Aegean civilization flourished during the Bronze Age in Greece and the so-called Aegean Age. Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations were among those civilizations in the Aegean that has made its zenith during this era. Minoan civilization developed on the mountainous areas of Crete. Crete naturally possessed a wide-range of harbors which made it possible for the Minoans to settle and establish permanent livelihood as traders and merchants. From 1700 BC, they were involved in various trades including the important tin trading that is used to make bronze.
Minoans focused their belief on female deities (note that Minoan women were usually appointed officials – a symbol of respect and authority). Many archeologists believed that the Minoans have equal treatment to men and women. Evidences from Minoan artworks showed that the equal status of men and women. Minoan artworks also showed evidences of the development of the Minoan civilization (three periods of Minoan civilization – EM, MM, and LM). Among the surviving Minoan arts is Minoan pottery.
Different periods of Minoan civilization also showed different modes of design of their ceramics which include spirals in the Early Minoan, natural designs like flowers and birds during the Middle Minoan. After the demise of the Aegean civilization (during the Hittite invasion of Asia Minor), Greece began to make advances in culture. The development of the city-state allowed the propagation of culture across geography – enabling city-states to develop its own cultural tools.
It can be said that the zenith of Greek culture was during the Hellenistic period (lasted for about 200 years). The Greek Hellenistic period span from 323 B. C. up to the Battle of Actium in 31 B. C. The Hellenistic period paved the way to many transformations of Greek art. Though the Classical concepts in art were not thoroughly abandoned, the birth of the Hellenistic period made the artists create different and unique art concepts. The artists during this time explored and manipulated their imagination on their subject.
It was also during this period that higher degree of Naturalism took place as a logical conclusion to great sculptors like Praxitelis and Lysipos whose works demanded for the art representation of the human figure. In a Greek art (Boy Jockey), the bold expression of energy and power during great pressure was represented. The change of focus of the Hellenistic art from religious and naturalistic ideas and concepts to human expressions, psychological concern and theatrical background, paved the way to the sculptures that includes the natural physical surroundings with creative landscaping and theatrical groupings.
The Nike of Samothrace is a sculpture that embraced the true meaning and understood the world through the application of certain techniques and aesthetic conventions. The winged goddess with her outstretched wings gracefully prevents the stone from falling due to gravity. The sculpture also represented the physical human presence and the external force within it. The representation evidently speaks for the Greeks acceptance of the physical power of human being and all other external forces acting on it.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean Sea, a new power was on the rise. Roman expansion to the East resulted to: 1) consolidation of the Greek peninsula under Roman rule; 2) the destruction of Macedonia, weakening of the Seleucid Empire, and the incorporation of the states of Bithynia and Pergamum to Rome; and 3) increased Greek influence on Roman culture. Although Roman art is essentially a derivation of Greek art, it is different in two respects.
First, Roman art is generally a modification of Greek art. The invention of concrete during the 1st century A. D. greatly advanced Roman art and architecture. For example, the simple amphitheatre of the Greeks was transformed into a colosseum. Concrete allowed the construction of more complex structures. Second, Greek art was essentially religious in character (this is assertion is debatable for some historians). Roman art and architecture was a mixture of religious and political philosophies.
The Roman poet Ovid often referred to the Greeks as the champion of religious authority – the center of religious worship in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Romans as the bearer of Greek culture. Here, Ovid was essentially arguing that Roman culture cannot be solely religious in nature. As the forerunner of ancient democratic institutions, Rome must distinguish itself politically from its subject peoples. With Roman domination of the Mediterranean, Greek culture spread to all parts of the Roman Empire. In the East, it became the ethos of a new cultural revival – Greek in orientation.
This revival was essentially the last if not the least of Hellenism prior to the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. Before the Christian culture, Greek culture was the predominant mode of humanistic endeavor. However, one must understand that Greek culture was a partial derivation of Aegean culture – a culture which is embellished in myth, tragedy, and greatness. Here, one can clearly see the development of Western culture – a result of the transfusion of Greek culture and Christian learning.