi. 1792-1750 B.C.E., engraved black basalt, 225 cm, The Louvre, Paris, France. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

Shamash is the sun god in Mesopotamian culture. He is in charge of bringing light and warmth to his people, allowing crops to grow and flourish. He is the twin brother of the goddess Inanna and son of Anu (Enki) and Aya. He was most heavily worshipped in Babylon, where the Code of Hammurabi is believed to be a contract that was written in his favor. He had power of light over evil and was known as the god of justice for his people and governor of the universe. He also was in charge of overlooking the underworld and bestowed and light on his people. He was the great conquerer of death, often depicted flying around the heavens in his chariot, seeking justice and peace in all the lands. Unlike many of the deities in the ancient world, he is rarely depicted in human form, but always in his deified state (Britannica).

Babylon rose to power under the leadership of their great king, Hammurabi, who began his reign around 1792 B.C.E. Hammurabi was a great king and conqueror and is most known for the creation of his code. The code is written in cuneiform, a series of line patterns and the world’s first written language. In total it contains a prologue, 282 laws, and an epilogue. The prologue explains that the gods designated Hammurabi, mainly Shamash, to write down their laws. The laws covered all three levels of society in Babylon. The three levels included the upper-class free man, or the “awilum,” the “mushkenum,” who is free but not considered upper class, and the slave, or “wardum.” According to the Hammurabi code, each citizen was divided by class and is treated to the punishment of that class. All people of Babylon were entitled to court hearings by a judge and an appeal to the king. The rules varied—some dealt with agriculture, property rights, business, or the rights of slaves; others dealt with fixed wages, prescribed duties, and personal rights. “An eye for an eye” is perhaps Hammurabi’s most popular law and is still highly referenced to this day. Many rules revolved around the crowing of crops and referred to both landowners and tenant farmers. At the time, both women and slaves were believed to be the personal property of free men, but women were surprisingly liable to certain rights and benefits under Hammurabi’s code. Slaves also had the ability to buy back their freedom, be adopted as freed people, and marry free women. Although Hammurabi’s code was not the first of its kind, it was the grandest and most detailed (Kruger).

“Shamash was not only the god of justice but also governor of the whole universe (Britannica).” He was the ultimate judge. Hammurabi’s Code was given to him from the god Shamash. As shown at the told of the eight-foot-tall stele, Shamash presents him with the laws and they are recorded on the surface below. In the detail featured on the top of the stele of Hammurabi’s code, the god is pictured holding the symbols of justice and righteousness, a staff and a ring. Ancient Babylonians believed that the Shamash decided their fate and made their laws. He controlled the consequences of their behaviors for the living and in the afterlife after death. Art historians are very lucky to have found this artifact. Not only does it present the first form of written language, it also provides a look into ancient Babylonian society, government, culture, and religion. With the addition of Shamash presenting Hammurabi with the codes, we can see the importance that the god had on ancient Babylonian people.



Naram-Sin: The Self-Proclaimed Deity of Akkad

Sumero-Akkadian, Victory Stele of the Akkadian King Naram-Sin. 2220-2184 B.C.E., limestone, 6 feet, 6 inches, Louvre, Paris, France. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Sumero-Akkadian, Victory Stele of the Akkadian King Naram-Sin. 2220-2184 B.C.E., limestone, 6 feet, 6 inches, Louvre, Paris, France. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

Although Akkadian King Naram-Sin is not technically a Mesopotamian deity, he is recognized in this exhibition for his self-proclaimed god status. This status is shown in his figural representation on the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, including his size, dress, and general nature, and also in his descriptions of his own status. The Akkadian Empire came to power roughly around 2334 B. C. E. after Sargon the Great, Naram-Sin’s grandfather, sacked the city of Ur. According to the Sumerian King List, there were five rulers of Akkad: Sargon, Rimush, Manishtusu, Naram-Sin, and Shar-Kali-Sharri, who maintained the Akkadian dynasty for 142 years before it collapsed around 2083 B. C. E. Naram Sin ruled from 2260-2223 B. C. E. Previously, the rulers of Mesopotamian regions considered themselves to be servants of the gods—higher up and more holy and legitimate than their people but still answering to the needs of the deities. He dubbed himself the King of the Universe and is considered by many historians to be the last great conqueror of Akkad.

Mears writes, “Naram-Sin was a ruthless and brilliant ruler who aspired to the greatness of his grandfather, Sargon the Great. Naram-Sin began his 36-year reign by defeating another rebellious coalition of Sumerian and neighboring kings in hoping to take advantage of the turmoil of succession (Mears, 51).” This is shown in the image above of him defeating his enemy. He conquered many regions after coming into power, many of which were regions that once belonged to Akkad before one of the kings before him lost control of the empire. His conquests expanded all around the Mediterranean, and many of them were acquired by using violent and ruthless military tactics. He eventually went too far after sacking the holy city of Nippur when trying to subside a revolt from its people. The revolt led to a divide between Naram-Sin’s army and the people revolting, and he eventually fell from power. This event is known as “The Curse of Agade (Mears, 52).”

During his rule, a new relationship between ruler and deity started to form. The rulers and deities started to look more equal. On the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, the king is shown as a great conqueror. He has just won a battle against the Lullubi army and is sleighing the last enemy. He is larger than the rest of the people in the image, standing at the top of the mountain and basking in the sunrays of the gods. he is also wearing a horned crown on his head, which is a garment usually reserved for the gods in most figural depictions of this time. This image is an example of change in Akkadian art. After this, particularly in ancient Egyptian art, rulers seem to have a deified nature in many of their depictions. This image is the first one to do so. He eventually presented himself with the title, “Naram-Sin, the mighty, God of Agade, King of the Four Quarters (Mears, 52).” This self-deified proclamation was said to have offended the gods so much that it ultimately led to Naram-Sin’s defeat.

The depiction of a king in this manner was an art historical milestone. It represented a great change. The kings no longer had to remain mortal, but now had the ability to deify themselves. Naram-Sin was worshiped like a god for a long time before his following diminished, he was glorified by his people as a powerful immortal, and he was well respected by priests and Akkadian citizens. It is possible that he only assumed the role of deity for political purposes, but it nevertheless was a very bold move.



Horus: The Egyptian God of Sun and Sky

Egyptian, Temple of Horus, Horus of Behdet slaying Seth in Form of Hippo. 4-1 centuries B.C.E., relief, Edfu, Egypt. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Egyptian, Temple of Horus, Horus of Behdet slaying Seth in Form of Hippo. 4-1 centuries B.C.E., relief, Edfu, Egypt. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

Horus is arguably the most well-known and powerful deity of Ancient Egypt. He is the son of Osiris and Isis and was believed to be the god of the sun and the sky, as well as in charge of Egyptian kingship. He is often depicted as a man with a falcon’s body, or in the case of the image provided, a full falcon. His right eye was said to be the sun, or morning star, and his left eye was the moon, or evening star. He is known for the legend of his 80-year-long battle over the rule of Egypt with his uncle, Set (or Seth), following the death of his father Osiris.

There are many version of the story of the battle between Set and Horus. The most complete recount of these battle comes from a surviving papyrus written during the reign of Ramses V. Legend has it that Set killed Osiris by cutting him up into many pieces and throwing his body parts into various spots down the Nile River. Set was the god of chaos and destruction—he was selfish, ruthless, and uncaring. When the two approach the sun god Re about who should take over rule of Egypt, Re does not believe that Horus is mature enough and too inexperienced to take on such a responsibility. He believes that Osiris’s brother, who is ironically also his murderer, is far more suited for the position. Re asks for help from Nieth, the goddess of creation, to tell him who is best suited. She responds that Horus is the better fit, but in return he should grant Set two of his to be Set’s wives. After this, Re is still not convinced. The two petition for the leadership of Egypt for many years. Horus’s mother, Isis, tries to help by tricking Set into saying that her son is the rightful heir. Set continually challenges Horus to many duels, and at one point Horus challenges Set to a river race, where Horus cheats without success. Finally, after many years of unresolved conflict, Osiris writes to Re and threatens to kill all human and gods and send them to the underworld if the two do not subside. Re declares Horus king, and allows Set to come with him to the sky. Set then becomes the god of thunder and storms (A Hussein).

These legends are not only documented on papyrus, but also on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. The image shown above was found in the Temple of Horus, and it depicts a scene in which Horus is fighting Set during one of their many battles; Set is in the form of a hippopotamus. This is possibly the battle between the two that took place in the river. The two fought under water for three months, transformed as hippopotami, until the two eventually subside in order to rest. It could also be a depiction of when Set and Horus are competing in a river race; the two were supposed to both race on boats made of stone. Horus cheats by making his out of wood and disguising it as stone. When Set’s boat sinks and he realizes that his nephew cheated him, he transforms into a hippopotamus and destroys Horus’s wooden boat.

One of the many great things about Egyptian mythology is that there are so many legends and stories and so many gods to write about, and it is reflected in the art. It is clear how devoted the Egyptians were to their religion. They believed that keeping their deities happy was a necessity for a fulfilling afterlife. Wall drawing such as this one reflected their legends, and it gives historians a chance to dive into these ancient cultures.



The Aten: The Monotheistic God of Egypt

Egyptian; Armarna, King or Queen offering to the Aten. 1345-1335 B.C.E., limestone, 23.8 cm x 44.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Egyptian; Armarna, King or Queen offering to the Aten. 1345-1335 B.C.E., limestone, 23.8 cm x 44.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

The Aten, also known as Aton, is the sun god of the monotheistic religion created in Egypt by the pharaoh Akhenaton (originally Amenhotep IV) called Atenism. Atenism is constantly referred to as a cult of the sun and sun disks. He is depicted in Egyptian art as what appears to be human hands, representative of sunrays. He is believed to be developed from the traditional Egyptian sun-god Re. In the Atom Hymn, found in one of Akhenaton’s tombs, describes the new religion:


“Men had slept like the dead; now they lift their arms in praise, birds fly, fish leap, plants bloom, and work begins. Aton creates the son in the mother’s womb, the seed in men, and has generated all life. He has distinguished the races, their natures, tongues, and skins, and fulfills the needs of all. Aton made the Nile in Egypt and rain, like a heavenly Nile, in foreign countries. He has a million forms according to the time of day and from where he is seen; yet he is always the same (Britannica).”


The Great Hymn to the Aten was most likely written by Akhenaten himself. There are many inscriptions of this poem, the most complete of which located in the tomb of King Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay. (There are some theories that Tutankhamun was Akhenaten’s son and took the throne directly after his death). When made pharaoh, King Akhenaton devoted all of his time to worship the Aton and even went so far as to erase all imagery and writings of any previous notions towards a polytheistic religion in Egypt. He moves the capital from Thebes and builds the city of Akhetaten where the Aten is to be heavily worshipped. This idea of a monotheistic belief system dramatically alters the whole fabric of Egyptian religion. It does not, however, last very long after Akhenaten’s death. After he dies the original gods are redeemed and Akhenaten’s city is abandoned.

Before Akhenaten’s reign, ancient Egyptians believed that all of the universe’s elements—the sun, the moon, the rivers, air, etc.—were actually multiple gods. They believed that the gods controlled things like weather and storms depending on their moods. When Amenhotep IV was made ruler of Egypt, he took his country in a whole new direction by introducing one single deity. He declared the Aten the only god, and even changed his name to mean “effective for the Aten (R Hussein).” Unlike many of the gods from traditional Egyptian mythology, the Aten is not a god that takes human form, but is the actual light in the world surrounding us. The physical rays of sun were believed to be the God himself touching his people. Unlike traditional temples meant for the gods, the Aten’s temple was opened at the roof so that his worshippers could be touched by his light when entering the temple. Akhenaten wasn’t only the king of Egypt, but the high priest of the Aten as well.

Images of the Aten are often consistent of three parts—the hands of the Aten, Akhenaten and/or his wife Nefertiti receiving the symbol of like, called the “ankh,” and the Aten’s worshippers. In the image provided, the image shows the Aten, represented by multiple hands, presenting either Akhenaten or Nefertiti with the ankh. It is only a fragment of the original so it is unclear whether or not Atenism worshippers were originally depicted in the image. This image is so important because shows the clear devotion that the king or queen has for this deity and how willing Akhenaten was to completely altar an entire country’s belief system that had existed for hundreds of years before him.


Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War Strategy 

Greek, Athens, Athena frp, Acropolis. 550-520 B.C.E., gol sculpture, Ethnikon Archaiologikon Mouseion, Greece. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Greek, Athens, Athena frp, Acropolis. 550-520 B.C.E., gol sculpture, Ethnikon Archaiologikon Mouseion, Greece. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

Ancient Greece came out of the dark ages around 1200-800 B.C.E. and lasted until the Romans took over in 146 B.C.E. Greek culture is known for many things, especially art and architecture as well as Greek mythology. The Greeks believed that the gods lived all around them. Athena is a goddess of many things. She is the goddess of wisdom, justice, war strategy, the arts, and many more. She is the patron goddess of Athens and worshipped by many throughout Greece and Italy. The people of Athens chose her to be their patron goddess for her strength, cunning, and military tactics and dedicated the Parthenon to her. She was believed to be the favorite of Zeus’s children, born without a mother in the form of a headache on her father’s forehead. She is extremely powerful. She is the strongest of all of the female goddesses in Greek mythology, and is very heavily worshipped. Greek mythology was adopted and altered by the Romans after they took over. The Greeks worshipped many gods, but there were twelve major gods that they worshipped the most. The Twelve Olympians of Mount Olympus consisted of Zeus, the god of the sky and justice; Hera, the goddess of marriage and Zeus’s wife/sister; Poseidon, of the sea and brother of Zeus; Demeter, the goddess of the harvest; Apollo, the god of music and prophecy; Artemis, the goddess of the hunt; Ares, the god of war; Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Hephaestus, the god of fire; Hermes, the trickster and messenger for his father, Zues; Hestia, the goddess of hearth and home, as well as one of the original Olympians; and finally, Athena, goddess of wisdom and war strategy. Zeus is the king of these gods (Johnson).
Athena was never reproduced, and was later identified with virginity. Most of what we know about Greek and Roman deities comes from Homer’s novels, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the Iliad, Athena fought alongside her fellow Greek heroes. Athena contrasted very heavily with Ares, the god of War, in many ways. Athena was not only tough and dangerous; she was also intelligent and civilized. She sought justice, as where Ares mostly cared for blood lust. Her heroic qualities were found on her breastplate that she often wore into battle—fear, strife, defense, and assault. She also appears in the Odyssey as the main deity of Odysseus. She is responsible for assisting Odysseus in returning home from the war (Johnson).

Athena is most widely worshipped in the city of Athens, which was named after her. Legend says that Athena and Poseidon competed to become patron deity of the city before it was named. The competition was for each deity to present the city with a gift, and the better offering wins. Poseidon provided a well, but the water was salty and it was therefore no use to the people of the city. Athena was cunning, and she eventually outwitted Poseidon for the title of patron goddess by planting an olive tree, a food in which to this day Greeks cannot live without. Poseidon was not happy with the results and cursed the city. The people of Athens then build the Acropolis, a monument on top of a hill in Athens dedicated to the goddess herself (Murrin).

This image provided is of a sculpture that was found at the Acropolis. It is important because it shows us what devotion the Greeks had to their deities and how intensely they worshipped them. There is so much care and craft in this sculpture. In the Parthenon, located inside the Acropolis, there was a very large sculpture of Athena and a narrative frieze that wrapped all the way around. These Athenians worshipped their patron goddess so fiercely that they build a whole complex of architecture and narrative art just for her. This image provided is only the tip of the iceberg found inside.



Apollo: The God of Music and Prophecy 

Roman, after Praxiteles or one of his pupils, Apollo Lykeios. 330 B.C.E., marble statue, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).
Roman, after Praxiteles or one of his pupils, Apollo Lykeios. 330 B.C.E., marble statue, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Available from: ARTstor, (accessed 15 April 2015).

The Romans adopted the Twelve Olympians later, and the names changed to Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Ceres, Mars, Mercury, Vulcan, Venus, Minerva, Diana, and Vesta. Apollo’s is one of the very few original Greek deities whose name does not change when translated into Roman mythology. He is so universally known that his name does not need to change (Johnson).

Like Athena, Apollo is the god of many things—music, art, poetry, sun, light, medicine, oracles, knowledge etc. He is possibly the most highly recognized Greek god after his father, Zeus. Zeus and his mother, Leto, met when they both took shape as birds and conceived Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, goddess of the hunt. He is known for protecting his people by shooting their enemies with his bow and arrows. He is the ideal, the “kouros”, in Greek and Roman art of this time that many artists based the perfect human model after. He was “the god of divine distance, who sent or threatened from afar; the god who made men aware of their own guilt and purified them from it; who presided over religious law and the constitutions of cities; who communicated with mortals through prophets and oracles his knowledge of the future and the will of his father, Zeus (Britannica).” Other than Zeus, he was the god of all gods. The other gods were said to fear him, and he was by far the most worshipped god during the Hellenic period with many cults devoted to worshipping him. Even today many people travel to sites known to Apollo, such as the famous Oracle at Delphi, to “seek advice on matters such as war and personal affairs (Johnson).”

Apollo had many love interests, most famously with Daphne, and punished them fiercely when they rejected him. Artemis, Apollo’s twin, shot Coronis, and Cassandra was forced to tell true prophecies that appeared to be untrue after she refused his advances. The story of Apollo and Daphne is very popular in Greek and Roman mythology. After teasing Hermes about his archery skills, Hermes gets his revenge by shooting Apollo with a golden love arrow; this forces him to fall in love with the nymph, Daphne, who is struck with an opposite arrow by Hermes and is therefore not interested in him. She wishes to be a virgin for the rest of her life like Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister. Apollo continues to chase her, but when he finally catches up to her, she is turned into a laurel tree. After this, Apollo declares that he will always wear a crown of laurel on his head to remind him of his precious Daphne (Johnson).

Apollo is not only very important to the foundation of Greek and Roman mythology, but is also important to ancient Greek and Roman art history. Apollo is very often the symbol of the kouros, or the ideal human figure. The kouros is represented as a young, standing male very closely related to that of typical Egyptian figures. The hint of the Egyptian was very evident in early Greek kouros statues, but became less and less evident as time went on (Britannica). In the image provided, Apollo does not appear to be frontal and rigid, but rather in a more relaxed pose. He is full of action and gesture like later depictions of Greek deities, but he is well past the days of standing stock-still in unnatural poses. This later pose was adopted by Roman art, as depicted in the image provided.



Works Cited

Grahn, Judy. “Ecology of the erotic in a myth of Inanna.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 29, no. 2 (January 1, 2010): 58-67. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, (accessed April 14, 2015).

Kruger, Chaddie. “Hammurabi and his Code for Success.” Calliope 11, no. 3 (November 2000): 11. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2014).

Shamash. Encyclopedia Britannica Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2015).

Mears, Douglas. “The First Great Conqueror.” Military History 19, no. 4 (October 2002): 47. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (hosted April 20, 2015).

Hussein, Angela Murock. “Horus the Avenger.” Calliope 22, no. 1 (September 2011): 8. MasterFILE Premeir, EBSCOhost (accessed April 14, 2015)

Hussein, Ramadan B. “A New Direction.” Calliope, , 8, General OneFile, EBSCOhost (accessed April 19, 2015).

“Aton | Egyptian God.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed April 16, 2015.

Murrin, Michael. “Athena and Telemachus.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 13, no. 4 (Spring 2007): 499-515. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, (accessed April 16, 2015).

“Athena.” Encyclopedia Britannica (September 2014): Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed April 20, 2015

Johnson, Judy A. “Religion and Mythology in Ancient Greece.” Salem Press EncyclopediaResearch Starters, EBSCOhost, (accessed April 20, 2015).

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Influential Sculptors and their Works of Art from Ancient Greece

Alex Thomason

When it comes to influential sculptors from Ancient Greece, there are many individuals that come to mind. Polykleitos, Lysippos, Praxiteles, Agesander, Athenodorus and Polydorus are few sculptors that continue to impact the art world in today’s society.

Polykleitos of Argos was famous for his precise depictions of the human body through his keen knowledge of mathematics. Polykleitos’ ideal proportions are evident in his sculpture of Doryphoros, which many people consider to be one of the most well known sculptures of the Classical Greek era. He depicted Doryphoros as an athlete with an incredibly muscular frame. The statue originally contained a spear that was propped along Doryphoros’ left shoulder.

Lysippos was known for being Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor. He was the successor of Polykleitos, and was considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical Greek period. Lysippos had a similar idealized style of the human body as Polykleitos, except he took a more representational approach through his artwork. This is evident in the facial features of his sculpture of Alexander the Great. He perceives Alexander as being perfectly symmetrical. Polykleitos definitely had an idealized approach to his work, but his figures had more human-like dimensions in comparison to Lysippos’ sculptures. Another one of Lysippos’ popular sculptures is the Weary Herakles. This sculpture depicts a nude Herakles with tokens of his feats, leaning on a club with his head held toward the ground. The muscular structure in this work is similar to the detail in Polykleitos’ representation of Doryphoros. Lysippos is also well known for his statue, the Apoxyomenos. It is also known as the “Scraper” because the statue depicts an athlete scraping sweat off his body with an instrument the Romans referred to as a strigil.

Another sculptor that shares a similar style is Praxiteles. One of his famous works is of Aphrodite of Cnidus. This work of art is often referred to as Venus Pudica, which means “modest Venus.” This name was given to in reference to the statue covering her genitalia. The statue is famous for its beauty, and for it being one of the first life sized nude representations of a female. The statue depicts Aphrodite before a ritual bath that restored her purity. One of Praxiteles less renowned works was “Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos,” also known as “Hermes of Praxiteles” and “Hermes of Olympia.” The facial symmetry in his work is similar to many of Lysippos’ sculptures.

Another work that received much notice in both the ancient world and today’s society was of “Laocoön and His Sons.” This statue was sculpted by three Rhodian artists named Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. The sculpture represents the Trojan priest of Poseidon named Laocoön and his sons getting attacked by large serpents. This work displays agony similar to Lysippos’ Weary Herakles.

All of the works mentioned share a similar approach when regarding the attention to detail in the human anatomy. “The Greeks no less than we today, were obsessed with the human body. Like us, they exercised and trained, toned, and even dieted-or at least the freeborn males did. Like some of us moreover, they also assigned moral qualities to the beautiful body,” (Lapatin, 1997, pg. 138).


Polykleitos’ Doryphoros is well known for its perfect sense of geometrical dimensions, but little is known of the statue, other than that, it was created as way for Polykleitos to demonstrate his treatise entitled the Canon (the “Rule”). The Canon regards Polykleitos’ geometric attention to detail. The original was made out of bronze approximately 440 BCE. The original statue and treatise have not yet been found; however, several Roman copies in marble survived, and they convey the essential form of Polykleitos’ work. Most bronze statues from ancient Greece have been lost, so the creation of marble copies was a common practice for the Romans. There are many copies of Doryphoros, but little is known of the relation between the duplicates. There are duplicates in various locations, like the Vatican, Naples and Munich. There is even a copy Minneapolis. “Of the Doryphoros, both its beginnings and end are unknown: Where was it sited? Whom did it represent? What purpose did it serve beyond, as we are told, illustrating in bronze the proportional system enumerated in its sculptor’s treatise, the Canon, or the ‘Rule’?” (Moon, 1995, pg. 149). Considering Polykleitos was obsessed with the human body and mathematics, many of his sculptures were of incredibly athletic mean. Polykleitos’ head to body size is one to seven, which is incredibly accurate in regards to the average dimensions of a human. This was a common style from the Classical era of Greece. Doryphoros is a slightly larger than life-sized statue, standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall. The attention to detail is so realistic that Doryphoros’ left shoulder muscles are slightly tensed from he was originally holding a spear. In the marble copies, large sculpted tree stumps were created behind one of legs of the statues to support the weight of the stone. The original bronze statue would have no need for a stump because the strength of the metal would have made it unnecessary. A small bend was typically present to support the right hand and lower arm. Although it is unclear exactly who Doryphoros is supposed to represent, some scholars believe that Doryphoros depicted a young Achilles, on his way to fight in the Trojan War, while others believe that there is confusion on whether Doryphoros is supposed to represent a mortal hero or a god.

Alexander the Great

Lysippos was great sculptor from the Classical Greek era that helped the art community progress toward the Hellenistic period. He shows a similar attention to detail in comparison to Polykleitos. Lysippos made well-known sculpture that depicted Alexander the Great in a god-like manner. The statue of Alexander shows extensive muscular definition with a heroic, emotionless facial expression. In the anthology from the Milan Papyrus, “Lysippos, Sicyonian sculptor, daring hand, learned artisan,“Your bronze statue has the look of fire in its eyes, that one you made in the form of Alexander. The Persians deserve no blame. We forgive cattle for fleeing a lion.” Alexander believed Lysippos was the only sculptor fit to represent him in a sculpture. The fear of offending Alexander through creating a more realistic depiction of his sculpture may be the reason Lysippos chose to represent Alexander in such a flattering manner. There is no confirmation on the findings on any of Lysippos’ original work; however, on October 26, 2010, Greek authorities arrested two men that were in possession of several artifacts including a bronze statue of Alexander that could possibly be Lysippos’ original work. The statue is currently being tested at the laboratory of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, where they will find out if this is truly an original sculpture of Alexander created by Lysippos.

Weary Herakles

The Weary Herakles was bronze statue created by Lysippos during the Late Classical period in approximately 330 BCE. The statue is lost, but marble copies exist to represent Lysippos’ original work. The statue is slightly larger than life size. Many of Lysippos’ common styles are evident in the Weary Herakles in regards to his extreme facial expression. He took an interesting approach by giving Herakles bad posture and a distraught facial expression. Although the sculpture of Herakles has a slouched posture, there is still a vivid attention to detail regarding the muscular structure. This conveys a completely different mood in comparison to Lysippos’ sculpture of Alexander. Herakles is depicted wearing a lion pelt (his first labor) and the Apples of the Hesperides on his back that represent the entire “dodekathlos” (Twelve labors of Herakles). Many people argue that the Apples of Hesperides is representation that the statue was not only supposed to emphasize the ideal bodily form, but also represent the mind. Kenneth Dutton argues in The Perfectible Body: The Western Ideal of Male Physical Development, that Hercules is symbolic of the search for divinity—but a divinity ‘to be attained through deeds and actions,’ not introspection and prayer.”‘ Lysippos’ inclusion of the apples of the Hesperides in the statue’s right hand—which Hercules earned by outsmarting Atlas—reminds viewers that this isn’t just about body; it’s also about mind,” (Todd, 2005, pg. 31). A copy of the Weary Herakles was said to have been created in 212-216 AD was during the construction of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonis’ resort, referred to as the Baths of Caracalla, (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). Approximately thirteen hundred years later after the construction of the Baths of Caracalla, .

Renaissance Italians, started to conduct archaeological excavations at the Baths.

The head of Herakles was found first, and about six years later the section containing the torso, club and lion-skin was unearthed in 1546, (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). “The Roman poet Statius’ description of a small copy he saw at the home of his friend, Vindex. gives some idea of how Lysippos’ version was viewed during this early era:

Amid his treasures . . . was a Hercules that with deep delight took my heart captive, and with long gazing I could not satisfy my sight, such a majesty was in the work, such a power was framed within those narrow confines; the god, the god was there.” (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). The Lysippos copy is on display at the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, Italy.


The Apoxyomenos was constructed by Lysippos during the Late Classical period in 330 BCE. Apoxyomenos represented an athlete, which is evident through its extremely detailed muscular structure (like most of Lysippos’ work). The original bronze statue was lost, but it is known from its description in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which relates that the Roman general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa placed the sculpture in the Baths of Agrippa that he constructed in Rome in 20 BCE. The emperor Tiberius grew fascinated with the figure, so he had it moved to his bedroom. However, the public grew furious and began to shout “Give us back our Apoxyomenos!” As result, Tiberius returned the statue to its original place. Like Polykleitos, Lysippos used the Canon approach to create the statues proportions. He made the proportions the Apoxyomenos head slightly smaller than Polykleitos Canon ideology. He set the ratios at one and eight rather than Polykleitos’ one and seven model.

A bronze copy of Apoxyomenos was found in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia in 1998 (Lyons, 2005, pg. 367). The copy was discovered by René Wouten. “The sculpture of Apoxyomenos was found in 1998, on the sea bottom at a depth of 45 meters, near the island of Lošinj (northern Adriatic Sea, Croatia). The sculpture was partially embedded in sediment, and the attached organisms on the sculpture belonged to complex biocenoses of a calcareous detritus-rich muddied bottom. The sculpture was raised from the sea on 27 April 1999 and immersed in a basin of fresh water for desalinization aimed toward slowing, and subsequently stopping, corrosion effects due to the presence of dissolved salts. The freshwater immersion produced an osmotic stress in the marine fouling organisms resulting in their death. After a 17-day desalinization period, the sculpture was removed from the freshwater basin and sampling of organisms and calcareous structures for instrumental analysis was performed under the supervision of experts of the Croatian Ministry of Culture, the Croatian Conservation Institute, and the Archaeological Museum in Zadar (Croatia),” (Lyons, 2005, pg.367). The head was disconnected, but none of the parts were missing.

Aphrodite of Cnidus

Praxiteles of Athens created the sculpture, Aphrodite of Cnidus in the 4th Century BCE. It was largely considered one of his most famous works because it was one the first nude female representational sculptures of its time. There are later reconstructions of Venus Pudica (modest Venus) that indicate the action of covering her breasts known as the Venus de’ Medici or the Capitoline Venus. Like many of the other works created by Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Cnidus is displayed in a naturalistic, human-like pose. According to possible accounts from Pliny, Praxiteles received funds from the citizens of Kos to create a statue of the goddess Aphrodite. Praxiteles created two versions, one was fully clothed, and the other was completely nude. The appalled citizens of Kos rejected the nude statue and purchased the clothed version. The appearance of the clothed statue is unknown because the statue was never found. Given the lack of accounts regarding the clothed statue, it is likely that the clothed Aphrodite of Cnidus did not receive much attention in comparison to the controversial nude statue. The nude statue of Aphrodite was purchased by the citizens of Knidos. Rumor has it that the statue was modeled by the courtesan Phryne, which added to its growing popularity. The statue became somewhat of a tourist attraction. A lyric from Antipater of Sidon stated “Paris, Adonis, and Anchises saw me naked, Those are all I know of, but how did Praxiteles contrive it?” A story from Erotes (section 15) gives a vivid description of the statue. “The floor of the court had not been doomed to sterility by a stone pavement, but on the contrary, it burst with fertility, as behooves Aphrodite: fruit trees with verdant foliage rose to prodigious heights, their limbs weaving a lofty vault. The myrtle, beloved by the goddess, reached up its berry-laden branches no less than the other trees which so gracefully stretched out. They never know foliage grown old, their boughs always being thick with leaves. To tell the truth, you can notice among them some infertile trees, but they have beauty as their fruit. Such were the cypress and the planes which towered to the heavens, as well as the tree of Daphnis, who once fled Aphrodite but now has come here to seek refuge. Ivies entwine themselves lovingly around each of these trees. Heavy clusters of grapes hang from the gnarled vines: indeed, Aphrodite is only more attractive when united with Bacchus; their pleasures are sweeter for being mixed together. Apart, they have less spice. Under the welcome shade of the boughs, comfortable beds await the celebrants— actually the better people of the town only rarely frequent these green halls, but the common crowds jostle there on festive days, to yield publicly to the joys of love,” (Pseudo-Lucian, Erotes).

“Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos”

Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos was created by Praxiteles in the 4th Century BCE. It is likely that this is not one of Praxiteles most famous works because their are limited accounts on the sculpture. It was discovered at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece in 1877. The excavation was led by German archaeologist Ernst Curtius. The statue is now located at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. Hermes is still missing his right forearm, two fingers of his left hand, both forearms below the elbow, the left foot and his penis, whilst Dionysus is missing his arms except for the right hand on Hermes’s shoulder and the end of his right foot. Much of the tree trunk and the plinth were lost as well. Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos are positioned in life-like manner with extreme attentions to detail throughout the statue. The sculpture also represents similar approach to the Canon, in regards to the extreme attention to detail in the figures. Even the Dionysos as an infant is extremely detailed.

“Laocoön and His Sons”

The Laocoön and His Sons was created by three Rhodian sculptors named named Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. Laocoön’s sons appear significantly smaller than him, which draws most of the attention toward Laocoön. The attention to detail is incredible throughout the sculpture. The attention to detail in Laocoön muscular structure is especially significant. His veins are even visible throughout his arms. The art styling is from the Hellenistic Pargamene baroque that rose from Asia Minor. The statue was found on January 14, 1506 by a farmer named Felice de Fredis when digging up vineyards in the Esquiline Hill, (Vault, 2010, pg.401). “The Laocoon is ‘probably the most widely discussed work of sculpture which we possess from antiquity’ wrote Margarete Bieber in 1967. Its popularity shows little sign of abating,” (Vault, 2010, pg. 402). There are many different variations of the story as to why Laocoön and his sons were being attacked. “The most famous literary account of Laocoon’s story, in book two of Virgil’s Aeneid, describes how the priest and his sons are strangled by seaserpents sent by Minerva to punish him for having warned his fellow Trojans not to trust the wooden horse. His advice is ignored and his demise cast as a ‘sacrifice’, a kin to the slaughter of a bull at an altar. ‘They say that Laocoon has rightly paid the penalty of his crime.’ In this version, mortals are puppets who dance to a divine tune. Laocoon is the scapegoat. In alternative versions of the story, he is punished for the sacrilegious act of marrying and having children against the god’s wishes or, according to Servius in his commentary on Virgil, for having intercourse with his wife in the presence of the cult statue. Seen like this, the Laocoon group is neither exemplum doloris nor exemplum virtutis, but a ‘simple’ warning against transgression,” (Vault, 2010, pg. 402). This piece of art portrays an interesting look into ancient Greece’s culture. Agony regularly plays large a role throughout ancient Greek artwork. It also shows how petty ancient Greeks depicted their gods. Throughout many ancient Greek myths, the gods express human-like emotions, and its evident in the sculpture.




Laocoon’s Children and the Limits of Representation.

By Caroline Vout. 2010


Lapatin, Kenneth, The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors (Book) — Book reviews

The Art Bulletin. March 1997, Vol. 79 Issue 1, p148, 9 p.


Moon, Warren. Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition

Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995


Samartzis Arnold, The Spine Journal : Official Journal of the North American Spine Society. Spine Society, January 2007, 7(1):133-134)


The History of Cardinal Farnese’s “Weary Hercules”

By Jan Todd. August 2005







A marble sculpture of a dying man.

From the Greeks to Augustus

Jesse Busby

Since the Greeks, there has been an emphasis on the human body. Whether it be exaggerated emotions and contorted posture or the idealization of the human form, we see countless reconstructions of Greek statues. The Greeks pointed sculpture in a direction it would continue to travel even through today.

Kouroi, the earliest of the large stone figures, were rigid and stiff as seen in Egyptian statues. These lifeless figures slowly evolved, and with great detail added to their musculature. Arms slowly begin to rise and their slightly leaning posture begins to bring movement to the sculptures. Eventually the Greeks get so realistic and miniscule in detail that the human form has reached perfection. This perfection didn’t emerge because the Greeks had an infatuation with perfect bodies. For the Greeks, reaching peak physical stamina was strived for. Greek city-states like Sparta and Athens placed so much emphasis on the thought of the perfect human form that they would discard infants if they didn’t meet the expectations of the time.

The sculptures of the ancient Greeks, Etruscans and Romans didn’t come about for the sole purpose of having something pretty to look at. These sculptures aren’t only alike in that they follow Greek methods, but also because they all reflect certain ideologies of the culture and society that produced them. For example: the influence the Greeks placed on physique; the light-hearted laissez-faire attitude of the Etruscans; or the importance of age, wisdom and experience for the early Romans. Every work of art we see from these societies is the direct response of their social and political way of life.


Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul is an ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic bronze sculpture. The original may have been commissioned some time between 230 and 220 BC by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Gauls, who were the people of Anatolia, which is part of what is now modern Turkey[1]. The identity of the sculptor has been attributed to Epigonus, court sculptor of the Attalid dynasty of Pergamon, may have been the creator.[2]

Dying Gaul, Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD marble, 37 x 73 7/16 x 35 1/16 in. Sovrintendenza Capitolina — Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy
Dying Gaul, Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD
marble, 37 x 73 7/16 x 35 1/16 in.
Sovrintendenza Capitolina — Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy

The marble statue shows a fatally wounded Gallic warrior with remarkable realism, putting emphasis on the strange posture of the body and the pain shown on the Gaul’s face. A bleeding sword puncture is visible below his right breast. The figure is shown with a torc around his neck, which represents his high status among the Gallic people.[3] He lies on his fallen shield while his sword, belt, and a curved trumpet lie beside him. An interesting aspect of this sculpture is how courageous and composed the Gaul looks, even on the brink of death. Though the Gaul does appear to be in pain, he is not represented as overly dramatic, like many other Greek statues around this time.

Laocoon and His Sons

As described in Virgil’s Aeneid, Laocoon was a Trojan priest. When the Greeks left the famous Trojan horse on the beach, Laocoon tried to warn the Trojan leaders against bringing it into the city. The Greek goddess Athena, acting as protector of the Greeks, was furious that Laocoon warned the Trojans about the horse. Athena punished Laocoon for his interference by having him and his two sons attacked by the giant sea serpents.[4]

Credit: Creative Commons Laocoön and his sons, also known as the Laocoön Group. Marble, copy after an Hellenistic original from ca. 200 BC. Found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506.
Credit: Creative Commons
Laocoön and his sons, also known as the Laocoön Group. Marble, copy after an Hellenistic original from ca. 200 BC. Found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506.

The emphasis on emotional intensity and theatricality is very common among Hellenistic sculptures. The amount of pain in Laocoon and his sons’ faces is the ultimate depiction of pain. Their bodies are depicted as perfect forms, as to match the exaggerated emotions on their faces. This sculpture represents Hellenistic art at its finest. The way the bodies are contorted in uncomfortable positions and the way Laocoon’s head is rolled back, placing strain on his neck, are similar to Athena Fighting the Giants from the Altar of Zeus, another Hellenistic sculpture.[5]

Apollo- Etruscan

The Apulu of Veii is a great example of Etruscan sculpture. Apulu, the Etruscan equivalent of Apollo, is a terracotta sculpture that is slightly larger than life-size from the Portonaccio Temple at Veii. The figure was part of a group of statues that stood on the ridgepole of the temple and depicted the myth of Heracles and the Ceryneaian hind.[6] The figure of Apulu confronts the hero, Heracles, who is attempting to capture a deer sacred to Apulu’s sister, Artemis. Of the remaining figures from the temple at Veii, Apulu is the most complete statue.[7]

Credit: Creative Commons Apulu of Veii. Painted terracotta. Ca. 510-500 BCE. Portonaccio Temple, Veii, Italy.
Credit: Creative Commons
Apulu of Veii. Painted terracotta. Ca. 510-500 BCE. Portonaccio Temple, Veii, Italy.

The figure of Apulu has several Greek characteristics, but there are a few differences that set the Etruscan statue apart. The face and position of the body are similar to that of Archaic Greek kouros figures. The face is simply carved and an Archaic smile provides a link to Greek influence. The hair of Apulu is stylized and falls across his shoulders and down his neck and back in simple, geometric twists that could possibly represent braids.[8] The statue, like Greek statues of the time, was painted using vibrant colors.

Unlike Archaic Greek statues and kouros, the figure of Apulu is shown with more body movement and more stylized muscles and clothes than that of the Greeks. Apulu is shown stepping forward, with an arm stretched out, possibly holding a bow that is no longer intact. Unlike Greek sculptures and portrayals of Apollo at the time, the Etruscans have clothed the figure, draping a toga over one of his shoulders.[9] The way the toga is represented clinging tightly to his body and the stylized folds of the fabric differ from that of the Greek’s over-exaggerated realism.


Sarcophagus of Spouses

Credit: Creative Commons
Credit: Creative Commons

A late sixth century sarcophagus excavated from a tomb in modern day Cerveteri is a terracotta sculpture depicting a couple reclining together on a sort of couch. The sarcophagus displays not only the Etruscan Archaic style but also Etruscan skill in working with terracotta. The figures’ torsos are modeled and their heads are in a typical Etruscan egg-shape with almond shaped eyes, long noses, and an Archaic smile.[10] The hair is stylized, as seen in Apulu of Veii, and the figures are shown making gestures. The Etruscans place a large amount of emphasis on gesture, both in sculpture and painting.[11] It is believed that the woman originally held a small vessel, maybe used for wine, and the couple appears to be intimate and happy due to the fact that the two are intertwined.[12] Greek art portraying a man and woman aren’t this light-hearted and loving. Generally, Greek art showing a man and wife has a more serious tone.


Aulus Metellus (the Orator)

After the fall of the kings of Rome, the Republic began to form, and in turn the emphasis on realistic portrayals of public officials.[13] Fearful that the Republic could take back power from the people, seeing the statues of figures of power portrayed like a regular roman citizens restored hope that the leaders are there as an extension of the common Roman. The bronze statue Aulus Metellus was one of the statues used to speak to the people, assuring them that the Republic was working in their interests.[14]

Credit: Creative Commons
Credit: Creative Commons

The life size statue of the Roman official stretches his hand out toward the crowd he is addressing. With his arm outstretched toward the people, the official is letting the public know that he has the power and authority to help them voice their opinions.[15] The way the statue is posed makes him appear more like one of the people rather than someone that is of higher status. His toga is neatly folded and draped around his body, marking him as a governmental official, but the way his garments are shown so naturalistically also supports the idea that this figure doesn’t see himself as an elevated official.[16] The figures features and body are very common, unlike Hellenistic and other Greek figures, showing the human form in perfection. Viewers would be able to identify with this statue and place their trust in this man. The portrayal of senators and officials as caring and strong individuals helped restore trust and ease the tension on the Republic’s political system.[17]


Portrait bust, Cato the Elder

The portrait bust of Cato the Elder, from Otricoli (ancient Ocriculum) dates to the middle of the first century B.C.E. The portrait is a powerful representation of a male aristocrat with a strong roman nose.[18] The figure is shown lacking emotion, letting the wrinkles and scars do the talking. The figures abundance of wrinkles, a strong brow, and sunken skin, characterize the portrait head. The Romans used this veristic style of portraiture to show how wise and experienced the figures were, which were very influential characteristics to have.[19]

Credit: Creative Commons Head of a Roman Patrician. From Otricoli, Italy. Ca. 75-50 BCE.
Credit: Creative Commons
Head of a Roman Patrician. From Otricoli, Italy. Ca. 75-50 BCE.

Though this bust may seem unappealing by today’s standards, the portrait of Cato the Elder would have made for an influential piece while participating in the elections of the Republic. The physical traits of this portrait image are meant to convey seriousness of mind (gravitas) and the virtue (virtus) of a public career by demonstrating the way in which the subject literally wears the marks of his endeavors.[20]

Augustus Primaporta

Roman art and politics often go hand in hand. This is easily visible when viewing portraits of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Augustus used the power and influence of imagery in his portraits to spread his ideology across the Roman Empire.[21] One of Augustus’ most famous portraits is Augustus of Primaporta (20 B.C.E.).

Credit: Creative Commons  Flickr user: russavia Augustus of Primaporta
Credit: Creative Commons
Flickr user: russavia
Augustus of Primaporta

In this marble freestanding sculpture, Augustus stands in a contrapposto position (a relaxed pose where one leg bears weight). The emperor is wearing armor with his right arm extended, demonstrating that he may be addressing his soldiers or some sort of crowd.[22]  Already, this sculpture gives off a sense of power and status, differing from previous roman figures such as Cato the Elder and Aulus Metellus.

Delving further into the composition of the statue, an obvious resemblance to the Greek sculptor Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, is clear.[23]  Both sculptures are shown in a similar contrapposto stance, and both figures are idealized.  Like Doryphoros, Augustus is also portrayed as youthful and flawless. Augustus is shown as youthful and in great shape, though he was well past his prime at the time of the sculpture’s commissioning.[24] Augustus has tried to link himself to the golden age of the Greeks by associating himself with the idealized body and posture of the Doryphoros.[25]


“National Gallery of Art.” The Dying Gaul. November 26, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2015.

“Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE).” Laocoon and His Sons, Greek Statue: History, Interpretation. January 1, 2015. Accessed April 18, 2015.

“Archaic Art.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 15 Apr. 2015 from

“Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.” Arthistoryoftheday. August 19, 2011. Accessed April 18, 2015.

Becker, Jeffrey. “Khan Academy.” Khan Academy. Accessed April 19, 2015.

Fischer, Julia. “Khan Academy.” Khan Academy. Accessed April 19, 2015.

[1] “National Gallery of Art.” The Dying Gaul. November 26, 2013. Accessed April 17, 2015.

[2] “National Gallery of Art.”

[3] “National Gallery of Art.”

[4] “Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE).” Laocoon and His Sons, Greek Statue: History, Interpretation. January 1, 2015. Accessed April 18, 2015.

[5] “Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE).”

[6] “Archaic Art.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 03 Jul. 2014. Retrieved 15 Apr. 2015

[7] “Archaic Art.”

[8] “Archaic Art.”

[9] “Archaic Art.”

[10] “Archaic Art.”

[11] “Archaic Art.”

[12] “Archaic Art.”

[13] “Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.” Arthistoryoftheday. August 19, 2011. Accessed April 18, 2015.

[14] “Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.”

[15] “Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.”

[16] “Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.”

[17] “Aulus Metellus, Late 2nd or Early 1st Century BCE.”

[18] Becker, Jeffrey. “Khan Academy.” Khan Academy. Accessed April 19, 2015.

[19] Becker, Jeffrey

[20] Becker, Jeffrey

[21] Fischer, Julia. “Khan Academy.” Khan Academy. Accessed April 19, 2015.

[22] Fischer, Julia

[23] Fischer, Julia

[24] Fischer, Julia

[25] Fischer, Julia

Ancient Art’s Relationship with Religion

Carly Strickland

Religion and the beliefs of the cultures of the ancient world played a huge role in the art that was created. Through this digital micro-exhibition visitors should experience the strong relationship between many great works of art and religion. From deities to gods and goddesses, religious narratives, and beliefs shaped the cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece.

As each piece of art in this exhibition is viewed and the cultures in which they were created are studied, comparisons can be drawn to the religious beliefs of the viewer, and it is the hope of the curator that each viewer will find some joy in seeing these pieces from this interesting perspective. A clear understanding of the freedom we have in America to worship and follow any belief system we choose can be overwhelming when one thinks about the uniqueness of these freedoms. There is definite beauty in being able to represent these belief systems through works of art. Consider the societies and cultures of the ancient past as well as the present, and consider your freedom in this melting pot of cultures in which we live.

Here are some questions to ponder while viewing these pieces: What kind of art would these cultures have created if religion and beliefs had not influenced the art so greatly? Would those cultures have had any art at all? How can you relate your own beliefs to these cultures? How does religion play a role in art today?

The curator of this exhibit recently watched a film about Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph which sparked a connection between art and her own beliefs. The women in the rent tent were worshiping Inanna, the goddess of love and fertility. Although the fictional book and TV series may not have been entirely true to the Bible it still evoked a sense of what other gods the tribes and people of that time worshipped other than the God of the Bible. The commandment “You shall have no other gods before me,” came to life in that moment. Although at times in Evangelical teaching, the “other gods” can be associated with money or some other thing in modern life that takes attention away from the relationship with God, it is interesting to learn that people actually worshipped idols, and clay figures. So hopefully each viewer of this exhibit can find a connection to these pieces and the cultures from which they came, and these connections will further open hearts and minds to the many cultures of the world.

Warka Vase, Uruk, (modern day Warka, Iraq) c. 3300 – 3000 BCE

warka vasePhotograph credit

The Warka Vase is made from alabaster, a form of marble, and stands approximately 36 inches high. The piece was found in the Temple Complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Inanna was the patron deity of Uruk and is often mentioned with the other three Mesopotamian deities of Uruk – Anu, Enki, and Enlil. Her name is often accompanied by the symbol of a reed stalk tied in a hook at the top next to it. Inanna was believed to be the goddess of love and war and was later believed to be the goddess of fertility. While Inanna was the goddess of love, she was not the goddess of marriage. She was associated with sexual behavior. In each story that is told about her she is never an innocent bystander. She is always sly, manipulative, “violent and lusting after power“. One of many examples of Inanna’s manipulation can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was two-thirds god and one-third man, and Ishtar, Inanna’s Akkadian counter-part, fell in love with him the first time she laid eyes on him. “Inanna was carefully identified with Ishtar and rose in prominence from a local vegetative deity of the Sumerian people to the Queen of Heaven and the most popular goddess in all of Mesopotamia”.[i] Gilgamesh did not return the same affection towards her to which she took great offense. Ishtar had her father, Anu, make a divine bull to kill Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu defeated the bull so the gods punished him by taking his life. Ishtar’s scheme did not go as planned, but someone’s life was still taken because of her selfishness and manipulation.

The Warka Vase tells a narrative story and is said to be a representation of the New Year’s festival. The registers show men, animals, water, and grain, and the New Years festival is believed to have brought fertility and growth to the soil. The bottom register shows a procession of animals walking to the right. The middle register shows nude men carrying vessels walking to the left in the opposite direction of the animals. The top register seems to depict the performance of a sacrifice or offering and shows a bearded bull which often represents deity. The direction switching from left to right gives a sense of movement up to the temple starting from the bottom register of the vase and proceeding to the top register. The male and female figures on the vase, which are no longer in tact, are believed to be depicting Inanna and Dumuzi, or her priestess and the priest-king. “The fusion of the world of the gods and that of the humans was so complete at the end of the fourth millennium, when the vase was produced, that depictions of figures lack indicators of divinity”.[ii] Union between deities and humans was believed an essential step in the process of growth and fertility in Sumer. Cultural wisdom was that the pleasure of deities brought prosperity to the lands.

The interaction between deity and priest-king in the Warka Vase is why the piece was chosen for this digital exhibition. Inanna “…brings knowledge and culture to the city of Uruk” .[iii] She was said to be the source of abundant harvests, power, and protection of the kings.

[i] Joshua J. Mark, “Inanna”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010,

[ii] The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art of the First Cities, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003), 24.

[iii] Joshua J. Mark, “Inanna”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010,

Babylonian Stele of Hammurabi, Made in Babylon, Erected at Sippar, Found in Susa, c. 1792-1750 BCE

Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 7.57.20 AMPhotograph credit Getty Images

The Stele of Hammurabi is an art piece and code of laws that was found in ancient Susa, and commissioned by Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylon. The stele is made of diorite and is 7.4 feet tall, which emphasizes its significance. The main purpose of the piece was to serve as political propaganda, reminding those in the towns of Hammurabi’s kingdom of his rule and his laws. While the bottom portion serves as political propaganda the top is a religious relief sculpture paying tribute to Shamash, the sun god. The principle scene depicted shows King Hammurabi receiving his investiture from Shamash.

Hammurabi was the king of Babylon in Mesopotamia from 1792 to 1750 B.C.E. Babylon’s history was made famous because of Hammurabi’s greatness and military prominence. “Hammurabi combined his military and political advances and irrigation projects and the construction of fortifications and temples celebrating Babylon’s patron deity Marduk”.[i] Hammurabi implemented one of the earliest forms of legal codes in ancient Babylon. “His code, a collection of 282 laws and standards, stipulated rules for commercial interactions and set fines and punishments to meet the requirements of justice”.[ii] “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is an example of one of the harsh punishments that Hammurabi enforced. Hammurabi’s Code was written in cuneiform script, the earliest system of writing, which was developed by the Sumerians. It is divided into three parts, a prologue, epilogue, and two literary passages describing the 282 laws. The prologue describes King Hammurabi’s role as protector, his empire, and triumph. The epilogue is a lyric and summary of Hammurabi’s legal work and groundwork for the future. The two literary passages were put into layman’s terms so everyone could understand the terms of the laws. The punishments were written as conditional statements, for example, “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out”.

Shamash, the sun god, who is seen in the top half of the stele, was also the god of law and justice, which explains why he is holding a staff and ring. He was an Akkadian god who “exercised the power of light over darkness and evil”.[iii] When comparing the Stele of Hammurabi to the Shamash Stele you can see that there is no division between Hammurabi, the king, and Shamash, the deity. It gives a sense of unification between the two. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin shows Naram-Sin portraying himself as a god, so in comparing the two, the Stele of Hammurabi holds to the tradition where the king is still the negotiator with the deity and submits to the power of the god.

This piece represents another example of the interaction between the king and patron deity. The king is the middleman who communicates with the deity, presenting the god with worship and gifts. In this case the relationship is also used as political propaganda to ensure that the people of Babylon submit to the Hammurabi code – a legal system implemented “to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done to widows and orphans”.[iv]

[i] Staff, “Hammurabi”, 2009, A+E Networks,

[ii] Staff, “Hammurabi”, 2009, A+E Networks,

[iii] Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Shamash”, accessed April 21, 2015,

[iv] Staff, “Hammurabi”, 2009, A+E Networks,

Temple Complex at Karnak, c. 1292-1190 BCE

KarnakPhotograph credit

The Temple Complex at Karnak is found in Thebes on the east bank of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians knew the temple of Karnak as Ipet-isu—or “most select of places”—.[i] It is considered the largest temple complex on Earth. It pays tribute to the deities Amun (Amun-Ra), Khnosu, and Mut. It is made up of courts ascribed to over 30 different kings, 3 main temple precincts, Hypostyle Hall, the sacred lake, and Scarab statues.

The largest temple in the complex is the Temple of Amun (Amun-Re), the King of the gods. The other two temples are the temples of his wife Mut, and son Khnosu. Amun was one of the most important gods in ancient Egypt, and once united with Ra, the sun god, he was the most powerful. “Amun-Ra was considered to be the father and protector of the pharaoh”.[ii] Six enormous figures sit outside the Temple of Amun that are believed to be the sculptures of the royal family, Hatshepsut and her ancestors. Hastshepsut, the Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty often associated herself with Amun, and one form of propaganda even said that she was the daughter of Amun.

The Great Hypostyle Hall built by Sety I, the 19th century pharaoh, is the most grand of the buildings at Karnak, even in the presence of the temples of gods and goddesses. The Hall is a 54,000 square feet forest of 134 columns. The columns are 45’ wide and approximately 70’ tall. “Not only does the scale and completeness of this monument remain a rarity among ancient Egyptian temples, but is also the largest and most elaborately decorated of all such buildings in Egypt”.[iii] There is great detail in the relief carvings throughout the hypostyle. “The patchwork of artistic styles and different royal names seen in these inscriptions and relief sculptures reflect the different stages at which they were carved over the centuries”.[iv] Some of the relief’s include; Sety I offering two flowers, Ramesses II offering incense, Ramesses IV offering lettuce to Amun-Ra, Sety I attacking the Syrian town of Kadesh, and Horus with the headdress of Amun and the King.

The Sacred Lake is 393 feet by 252 feet and was dug by Tuthmosis III. The lake represents the remembrance of the void of chaos, memorial witness, and the commencement point of creation. It is a place of purification and is where the priest would bathe himself before sacred rituals. The goose is a symbol of Amun and the sacred geese of Amun also lived in the lake.

The Scarab of Amenhotep III, dung beetle and granite statue, was an emblem of the cycle and nature of creation. The dung beetle was an insect associated with the sun god Khepri. “The plinth is decorated with a lightly inscribed sunk relief scene of a kneeling Amenhotep III offering to Khepri who is seated on a low throne. A winged solar disk extends over their heads”.[v] The Scarab is attached to the sacred lake, almost as if they are standing guard, standing between chaos and the rest of the world.

The Temple Complex at Karnak, filled with sacred buildings and rich culture, holds great significance to Egyptian history. “It is the largest religious building ever made, covering about 200 acres, and was a place of pilgrimage for nearly 2,000 years”.[vi] This virtual exhibit would not have been complete without the Temple Complex at Karnak taking an appropriate place considering the amount of religious ceremonies and practices that took place there.

[i] Owen Jarus, “Karnak: Temple Complex of Ancient Egypt”, 2012,

[ii] J. Hill, “Gods of ancient Egypt: Amun”, 2010,

[iii]University of Memphis College of Arts & Sciences, “Welcome to the Hypostyle Hall”,

[iv] University of Memphis College of Arts & Sciences, “Welcome to the Hypostyle Hall”,

[v] C. Zarnoch, E. Sullivan, “Scarab of Amenhotep III”,

[vi] Mark Millmore, “Karnak Temple Sacred Lake”, Discovering Egypt Website, 1997,

Marble metope from the Parthenon, Athens, 447-438 BCE

marble metopePhotograph credit Ancient History Encyclopedia

The marble metope from the Parthenon was a series of 92 marble panels on the exterior Doric frieze of the Parthenon in Athens. The marble metopes are also known as the Elgin Marbles, named after the 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce who sold the marbles to Britain when Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Elgin Marbles still to this day reside in the British Museum, which has led to a rather heated debate. “Britain used to say that Athens had no adequate place to put the Elgin Marbles, the more than half of the Parthenon frieze, metopes and pediments that Lord Elgin spirited off when was ambassador to the ottoman empire two centuries ago”.[i] Now that the Acropolis Museum is a fully functioning museum with state of the art technology to help preserve and restore art, Britain’s argument is invalid. The debate still continues and further questions to whom ownership belongs and whether repatriation is the correct thing to do or not. Art does help define a culture and its ways but do other people deserve see the art too? Would people appreciate art as much if there weren’t places like encyclopedic museums where they can encounter these pieces first hand?

This particular marble metope from the Parthenon depicts a scene of “A fight between a human Lapith and a Centuar”.[ii] Lapith’s were Greek mythological people who lived on Mount Pelion and were known for their rivalry with the Centaurs. Centaurs were creatures that were part human and part horse and descended from Centaurus, the son of the music god, Apollo. The story the scene was taken from was of Centaurs first encounter with wine. The Lapith’s were throwing a marriage feast for their King, Peirithoos, and gave the Centaurs wine. The Centaurs got unruly and their leader, Eurytion, tried to take advantage of the bride. This caused uproar and “a general battle ensued, with the Lapiths finally victorious”.[iii]

This scene is portraying the victory of the Lapith’s over the Centaurs. The nude Lapith male is in the forefront of the sculpture showing dominance. The stance of the Centaur is uncomfortable and like he is in pain, and the stance of the Lapith is more relaxed and over powering. The defeat of the Centaur is shown very clearly on his face, and even though the Lapith is faceless, his body shows his victory. “The composition is perfectly balanced, with the protagonists pulling in opposite directions, around a central space filled by the cascading folds of the Lapith’s cloak”.[iv]

The connection this piece has with this exhibit is that Centaurs are descendants of Appollo’s son, Centaurus, and that Lapith’s are humans derived from greek mythology.   In this particular piece there is not a god or goddess being worshiped or offered sacrifices, but the piece gives a sense of how Greek culture was shaped around Greek mythology and the gods. Countless stories were told and art was made to visualize those stories. “The ancient Greek spiritual beliefs, religion, and oral tradition are all reflected and formulated through rich myths and legends that besides entertainment provided an articulation of the moral fiber of the Greek culture as it evolved through at least two thousand years”.[v]

[i] Michael Kimmelman, “Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light”, 2009, New York Times,

[ii] B.F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

[iii] B.F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

[iv] B.F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

[v] Staff, “Greek Mythology”,

Laocoon and His Sons Hagesandros, Polydoros, and Athenodoros of Rhodes, Hellenistic Greece, 1st century BCE,

LaocoonPhotograph credit Wikipedia

This sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons is one of the most famous sculptures from the Hellenistic time period, around 200 BCE. The sculpture was discovered in nine pieces, one seemingly life-sized, by a farmer in his vineyard on Esquiline Hill, was excavated in 1506, and placed in the Vatican where still housed today. The discovery of Laocoon sparked the imaginations of artists from Raphael to Michelangelo, becoming the standard for aesthetic beauty in art for the next several centuries. One can certainly see the influence of this piece on the physical attributes of some of the works of Michelangelo such as many figures on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling with similar muscular structure, and on the emotional attributes of pieces like his Slaves sculptures. Politicians sought after the sculpture as well, and Napoleon even captured the piece for his Louvre for a time. Eventually Laocoon was returned to the Vatican. Standing around eight feet tall, Lacoon and His Sons is sculpted from marble. The sculpture illustrates the scene of Laocoon and his two sons being attacked by sea serpents.

Laocoon was a Trojan priest and was said to be the priest of Poseidon. Some say he was also the priest of the god Apollo. The Trojan War could have been prevented if the Trojans had listened to Laocoon the day the Greeks brought the Trojan horse into the city. Laocoon tried to warn them against bringing the horse into the city because he sensed that it was a trap and indeed it was. Athena, the goddess, was the protector of the Greeks and punished Laocoon for trying to interfere with their plan. She punished him by sending two sea serpents, Porces and Chariboea, to attack his two sons and him. Another narrative says that, “Laocoon offended Apollo by breaking his oath of celibacy and begetting children or by having sexual intercourse with his wife in Apollo’s sanctuary”.[i] Apollo sent two serpents to kill Laocoon and his sons while he was sacrificing a bull at Poseidon’s altar. Whichever tale is true, both stories show that the gods and goddesses interacted with humans regularly but were not always trustworthy and did not always fight on the side of the humans.

The musculature in this sculpture shows the idealized body type of Grecian males during this time period of ancient Greece. The males were warriors and were expected to be the most fit. This piece shows a very intense narrative moment and emphasizes this by exaggerated tension in the bodies. One son seems to be breaking free of the grip of the sea serpents when he looks across to see his father and brother in the agony of their deaths.

This piece was chosen for this exhibit because of the relationship between Laocoon and the gods and goddesses, which also once again illustrates how gods and goddesses were part of everyday life in Greek culture, and for its influence on generations of artists centuries after the original sculpture was made.

[i] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Laocoon, Greek Mythology”, accessed April 21, 2015,

 Statuette of Isis and Horus, Ptolemic Period, ca. 304-30 BCE

horus and isisPhotograph credit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Isis was arguably the most important goddess of ancient Egyptian history as she was worshipped not only in Egypt, but also throughout Italy and Greece, and her influence lasted long after the demise of the Egyptian empire. The Statuette of Isis and Horus was made of Egyptian faience, the oldest type of ceramic glaze, created by the Egptians. “Faience was made by grinding quartz or sand crystals together with various amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and copper oxide”.[i] This particular statue of Isis and Horus was approximately seven inches high. This piece was one of many statues of Isis nursing Horus. The other figures were mostly made of bronze, like a majority of other statues and figures of deities during this time period.

Isis nursing her son Horus was seen as a sort of symbol of rebirth for the ancient Egyptians. During this time period deities were often placed in temples and “the most important was the triad (a group of three persons) of Osiris, his wife, Isis, and their son Horus. They represented the king of the dead, the divine mother, and the living king respectively, together they were the perfect family”.[ii] Osiris was the god of the earth and vegetation. His wife, Isis, was also his sister and she was the goddess of the sky. Their son Horus was the god with whom the Egyptian kings associated themselves, and he became a very prominent god. “As a child, Horus was known as Harpokrates, “the infant Horus”. And was portrayed as baby being suckled by Isis”.[iii] His birth was significant because he was conceived after the death of his father, Osiris. The story is told that his mother, Isis, reassembled all of Osiris’s parts so that she could conceive a successor for the throne.

Horus is suckling Isis in this piece, which is why the statue is sometimes referred to as the Divine Mother nursing her infant. Isis is seated on a throne and is holding Horus’s head in her hands. Horus is not clothed and on the right side of his head is a single lock of hair. The object on top of Isis’s head is a throne hieroglyph that represents her name.[iv]

This piece has been replicated and recreated in many different forms throughout history, which confirms its importance and significance in Egypt as well as other cultures. “During later periods, Egyptians produced many small bronze statuettes of their deities, which they then gave as tributes during pilgrimages of holy sites”.[v] Figures were placed in temples as a representation of the gods and goddesses being worshipped and given offerings. The gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt shaped the culture more and more during the later periods, and Isis influenced religious worship for centuries after her death and even after the end of the Egyptian empire.

[i] Joshua J. Mark, “Faience”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010,

[ii] British Museum of Art Staff, “Bronze figure of Isis and Horus”,

[iii] Egyptian Myths Staff, “Horus”,

[iv] British Museum of Art Staff, “Bronze figure of Isis and Horus”,

[v] The Louve Staff, “Statuette: Isis Nursing Horus”,

The Amphipolis Mosaic, 4th Century BCE

The AmphipolisPhotograph Credit Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Graphics and analysis ©

The final piece chosen for this digital exhibition is The Amphipolis Mosaic. Archeologists found the Amphipolis floor Mosaic in 2014 in a tomb in Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece. This piece was chosen because of its mysteriousness and for the very different artistic techniques used in creating the piece in comparison to other art of this time period. The Amphipolis Mosaic measures ten feet wide and fiftenn feet long and is constructed of white, black, blue, red, yellow, and grey pebbles. The tomb in which the mosaic was found is believed to have been under the rule of Alexander the Great at the time the piece was constructed, and could have been the site where his mother, Olympias, was buried. Although there is conflicting evidence suggesting other possibilities for who is buried in the tomb, Alexander wanted to make his mother a goddess, and she held tremendous political power even after his death, so a tomb of this kind would have been a fitting burial place for such a prominent figure.

The scene depicted “is identified as Hades in the process of carrying Persephone, with a lamenting female figure (Demeter) left behind”.[i] Pluto, whose earlier name was Hades, was in love with Persephone and abducted her to make her his queen. Persephone, also known as Kore, the goddess of the harvest, was the only child of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of nature. Pluto, or Hades, was the god of the underworld, hell. Hades fell in love Persephone one day when he traveled above ground and saw her picking flowers in a field. One story says that Zeus, the brother of Hades and Persephone’s father, was his cohort and that they trapped her by causing the ground underneath her to split in half. “Persephone slipped beneath the Earth and Hades stole her to the Underworld where he made her his wife”.[ii]

The figure leading the chariot is believed to be Hermes, the god of transitions and boundaries. This would make sense considering this scene is a depiction of the subjects traveling from Earth back to the underworld. As the son of Zeus, the depiction of Hermes leading the chariot also becomes more plausible. Hades is driving the chariot and some say the female figure is Demeter being left behind. However, a better assumption might be that the female figure is actually Persephone herself, judging by the agony on her face and somber wave. Regardless of who the figure is, the raw emotion on the face of the female figure allows a deeper level of connection with the piece of art.  The detail and different approach to this piece is what makes it so unique and one of the reasons why it was chosen for this exhibition. Artists during this time period were making bronze figures and marble sculptures, not mosaic pieces from marble. Although it is only a two-dimensional work of art, the detail and scale give great emphasize to the scene of Hades abducting Persephone and bring it to life. “The artist enhances the story with simple gestures and lines, which create a cinematic approach where the viewer has caught a fleeting glimpse of a continuous action in a space and time”.[iii] The piece again reflects the theme of the exhibit as it beautifully shows the connection between art and religion in ancient times.

[i] Ancient-Greece Staff, “Amphipolis Mosaic”,

[ii] “The Myth of Hades and Persephone”,

[iii] Ancient-Greece Staff, “Amphipolis Mosaic”,

By Carly Strickland

Work Cited 

Joshua J. Mark, “Inanna”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010,

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art of the First Cities, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003), 24. Staff, “Hammurabi”, 2009, A+E Networks,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Shamash”, accessed April 21, 2015,

Owen Jarus, “Karnak: Temple Complex of Ancient Egypt”, 2012,

Hill, “Gods of ancient Egypt: Amun”, 2010,

University of Memphis College of Arts & Sciences, “Welcome to the Hypostyle Hall”,

Zarnoch, E. Sullivan, “Scarab of Amenhotep III”,

Mark Millmore, “Karnak Temple Sacred Lake”, Discovering Egypt Website, 1997,

Michael Kimmelman, “Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light”, 2009, New York Times,

B.F. Cook, The Elgin Marbles, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1997) Staff, “Greek Mythology”,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Laocoon, Greek Mythology”, accessed April 21, 2015,

Joshua J. Mark, “Faience”, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2010,

British Museum of Art Staff, “Bronze figure of Isis and Horus”,

Egyptian Myths Staff, “Horus”,

The Louve Staff, “Statuette: Isis Nursing Horus”,

Ancient-Greece Staff, “Amphipolis Mosaic”,

“The Myth of Hades and Persephone”,

The Great Debate: Final Conclusions of Encyclopedic Museums and Ownership

Justice is served!  All rights to the Indiana Jones franchise © Paramount Pictures.
Justice is served!
All rights to the Indiana Jones franchise © Paramount Pictures.

Jennifer Crumby

The Great Debate: Final Conclusions of Encyclopedic Museums and Ownership

Throughout this course we have looked into a vast collection of ancient structures and artifacts that create an idea of how we depict the early civilizations of the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia, ancient Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks. Through studies of these objects and preserved archaeological sites, art historians have pieced together what we believe to be accurate depictions of how these societies lived and ruled the Near and Middle East and Africa. From found artifacts we can learn how these ancient people farmed and hunted or fished, reproduced, bathed, traveled, communicated, and how they otherwise generally lived everyday lives. The study of the uses of these objects also reveal the economy or geography of the area at the time. Objects also commonly lead to discovery of liturgical purposes, such as icons for devotion and funerary practices. These artifacts and tombs also serve as primary sources for a historical map to the rulers of kingdoms. With the uncovering of artifacts we can study the advancement and political structures of these early civilizations, giving us insight into the world of our ancient predecessors.

A recurring topic has been the issue of rightful ownership and the legality of how ancient artifacts in museum and private collections were acquired. A hotbutton issue in the world of art history and the political sphere is the advocacy of encyclopedic museums. Museums are sometimes defended as sanctuaries for found objects, and at other times seen as thieves from the original lands of the artifacts’ perceived rightful owners and their descendants. While open discussion has proven that the general feeling is that any resolution should honor these ancient civilizations and the contextual significance of these objects, no clear consensus has been reached as to where these objects rightfully belong. As ancient predecessors to every human being on Earth, these objects demonstrate a sociological understanding of these early civilizations that benefit the world and history in its entirety. Without a doubt, we would not know much at all about these ancient civilizations without the discovery and allowed study of the objects, structures and geographical locations. Together we will analyze seven key historical objects whose significance of contextual meaning, amount of respect given in its current confinements, and rightful ownership are currently being questioned.

The Stele of Hammurabi.  © Musée du Louvre, Paris. This image is for non-commercial scholarly use.
The Stele of Hammurabi.
© Musée du Louvre, Paris. This image is for non-commercial scholarly use.

The Stele of Hammurabi is a six-foot-high monument made of black dolomite. It bears an image of the King Hammurabi receiving powers bestowed upon him by the Ancient Sumerian Sun God Shamash, c. 1792 to 1750 B.C.E. King Hammurabi ruled Babylon from 1782-1750 BCE and conquered around 1,000 square miles of present-day Iraq, cementing Babylon as a formidable ancient city. But what has made King Hammurabi most memorable was that he placed many monuments like this stele in his Babylonian cities, all which reminded the Babylonian people of their civic and religious duties to live by the Code. The Hammurabi Code was an impressive, highly developed ancient Sumerian legal system.

An article by Donald G. McNeil examines the Stele of Hammurabi’s inlaid Code of Hammurabi. McNeil does a wonderful job of examining King Hammurabi in-depth through this ancient stele’s coded legal system, judging King Hammurabi’s fairness and the authority exerted during his thirty two-year reign of Babylon. The breakdown of the Code of Hammurabi does thoroughly analyze King Hammurabi’s legal system and its rudimentary pre-Bible and pre-Democracy systems of checks and balances, but it is the author’s other outline that is of great interest to the topic of rightful ownership. McNeil introduces a fine detailed account of the discovery of the Stele of Hammurabi. Found in the ancient Persian city of Susa, now in Iran, the Stele of Hammurabi was discovered by a man by the name of M. deMorgan. According to McNeil’s account, M. deMorgan was the director general of an expedition sent by the French government to Susa on an archaeological dig in their interests (McNeil 444). It was during this expedition in 1901-1902 that they discovered the Stele of Hammurabi. It was in horrible shape, having been found in three separate pieces. deMorgan and his company of archaeologists joined the pieces back together to form what we now know as the Stele of Hammurabi, effectively preserving what’s left of the ancient artifact. From there art historians have been able to study the piece in cuneiform and reveal the earliest known example of a highly developed legal system in an ancient civilization.

The Stele of Hammurabi currently sits on display in the Louvre. The ancient artifact is safely preserved and exhibited to the public in an easily accessible and high-traffic encyclopedic museum, which happens to one of the world’s most popular museums. The Louvre also makes available digital images of the artifact online and in publications, as well as extensive information known about the object and King Hammurabi. This ancient artifact was unearthed from Iran in pieces and restored, the first time anyone of what we consider modern culture had ever seen this ancient stele. Without the questioned archaeological digs performed around a century ago, archaeologists may have never found ancient artifacts like the Stele of Hammurabi. These found objects were taken from the country of origin with permission from the ruling government of the time, breaking no laws and without use of any questionable ethics. Given that this artifact has been in the care and ownership of another country for over 100 years, has been made easily accessible to the public and to scholars, has been researched thoroughly to the advantage of the historical value of all mankind, and seems to be well preserved in a facility better than the country of origin can provide; any request to claim ownership of this particular artifact or otherwise remove the Stele of Hammurabi from the Louvre is currently unfounded. While it can be said that the contextual meaning is lost outside its land of origin, the Stele of Hammurabi’s context is long since gone. The original use was to outline the Code of Hammurabi during its reign. The current political structure of Iran hardly still adheres to the laws and religious practices of the ancient Babylonian era. Where contextual meaning is concerned, that has long since passed. As for a point of rightful ownership, the Iranian people cannot definitively prove without a doubt that they are completely straight descendants of this ancient Sumerian civilization only. Nor should the thousand of years between this modern era and this ancient civilization bestow any inheritance of this magnitude on the residents that currently occupy the region in which the ancient artifacts were first uncovered. In yeat another perspective, this region is currently experiencing a radical political and religious uprising tht has directly sanctioned the destruction of artifacts from ancient civilizations. The country of Iran is still experiencing an internal uprising, and cannot be considered a stable country capable of protecting ancient artifacts. In these instances, art historical preservation organizations such as UNESCO, who cooperate on an international scale with the United Nations, should be called in to mediate discussions and assist in a peaceful resolution to any dispute or analyze when to remove items due to threats of safety and preservation.

Mask of Tutankhamun, from the innermost coffin.  Ownership now © The Museum in Cairo, reused here for non-commercial scholarly use only.
Mask of Tutankhamun, from the innermost coffin.
Ownership now © The Museum in Cairo, reused here for non-commercial scholarly use only.

Being one of the most famous and influential archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century can easily be attributed to the uncovering of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. In 1920, the determined archaeologist Howard Carter continued digging his way through the Valley of the Kings, eager to uncover anything left to be found. Where many other archaeologists accepted that nothing more of value was left to be found, Howard Carter found the sponsorship of English Earl of Caravon. The Earl of Caravon was himself an amateur explorer who had plenty of financial backing to keep Howard Carter digging. In January 1922, after two long years of digging and admittedly on the verge of giving up, Howard Carter and his team of excavators uncovered the tomb of a then-unknown young pharaoh.

The Mask of Tutankhamun, c. 1327 BCE, is a solid gold-encrusted mask from the innermost coffin of King Tutankhamun’s elaborate set of sarcophagi in his burial tomb. The mask is believed to be a representation of King Tutankhamun’s face. It bears lapiz lazuli and quartz motifs to define the brow and eyes. Now deconstructed, this innermost coffin’s mask is one of the most iconic images from the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. With Howard Carter’s discovery of the first fully intact tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh and previously discovered funerary artifacts and pieces displaying King Tutankhamun’s name, this fully intact mummy gave scientists and art historians most of the information that is known today of the process of mummification and other funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians.

The British Museum in London originally transported many of the found contents of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber to London to be put on display. This mask and many other ancient artifacts appeared in a gallery opening in 1929, which was an enormous hit with historians and patrons. Queen Elizabeth II visited the 1929 exhibition and viewed Howard Carter’s discoveries herself. Through much controversy of Howard Carter’s taking of the tomb’s contents and England’s long-upheld claims to ownership of the tomb contents, as well as many world tours around the globe, the items and King Tutankhamun’s remains are now back in Egypt and under ownership of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.

An article by John H. Douglas lays out many details of artifacts found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Douglas also mentions a little bit of details revealed by Howard Carter and the press as he uncovered the tomb and eventually took these artifacts as his own. The discovery and ultimately the removal of the contents of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber have been well-documented by Howard Carter and member of the press of 1922. The Egyptian government at the time of discovery did not represent the sentiments of the Egyptian government that rules today. The inhabitants of Egypt today are understood to be the descendants of the ancient Egyptians, even being home to a radical sect of Egyptians who choose to follow the religion and other customs of the ancients. Egypt itself has been found to be capable of hosting, displaying, and preserving ancient artifacts and structures. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities have many of these items on display to the public and still negotiate to make items available for further research, such as the famous x-ray CT scan that led to a forensic team’s digital facial reconstruction of what we believe to be King Tutankhamun’s true face. Given the amount of availability, preservation, and respect given to King Tutankhamun’s belongings and remains, the Cairo museum continues to prove that they are quite capable of handling the responsibilities that come with being bestowed the ownership rights of the ancient artifacts of one of their ancient pharaohs.

Cleopatra's Needle in Alexandria, ca. 1880; old archive photo
Cleopatra’s Needle in Alexandria, ca. 1880; old archive photo

A solemn look at the deterioration of ancient artifacts leads us to a Cleopatra’s Needle monument, located outdoors in New York City’s Central Park. In Chas. Chaille Long’s article “Send Back the Obelisk,” Long recalls his first-person account of witnessing the unveiling of the Cleopatra’s Needle at its inception in the current installation on Central Park. He then recalled his first seeing it in Egypt during his military service, emotionally stating that the monument no longer evoked the civic and other ethereal meanings he once asociated with it. Additionally, according to Long, the context of Cleopatra’s Needle was lost when it was removed from its original environment. It was damaged in transport and was enduring weathering in its new place in Central Park. Deterioration or destruction of an ancient artifact is exactly hat needs to be prevented, and is a serious enough case that an advocacy or preservation group should step in to protect the ancient artifact. Likewise, returning the monuments simply for re-installation and allowing these monuments to continue to be weathered down and destroyed should be considered irresponsible and unacceptable in the art historical and historical preservation communities. In situations like these, deliberations with political leaders and groups such as UNESCO should take place to have peaceful resolutions. Preservation of the obelisk in the United States should be the key issue, and any rightful owner should be ready and able to provide preservation of the obelisk.

Although well-trained art historians generally aim to be respectful of the country’s culture, the area of disagreement is rightful ownership of the artifacts. While it is easy to sympathize with a group of people who feel disenfranchised over actions of something being taken from their land, that premise of sympathy is based on spiritual meaning. We cannot assume that every country claiming ownership has the best intentions in mind. Assuming that a governing body cares for artifacts on a respectful, emotional level is a detriment to archaeology and hinders preservation. We have to examine the country’s ability to preserve the sites or objects. ISIS and Boko Haram are reportedly uniting. A part of the militant terrorist groups’ “cultural cleansing” campaigns includes ridding nations of artifacts from other religions or civilizations – deliberate destruction of ancient artifacts. In the event of armed conflict, UNESCO cites The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 for setting standards for discussing risks of leaving the artifacts, which are currently being destroyed by radical Islamic terrorists. In this case, preservation cannot be guaranteed. Though not enough evidence is currently provided to warrant a return of Cleopatra’s Needle, preservation should be the responsibility of the current owners of the monument.

Hatshepsut, ca. 1473–1458 B.C; © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Statue of Seated Hatshepsut, ca. 1473–1458 B.C; © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The statue of Hatshepsut, c. 1479 to 1458 BCE, is located in the British Museum in London. It is carved from limestone and originally was further decorated with paint. The statue was uncovered in Deir el-Bahri, Thebes, which is the location of her temple. Though damaged quite a bit when it was recovered, it is still a mainly intact and wonderful representation of a female pharaoh. As Hatshepsut reigned further, physical depictions of the queen began to change. A published 2006 museum review by Emily Teeter beautifully describes this and many other physical depictions of Hatshepsut, along with a nice description as to what we know historically from her reign. Images of Hatshepsut began a metamorphosis of her gender, changing some of her body style to resemble more of a masculine form without much subtlety. Her female breasts smooth out to a more masculine chest, she wears a male ceremonial kilt, and she sports a false beard which a female most definitely could not have grown herself. The damage could be attributed to the destruction of some of her monuments by her stepson Thutmose III, who harbored a great deal of animosity towards his stepmother after she usurped his throne a little while after he came of age to assume the title of King. Accordingly, mentions of Hatshepsut became scarce likely at King Thutmose III’s wishes. Hatshepsut’s temple, the Hathor Chapel, was a target of his anger, and archaeologists can see why. Inside the temple are inscriptions announcing her accomplishments and a message from her celestial father delivering the message that his daughter is a wonderful king and reinforcing her right to rule as she did.

This statue was recovered from Thebes in 1845, though not intact. Other pieces were recovered approximately 80 years later and were rejoined with the original piece, which was located in Berlin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art then negotiated to acquire the main piece to restore the statue. An expensive and painstaking process from excavation to restoration, a great deal of care and responsibility has been put into this statue of Hatshepsut by the museum. As a queen who achieved the rare title of a female pharaoh, a statue such as this is extremely important in terms of historical research. This ancient artifact, along with primary scholarly sources, arguably proves that such a person very likely existed. The current condition of the statue causes enough alarm that preservation not only should come first, but that whichever museum, no matter which country, appears to be the most stable and has the best conditions for preserving this artifact should do so with ownership and accepted responsibility of the object, along with the technology and other capabilities that only a major museum could handle.

The Pyramids of Giza, scholarly use courtesy of Encyclopedia Brittanica; © Sylvain Grandadam—Stone/Getty Images
The Pyramids of Giza, scholarly use courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica; © Sylvain Grandadam—Stone/Getty Images

An example of an international group at work is UNESCO. The work they have accomplished with on-site preservation includes the Great Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. Constructed between 2575 and 2465 BCE, the Great Pyramids have been called architectural and engineering marvels, as well as one of the seven wonders of the world. Extremely similar to ziggurats, these structures serve as burial tombs of pharaohs. UNESCO is an acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO designated these famous pyramids as a protected World Heritage site in 1979. That proclamation came in handy in 1995 when the Giza Pyramids were threatened by way of destruction for a highway project in Cairo. When contemplating how Egyptians could consider doing such a thing, we must remember that these ancient pyramids actually run flush to the outskirts of a present-day densely populated city of Cairo.

UNESCO was able to complete this task with the World Heritage Convention: a subgroup inside UNESCO that takes immediate action to preserve any World Heritage site that is in danger of destruction. Negotiations with the Egyptian Government resulted in a number of alternative solutions which replaced the disputed project. UNESCO does not claim ownership, but instead negotiates for the protection of World Heritage Sites and empowers groups within the countries to work with their governments to preserve historical sites.

The Temple of Ishtar ruins, Ashur. Courtesy of UNESCO, © Editions Gelbart (scholarly use only)
The Temple of Ishtar ruins, Ashur. Courtesy of UNESCO, © Editions Gelbart (scholarly use only)

Another example of a key historical monument that is now considered to be in danger is the Temple of Ishtar in the city of Ashur, located approximately 100 kilometers outside Mosul in present-day northern Iraq. The Assyrian city of Ashur was a key city during the Akkadian empire that ruled c. 2334 to 2154 BCE, and was eventually the capital of Assyria. While smaller than Nimrud and Nineveh, it sat at a pivotal position along a trade route in Mesopotamia that aided in supporting a strong economy that guaranteed the city’s survival over centuries. Another element of this particular ancient city was its geographical benefits. This particular city was erected flush to the Tigris River, and the city’s other unique geographical surroundings afforded the city natural defenses which were strengthened with buttressed walls. Ashur was one of the earliest forts ever uncovered from ancient early civilizations. Ashur is also the site of the Temple of Ishtar or Inanna of Ashur, where a large cache of ancient artifacts were unearthed by excavator Walter Andrae.

Looking at an article discussing Assyrian artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and previous installments in Berlin, we can see that many found object from the discovery of the Temple of Ishtar in Ashur are currently preserved and protected within encyclopedic museums. Considering the armed conflict currently plaguing Iraq and the imminent danger ancient artifacts face from the radical terrorist groups, ownership is no question. Of the many ancient artifacts from Ashur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, some were objects from the uncovering of the Temple of Ishtar. From just this temple we discovered votives and statues depicting gods, rulers and other objects that have been studied and benefited our understanding of rituals and everyday lives of the ancient Sumerians. A discovery of ancient artifacts found underneath the temple was very valuable to research. Excavator Walter Andrae uncovered items such as copper objects, clay statues, glasswork and precious stone jewelry. These significant ancient artifacts demonstrate metalwork and glass and jewelry-making skills of the Assyrians and their predecessors.

The rising power of radical forces and the beginning of the Iraqi-American War assisted UNESCO in making the decision to make the city of Ashur and its Temple of Ishtar a World Heritage Site in 2003 in efforts to further protect the site from damage or destruction. UNESCO submits that the ancient city provides scholars the opportunity study the evolutionary engineering practices of the ancient Sumerians. Right now northern Iraq is in immediate danger from the sanctioned destruction of ancient artifacts by the radical religious group ISIS, who aim to eradicate artifacts from ancient civilizations that did not worship their god. In March of 2015, UNESCO used the term “cultural cleansing” when describing and condemning the devastating destruction of the archaeological site at Nimrud, the ancient Assyrian capital. UNSECO continues efforts to mobilize the people of Iraq and the international political and academic communities to further protect cultural heritage sites in Iraq.

Figure of Iris from West Pediment of the Parthenon, Elgin Marbles;  © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Figure of Iris from West Pediment of the Parthenon, Elgin Marbles; © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A final key historical topic that is still greatly debated today is the rightful ownership to the Elgin Marbles. The Elgin Marbles happen to be a large portion of the Parthenon frieze. The Elgin Marbles were removed from the Parthenon during the reign of the Ottomans over Greece by an Englishman by the name of Lord Elgin, for which the marbles are currently named. The Elgin Marbles have been held by the British Museum since 1816. Lord Elgin’s reasoning for removing the marbles were the state of deterioration as monuments were not being properly cared for at the time. While the Ottoman Empire spanned Greece, their ruling political government at the time of the sale of the Elgin Marble did not have any personal stake in the removal of the ancient artifact. Since Greece gained independence from the Ottoman oppression, the country was petitioned for the return of their artifacts they consider to be stolen.

The argument for repatriation of the Elgin Marbles in an article by Michael Kimmelman introduces an excellent example of encyclopedic museums overstepping their boundaries to inappropriately keep possession of ancient artifacts. Kimmelman documents the opening of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, a state-of-the-art encyclopedic museum with outstanding capabilities to both preserve and display ancient artifacts of their culture. Designed by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, the Acropolis Museum sits near the base of the Acropolis. The museum houses the rest of the Parthenon frieze that Lord Elgin did not take, making do with plaster casts of the missing Elgin Marbles that complete the frieze. The displeasure of the missing Elgin Marbles is a national argument in Greece, with even the President of Greece affirming that the ancient artifacts were in fact stolen, and he offers his own support in his nation’s campaigning for the return of the Elgin Marbles to the rightful place.

According to UNESCO, who has been involved by initiation deliberations between Athens, Greece and the British Museum, their mediation and questions have gone unanswered by the British Museum. Since the 2009 construction of the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, the British Museum’s long-standing claims of inadequate preservation and protection have been answered in full. Considering that the Elgin Marbles acquirer, Lord Elgin, was ambassador to a ruling empire that was not only oppressive but no longer rules, the British Museum’s argument for their ownership to the Elgin Marbles goes unfounded. The Ottoman Empire had no stake in ancient Greek artifacts, as they were an oppressive foreign government with no historical connection to the removed artifacts. the Elgin Marbles were not truly their possessions to sell to Lord Elgin and England. The act of taking the Parthenon frieze in 1816 while the country of Greece was under the rule of an oppressive regime was an issue of the past for which the British Museum is not fully held accountable; however, the refusal to return the Elgin Marbles to their rightful owners and original location shows a lack of ethics within the British Museum that Kimmelman feels greatly tarnishes the museum’s reputation in both academia and the general public.

Of all seven of the key topics discussed, it can be determined that the general purpose of our encyclopedic museums are to benefit mankind and our cultural heritage and preserve these ancient artifacts or world heritage sites. While armed conflicts bring about extremely difficult circumstances, having key diplomatic organizations such as UNESCO oversee peaceful mediations in certain controversial or emergency situation could bring about positive change in the art historical and preservation communities and initiate progress within these ancient artifacts and sites. Where our cultural heritage can be preserved and protected, great care and sometimes ownership should be given in light of how the artifacts can be preserved. However, ownership where ethics are not solid and preservation is no longer a topic for opposition, the discussion for repatriation should be on the able. Every situation will be different, and having organizations such as UNESCO to mediate between individual situations are very necessary for any hopes of reaching peaceful resolutions.


Works Cited

“Assyria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” In The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 58, 167- 169. Boston, MA: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1995.

Douglas, John H. “Treasures of a Boy-King.” In Science News, Vol. 110, 396-397. Washington, D.C.: Society of Science and the Public, 1976.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Ashur”, accessed April 21, 2015,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Hatshepsut”, accessed April 19, 2015,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Pyramids of Giza”, accessed April 20, 2015,

Kimmelman, Michael. “Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light.” New York: The New York Times, June 2009.

Long, Chas. Chaille. “Send Back the Obelisk!” In
The North American Review, Vol. 143, 410-413. Iowa: The University of Northern Iowa, 1886.

McNeil, Donald G. “The Code of Hammurabi.” In American Bar Association Journal, Vol. 53, 444-446. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, May 1967.

Teeter, Emily. “Museum Review: Hatshepsut and Her World.” In American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 110, 649-653. Long Island, NY: Archaeological Institute of America, 2006.

An illustration on a wall of a male figure riding a horse.

Human and horses


Ma Lijun

“There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”


The relationship between horse and human is  one of the longest love affairs to traverse history, and it is an affair that has been described by the hand of the artist.Horses have always occupied a special place in human consciousness. The connection with strength and power inspires man to produce works of art identifying his feeling for the horse, and human’s culture has been enriched by the association. The practical advantages from mastery over the horses have appealed to the more sophisticated requirements of human nature – the need for excitement, for aesthetic  satisfaction and as an expression of spiritual aspiration. To be seated on horseback, five feet above the ground, brings authority; to gallop hell-for- leather with the wind in your face lends the rider wings, as if at one with gods. This wonderful creature have played in human societies since they were domesticated some six thousand years ago has been so crucial that it is no exaggeration to say that the development of nations and cultures would have been quite different had they not existed.

The horse become integral to all the great early cultures, and with the recognition of its innate value it come to be perceived differently. Horses were decorated and adorned; they become to a large degree status symbols and we hightly prized. Individuals took a prode in their horses, and this, combined with a necessity for military horsepower, led to breeding regimes and intelligent animal husbandry. The Sumerians and Assyrians, who were skilled hunters and able to shoot arrows from their cavalry, kept detailed records of their horses, taking horses as their treasures.

The horse as a vehicle for the greater glorification of the rider is a tradition perpetuated since the horse was first ridden, and it most clearly appreciated in equestrian protraiture. This in itself is an ancient and enduring form of flattery. Who could doubt the power of the Roman emperor immortalized in bronze with his horse.

Depictuons from the Egyption tomb of Tutankhamun show splendidly presented horses in good condition: they were obviously inportant chariot horses, fit to pull a king. The horse is bigger than everbefore.”Thin-skinned, hot- blooded ,resilient, fine – boned and with a splendid and unparalleled bearing, these horses of ‘Eastern’ character had an overwhelming influence on the develoipment of modern horse breeds.”[Johns,11]

Horsing-racing propagated first by the Greeks and then take up by the Romans. Satisfying  human’s innate desire to compate when not warring, chariot- racing was an intoxicating , fast and furious sport, and usually involved either two-horse or four- horse teams.[Pickeral,132]

It was from the splendour of ancient Greece and Rome, from the second millenium BC onward, that the most tantalizing myths and legends sprang, and the horse again took centre stage.The stories so often recounted were vivdly illustrated in paint, bronze, marbel and mosaic, with Pegasus remaining one of the most often depicted and best known of mythological horses.

The relationship between the horse and human is one that has constantly changed, shifted and evolved with the passage of time. What has not changed is the irrefutable essence of the horse that so attracts humankind, including artisets.It is this indefinable quality that inspires great feeling, a feeling intangible but potent, a mysterious element that defies exact explanation.


 Kings and horses

Strength and speed are two of the equine qualities that humans have exploited since horse were first domesticated, and as the urge to compete is strong in many people. Kings and rulers of antiquity liked to be shown as mighty conquerors and the war-chariot was an appropriate part of that image.

Seal of Darius I (reigned 521-486 BC) Agate cylinder seal Height 3.7 cm (17/16 in.) London, The British Museum
Seal of Darius I
(reigned 521-486 BC)
Agate cylinder seal
Height 3.7 cm (17/16 in.)
London, The British Museum

Ancient Persians were great horse-people and value their horse highly. The horse was symbols of social status and courage. Within Persian society, horses were owned only by the privileged. They were used for racing and hunting, as in the lion hunt pictured, as well as for military campaigns and transport. With the exception of the magnificent Nisean breed, which is very smaller than a morden horse.

Light two-wheeled chariots were of the highest importance in ancient warfare and ceremonial display. The hunting of very large predators such as lions has been a royal and noble pursuit in many cultures.

The powerful , stocky horse shows no apparent signs of panic  in spite of the fact that lions claws are tearing at him, and both horse and rider are dressed with a degree of splendours that may seem inappropriate to the bloody business of slaughter. the effect, perhaps heightened by the uses of precious metal , is theatrical.


Tutankhamun in his chariot attacking Africans c,1567 -1320 BC  painted wood Cario, Egyptian National Museum
Tutankhamun in his chariot attacking Africans
c,1567 -1320 BC
painted wood
Cario, Egyptian National Museum

This painting  is one of several scenes decorating an elaborate wooden chest, which was one of the treasures uncovered during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and remains in excellent condition, with the paintwork surprisingly bright and colourful.(Pickeral ,41)

The young king stands in his chariot drawn by two spirited horses. One of them with bared teeth, showing his age.Those horses,obviously larger that those in Persians’, are surging forwards. before and beneath them  are dead Africans,who are killed brutally by the king’s arrows and dogs. Thehorsespaintted by bright red is plunging into their attack with a ferocity that matches that of the young king. The horses with a tiara, dressed by caparison like they are showing themselves in a big festival.

Tutankhamun has the chariot reins tied around his waist to free both hands for shooting, indicating horses are good trained.


Achaemenian Period, 515B.C  Limestone Iran,Persepolis
Achaemenian Period, 515B.C

“Persepolis was the unashamedly opulent palace of Darius I, begun in about 518BC and built to serve as the great king’s seat of government and as a centre for lavish entertaining. The place was designed to reflect the wealth and importance of the Persian empire in every stone, with the magnificent central hall, being the most visually arresting. Thirteen of the original seventy – two columns supporting the roof still survive, soaring from the arid landscape into the sky.”[Baskett,30]

This sense shows dignitaries from across the empire bringing tributes to the king. The finely modelled horse is just a gift, and  one that shows respects to the king. Although small is size, the horse has all features of powerful.  His strong legs and muscular body remind viewers his durable and reliable.



detail of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus Marble relief,451/4 in. high. Istanbul, Archaeological Museum
detail of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus
Marble relief,451/4 in. high. Istanbul, Archaeological Museum

ALEXANDER was perhaps  the most charismatic leader in history: a legend in his own lifetime, he has been regarded as the model o fa great ruler and general throughout succeeding ages. The ancient accounts of his life include the story of how he won his horse, Buccephalus(Oxhead), by demonstrating, as a twelve- year- old boy, that he could control and ride his grown  stallion that was regarded as dangerously unmanageable. Buccephalus remained Alexander’s equine companion throughout the years of travel and campaigning as far afield as the Indian subcontinent, and died, aged about thirty, in 326BC, after the battle of Hydaspes. Alexander founded the city of Bucephala in his memory.

The sarcophagus was discovered at Sidon and was probably intended not  for Alexander but for his ally, Abdalonimus, King of Sidon(died 304 B.C). The relief’s  style follows that of Lysippus(active mid- to late 4th century), Alexander’s portraits, who, according to Pliny, carved many animals, including horses in quadrigas As in the famous cavalcade on the Parthenon frieze(part of the Elgin Marbles in The British Museum; about 440 BC), the horses’ poses are somewhat repetitive – and there for rhythmic – but naturalistically conceived. In this desperation of battle and even the pain inflicted by the fierce  Greek bits (the riders once held reins in one hand.)



Since people first learnt how to ride, there must have some who delighted in showing off exceptional equestrian skills, not only those that had an obvious purpose, such as the ability to use weapons of war when on horseback, but others that simply demonstrated athleticism and a high degree of mutual understanding between man and horse.

Greek horsemen of the fifth century BC riding bareback with the most casual ease and grace, their horses lively and spirited, but fully under control; Small but powerful, the horses’ prancing pose conveys eagerness and dynamism. Accustomed though we are to seeing saddles as essential articles of riding equipment, the image of the naked or near-naked rider on a similarly naked horse remains a powerful expression of the horse-human bond.

Statuette of a Horse and Rider Greek, mainland, early fifth century B.C. Bronze Height 8.3 cm., length 7.5 cm., width 2.5 cm. Princeton University Art Museum, gift of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (y1948- 8)
Statuette of a Horse and Rider
Greek, mainland, early fifth century B.C.
Height 8.3 cm., length 7.5 cm., width 2.5 cm.
Princeton University Art Museum, gift of Frank
Jewett Mather Jr. (y1948- 8)

The horse’s head is large in proportion to its stocky body and short legs. It holds itself proudly erect, the neck vertical, the head at a forty-five-degree angle. The eyes are large and slightly bulging; the nostrils flare. The muscles of the breast and flanks are well modeled.

The rider may be a boy: he is beardless, and his feet barely extend past the horse’s belly.He is nude, but unlike the horse, his genitals are not represented. He rides bareback, his posture erect but not stiff. The reins pass through the horse’s mane on the right side to emerge on the left, where the rider holds them in his left hand, his right hand lowered to his thigh. The reins are taut, accounting for the erect posture of the horse. “Through the slight turn of the rider’s head to one side, the group becomes more relaxed in its pose and signals the tendency of the period to break away from rigid postures”


 Racing horses

SPORTING celebrities , both human and equine, were admired and feted in the ancient world. The fourth- century poet Ausonius was asked by the emperor tho write an epitaph on the death of a famous racehorse name Phosphorus (‘Light – bearer’).

“Fly with haste to join the wing- footed

horses of Elysum; may Peasus gallop on your right and Arion as your

left-wheeler, and let Castor find a fourth horse for the team”

The poem describes the horse’s skill and strategy on the racetrack, delighting the roaring crowd of spectators, and concludes with the wish and belief that in the afterlife  Phosphorus might joun the immortal winged horses of myth and legend.

Fragment of a Relief-Amphora with Horse and Rider Greek, Cretan, ca. 660-630 B.C. Ceramic Height 19.07 cm., width 19.7 cm., maximum thickness 2.45 cm. Tampa Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of j. Michael Padgett,Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992 (1991.023.001) CONDITION The medium red to light brown clay is coarse and contains mica and darker red inclusions. The fragment is broken on all sides. The surface is worn, and there are chips in the horse's tail and the raised band below.
Fragment of a Relief-Amphora with Horse and Rider
Greek, Cretan, ca. 660-630 B.C.
Height 19.07 cm., width 19.7 cm., maximum thickness 2.45 cm.
Tampa Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of j. Michael Padgett,Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992 (1991.023.001)
The medium red to light brown clay is coarse and contains mica and darker red inclusions. The fragment is broken on all sides. The surface is worn, and there are chips in the horse’s tail and the raised band below.

A horse gallops to the right, its body, legs, and tail stretched out and elongated in order to accentuate the perception of speed. A male figure wearing a belted tunic rides bareback, his head and upper body turned frontally to face the viewer. while holding onto the reins with his left head, his right hand is swung back, clutching a riding crop, now largely affected.


 Myth and Symbolism

People have always invested nature, including other animals, with symbolic menatings and mystical powers. In religious myth and magical folk-tale, horses take their palce as symbols of speed and power, courage and loyalty , beauty and nobility.”The idea of a flying horse is , however , far older and more widespread that its focus in Graeco-Roman culture”[25],A depictuon of a horse with huge, feathered wings can look wonderfullly plausibel, and the idea of flight is no more than an extension of the qualitites of speed and grace that are already associated iwth the species.

Terracotta, orange clay with inclusions, pale yellow-beige slip, mold-made, hand-finished, painted H. 56, W. 50 Museo Archeologico Regionale "Paolo Orsi" di Siracusa, inv. 34540, 34543, 34895 Syracuse, via Minerva, old temple of Athena, near aedicula E, 1913-14 excavations
Terracotta, orange clay with inclusions, pale
yellow-beige slip, mold-made, hand-finished,
H. 56, W. 50
Museo Archeologico Regionale “Paolo Orsi” di
Siracusa, inv. 34540, 34543, 34895
Syracuse, via Minerva, old temple of Athena, near
aedicula E, 1913-14 excavations

This terracotta tablet represents the winged Gorgon Medusa, her legs positioned in the “Knielauf”pose, an Archaic convention that represents a figure running at great speed. Her torso is shown frontally and her lower body in profile. Her large wings curl above her shoulders and her winged right boot extends beyond the edge of the tablet.
Originally the figure was set in a square black background, and the tablet has been reassembled from several fragments with missing areas restored, especially noticeable on the right side.

With her right hand, the Gorgon grips the belly of the small winged horse Pegasus, tucking the creature under her arm. Pegasus rests his head on his mother’s breast. His elongated right eye is outlined in black and his mouth is slightly open. His neck is painted purple, the details of the mane, black. His rear hooves rest on the Gorgon’s right foot and his front hooves on her right thigh. The feathers of his lowered wing are painted black and purple, and his long cord-like tail hangs above th Gorgon’s foot. Pegasus and Chrysaor were the offspring of the Gorgon and the god Poseidon. Chrysaor’s head once rested in the hollow of the Gorgon’s left shoulder, but both his head and body are now missing.[Bennett,230]


Johns, Catherine. Horses: History, Myth, Art. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Baskett, John. The Horse in Art. New Haven, Conn.Yale University Press, 2006.

Pickeral, Tamsin. The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art. London: Merrell, 2006.

Bennett, Michael J. Magna Graecia: Greek Art from South Italy and Sicily. Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Museum of Art , 2002.

Padgett, J. Michael, and William A. P. Childs. The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Art Museum , 2003.

By Ma Lijun

Narrative and Ancient Architecture

Stuart Fleischer

Throughout history, places of religious worship have served as the centerpieces of ancient cities. The temples, pyramids, ziggurats, and the other buildings and structures of religious worship that are in this exhibit were all the focuses of their respective cities. These buildings also each convey a narrative, or a story. Many religious institutions of the ancient world constructed the buildings to send out a narrative to the citizens and anybody else who witnessed them. Although the messages that the religious institution were trying to send are usually different from place to place based on religious beliefs and social customs and norms, the reason for telling the public the narratives was mostly the same, to reflect the ideals and beliefs of the religious institution in which the person with the most power in society was associated with. Some of these structures also reflected values that the society held dear through their design. By looking at works of architecture of the ancient world from societies of the Near and Middle East, Egypt, the Mediterranean region, and Rome, this exhibit will demonstrate how each culture’s religious institution was telling a narrative to its city’s people and explore the effects that the narrative might have had on the lives of the people who came into contact with the structure. This exhibit will also look at how some of the pieces of artwork use illusion and deceit to help create narratives and then discuss some repercussions that this might have had. Included in the exhibit are the Great Ziggurat at Ur, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari, the Parthenon of Greece, the Great Altar from Pergamon and the Pantheon in Rome. Although they are from different parts of the world and of different time periods, they each share the fact that they each use narrative to try to convey a message to the people that saw them.

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The first structure that will be looked at in this exhibit is the Great Ziggurat of Ur, located in modern day Iraq. It has also been referred to as the Nanna Ziggurat. A ziggurat is a giant edifice with multiple platforms that rise high into the sky, creating the illusion of it ascending into the heavens. This ziggurat in particular stands about 100 feet tall, which is actually a rough estimate because of the damage to the structure over the centuries, and 210 by 150 feet in the length and width respectively. Like many other ziggurats of the time, it was built in synchronization with the orientation of the cardinal directions; the front stair case, one of the three massive stair cases that lead to the upper platforms is pointed towards the north. The construction of the ziggurat was ordered by Ur’s king Ur-Nammu. It was first built around 2100 BCE, but has had a lot of reconstruction done over the centuries since to ensure its longevity. It looks somewhat similar to a step pyramid, but the ziggurat also doubled as a temple complex. At the top was a small temple dedicated to city’s chief deity Nanna, the god of the moon, although this temple has been destroyed by time, neglect, and warfare. The foundation of the ziggurat is mostly made of dried mud brick, literally dried blocks of mud. Although the temple no longer exists, remains of blue glazed brick have been found in excavations, which have been speculated by some archaeologists to be decorations of the temple (German). The ziggurat was the focal point of Ur, standing at the center of the city. Surrounding the ziggurat were the houses of the citizens, smaller temples dedicated to other deities, two harbors that connected to the Euphrates River, businesses, and even a royal cemetery, which was dubbed by British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley “The Great Death Pit.” Ur’s system of government was theocratic. The rulers of the city were the kings and high priests. This ruling class was depicted in various pieces of ancient art as being able to communicate with the gods. An example of this is in the Stele of Ur-Nammu, where we see who art historians believe to be the god Nanna sitting in his throne conversing with the king Ur-Nammu. The Stele of Ur-Nammu may be the depiction of a religious ceremony meant to honor the god. Only the priests and king could participate; the common person was not allowed to ascend the ziggurat and partake in the ceremonies that took place at the top. From ground level, it was hard for the common person to see what was going on at the top of the ziggurat during the ceremony. The people in power, by keeping the people ignorant, had created the narrative that the ziggurat was a place where the supernatural and natural worlds met at the top of the mountain and that the king was basically a demi-god that was negotiating with Nanna to keep the city prosperous. By using the powers of ignorance and deceit, the king was able to keep the common people under control and because they believed the king to be a god, he was able to maintain an absolute divine right style of ruling with relative ease. This deceptive narrative might have had several effects on the common person. Out of fear of punishment from their god-king, the people of Ur were unlikely to disobey any laws that were created by him. The Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest code of law known to man, created by Ur-Nammu, outlined what the laws of Ur were and the penalties associated with breaking them. Ur-Nammu’s laws were relatively peaceful when compared to other ancient codes of law like the Code of Hammurabi, but having the power to create a law system with unquestioned authority can lead to a very malignant set of laws which could set in motion the persecution of certain groups of people, similar to what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust. Another possible effect of the deceitful narrative communicated by the ruling class is the idea that the king could basically tell the people whatever he wanted and say that the god orders them to do it. This could have led to huge buildings, like more ziggurats, being able to be built at great speeds, but it could have also lead to the slavery of the people who were forced to build them. When deception is used to produce ignorance in the people, it creates a narrative that puts the ruling class at the top of the power pyramid, in this case quite literally.

Jane Sweeney—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images
Jane Sweeney—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images


The next piece of architecture that will be looked at in this exhibit is the Ishtar Gate of the ancient city of Babylon, which is also located in modern day Iraq. Only reconstructions of the gate exist today. It served as one of the main entry ways into the city proper. It was constructed around 575 BCE under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, who was the king of Babylon at the time. Under Nebuchadnezzar II’s rule, Babylon was transformed into a city of prosperity and beauty through his generous funding towards the building and restoring of architecture and urban development. He is responsible for the building of not only the Ishtar Gate but also the walls surrounding the city and the ziggurat in the center of the city, Etemenanki, dedicated to the patron deity of the city, Marduk. It is even speculated that he was also responsible for the legendary, wonder of the ancient world, Hanging Gardens, although there is no proof that the gardens ever actually existed (Garcia). The Ishtar gate stood over 38 feet tall and is constructed of burnt brick (Encyclopedia Britannica). The gate is a beautiful blue color, signature to the stone lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is a valuable stone because it is mainly only found in certain mountainous regions of Afghanistan which meant that Babylon had to trade to in order to get it. While a majority of the gate is the deep blue color of the stone, there also are relief mosaics depicting three animals: the lion, the auroch, and the dragon. These mosaics stick out from the wall slightly and cast a shadow. The gate is dedicated to the goddess of the same name, Ishtar. She was the goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. The lion was symbolic of the goddess and represented her warlike ways. The auroch, which is an extinct ancestor to modern day cattle, was representative of the god Adad, the god of storms. The dragon was representative of Babylon’s patron deity, Marduk. If one were to walk through the Ishtar Gate they would then find themselves at the Processional Way, which was used during the New Year’s festival and also led to Etemenank (MET Museum). This passageway is also covered in lapis lazuli and again features relief sculptures, but this area only features Ishtar’s lions. An optical illusion takes place as you walk along the procession; due to the shadows cast by the relief sculptures it appears as if the lions are walking along side you. This might have given those walking on the path a sense of protection from the goddess. Another interpretation is that the goddess is watching carefully, ready to pounce on those who do not honor her. The Ishtar Gate is not just an entrance into the city and the Processional Way; it is also trying to tell a narrative. The gate tells the people what is important to their culture. The lapis lazuli shows how prosperous the city is because of its rarity and need to trade in order to obtain it. The animals, representative to the deities previously mentioned, tell the people of the city who the most important gods and goddess are. The illusion of the lions is evidence of the goddess walking amongst the people, which can be a sign of safety or danger depending on how it is interpreted. The illusion of the lions walking can also be an ancient version of GPS; the direction of the lion’s procession points you in the direction of Etemenanki, and since that is the ziggurat of the city’s patron deity it would have been a destination of interest for many in the city so having a lion guide you would probably be very helpful to the people of the city. The narrative that the Ishtar Gate is telling one that would help a person better understand and navigate the city of Babylon.

© Sylvain Grandadam—Stone/Getty Images
© Sylvain Grandadam—Stone/Getty Images

The third architectural marvel that will be looked at in this exhibit is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the oldest and only one of the seven that is still intact, which is a testimony to how well the pyramid was constructed considering it was built around the year 2550 BCE during Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty. The pyramid’s construction was ordered by Pharaoh Khufu and because of this it is often also referred to as the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The pyramid stood 481 feet tall before erosion caused the building to get slightly shorter. Erosion or not, The Great Pyramid was the world’s tallest man made structure from the completion of its construction up until the year 1311 CE, over 3500 years. The Great Pyramid has four sides each approximately 755 feet in length. It is truly a massive edifice, one that is similar to the Great Ziggurat of Ur in that it would look like a mountain; the pyramid looks even more like a mountain because it has a point at the top opposed to the platform top of the ziggurat. The flat, desert landscape surrounding the Giza Plateau Complex makes this illusion even more noticeable. In ancient times, the sides were covered in a smooth, polished, white limestone, which would have probably reflected light that created an awe inspiring illusion of a shining mountain. Now, however, the polished limestone has been removed or eroded away and the pyramid’s yellow limestone is now exposed.  The pyramid served as Pharaoh Khufu’s funerary tomb. The inside of the pyramid consisted of multiple different chambers, including the King’s and Queen’s Chambers (Encyclopedia Britannica). As was ancient Egyptian custom, Khufu was mummified and placed inside a sarcophagus along with all his earthly valuables that he could bring along with him into the afterlife. When he died it was said that he would ascend into after life and become a god himself. Despite being watched over by the mythical guardian the Sphinx, over the course of history the pyramid and its chambers have been infiltrated by tomb raiders, who stole everything they could, including the mummified remains of Khufu himself. Little is actually known of the methods used to build the great Pyramid. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, recorded in his works that the pyramid took 20 years to complete and needed 100,000 men in order to complete it. His claims have been argued by modern day archaeologists, who suggest that only 20,000 people were needed to complete the pyramid’s construction (Fowler). The narrative that the pyramid was originally built to try to communicate was the story that Pharaoh Khufu wanted to tell, which was that he was going to ascend into heaven and become a god. The pyramid would not only serve as a portal in to the spirit world but would also be a symbol for his eternal afterlife because he made sure it was designed to survive for millenniums to come. When people saw his Great Pyramid, they would know that he was a great ruler and a deity because of his huge monument, regardless of how great of a ruler he actually was. With so little actually know about the life of Khufu other than the fact that he was the one who commissioned the pyramid, it is hard to know how effective of a pharaoh he actually was, but the narrative that the pyramid tells make it seem like he was a phenomenal ruler due to the massive size of his tomb. Present day, the pyramid is still telling this narrative by simply still existing; Khufu wanted to be immortal and his memory will still live on as long as the pyramid is still standing.

© Vova Pomortzeff/
© Vova Pomortzeff/

The fourth piece of architecture in the exhibit is the Temple of Hatshepsut, located in Deir el-Bahari, which is located near the Valley of Kings in Egypt. Hatshepsut was the daughter of the pharaoh Thutmose I. When her half-brother and husband Thutmose II passes away, she takes the throne and becomes the first female pharaoh of Egypt. Her stepson, Thutmose III, who would have taken the throne earlier had he not been only a child when his father died, was very bitter about having to wait to claim the throne for himself. It has been speculated by art historians that this bitterness led to him destroying almost all records of Hatshepsut which caused her to nearly be lost by history until her tomb was discovered in the 1920 (Sullivan). Part of the narrative being told by this building is being told through the vandalism and destruction done throughout the temple, which shows us how the lust of power can drive even family members to turn on each other. The temple of Hatshepsut was designed by Senmut, who was an architect, engineer, and the chancellor to the pharaoh. “Construction of the temple of Hatshepsut took fifteen years, between the 7th and the 22nd years of her reign. . . .The site chosen by Hatshepsut for her temple was the product of precise strategic calculations: it was situated not only in a valley considered sacred for over 500 years to the principal feminine goddess connected with the funeral world, but also on the axis of the temple of Amun of Karnak, and finally, it stood at a distance of only a few hundred meters in a straight line from the tomb that the queen had ordered excavated for herself in the Valley of the Kings on the other side of the mountain” (Siliotti 100). Hatshepsut did not coincidentally choose this valley and because of this, the location of the temple also tells a narrative. By choosing to put the temple in the valley dedicated to the goddess connected to the funerary world, Hatshepsut was guaranteeing herself a safe passage into the afterlife and ensuring her place among the gods when she dies. An interesting aspect of Hatshepsut’s depiction in sculpture is how she varies from sculpture to sculpture. When comparing two the sculptures “Seated figure of King Hatshepsut” and “Kneeling figure of King Hatshepsut” we see that although they originate from the same time period, the kneeling figure has a masculinized version of Hatshepsut, with a wider face than the sitting depiction of her. The kneeling figure also has a beard and more muscle tone. This differentiation in her depiction might also be telling its own narrative, one that might be reinforcing patriarchal norms. It is hard to be certain because of all of the destruction done by her step-son to her records, belongings, and the hieroglyphics and art that portrayed Hatshepsut. Because there are so few depictions of Hatshepsut in existence it is impossible to tell if Hatshepsut was depicted more frequently as a male or female. If she was depicted more as a male it might have been an attempt to hide the fact that she was a girl, maybe because the society was heavily patriarchal and could not stand to have a female as their pharaoh. On the other hand, however, if more of the depictions of Hatshepsut were of her in female form then perhaps the people were accepting of her rule regardless of her gender. It is unfortunate that Thutmose III destroyed all that he did because it could have given us more insight on how the ancient Egyptians viewed issues of gender.

© Neil Setchfield—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images
© Neil Setchfield—Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images
© Goodshoot/Jupiterimages
© Goodshoot/Jupiterimages

The fifth work of architecture that will be examined in the exhibit is the Parthenon, located in Athens, Greece. The focal point of the Athenian Acropolis, this temple was dedicated in honor of the city’s patron deity, Athena. She was the goddess of wisdom, justice, and warfare, two principles held in high regards by the citizens of Athens. The temple was designed by architects Kallikrates and Iktinos and was completed in the year 432 BCE. The temple has a peristyle colonnade, with columns of the Doric order surrounding the temple’s pronaos, cella, and opithodomos. Inside the cella was a giant statue of the goddess Athena, which has since been destroyed or gone missing but reconstructions exist. Because of the small amount of light that could enter the cella through the colonnade, this statue would have appeared very surreal when the lights flickering on it, perhaps giving the illusion of it moving slightly. During ancient times, on the outside of the building one would see both the frieze and the pediment and the relief sculptures and metopes that were above the entrance way to the temple, and the sculptures would have actually been painted. This is contrary to what many are people used to seeing in museums today, which are usually plain, white marble sculptures, with any trace of paint fading off over the years. Many of these sculptures are no longer a part of temple and have been removed from the structure and are now in the British Museum as part of the controversial Elgin Marbles collection. Before a gun powder explosion caused destruction to the temple that damaged the sculptures beyond repair, if a person were to look at the eastern pediment they would see the mythological tale of the birth of Athena out of Zeus’ head. On the west side pediment one would see the myth about the contest between Athena and Poseidon to see who could offer the best gift in order to become the patron deity of the city (Silverman). Many art historians believe the images that appear on the friezes are depicting the procession of the Panathenaic festival, a festival held every four years to honor Athena (Jenkins). The relief sculptures that are on the Parthenon tell a narrative about how you should conduct yourself during the festival. It also uses myths to reinforce the city’s origin story. The Athenians took pride in their intelligence and systems of law and justice and having a temple a temple that is dedicated to the goddess that represents those qualities further reinforces that narrative. Another way the narrative of the Athenians being intellectuals is subliminally being told is through the use of columns. From the looks of the Parthenon, the columns seem to line up to make a perfectly straight line along the top of the columns, but that is actually an optical illusion. In reality, the columns are actually on a slight curve. The architects designed the building like this because if the columns were all literally the same size and on the same leveled platform it would look curved even though it actually is not. This architectural technique is call entasis. This again reinforces the narrative that Athenians were intelligent because it takes advanced mathematics and geometry to be able to counter act the tricks our eyes play on us. All of the narratives that this build is telling us have something to do with being an Athenian citizen. It gives a guideline for how you should present yourself during the festival and also reinforces the city’s origin story and religious beliefs through the depictions on the pediments.

via Pergamum Museum, Berlin
via Pergamum Museum, Berlin
(Pergamum Museum, Berlin)
(Pergamum Museum, Berlin)

The sixth architectural construction that will be looked at in this exhibit is the Great Altar from Pergamon, which was in modern day Turkey and has been reconstructed in Berlin. It was built from 166 to around 156 BCE by the order of King Eumenes II during the Hellenistic period, where Greek culture was being spread around the Mediterranean region. This alter was heavily influenced by the architecture and sculpture of the Classical Greeks. It is constructed entirely of marble in the Ionic order, evidenced by the columns. The Great Alter possesses a large set of stairs with a colonnade at the top of the steps. It also has multiple high relief sculptures on the east and west sides of it. These relief carvings depict several different scenes from Greek mythology. One of the friezes, measuring 360 feet long, is the Gigantomachy frieze, which depicts the battle between the Greek gods and goddesses and the Giants (Altar of Zeus at Pergamon). This battle held a lot of significance in the religion because it tells how the Olympians conquered the Giants and seized power for themselves. Another scene shows Athena and Nike teaming up to fight against the giant Alkyoneus and his mother Gaia. Like the other pieces of architecture in the exhibit that featured reliefs or sculptures in some way, these statues create a narrative that show the stories and myths in the physical form. By seeing the relief sculptures not only come out of the wall in to the three dimensional but do so in the Hellenistic style of sculpture, which featured a lot of twisting of the body and cloth that draped over the body with incredible realism, almost makes the sculptures appear like they are coming to life.

© Jeffrey S. Campbell
© Jeffrey S. Campbell
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Samuel H. Kress Collection
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Samuel H. Kress Collection

The seventh and final architectural achievement that will be examined in the exhibit is the Pantheon in Rome. Its construction originally was ordered by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in the year 27 CE, but it was burned down in a fire in 80 CE, leading to another Pantheon getting erected in the same spot as the old building. Unfortunately, this Pantheon was burned down yet again in 110 CE, so a third building was constructed and finished in the year 125 CE under the rule of Emperor Hadrian. The building was built in the Corinthian order. The purpose of the building is speculated to be a temple dedicated to all of the gods. “However, no cult is known to all of the gods and so the Pantheon may have been designed as a place where the emperor could make public appearances in a setting which reminded onlookers of his divine status, equal with the other gods of the Roman pantheon and his deified emperor predecessors (Cartwright).” If this is was what the building was actually for then the emperor was certainly trying to create a narrative that he was sending the citizens that he was a living god. Creating this narrative probably would make the citizens scared of him and follow his rule unconditionally. It also elevated him above everyone else, meaning the emperor could basically do whatever they wanted with no repercussion. Inside, the Pantheon had a rotunda, which was a circular type of room. The ceiling of this room is an unsupported dome, with an oculus at the top of it. An oculus was an opening in the ceiling that allows light in. When the light shines through the oculus it can give one the impression of having the gods staring down at them. This creates a narrative as well because if you believe the gods are literally peeking through the oculus to check that you are not up to no good you are probably a lot less likely to do anything that you thought that the gods would consider wicked out of fear of their painful wrath.

Works Cited

Alberto Siliotti. Guide to the Valley of the Kings. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1997

“Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (c.166-156 BCE).” Pergamon Altar of Zeus. Accessed April 22, 2015.

Brittany Garcia. “Ishtar Gate,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 23, 2013. /Ishtar_Gate/.

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Ishtar Gate”, accessed April 23, 2015,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Pyramids of Giza”, accessed April 23, 2015,

German, Senta. “Khan Academy.” Khan Academy. Accessed April 23, 2015.

Jenkins, I. “Central Scene of the East Frieze of the Parthenon.” British Museum -. January 1, 1994. Accessed April 23, 2015.

Mark Cartwright. “Pantheon,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 12, 2013. /Pantheon/.

“Panel: striding lion [Excavated at Wall of Processional Way, Babylon, Mesopotamia]” (31.13.2) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)

Robin Fowler. “The Great Pyramid of Giza: The Last Remaining Wonder of the Ancient World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 18, 2012. /article/124/.

Silverman, David. “The Parthenon.” Parthenon. Accessed April 22, 2015.

Sullivan, Mary Ann. “Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.” Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. January 1, 2001. Accessed April 23, 2015.

Funerary Practices throughout Civilizations

Jessica Honeycutt

Throughout time many civilizations have incorporated the belief of the afterlife and funerary traditions into their everyday life and rituals. Death and funerary practices are often some of the best-preserved and widely available resources for exploring entire civilizations! The graves give scholars and archeologists a glimpse of the culture, but the items found near or placed around the body provide the wealth of information of the culture interconnecting beliefs, rituals, socio-economic status, and culture. Looking at primarily three civilizations (Egyptian, Greek, and Etruscans) we will explore the obvious and minute similarities and differences between the cultures. Along with looking at the afterlife and funerary practices we will dig into the grave goods left with the body, or around the body, during preservation. Ultimately we will be exploring the differences and similarities between these civilizations and their funerary practices and the preparation that goes along with preparing the body for an afterlife.


Looking at our first civilization, Ancient Egypt, there is a heavy importance on the preservation of the human body and soul. Going back in history, this civilization lasted from about 3500 B.C. until 2000 A.D. During this time many different rulers and periods occurred leaving lots of incredible cultural artwork and funerary trends. The most popular of these trends includes mummification.


canoptic jars
Canoptic Jars:


The first example of a grave good in Egyptian funerary practices occurred before 1000 B.C. in little jars called “Canoptic jars”. We will be looking at the Canoptic jars from Deir el-Bahari (Upper Egypt) from the 21st Dynasty dating back to 1069-945 BCE. In the specific Canoptic jars that we are looking at, the jars contained the organs of a woman called ‘Neskhons’. These jars were notably special in the mummification process. The ritual of mummification is conspicuously expansive and intricate. Mummification includes the removal of internal organs from the deceased body and placed in these jars for preservation. The jars represent the ‘four sons of Horus’ and each jar protected a specific organ. Imsety (human-headed jar) protected the liver and is protected by Isis the goddess of creation, destruction, motherhood, magic, and fertility. Hapy (baboon- headed jar) protected the lungs and was protected by Nephthys the Goddess of households, death, service, and night. Finally, Qebehsenuef (falcon-headed jar) protected the intestines and Duametuf (jackal-headed jar) protected the stomach. But the organs were not simply taken from the body and put into these jars; they went through a process called embalming. This process consists of drying the body with a salt called natron and after they would rub oils onto the skin then wrap it in linen strips. But the organs were just washed, dried with natron and then wrapped in linen, skipping the oil part of the ritual. The whole mummification and embalming process did not just occur to the common or lower class at the time in Egyptian society. During the 21st Dynasty, only the upper class was able to have their bodies preserved and mummified in this fashion due to the limited amount of skilled embalmers and the economic weight it held. So through these funerary practices we are able to tell the socio-economic status of the body without knowing who the body really is. But as we discussed earlier, we know that the Canoptic jars we are examining are those of ‘Neskons’. Neskons had been born into the upper class where her father, Smendes II, who was the preist king of Amun on the Thebes wed her to blood uncle Penodjem II, who was also a high priest of Amun on the Thebes during the 21st Dynasty. In the Egyptian civilization, priests were seen as part of the upper class, and hence Neskhons was too. But these jars do not only provide true evidence of socio-economic status but they provide a look at the Egyptian civilization as a whole and what they deem as important. Death was not seen as the end of their life or soul, but more as a transitional state of waiting for revivification. The afterlife for the Egyptians was very difficult and often included jumping over many hurdles to get to the “last judgment” before entering the vast and everlasting afterlife. The Egyptians placed such importance on the mummification process because while the spirit of the deceased moved onto the afterlife, the body had to be preserved into order to venture into the afterlife as well. The reason the vital organs are taken out of the body and placed in these Canoptic jars is because the Egyptians did not believe they were needed during the journey into the afterlife, but were needed once they reached the afterlife. After about 1000 B.C. the mummification process eventually underwent a slight change and the organs were removed, dried and then placed back inside the body. But the Canoptic jars were still placed with the body whether they were fake or solid. The reason is to still present the protection of the four sons of Horus.


Mask of Tutankhamen:
Mask of Tutankhamen:

Another popular funerary practice common to Egyptian culture was the funerary mask. One of the most popular funerary masks is the “Mask of Tutankhamun” from the 18th dynasty around 1327 BCE, who we will be looking at in this exhibition. In order to understand the funerary mask we must dig into Pharaoh Tutankhamun biography (also known as king Tut). In relevance to other Egyptian kings, King Tut was a relatively minor king is the big scheme of things. His birth name, Sa Ra meaning “son of the sun” was later changed to Tutankhaen meaning “the living image of Aten”. Aten represents the god or spirit of the sun and is depicted as the actual solar disk. Tut belonged to the 18th Dynasty of Egyptian Kings, which existed during the period of the New Kingdom. In 1334 B.C. Tut was made Pharaoh at the age of 9 and that same year he married his half sister, Anhensenpaaten. But Tut’s rule only lasted a total of 9 years before his mysterious death at the age of 18/19. So why is King Tutankhamun so popular in todays society? In 1922, an archeologist named Howard Carter (with sponsor Lord Carnarvon) happened upon it and in its glory and wealth became an immediate fascination. Now that you know the background of Tutankhamun we can fully understand the funerary mask and the key elements that were put into producing this masterpiece. Funerary masks of this time were only produced for royalty, and it was not until later that they were manufactured for the elite classes of both male and female. The function of presenting the mask in solid gold not only represents the socio-economic status, that King Tut of course had, but it more importantly represents the immortal flesh of the pharaoh shining like the sun of a god. The lapis lazuli (blue part of mask) and glittering flesh represent the sun god, Horus. An important aspect of all mummification processes is due to the great book called “The Book of the Dead”. The Book of the Dead in short constitutes the spells and formulas for the use of the deceased in the afterlife and is contributed with the basic ideas of Egyptian mythology. Spell 151 is a visual compilation describing the mummification process and more closely the embalming ritual. This relates to funerary masks because the Book of the Dead explains how the special features of the mask such as the eyebrows, forehead, eyes, and other features delineate back to special divinities such as the four children of Horus (Imsety, Hapy, Qebehsenuef, and Duametuf). The Egyptians paid such close attention to detail to the masks because the masks were the physical representation of the dead and they also served as reassurance that the dead would arrive safely in the afterlife. The closer the mask looked to a true divinity, the better chances it has of afterlife. Upon arriving in the afterlife, they must gain acceptance among all other divinities in a council like structure and predominately Osiris, the great god of the dead. The function of covering the face of the mummy with a funerary mask in Egyptian culture demonstrates the journey and transition of the physical and spiritual state from this world and into the divine transformation afterlife. While King Tutankhamun might have gained popularity today through the sheer aesthetic beauty of his funerary mask, funerary masks are not only made to look pretty, but to more importantly serve as protection for the head during the mummification process. As we discussed with the Canoptic jars, this provides another example of how Egyptians placed great importance in preserving the deceased for afterlife.


Ushabti figurine:
Ushabti figurine: Presented by the West Semitic Research Project Ancient Manuscripts Digitization and Distribution Project (AMDDP) The University of Southern California Funded by the Annenberg Communications Center of the University of Southern California Created by Ellis Horowitz, Marilyn Lundberg, Jay Weaver, and Bruce Zuckerman

Our final piece of Egyptian art that we will be looking at in this exhibition is the Ushabti. The Ushabtis are little mummified figurines that were usually between ten and thirty centimeters tall and were made out of various materials. The function of these little figurines has changed throughout time. The example presented above is from the 26th Dynasty (663-525 B.C.E) and functions as a worker in the afterworld in place of the deceased, this is represented by on the back of these figurines where you will see a seed pouch wrapped across his body and tools to work in the afterworld, usually tools to sow and reap fields or depending on what action they will perform in the afterlife. But to really understand the reason for why the function of these little figurines have changed, we have to go back and look at the entire Egyptian civilization. The idea of the Ushabati dates back to the Predynastic (prior to 3100 B.C.), and Early Dynastic Period (3100-2686 B.C.), where actual human servants were to be sacrificed and buried with their deceased ruler. Luckily for the servants of later generations, this practice was deemed unnecessary and wasteful and that’s when the idea of a symbolic image of servants was invented. The first representation of a servant in Egyptian funerary practices is seen painted inside tombs and to function as aid for the deceased in the afterworld. This funerary trend eventually led to the idea of a tangible, small statue of a slave that was called “Shabti”. The Shabti is a small figure humanized to perform tasks for the deceased in the afterlife. In Egyptian afterlife, the sun god “Ra” provides each deceased person with a parcel of land so that the blessed dead could receive food in the afterlife.Like in Egyptian society, the wealthy and royalty did not perform manual labor during their life and they were not about to start now in the afterlife. Hence the function of the Shabti; they were given tools to complete the various agricultural tasks. Later the Shabti figure developed into either “Shawabti” or “Ushabti” depending on the time period and location. These figurines became more advanced in their overall appearance and their function, which was now inscribed on the tangible statue that clearly stated their job in the afterlife. The Shawabti figurines existed along the west bank of and Thebes during the 17th Dynasty(1580-1550 B.C.) and 18th Dynasty (1543-1292 B.C.). The Ushabati models existed from the 21st Dynasty and later on. Which brings us back to our example of the Ushabti figurine from the 26th Dynasty. Since our Ushabti figure is from after the Pre Dynastic period, there is an inscription on the small figurine that reads:

“The shining forth of the Osiris, General Ankh-wah-ib-Ra-sa-Neit. Child of (name unclear). Ushabti, if it is decreed that Osiris is to do work any there is in the afterlife, cast down the obstacles in front of this man. Behold me (whenever) you (the Ushabti) are called. Be watchfull at any moment to work there. To plough the fields, to water and (carry) the sand to the east, to the west. Behold me whenever called

 Ultimately the inscription is stating that the Ushbati must plough the fields, water and or carry the sand to the east and west whenever Osiris calls upon on it. Like the Egyptian funerary practices that we discussed earlier, we know that the depictions of the deceased were highly stylized. The Ushabtis are another example of how the Egyptian civilization placed great importance on the preservation of the deceased and their transcending appearance into the afterlife. These tiny stylized figures depict the traditional Egyptian mummification body stance with the deceased arms crossed holding an Egyptian artifact.


Moving onto our next civilization, The Greeks ruled from 8000 BCE to 30 BCE. During this period there were many small periods that characterized the current society and traditions. The Greeks viewed funerary rituals as a way to help the soul of the dead transcends into the next world. While they are transcending, the funerary rituals are there to help protect the deceased from bad luck and misfortune. The Greeks believed that when the person died, at that moment the psyche, or spirit of the dead, left the body like a little puff of wind. At this time is when the body was prepared for burial (whatever the ritual was for the time period). Ancient Greeks introduced the idea of related sleep and death; they have a saying “Sleep and death are brothers”. This idea of sleep and death interrelated is prevalent in ancient Greek funerary artwork which we will look at in this exhibition. Just like the Egyptians, the Greeks also placed grave goods in the honorable dead tombs consisting of weapons, jewelry, and other precious goods.


Krater: “Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop: Krater [Greek, Attic]” (14.130.14) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)
The earliest Greek example of funerary practice is seen during the Geometric period from 900 to 700 B.C. This period is characterized by urban renewal of Greek city-states and a revival of historical past such as literature and art. During the Geometric period of Greek civilization large vases served as monumental grave markers inscribed with funerary representations. The Geometric period is easy to differentiate compared to other periods due to the visible artistic distinctions. The bodies on the vase are presented with having triangle shaped breasts, elongated legs and circular heads. The top and bottom of the vase are decorated with geometric lines and shapes, prevalent to this time period. This large vase is credited as the “Krater” from the second half of the 8th century B.C. from Attica, Greece. This particular vase probably represents the death of a military warrior. This is deducted from the multiple bands of stories wrapped horizontally around the vase itself. The widest band of the vase (top band) shows the ritual in ancient Greek funerary practices called ‘Prothesis”, in this practice the woman of the family bath and lather the body with anointed oil then dressed the body with linen. After this the body is laid out in their house on a high bed. At this time of the funerary practice friends and family may come and mourn the deceased and pay their respects. This part of the funerary process is especially important because in the Greek funerary practice the dead were believed to exist in the underworld in the same exact form as which they leave the world of the living. So special preparation of the deceased body was one of the most, if not the most important, part of the funerary practice. Failure to do so would cause an outrage and was believed that they did not make it to the afterlife. In the lower band (bottom band) chariots with horses attached carry warriors with spears and shields; this probably refers to the deceased military background. The funerary practice, even though not depicted on the vase, ended with the deceased being brought to the cemetery around dawn through a procession called the ‘Ekphora’. Very few bodies of the time were placed in the physical ground, but rather a rectangular tomb, monumental earth mound, and an elaborate stelai or statue to show where the grave was erected and to ensure that the dead will not be forgotten. The bodies were commonly cremated and placed within vases that were then buried alongside the grave along with other grave goods such as jewelry, weapons, and other gifts from family and friends. . Kraters, like the one depicted above served as a grave marker where family members could pour oil, wine, water, and other liquid offerings to the deceased through a hole in the bottom. Relating back to common ancient Greek beliefs, sleep and death were associated with one another as being “brothers”. We today most view sleep as a temporary state, whereas death is more along the lines as more permanent state. Death is seen as a longer depiction of sleep as the body transcends into the after through the steps as we talked about earlier (refer back to Prothesis and Ekphora). The Krater helps to depict this prominent ancient Greek belief by representing the deceased in a sleeping position during the Prothesis ritual. In the end, this Krater serves to represent the funerary traditions during the ancient Greek Geometric period. Through this Krater we are able to deduct that the ancient Greeks placed heavy emphasis on the physical afterlife practices and rituals more than the objects placed in the grave. Unlike Egyptian rituals, the deceased body remained intact until the end of the funerary ritual, which usually involved the body being cremated.


Kouros Figure:
Kouros Figure: “Statue of a kouros (youth) [Greek, Attic]” (32.11.1) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)
Moving past the Geometric period and onto a later period of the ancient Greek civilization called the Archaic period. Which is where we will discuss our next example of a funerary artwork called the “Kouros figure”. Dating from 590-580 B.C in Attica, this figure is one of the earliest known freestanding marble statues. The term Kouros means male youth, and it usually depicted with the same, rigid stance throughout the Archaic period. The stance usually represented a male standing frontal with their left leg slightly farther forward than the right and arms tucked close to their bodies with their hands clasps on their upper thighs. This strict symmetry and pattern highlighted the different parts of the anatomy. But it also represents the cultural identity of Greece at this time. The Greeks love for harmony and symmetry is present when you understand “Kalokagathea”. Kalokagathea is the belief that the ideas of harmony and order are importantly related to the development of the city. During this time, Greece was an emerging dominant force and through the use of symmetry, it would achieve that and this belief is present in the Kouros figure. The Egyptians had a huge impact on the Archaic period along with the Kouros figure. Before this time period, the Greeks had carved their statues out of wood. Through the influence of the Egyptians, the Greeks wanted to start carving from a more preminent medium introduced in Egypt to make sure the soul of the deceased lived on within the statue. The Greeks incorporated the use of a more permanent medium to represent the everlasting afterlife, and not to behold the soul. Comparing the figure to other civilizations, the male is presented as a young boy because youths were admired in Greek society, like the Egyptians who idealized a youthful individual. The aspects of the statue are also stylized like the Egyptians from the hair that depict beads to the geometric like aspects of the boy’s stance. The figure also represented the cultures changing view of the human body. Looking back at the Krater vase we discussed earlier, the Kouros figures were becoming more popular meaning vases diminishing, which eventually led to their extinction in Greek funerary practices. This proves that the Greeks were becoming more interested in human bodies and how the human body would eventually lead to a huge culture revelation for the ideal. Analyzing Ancient Greek funerary practices, wealthy Greeks spent lots of money for funerary practices and rituals. A popular funerary ritual that lasted from about 700 to 480 BC was the idea of cemeteries outside of the cities walls. The Kouros figure was present in Athenian cemeteries, where wealthy and prominent Athenians would construct these statues as grave markers or funerary monument. The figure we are looking at today is believed to be have marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat. The actual statue does not represent a deity or political figure, but rather the perfections of mortal humans who were prominent enough to be commemorated. Below the grave markers there was usually an epitaph at the base and verses that highlighted the deceased interests. The ancient Greeks placed a high importance on the afterlife, but were not obsessed during the archaic period. They were more concerned with their existence and comfort on earth. This is seen in the Kouros figure through the movement toward an idealized lifelike representation of a mortal. In the end, the statue may look unnatural and stiff, but it represents the function of Greek art of this time period, which was to have an interest in lifelike vitality and a concern with harmony and order


An example of the changing views of funerary practices is during the Etruscan period dating from about 750 BCE- 250 BCE. Like the other civilizations during this time there was a heavy emphasis on the afterlife. Talking about the Etruscan civilization, the Etruscans occupied the Northern territory of Italy while the Romans and Greeks were father south and we will examine how those civilizations intermingle with each other.


Tomb of Triclinium:
Tomb of Triclinium:

Compared to what we discussed earlier about the Greek civilization, the Etruscans were a completely different civilization, which we will be looking at today. Unlike the Greeks, a single leader or large city did not dominate the Etruscan culture. One aspect of Etruscan civilization that did dominant culture and everyday life was religion. In the Etruscan religion, their gods spoke to them (the mortals) through nature and natural events or disasters. With an obsession with religion there is a correlation that they would be extremely interested in the afterlife aspect of religion as well. The Etruscans believed that death was only the beginning and was the journey to the afterlife. Through the use of art and funerary practices, the Etruscans believed that the dead would not haunt mortals if they were pleased with their offerings to the afterlife. The example we will be looking at today is the Tomb of the Triclinium. From Tarquinia, Italy around 480-470 BCE. To fully understand the importance of the tomb, lets review how the city of Tarquinia impacts the Etruscan culture. Tarquinia is located on the west coast of the Italian peninsula and is best known as being one of the most authoritative and prominent centers in Italy of that time. The frescos upon the walls have scenes of dancers and people enjoying a classical party of the society. Hence why the frescos upon the walls are commonly referred to as “Dancers and Diners” and represent a celebratory funerary process. The partygoers represented in the frescoes are seen as reclining on “Trinclinium”, which are formal dining room couches in which you lounge in when you eat or relax. Servants are also waiting on the people while live music is being performed. The frescoes could represent either the daily life of the Etruscan culture or the way they want to live their afterlife. The people presented in the frescos are seen as either in pairs or alone but everyone is having a feast and viewed as having a good time at this celebration. The way they are celebrating, through the drinks and landscape, it is very extravagant and stylized. Breaking down the meaning of this tomb, we are first going to look at the most basic function of the tomb. The tomb is an ancient Etruscan funerary practice that involves a rock-cut tomb that contains the deceased and grave goods for the afterlife. The frescoes on the wall, unlike any civilization we have looked at in this exhibition, are not seen as somber but rather as a festival or a feast. The banquet aspect represents the transitional period from the living world to the afterlife in Etruscan funerary rituals. The deceased spirit is represented as the meal and the utensils and dishes are included in part of the grave goods. But it also serves to represent the social norms of the society. As we were talking about earlier, the Etruscans believed that in order to successfully pass into the afterlife, the deceased must be pleased with how their tomb is decorated; otherwise the dead will haunt the mortals. That is why the Etruscan spent so much time building and perfecting their tomb and rituals for the deceased. But the tomb also held grave goods or offerings for the dead to take into the afterlife. The frescoes on the wall also represent a stylistic similarity with the Greeks. By the similarities, we are able to deduct that the Greeks and Etruscans participated in trade that reveals history of the civilization. This example presents the way the Etruscan civilization viewed the death (or deaths) of a person of great importance or of high society and how the funerary norms are incorporated.


Sarcophagus of The Spouses:
Sarcophagus of The Spouses:

One of the most important Etruscan funerary artwork found to date is what we will be looking at today. The artwork is called the “sarcophagus of a married couple (or spouses)” around 520 BCE and is made out of terracotta. To fully understand the importance of this piece of art, lets look at the Etruscan civilizations history. The home of the Etruscans was located north of Rome. The Romans were not yet a full-fledged dominance in Italy and of the world yet but rather opposite of what we know it to be today. Until 509 BCE, Rome was still ruled by Etruscan kings. The artwork that we are looking at dates a little before the Romans dismissed the last Etruscan king in Rome. The sarcophagus is rather revolutionary compared to artworks during this time period. As we looked at earlier, the Kouros figure represents the differences in the two civilizations. Compared to the Greeks, the Kouros figure is presented as stiff looking and rigid. In this example, the couple is seen as being dynamic and as if they are moving into your space. Another radicle difference between this funerary representation and the Greeks is the incorporation of including the wife and husband together on the sarcophagus in a very intimate pose. On the other hand, the kouros figure stands alone and just represents the male. The incorporation of a female figure does more than just represent his wife. This proves that the Etruscan civilization viewed men and women as equals. Now lets look at the actual sarcophagus. The figures on the sarcophagus are of a husband and wife indulging at a banquet. Banquets were common scenes that were usually depicted in Etruscan tombs, like another earlier example we examined called the “Tomb of Triclinium”. But there are a few speculations about what the wife would have been holding. Either she is holding a cup or a glass, which would represent her function at a banquet. But on the other hand, some scholars believe that she may have been participating in an Etruscan funerary ritual. In this ritual, the wife is depicted as pouring perfume onto the husbands’ hand while he is holding a pomegranate (which was a symbol for immortality or the eternal) Like the other two civilizations we have investigated today, the Etruscans also idealized their deceased to an extent. Most aspects of the sarcophagus are stylized; from the cushions that they recline on to their hairstyles. The elongated proportions on the couples are typical of archaic stylized forms. Lets now examine the funerary aspects of this piece of art. The funerary function of the sarcophagus is rather misleading. Unlike ancient Egyptian sarcophagus’s that held the mummified body of the deceased, this sarcophagus did not actually hold the deceased physical bodies. Instead is held the cremated remains of the couple like an urn. In Etruscan funerary rituals, it was typical for the bodies of the dead to be cremated. The couple is presented as enjoying themselves at a banquet because the Etruscans believed that depicting the deceased how they want to be remembered in the afterlife would promise them eternal happiness. In the fear that they did not like their tomb, the ancient Etruscan funerary belief was that if the deceased was not pleased with their tomb they would haunt the mortals for eternity. That is why such great emphasis was put on the funerary aspects on the dead. This piece of art represents the Etruscan civilization and its funerary practices through the use of grave goods. The sarcophagus ultimately reveals the cultural norms of the elite and the funerary belief that death is a positive and celebratory occasion.

In the end, we reviewed three civilizations that represent the changing funerary practices in ancient societies. While some of these aspects are still prevalent in different cultures today, lets be grateful that most of these funerary practices and rituals are no longer prevalent!

Jessica Honeycutt


Work Cited

1- British Museum. “Canoptic Jars.” Mummification Explore. Accessed April 22, 2015.

2- “Tour Egypt :: Funerary and Other Masks of Ancient Egypt.” Funerary and Other Masks of Ancient Egypt. Accessed April 24, 2015.

3- “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop: Krater [Greek, Attic] (14.130.14). Accessed April 24, 2015.

4- “Interpretive Resource.” Interpretive Resource. Accessed April 24, 2015.

5- “Art History Lab.” Brian Wildeman’s Art History Lab Etruscan. Accessed April 24, 2015.