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Ancient Classical Art

Ancient art describes art created between approximately 4000 BC and 500 AD by advanced civilisations, which are generally identified by their use of an established written language, such as those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Americas, the early Chinese dynasties etc. Within this wider period, the term ‘classical’ refers specifically to art and architecture of the Greco-Roman world (c.800 BC-500 AD).

Broadly speaking, art of the ancient period was utilised for similar purposes: to share and record stories, to adorn utilitarian objects such as pottery, to celebrate and honour rulers and deities, and to emphasize wealth, status and power. Prevailing mediums and principles differ between civilisations of the ancient world. For instance, art of the classical period was largely concerned with adhering to ideals of harmony, beauty and proportion as opposed to personal expression. Although examples of prehistoric art can be dated to some 40,000 years ago, the recurring themes and motives that began to emerge during the ancient period, and which continue to echo through art today, lead many to consider the ancient period the true genesis of art history.  
Key Location: Roman ruins of Aquileia, Italy
The ancient city of Aquileia dates back to 181 BC, when it was founded by Romans as a military outpost against the Barbarians. Perfectly positioned on the Natissa River, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, the city was an important trading centre, a vital link between the Mediterranean and Central Europe. As such, Aquileia became one of the largest and richest cities in the Roman Empire, thriving until it was sacked and partially destroyed by Attila the Hun in 452 AD.
 
Excavated treasures of the settlement include the Patriarchal Basilica, built c.1000 (though later rebuilt in the Romanesque and Gothic style), with some 760 meters of spectacular coloured floor mosaics depicting scenes from the Old Testament, which date to the early 4th century. Other Roman treasures include the remains of the river port, grand residential complexes, baths, a market hall and portions of the amphitheatre. Excitingly, much of the city remains unexcavated, making Aquileia an evolving and expanding treasure of the ancient past. See it in the company of an expert guide: Aquileia is covered by our study tour, Friuli and Trieste.
 
Key Term: Hellenic/Hellenistic
The term Hellenic refers to the period from 500-323 BC, the Classical or Hellenic age of Greek civilisation. In 336 BC, Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander the Great) inherited the throne to the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. In little more than a decade he united Greece and conquered the Persian empire, establishing a new empire that stretched from Greece and Asia Minor, through Egypt and the Near East to India.
 
The Hellenistic period begins in 323 BC with the death of Alexander the Great. Greek culture continues to flourish in his newly conquered territories but the empire as a whole is weakened. The Hellenistic period ends with the conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BC, the last Hellenistic kingdom (known as the Ptolemaic Kingdom) to fall to Rome.
 
Key Location: Al-Khazneh, Petra, Jordan
The ‘Rose-City’ of Petra is cut from the pink sandstone rocks of the high desert of Jordan, the remains of a mysterious ancient civilisation called the Nabateans, a nomadic people made wealthy from the trade of precious incense. Of all the breath-taking architecture that remains in the city today, which includes tombs, temples and other public buildings, Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) is one of the most recognisable. Built as a mausoleum in the 1st century AD for the Nabatean King Aretas IV, legend suggests that bandits later stashed a horde of treasure within the building, hence its name. As with much of the architecture of the city, the façade reflects the Hellenistic style, with elaborate Corinthian columns, carved Greek Gods, vines and kantharoi (a Greek drinking vessel with large handles). Figures who meld mythology from Greek and Egyptian cultures, as well as relief ornamentation associated with the ancient Near East, reflect the wide migration of ideas during the Hellenistic period. Explore the jewels of Petra and more in the company of expert lecturer Sue Rollin on our study tour to Jordan.
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