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The Ancient (of Latin antiquus , old, ancient, time-honored ' ) was a period in the Mediterranean region , which is about 800 v. BC to approx. 600 AD, although the beginning is sometimes set even earlier. Classical antiquity differs from previous and subsequent epochs through common and consistent cultural traditions . It covers the history of ancient Greece , Hellenism and the Roman Empire . The Roman Empire in particular united the Mediterranean region politically and culturally since the 1st century AD.

In a broader sense, antiquity also encompasses the history of the ancient Middle Eastern high cultures of Egypt , Mesopotamia , Assyria , Persia and Asia Minor , which began around 3500 BC with the beginning of writing. Begins. The larger period of around 3500 BC BC to the end of antiquity is preferably referred to as antiquity . The following epoch is the Middle Ages (with a broad, regionally different transition period, see Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages ).

Temporal and conceptual boundaries

In the sense of classical antiquity , the historical term antiquity usually refers to the time from the gradual formation of the Greek world to the end of the Western Roman Empire in the year 476 or until the death of the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian in 565. Since the work of the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne is often also the year 632, i.e. the death of Muhammad and the subsequent Islamic expansion , proposed as the date for the end of antiquity .

The beginning of ancient Greco-Roman culture in the classical sense is generally associated with the creation of the Homeric epics and the beginning of the Greek colonization of the Mediterranean in the 8th century BC. BC. In the centuries that followed, the Greeks spread their culture throughout the Mediterranean and along the coasts of its tributaries and, since Alexander the Great , in the Orient and Central Asia . The Romans brought ancient civilization to Central and Northwestern Europe, where it changed to Christian- Western culture from the early Middle Ages .

Depending on the direction of research, the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures from around 1900 to 1100 BC are also mentioned. As well as the so-called " dark centuries " 1200 to 750 BC. Counted to antiquity.

As with all periodizations in historical science, no dividing line valid for all regions, national and cultural traditions can be drawn between antiquity, the migration of peoples and the Middle Ages. Depending on the point of view, the following years have been proposed as the epoch boundaries between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages :

In more recent research, a later point in time is mostly favored (565 or around 600 AD). In general, it makes sense anyway to assume a transition period from around 500 to 7th century AD instead of choosing fixed dates.

For a long time, the term antiquity was spatially equated with the Greek, Hellenistic and later Roman world. In this sense, the Greco-Roman cultural area was delimited from the surrounding areas in the same way as ancient Greek and later Roman scholars distinguished themselves from the regions of the “ barbarians ” (see also Barbaricum ). Greeks and Romans did not regard the Celts , Germanic peoples or equestrian peoples as part of the civilized world. The Persian Empire (see Achaemenid Empire , Parthian Empire and Sassanid Empire ), which was culturally highly developed, played a special role .

The universal historical concept of antiquity, which was called for by the historian Eduard Meyer in the 19th century , goes beyond the very narrow definition of the Roman-Greek world, which was shaped by classical antiquity . More recently it has been taken up again by the German ancient historian Josef Wiesehöfer . The majority of today's researchers, however, assign the ancient Orient and ancient Egypt to " antiquity ", but not to "antiquity".

Origins of ancient culture

The origins of European antiquity lie in the dark. Its prehistory is around the time from approx. 2000 to approx. 1600 BC. To settle in the Middle Helladic . At the beginning of this period - partly also in the last section of the Early Helladic FH III approx. 2200–2000 BC. BC - Indo-European tribes probably immigrated to Greece from the north. Apparently under the influence of the Minoan culture on Crete , the first advanced civilization in Europe , which flourished from around 1900 to 1450 BC. BC, the Mycenaean culture developed on the mainland from the Middle Helladic culture (approx. 1600 to 1050/00 BC). It probably had its starting point in the Argolida and suddenly appears with rich shaft graves from around 1600 BC. Among other things, the Mycenaean culture took over the script from the Minoan. The so-called Linear A script used in Crete (among others) from the 17th to 15th centuries BC. BC was further developed into the so-called Linear B script (15th to 12th century BC). This can be found on numerous clay tablets, including the palaces in Pylos , Thebes , Mycenae on the Greek mainland and in the centers of Kydonia and Knossos on Crete, which were now Mycenaean at the time .

The Lion Gate of Mycenae

The splendid centers of Mycenaean culture are well known. The most important sites include Mycenae, Pylos and Tiryns on the Peloponnese peninsula , Orchomenos and Gla (the latter not a palace center) in Boiotia and the strongly Mycenaean Miletus in western Asia Minor. The centers had upper towns ( acropoles ), called castles, which were built in the 13th century BC. In some cases strongly fortified or their fortifications were strongly expanded (Mycenae, Tiryns, Athens). Rich dome tombs, fine ceramics, some of them richly painted, ornate gold, silver and faience work , etc. testify to the wealth and specialization of the economic system that existed in parts of Greece from around 1400 BC. Was centrally controlled by powerful palace tents who ruled larger regions (as in Boeotia, Attica, Messenia and in the Argolis; see also Mycenaean palace times ). Intensive trade contacts were maintained with the Middle East, Assyria and Egypt. Mycenaean pottery was popular in much of the Mediterranean; possibly even craftsmen settled in some settlements in southern Italy ( Roca Vecchia , Punta Meliso , Scoglio del Tonno ).

Around the period 1200 to 750 BC. Traditionally, the Dark Age is set , from which comparatively little has been handed down. At the beginning of this phase, many of the centers of mainland Greece were destroyed, thus undermining the basis of palace culture. However, the Mycenaean culture continued to exist for about 150 years and even experienced a certain rebloom in some regions from the middle of the 12th century before the transition to the so-called Protogeometric Period (approx. 1050/00–900 BC) took place. Around the same time, around 1200 B.C. In Greece - and also in other regions of the eastern Mediterranean (see also the end of the Hittite Empire , Sea Peoples ) - destruction and upheavals occurred, and Mycenaean settlements emerged on Cyprus and some places in southern Asia Minor (e.g. Tarsus and Mersin ). Western trade, especially with Italy and Sardinia, was also started in the 12th century BC. Continued to operate, partly also in the 11th century BC. According to tradition, around 1050 BC The very controversial Ionian migration , in the course of which the inhabitants of the Greek mainland colonized the islands of the Aegean and the west coast of Asia Minor . On the Greek mainland a diffuse picture presents itself: Few settlements have been discovered so far and most of them look poor - compared to the Mycenaean period. Lefkandi on Evia, on the other hand, was completely different : there, next to a settlement with a large building belonging to the Prince of Lefkandi, graves were found that were very richly furnished.

The Dark Age has been brightening up in the last few decades - thanks to many new finds, especially, but not only, from the Mycenaean late phase of 12/11. Century BC - more and more on. According to Homer's research, different passages of the Iliad reflect the circumstances of this period. It was apparently also important for the development of Greek society towards the polis . From the 8th century onwards, contacts with the Middle East were again very intensive, and trading stations were established in Cyprus ( Kition ) and in Syria ( Al Mina ). Presumably as early as the late 9th century BC. The Phoenicians taught the alphabet .

Greece and the Hellenic world

Beginnings of Classical Greece

The so-called Archaic Age began in the early 8th century BC. The real antiquity. Since the year 776 BC The list of winners of the Olympic Games has come down to us. From about 770 to 540 BC During the great colonization of the western Mediterranean (especially Sicily and southern Italy, see also Magna Graecia , and as far as Marseille ), the Greeks spread to the northern Aegean and the Black Sea . Greeks had already resided in Asia Minor. During this time (between 750 and 650 BC), the Homeric epics ( Iliad and Odyssey ) were probably also written down, the oldest literary monuments in the West . The oldest actually preserved papyrus fragments of these texts date from the 3rd century BC. The oldest codices with longer text passages appear in the Middle Ages (approx. 10th century AD), as is generally the case with most of the extant ancient literature, especially in medieval manuscripts. Hesiod also worked around the time around 700 BC. Chr.

Formation of the polis

The classical period was a time of great cultural and scientific development. At the same time, the system of the Greek city-states, the Poleis , emerged, whereby the majority of these only comprised a very small population. The nascent military state of Sparta in the south of the Peloponnese subjugated between 720 and 600 BC. Chr. Messenia and controlled the entire southwestern part of the peninsula. The city with its oligarchical constitution can be seen as the first example of the polis structure that was to rule from then on .

In many other Greek city-states, too, constitutions regulated the coexistence of citizens, but also tyranny , as it was around 650 BC. For example, it existed in Corinth and Megara , was not uncommon. In Athens , a democratic system finally developed under changing conditions. According to the legislation of Drakon (621 BC) and Solons (594/593 BC), Peisistratos and his sons succeeded between around 561 and 510 BC. BC once again to establish a tyranny. Until 501 BC BC brought the reforms of Kleisthenes of Athens but the breakthrough for the Attic democracy .

Athens' heyday

With Athens' support of the Greek cities of Asia Minor in the Ionian uprising around 500 BC. An almost two hundred year old conflict with the Persian Empire began , initially in the form of the three Persian Wars , which the historian Herodotus , the "father of historiography" (with whom Greek historiography traditionally begins, see list of Greek-speaking historians of antiquity ), has described in his histories , although not always reliably. When the Persians invaded Greece on a punitive expedition, they were defeated in 490 BC. Defeated by the Athenians in the battle of Marathon . Ten years later, the Persian great king Xerxes I was defeated by the Athenian fleet under Themistocles in the battle of Salamis and in 479 BC. The united armies of the Greek Poleis in the battle of Plataiai . The Persians were pushed back for the time being, and the Greek city-states in Asia Minor were freed from their dependency.

The Athenian Acropolis

After the successful defense and the establishment of the Attic League in 477 BC. Under the domination of Athens based on its own sea power, the city began to flourish for about 50 years (the Pentecontaetie ), which lasted until the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. BC (or until the death of the leading statesman Perikles in 429 BC) lasted. The Acropolis with the Parthenon was at that time under the direction of the temple Phidias expanded to brilliantly-representative center of the naval power of Athens. The classical tragedies of Aeschylus , Sophocles and Euripides were performed in the theater , mostly as part of festive poetry competitions . The metropolis attracted merchants and tradespeople, artists and scholars. In the agora, alongside the sophists, the philosopher Socrates influenced his fellow citizens, whose teachings Plato later processed into a work of outstanding philosophical historical significance. Athens, with its (male) full citizens who achieved equal political participation, now claimed to be the "School of Hellas". His aggressive external development of power in and with the Attic League led to tensions already during the Pentecontaetie, especially against the rival Greek power Sparta.

Struggle for hegemony

The increasing rivalry between the sea power Athens and the land power Sparta culminated in 431 BC. In the almost 30 years of the Peloponnesian War , which the contemporary historians Thucydides and (following Thucydides) Xenophon have vividly described. The very changeable course and with what was perceived as unprecedented brutality ended, also due to the support of Sparta by the Persian Empire, 404 BC. With the complete defeat of Athens and the establishment of a temporary Spartan hegemony over Greece.

In the first half of the 4th century BC The Greek cities waged an almost permanent war against each other and in changing coalitions, also with constant interference of the Persian kings. The longing for a general peace was also used for propaganda purposes ( King's Peace of 386 BC). 371 BC After the Battle of Leuktra , Thebes replaced Sparta as hegemon under Epaminondas . But Thebes also only existed until around 362 BC. And ended with the death of Epaminondas.

Overall, the Peloponnesian War weakened the Greek polis so much that Philip II of Macedonia was able to put an end to the ongoing power struggle by forcibly uniting Greece with his excellently trained army. The king, regarded by Athenians and Demosthenes as a non-Greek barbarian, won the battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC with his trained army . The hegemony over Hellas, which was confirmed in the Corinthian League the following year .

In Sicily , meanwhile, the mighty Syracuse asserted itself against the commercial republic of Carthage , which had been with the Greek Poleis (western Greeks) since the early 5th century BC. Was in conflict. In Sicily, in contrast to the motherland, tyranny was the form of government in many cities ( Dionysius I of Syracuse , Agathocles of Syracuse and others).

Hellenistic period (336 to 30 BC)

Bust of Alexander the Great

After the assassination of Philip in 336 BC His son Alexander the Great led a Greco-Macedonian army to Asia and in a few years conquered a world empire with the Persian Empire. The Alexanderzug paved the way for Greek culture throughout the then known Orient , from Egypt via Mesopotamia and Persia to the borders of India and Turkestan . After Alexander's death in 323 BC In Babylon his successors, the Diadochi , divided the empire among themselves in long wars . In all sub-kingdoms, the culture in the following centuries was characterized by a mutual interpenetration of Greek and indigenous elements.

The age of Hellenism is characterized by an almost constant struggle between the three great powers ( Ptolemies , Seleucids and Antigonids ) for supremacy. Nevertheless, the population in the entire Mediterranean area grew steadily and thus enabled the growth of larger cities and metropolises with inhabitants over 100,000 people. Long-distance trade (up to China) and the production of goods for large urban markets also expanded during this period. Various sciences flourished, for example in Alexandria . At the beginning of the 2nd century BC BC Rome first appeared as a major power in Greece and gradually expanded its influence. 146 BC BC the Roman Empire subordinated the members of the defeated Achaean League de facto to the new province of Macedonia ; Corinth as the leading polis was destroyed. But many Poleis like Athens and Sparta remained formally independent, at least for the time being.

Soon afterwards, Pergamon was acquired by Rome and in 64/63 BC. The removal of the remains of the Seleucid Empire. The last successor state to the Alexander Empire was in 30 BC. Ptolemaic Egypt, whose last ruler Cleopatra VII was, incorporated into the Roman Empire. The Hellenistic world of states was thus wiped out as a power-political factor. 27 BC Greece became the province of Achaea . However, Greek culture lived on for a long time in the Roman Empire and later in the Byzantine Empire , and the Greek language remained the lingua franca in the east of the Mediterranean.

Roman Empire

After the Greeks, the Romans became the second bearers and mediators of ancient culture and shaped it for several hundred years. The further they penetrated into non-Italian countries as conquerors, the more they were inspired and influenced by their culture. They partially adapted local customs. Literature, philosophy, art, architecture and everyday culture of the Greeks and the countries of the Levant , weapon techniques of the Gauls or Germanic peoples and religious influences from Egypt were absorbed by the Romans. Not least because of the cultural charisma and heterogeneity of the city of Rome, which developed into a megacity during the Roman Empire, such influences were spread throughout the empire.

Origins of Rome

Rome , according to legend in 753 BC. Founded in the late 7th century BC, according to recent research. From the amalgamation of several village settlements at a ford on the lower reaches of the Tiber . Politically and culturally, Rome was long under Etruscan influence. The Etruscans, in turn, maintained contact with Greek colonists from an early age.

Roman Republic (c. 500 to 27 BC)

The Roman Forum today.

Around 500 BC The Romans freed themselves from the Etruscan city kingship and formed a republican form of government in the course of the following decades . In the Twelve Table Laws , which probably dates from around 450 BC. BC, the first civil, criminal and procedural norms of Roman law were recorded. From then on, the constitution provided for the cooperation of the three institutions senate , magistrate and people's assembly , which theoretically limited each other's powers. The official name of the republic was SPQR for Senatus Populusque Romanus (Eng .: Senate and People of Rome). In terms of power politics, the Senate, which was initially made up of members of the noble families, the patricians , dominated before a new, meritocratically legitimized leadership class, the nobility , developed in the 4th century . The consuls , the two highest magistrates of the republic elected for one year , also emerged from it . The most important only to plebeians accessible office was that of the tribunes of the people , which is a veto had quite against Senate resolutions. Since 287 BC The decisions of the plebeian popular assembly led by the tribunes had the force of law.

Gaius Iulius Caesar

With the Legion , the Romans developed an effective military force. By the year 272 BC They subjugated all of Italy south of the Po Valley. With the Punic Wars against the sea power Carthage in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC BC began the rise of Rome to an ancient world power , which was to rule the entire Mediterranean world for the following centuries . After 200 BC In BC Rome increasingly influenced the politics of the Hellenistic great powers and became a protectorate power in the eastern Mediterranean. 148 BC The Macedonia of the Antigonids , 63 BC. The empire of the Seleucids , and finally 30 BC. BC the Egypt of the Ptolemies Roman province .

The Roman Republic made possible further, continuous population growth through the establishment of inner peace, also through the constant establishment of new colonies in conquered countries. Through the settlement of veterans from the legions of previous wars, the republic was also able to gain a reliable influence in these countries and at the same time cultivate new areas with a steady increase in population. Trade and traffic could also increase thanks to the Roman roads , which were initially often laid out for military reasons and connected the growing imperial cities and colonies with one another. Along the streets, marshals and market towns developed into cities. These infrastructural innovations in the empire were accompanied by a growth in economic production and thus also in the available tax funds.

However, as the republic grew in size, power and prosperity, a number of crises developed internally as inequality grew within the upper class. The nobility began to lose its integrative power, and the rivalry within the ruling class escalated. The Optimates , who maintained the supremacy of the Senate, were opposed to the Populares , who tried to assert themselves against their rivals with the help of the People's Assembly. This crisis of the Roman Republic reached its climax in the epoch of civil wars , and it became apparent that the republic as a form of government could no longer master the successes it had brought about: This made the principle possible, i.e. the transformation of the republic into one Sole rule with a republican facade. The popular politician Gaius Iulius Caesar had already achieved a quasi-monarchical position as dictator for life (dictator perpetuus) . His great-nephew and heir Augustus is considered the first Roman emperor, however , who succeeded in replacing the destroyed republic with a permanent monarchical state order with the principate . B. the Senate, continued for a very long time.

Principate (27 BC to 284 AD)

Augustus statue from Prima Porta , now in the Vatican Museums

The empire ( principate ) established by Augustus was safely ruled by him and his successor Tiberius for around 60 years. Augustus consciously kept a republican facade, while under Tiberius the empire became normal. Under Caligula , Claudius and Nero , however, signs of disintegration occurred at times. After the crisis year 68/69 (year of the four emperors ), the Flavians ( Vespasian , Titus , Domitian ) took over the government, which ruled quite successfully both in foreign and domestic politics. After Domitian's assassination, who fell victim to a conspiracy in 96, another brief crisis of the system of rule followed, which was largely resolved under the so-called adoptive emperors .

The empire then experienced its greatest heyday and expansion under these very same "adoptive emperors" (the empire was still not formally hereditary) in the first half of the 2nd century: An expansion under Trajan (especially in the Balkans and in the east against the Parthian Empire ) This was followed by a withdrawal and securing of the borders under Hadrian . Soon after the middle of the 2nd century AD, however, the pressure on the extensive imperial borders increased. In the north and northeast the Germanic peoples , in the east the Parthians (who were able to hold their own despite some defeats) oppressed the empire. Mark Aurel , the “philosopher emperor ” in the spirit of the Stoa , soon after taking over power, felt almost constantly forced to defend the imperial borders by war. With his death in 180 AD, an age of the empire that was considered to be the heyday ended.

After the weak Commodus , killed 192, the Kaiser stabilized from the house of Severer is emphasized particularly Septimius Severus , which borders at least partially. With the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212, Emperor Caracalla granted citizenship to all free imperial citizens. After the assassination of Alexander Severus but 235 it came under the so-called barracks emperor for imperial crisis of the third century , but reached only around 260 at its peak. This period was marked by rapid changes of government, temporary and regionally different economic problems, centrifugal tendencies in the interior (temporary separation of the Imperium Galliarum ; loss of several provinces on Palmyra ) and the steadily growing pressure on the borders. In addition to the various Germanic tribes (such as the Alemanni and Goths ), the Sassanid Empire in particular now exerted enormous pressure in the east: After the overthrow of the last Parthian king in 224 (or 226), the Sassanids renewed the Persian Empire and proved themselves in the Usually as opponents of equal value to the Romans, although they too were faced with an endangered border (in late ancient Central Asia , see Iranian Huns ). The time of the soldier emperors is, however, no longer understood in more recent research as a pure time of crisis, but rather as a phase of transformation (albeit partly accompanied by symptoms of crisis).

Late Antiquity (AD 284 to 565/632)

With the introduction of the tetrarchy (293) and numerous internal reforms, Emperor Diocletian (emperor since 284) once again succeeded in stabilizing the empire towards the end of the 3rd century. This period of the beginning of late antiquity is characterized by upheavals, some of which represented a departure from the previously essential components of ancient culture. Above all, this includes the recognition and privileging of Christianity initiated by Emperor Constantine I , which was still persecuted under Diocletian. The turn to the new faith went hand in hand with the rejection of the religious pluralism of antiquity. A final attempt to revive the old cults by combining them with Neo-Platonic ideas failed with the death of Emperor Julian in 363; all subsequent emperors were Christians. In some cases, certain forms of philosophy also met with rejection, although Christianity itself was now strongly influenced by Greek philosophy and underwent a massive transformation between 300 and 600, e.g. with the First Council of Nicaea . The Platonic Academy in Athens, often referred to as the “refuge of paganism”, was closed in 529, while the already Christianized school of Alexandria continued until the beginning of the 7th century.

Emperor Valentinian I consolidated the west of the empire, but in 378 under his brother Valens there was the defeat of Adrianople and a new crisis. In this context belongs the appearance of the Huns (only one of numerous equestrian peoples from the Eurasian steppe zone, some of which played an important role) and the beginning of the so-called migration of peoples . Emperor Theodosius I, in turn, was able to stabilize the east of the empire and was at the same time the last emperor who de facto ruled over the entire Roman Empire . He finally declared Christianity the state religion in 392 and banned all pagan cults such as the Olympic Games. However, significant pagan minorities can be found on the soil of the empire until at least the 6th century.

Justinian, mosaic from San Vitale in Ravenna. The emperor is considered one of the most important rulers of late antiquity.

After the de facto final division of the empire under the two sons of Theodosius in 395, only the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Constantinople , the former Byzantium, proved to be viable for a further millennium. It preserved many ancient traditions; Among other things, Latin remained the official language of the predominantly Greek-speaking empire until the 7th century. The so-called Western Roman Empire, on the other hand, broke up due to endless internal wars, coupled with external pressure. Germanic warrior associations took the place of the collapsing imperial government and, first as foederati , took direct possession of western Roman provinces from the 5th century onwards. Their leaders often took the place of the Roman authorities. Rome itself was plundered by the Visigoths in 410 and by the Vandals in 455 , from the megacity of the high imperial era it shrank to an estimated 200,000 inhabitants by the end of the 5th century.

Late antiquity also saw the slow disappearance of the classically ancient city ( polis or civitas ). Research has disputed whether this is a decline or a change - this question also arises for many other aspects of the era (e.g. in the economic sector, with many provinces continuing to flourish). In the west (the eastern empire was not affected by this and only went through a period of crisis in the 7th century, see below), the political structures increasingly disintegrated in the 5th century, while the regular army (at least according to older research) became increasingly “barbaric” “And the importance of the non-Roman foederati increased more and more, especially in the West. The declining tax revenues due to the loss of provinces and tax revenue led to the fact that the government in Ravenna became more and more helpless; the imperial authority waned, while the real power now mostly rested with high military men like Aetius or Ricimer , who often waged bloody civil wars against each other and thus further weakened the western empire.

In 476, General Odoacer , the commander of the federated troops in Italy, then deposed the last Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus , since he had become superfluous, and submitted to the nominal supremacy of the Eastern Roman Emperor. In the past, historiography often saw the end of antiquity in this act, which was hardly noticed by contemporaries . Today, on the other hand, the 6th century is still counted as antiquity, as ancient Roman structures persisted, especially in the east, and the eastern Roman emperor Justinian (527-565) managed to recapture large parts of the western empire for a short time. The fact that this ultimately failed was also due to the pressure that the Sassanids again exerted on the eastern border of the empire from 540 onwards (see also Roman-Persian Wars and Herakleios ). In the Eastern Roman Empire , ancient culture and the spiritual world lived on well into the Middle Ages. However, the Islamic expansion of the 7th century led to considerable changes here as well and is considered to be the decisive turning point that separates the Eastern Roman Empire from the Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages.

Significance and aftermath of antiquity

Ancient traditions had strong and formative effects on the further course of world history, especially on the development of the western world , which has its roots in antiquity. Modern enlighteners, philosophers, state theorists, scientists, artists and others repeatedly linked to the Ionian natural philosophy, Attic democracy, Roman law , religious pluralism, the ancient ideal of beauty and other legacies of antiquity.

Ancient traditions were never completely forgotten even in the Middle Ages. Extensive ancient documents were preserved in the monasteries of the West. The Rome idea also remained alive in the Holy Roman Empire . In the 8th century there was the first so-called Carolingian Renaissance . Byzantine and Arab scholars also relied on ancient knowledge and passed it on indirectly to medieval Europe.

When people in 15th century Italy came to appreciate the - mostly Roman - remnants of antiquity and imitated them in art, this was called the Renaissance . The rebirth of antiquity and the ancient spirit put an end to the centuries-long dominance of religious thought in Europe and finally culminated in the age of the European Enlightenment and modernity . Almost all ideas of the modern Enlightenment have ancient antecedents. Without Greek science and philosophy , without the political ideas that arose at the time, without Roman law, without the architecture and art of the Greeks and Romans, modern western culture would be unthinkable.

As a result of the work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, “classical” Greek art - or rather what was idealized for it - became increasingly the focus of interest. In the 19th century, in connection with the work of architects and artists such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel , Leo von Klenze and Bertel Thorvaldsen, there was talk of a renaissance of ancient Greece, today of new humanism .

It was only after the Second World War that Greco-Roman civilization increasingly lost the role model it had been accorded for centuries in Europe and North America. A decisive turning point here was the disappearance of the Greek and, to a large extent, also the Latin subject from secondary schools. Another aspect was that in the first half of the 20th century, elements of the ancient tradition were arbitrarily picked up by followers of totalitarian ideologies and thus misappropriated. The leadership cult of the fascist regime in Italy went back directly to ancient Rome and (according to the regime's understanding) was linked to the Caesar cult, whereby the term fascismo is derived from the Latin term fasces . As the successor to Augustus, Benito Mussolini was placed in a row with the Roman Caesars, and a "re-establishment" of the ancient Roman Empire was sought. The Nazi regime in Germany was also partly based on ancient models, for example in connection with the ideologically founded praise of Sparta .

The loss of importance after the end of the Second World War, however, has the advantage for classical studies that it is now easier to get a more undisguised, neutral view of antiquity.

Testimonies of antiquity that have survived to this day are - in addition to traditional texts of a philosophical , literary or historical nature - numerous objects of Greek and Roman art : from large sculptures to small art, pottery , coins, etc. Important collections of antiquities are in Rome , Athens , Naples , Paris , London , Munich , Saint Petersburg , Vienna and Berlin . Archaeological excavations such as those in Pompeii , Olympia , Delphi or Pergamon are particularly important for knowledge of everyday life in ancient times .


The majority of ancient literature (and thus also of historiography) has not survived, so that our knowledge of antiquity is influenced by the tradition (see also ancient historiography and, with regard to Greek historiography, the list of Greek-speaking historians of the ancient world ). It has been estimated that barely 10% of Greek literature has come down to us. Other researchers are far more pessimistic and assume a loss rate of around 99%. In parts it looks particularly bleak (Archaic, Hellenism), in other areas it looks a bit better (Classical Greece and Late Antiquity ). Overall, however, the source situation is problematic; one must assume in all areas that much has been lost without a trace and that many events and contexts are also beyond our knowledge. In addition to the narrative sources, inscriptions and papyri as well as archaeological and numismatic sources etc. must of course also be used. A summary with detailed information is provided by the respective articles (historiography, etc.) in the corresponding lexicons (see below).

Some of the most important ancient historians and their (often only partially) preserved texts are named below:

See also the source collections available online such as LacusCurtius or the Perseus Project .

See also

Portal: Antiquity  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of antiquity




Source editions

The Tusculum Collection and the Loeb Classical Library offer source editions with translations, among other series . The Jacoby represents an extremely important collection of the remains of otherwise lost Greek historians :


General: Due to the large number of specialist publications, only a very limited selection can be mentioned at this point. The central bibliographical reference work in classical studies is still the L'Année philologique (L'Année Philologique. Bibliographie critique et analytique de l'Antiquité greco-latine, edited by J. Marouzeau and J. Ernst, Paris 1923ff.). The extensive Gnomon database can also be used free of charge . Detailed information can also be found either in the bibliographies of the works mentioned below (please refer to The Cambridge Ancient History and Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte ) or the bibliographies listed in the detailed HU link list (see, for example, KU Eichstätt (commented) ).

Reference is also made to the articles linked here, where numerous further references can be found.



General representations

  • Beck Ancient History. 6 volumes. CH Beck, Munich 2014–2016 (sorted by epoch; the respective volumes are easy-to-read, current introductions to the respective epoch).
  • Blackwell History of the Ancient World. Blackwell, Oxford et al. a. (also recommended, current epoch introductions)
    • Marc Van de Mieroop : A History of the Ancient Near East approx. 3000–323 BC. 3. Edition. 2016.
    • Jonathan Hall: A History of the Archaic Greek World. 2nd Edition. 2014.
    • PJ Rhodes: A History of the Classical Greek World. 2005.
    • Robert Malcolm Errington : A History of the Hellenistic World. 2006.
    • Stephen Mitchell: A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284-641. 2nd Edition. 2015.
    • Timothy E. Gregory: A History of Byzantium. 2005. (All volumes offer a well readable and well-founded, concise overview with current literature.)
  • Blackwell Companion to the Ancient World. Various editors. Blackwell, Oxford 2003ff. (In the meantime, numerous volumes have appeared or are in preparation; they offer an introduction based on the current research situation in the form of several, relatively brief specialist articles.)
  • The Cambridge Ancient History . Div. Ed., 14th volumes (partly in partial volumes). 2nd Edition. Cambridge 1970ff. (Comprehensive and very important overall representation of antiquity. The second edition has been completely revised.)
  • Aloys Winterling , Kai Brodersen, Martin Jehne, Winfried Schmitz (eds.): Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Antiquity. 13 volumes. Oldenbourg, Munich 2007ff. (Not yet completed series of manuals, the structure is based on the encyclopedia of German history .)
  • History compact antiquity. Wissenschaftlichen Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt (several volumes; good, concise introductions with a research overview integrated into the presentation).
  • Werner Dahlheim : The ancient world. Greece and Rome from the beginnings to the expansion of Islam. Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn 1994, ISBN 3-506-71980-7 .
  • Robin Lane Fox : The Classic World. A world history from Homer to Hadrian. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2010. (easy to read and reliable overview up to the 2nd century AD)
  • Wolfgang Schuller : The First Europe, 1000 BC BC – 500 AD (Handbook of the History of Europe, Volume 1). Ullmer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8001-2791-1 .
  • Jochen Bleicken et al. (Hrsg.): Oldenbourg ground plan of history . Volume 1–4, Munich 1980 ff. (Various editions). (Three division of each volume: 1) very brief description, 2) research overview and 3) extensive bibliography.)
  • Eckhard Wirbelauer (Hrsg.): Oldenbourg history textbook: Antike. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56663-6 . (Comprehensive and at the same time original introduction to ancient history, which covers all important topics; the history of the event is only dealt with very, very briefly.)
  • Profile History of the Ancient World. Profile, London (sorted by epoch; current and easy-to-read overview works)
    • Angelos Chaniotis: Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian. 2018.
    • Kathryn Lomas : The Rise of Rome. From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars. 2018.
    • David Potter: The Origin of Empire. Rome from the Republic to Hadrian. 2019.
    • Michael Kulikowski: The Triumph of Empire. The Roman World from Hadrian to Constantine. 2016.
    • Michael Kulikowski: The Tragedy of Empire. From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy. 2019.
  • Routledge History of the Ancient World. Routledge Verlag, London / New York:
    • Amélie Kuhrt: The ancient Near East. 2 volumes. 1995, ISBN 0-415-01353-4 (volume 1), ISBN 0-415-12872-2 (volume 2) (quite comprehensive presentation of ancient oriental history up to the Achaemenids)
    • Robin Osborne : Greece in the making 1200-479 BC 1996, ISBN 0-415-03583-X .
    • Simon Hornblower: The Greek world 479–323 BC 4th edition. 2011, ISBN 978-0-415-60292-1 . (excellent overall representation of the classical period)
    • Graham Shipley: The Greek world after Alexander 323-30 BC 2000, ISBN 0-415-04618-1 (with the best overall representation of Hellenism).
    • Timothy J. Cornell: The Beginnings of Rome. Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 B. C). 1995, ISBN 0-415-01596-0 .
    • Martin Goodman : The Roman world 44 BC – AD 180. 1997, ISBN 0-415-04969-5 .
    • David S. Potter: The Roman empire at Bay, AD 180-395. 2004, ISBN 0-415-10058-5 ; 2nd edition 2014 (excellent presentation, which also includes socio-cultural aspects).
    • Averil Cameron : The Mediterranean world in Late Antiquity AD 395-600. 1993, ISBN 0-415-01420-4 ; 2nd edition 2012 (an excellent English introduction to late antiquity )


(Some of them are out of date. The descriptions of Greek history by Karl Julius Beloch, Georg Busolt and Eduard Meyer are of an older date, but still fundamental today.)

Individual representations

Greece - Hellas
  • Klaus Bringmann : History of the Roman Republic. Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49292-4 . (solid presentation)
  • Karl Christ : History of the Roman Empire. 5. actual Edition. Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-36316-4 . (best German representation of the imperial era up to Constantine the Great)
  • Michael Sommer : Roman history I. Rome and the ancient world up to the end of the republic (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 449). Kröner, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-520-44901-6 (current and legible representation of the republican era).
  • Michael Sommer: Roman History II. Rome and its empire in the imperial era (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 458). Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-45801-8 (current and easily legible representation of the imperial era).
  • Hermann Bengtson : Outline of Roman history with source studies. Republic and Imperial Era until 284 AD. Handbook of Classical Studies III. 5. Munich 1982, ISBN 3-406-08617-9 . (The content is now largely out of date.)
  • Alexander Demandt : The late antiquity. Handbook of Classical Studies III. 6, Munich 1989; 2nd revised edition. Munich 2007. (As an abridged edition without scientific apparatus: Geschichte der Spätantike. Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-44107-6 )
  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones : The Later Roman Empire 284-602. A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey. 3 volumes Oxford 1964 (reprinted in 2 volumes Baltimore 1986). (Most comprehensive modern representation of late antiquity, written by one author, but partly difficult to read due to the density of facts and now partly obsolete, especially in terms of evaluations.)
  • Scott Fitzgerald Johnson (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. Oxford et al. 2012

Special literature

Only in selection. Reference is also made to the specialist dictionaries mentioned above.


Greece - Hellas

  • Jochen Bleicken : The Athenian Democracy. 4th edition. Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-8252-1330-7 .
  • Donald Kagan : The Peloponnesian War. London 2003, ISBN 0-00-711505-9 . (See also Kagan's four-volume account of the Pelop. War; here an intelligent and comprehensive account for a wider audience.)
  • Michael Rostovtzeff : A Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World. 2 volumes. 1941.
  • Michael Stahl : Society and State among the Greeks. 2 volumes Schöningh, Paderborn 2003, volume 1, ISBN 3-506-99000-4 , volume 2, ISBN 3-506-99001-2 . (very good overview)
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei : Classical Athens. Democracy and Power Politics in the 5th and 4th Centuries. Darmstadt 1999, ISBN 3-534-12976-8 . (Detailed description of Athens' politics and its rise to hegemonic power.)
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei: Sparta. The rise and fall of an ancient great power. Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-94016-2 . (Probably the best German-language representation of the history of Sparta.)
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei: The Greek Polis. Constitution and society in archaic and classical times. 2nd Edition. Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-515-07174-1 .


Persia / Iran

  • Encyclopædia Iranica London 1985 ff. ( Online portal )
  • Touraj Daryee (Ed.): King of the Seven Climes. A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE-651 CE). UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies, Irvine (CA) 2017.
  • Josef Wiesehöfer : Ancient Persia. From 550 BC Chr. To 650 AD. Actual. New edition, Patmos, Düsseldorf 2005, ISBN 3-491-96151-3 (good overview work; there also further information).

Germanic tribes and the migration of peoples


  • Bernhard Maier : The Celts. Your story from the beginning to the present. 3rd, completely revised and expanded edition. CH Beck, Munich 2016.
  • Wolfgang Meid : The Celts. 2nd, improved edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2011.


  • Jean MacIntosh Turfa (Ed.): The Etruscan World. Routledge, London 2013.
  • Massimo Pallottino : Etruscology. Etruscan history and culture. Birkhäuser, Basel a. a. 1988.

Phoenicians / Punians

  • Dexter Hoyos: The Carthaginians. Routledge, New York et al. a. 2010.
  • Sabine Peters (Red.): Hannibal ad portas. Power and wealth of Carthage. Accompanying volume for the large special exhibition in Karlsruhe. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe 2004.
  • Michael Sommer: The Phoenicians. Merchants between Orient and Occident. Kröner, Stuttgart 2005.

Scythians, Huns and other steppe peoples

  • Christoph Baumer : The History of Central Asia. Volume 1 and 2. IB Tauris, London 2012ff.
  • Valerie Hansen: The Silk Road. A history with documents. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016.
  • Hyun Jin Kim: The Huns. Routledge, New York 2016.
  • St. John Simpson, Svetlana Pankova (Ed.): Scythians. Warriors of ancient Siberia. Thames & Hudson, London 2017.
  • Timo Stickler : The Huns. CH Beck, Munich 2007.

India and China

  • Raoul McLaughlin: Rome and the Distant East. Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China. Continnuum, London / New York 2010.
  • Walter Scheidel (Ed.): Rome and China. Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 2009.
  • Richard Stoneman: The Greek Experience of India. From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2019.


  • Dieter Flach: Roman historiography. 3rd edition, WBG, Darmstadt 2001.
  • Gabriele Marasco (Ed.): Greek and Roman Historiography in Late Antiquity. Fourth to Sixth Century AD Leiden u. a. 2003.
  • John Marincola (Ed.): A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography. 2 vols., Blackwell, Oxford 2007.
  • Klaus Meister : The Greek historiography. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1990.

Military history

History of religion

  • Klaus Bringmann: History of the Jews in Antiquity. From the Babylonian exile to the Arab conquest. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2005.
  • Werner Dahlheim: The world at the time of Jesus. CH Beck, Munich 2013.
  • Hartmut Leppin: The early Christians. From the beginning to Constantine. CH Beck, Munich 2019.
  • Jörg Rüpke : Pantheon. History of the ancient religions. CH Beck, Munich 2016.

Voyages of discovery

  • Raimund Schulz: Adventurers from afar. The great voyages of discovery and the world knowledge of antiquity. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-608-94846-2 .

Economic history

  • Géza Alföldy: Roman social history. 4th, completely revised and updated edition. Steiner, Stuttgart 2011.
  • Sitta von Reden : Ancient Economy (= Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Antiquity. Volume 10). de Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-486-85262-2 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Antiquity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Michael Rostovtzeff even expressed the assumption that the Hellenistic world was almost on the threshold of industrialization before the dominance of Rome - cf. A Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (1941).
  2. See in detail Klaus-Peter Johne (Ed.): The time of the soldiers' emperors. 2 volumes. Berlin 2008.
  3. See Hermann Strasburger : A look around the rubble field of Greek historiography. In: Historiographia antiqua. Festschrift for Willy Peremans, Leuven 1977, pp. 3–52.
  4. "Despite all these recent works, however, the classical works on Greek history by BELOCH, BUSOLT and MEYER [...] have lost none of their meaning and should always be used for serious work ..." ( Wolfgang Schuller : Greek History. Munich 2002, p. 62). See also Mortimer Chambers: Georg Busolt: his career in his letters. Leiden 1990, p. VII; Donald Kagan : The outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Ithaca / NY 1969, p. VII.
  5. An overview of recent research on late antiquity, for example in Philip Rousseau (ed.): A Companion to Late Antiquity . Malden (Massachusetts) et al. a. 2009.