Art and Iconography in Ancient Civilizations
Photographs of ancient artifacts and stories of Greek gods, heroes, and men display the role of religion in the everyday life of ancient civilizations in several ways. The photographs show; first religion determined the quality of human lives by giving them favors. Second, religion controlled human behaviors by punishing bad people. Third, religion controlled different aspects of life including weather, marriage, and war among others. Fourth, religion impacted daily lives by protecting the ancient Greeks.
First, according to the ancient artifacts, religion controlled the lives of ancient Greeks. Figure 1 shows ancient Greeks about to offer a sacrifice as a gift to their gods. They believed that religion would make their lives better (Penn Museum, 2002). They relied on the ancient gods for divine powers. They believed that happy gods would help them. This is why ancient Greeks performed sacrifices and gave gifts to the gods. The gift could be the anticipation for future favors or thanking the gods for benefits already conferred. Figure 2 also shows how religion controlled the everyday life of the ancient Greeks. The artifact shows people offering a sacrifice at god’s altar. Ancient Greeks build temples to please their gods for better lives (Strickland, 2015). Lavish sacrifices were done at the god’s altar outside the temple. During these occasions, humans prayed for success during wars, abundant crops, and other favors.
Second, photographs of ancient artifacts show that gods and goddesses interacted regularly with humans controlling their daily behaviors. Religion could punish wrong deeds (Colette & Hemingway, 2003). For example, the sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons shows a human, Laocoon, being punished by the protector of Greeks, Athena the goddess (figure 3). Laocoon was punished for trying to interfere with the plans of the gods. The photograph shows two serpents attacking Laocoon and two other humans, his sons. This shows that religion was part of the everyday life of the ancient Greeks.
Also, the stories of Greek Gods such as Hesiod’s Theogony shows how ancient Greek gods punished humans (Strickland, 2015). For example, Hesiod’s story shows a human, Prometheus, being punished by Zeus, a god, for wrongs against the ancient gods. Zeus also released all the evils of mankind as a punishment to ancient Greeks because of Prometheus’ mistakes. This story is also displayed in the Torture of Prometheus painting (figure 4). The photograph shows a human being bound to a rock and a certain animal feeding on his liver.
Third, ancient artifacts show religion as being in charge of different aspects (Strickland, 2015). For example, the Twelve Olympians carrying their attributes in procession shows different deities worshipped by ancient Greeks for different favors (figure 5). Humans would depend on Zeus for weather and fate control, Ares for a favor during wars, and Hera for marriage intervention (Colette & Hemingway, 2003. The 12 gods controlled specific aspects in the daily lives of ancient Greeks. Fourth, the Battle between the Gods and the Titans, by Joachim Wtewael, 1600, shows religion played the role of protecting the Greeks (figure 6). The artwork shows gods and goddesses establishing themselves at a mountain and leading a war against the enemies, the Titans.
Photographs of ancient artifacts and stories of Greek gods, heroes, and men preserve important information about religion and its role in the everyday life of ancient civilizations. They are important sources of information in historical research. The artifacts show that religion determined the daily quality of human lives, controlled human behaviors by punishing bad people, controlled different aspects of life, and protected ancient Greeks.
Colette, H. & Hemingway, S. 2003. Greek Gods and Religious Practices.The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grlg/hd_grlg.htm
Penn Museum. 2002. Religion and Death-Votives and Sacrifice. Available from <https://www.penn.museum/sites/greek_world/votives.html>
Strickland, C. 2015. Ancient Art’s Relationship with Religion. The University of Alabama. Ancient Art. <https://ancientart.as.ua.edu/ancient-arts-relationship-with-religion/>
Figure 1: Source: <https://www.penn.museum/sites/greek_world/votives.html>
Figure 2: Source: <https://www.odysseyadventures.ca/articles/greektemple/greek_temple.htm>
Figure 3: Laocoon and His Sons Hagesandros, Polydoros, and Athenodoros of Rhodes, Hellenistic Greece, 1st century BCE. Source: <https://ancientart.as.ua.edu/ancient-arts-relationship-with-religion/>
Figure 4: The Torture of Prometheus, painting by Salvator Rosa (1646–1648). Source: <https://www.barberinicorsini.org/en/opera/the-torture-of-prometheus/>
Figure 5: The Twelve Olympians carrying their attributes in procession. Source: <https://brewminate.com/religion-and-art-in-ancient-greece/>
Figure 6: The Battle between the Gods and the Titans, by Joachim Wtewael, 1600. Source: <https://www.artic.edu/artworks/105466/the-battle-between-the-gods-and-the-giants>