History of the World in Objects and Art

20 000BC      
1200BC 800 1455 1820
700BC 1070 1500 1840
350BC 1205 1530 1868
200BC 1260 1600 1890
100BC 1290 1685 1910
30 1350 1755 1920
600 1400 1800 1950
History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

After the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century ce, many Germanic invaders, groups who had lived in Europe beyond the borders of the Empire, set up kingdoms across its former territory. These Germanic peoples had a distinctive culture and artistic tradition. Initially pagan, they gradually converted to Christianity.
The last Roman soldiers left England in 410 ce. After their departure, war-bands who crossed the North Sea from present-day Germany, Frisia, and Jutland pushed the Celtic kingdoms back towards the western and northern fringes of England and into Wales. The barbarian raiders—Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, collectively known as Anglo-Saxons—established kingdoms. These groups controlled much of England by the mid-7th century. The Anglo-Saxons brought a Germanic language, the distant ancestor of modern English, which displaced Latin, and followed their own pagan religion instead of the Christianity of the Roman Empire. Gradually, four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms absorbed the rest. As their rulers consolidated power, their courts developed the rudiments of a royal administration, issuing law-codes and charters.

In 597, the king of Kent converted to Christianity and, as the religion spread across the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, artists produced fine illuminated manuscripts, especially Gospels and other devotional objects.

In other parts of the former Roman Empire in the west, new groups filled the political void, but retained much of Roman culture. Germanic peoples such as the Eranks (in modern France and Belgium), the Visigoths (in Spain), and the Ostrogoths and Lombards (in Italy), set up kingdoms. In these areas the influence of Roman culture meant that cities were not abandoned and the invaders began to speak a variant of Latin rather than imposing their own language.

The Vikings were raiders from Scandinavia who terrorized the coastlines of northwestern Europe for three centuries, starting around 790. They attacked monasteries and exacted tributes, eventually seizing and setting up kingdoms of their own. The Vikings traded too, and explored the North Atlantic as far as Canada. They also produced art and literature of astounding beauty and power.
Exactly why the Vikings erupted with such ferocity from modern Denmark, Sweden, and Norway is unclear. The tyranny of newly powerful kings, such as Harald Finehair of Norway (c.870-933), could have prompted young men to become raiders. Technical developments in shipbuilding and problems of overpopulation might also have played a part.

The Vikings sailed in sleek longships that could land in harbors without the need for beaches, and allowed them to penetrate far inland up rivers. They used longships in 793 to raid the monastery of Lindisfarne in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Within a few years, the Vikings were raiding Scotland, Ireland, and France. Attacking with only a few ships at the start, the Vikings mustered bigger armies by the middle of the 9th century. These forces conquered much of Anglo-Saxon England and threatened to do the same to France for a time.

Adept sailors, the Vikings used the seaways as conduits for raids, exploration, and trade. Using the Faroe islands and Orkney and Shetland in Scotland as jumping-off points to explore the North Atlantic, they set up colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and even Newfoundland. They reached North America around 1000, almost five centuries before the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. To the east, the Vikings traveled down the great rivers of Ukraine and Russia, establishing trading outposts and attacking the Byzantine capital, Constantinople.


The Vikings were at first pagan, worshipping a pantheon of gods headed by Odin, the all-father. This one-eyed god sacrificed his sight in exchange for knowledge of runes— the ancient Viking script. Thor was popular among young men. The sound of his hammer—Mjolnir— striking home was said to be the cause of thunder. His T-shaped amulets adorned the necks of Viking warriors as they fought in the hope of a glorious mention in a saga or a seat in the afterlife at Odin's heavenly hall of Ragnarok.

Most of the surviving sagas are from Iceland. Evoking a world where a person's honor was all, they are one of the glories of medieval literature. They also describe how Viking society was organized and how the laws were implemented. Viking warriors lived in systems of surprising complexity, which gave rise to institutions such as the Althing in Iceland, the world's oldest parliament, founded in 930.


Living largely in isolated farmsteads, with very few towns until the later Middle Ages, the Vikings were a largely agricultural people. They depended on pastoral farming in large parts of Scandinavia and Iceland. The Vikings also developed sophisticated artistic styles, often portraying snakes, or "gripping beasts," intertwined in complex patterns. Around 1000, the Viking lands became Christian. Churches were built and artists produced beautiful crucifixes and illuminated manuscripts. Scandinavian kings grew more powerful too, and they began to unite what would become the kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. By the middle of the 11th century, this increase in royal authority led to the cessation of the raids. The Viking Age was over.


The Huns in Italy


The Founding of the Abbey of Monte Cassino

The Byzantine Empire was the eastern part of the Roman Empire, which survived after the western provinces fell to Germanic barbarians in the 5th century. It endured for over a thousand years, weathering many invasions and producing beautiful art, until it finally fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
In 330, Constantine the Great, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium, where he founded Constantinople. As Rome withered, Constantinople became the center of a new Christian culture, which drew heavily on classical Greek and Roman precedent. After 451, Byzantine Christianity split from its western counterpart, giving rise to the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy.

After a resurgence in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I, who reorganized the laws and reconquered some of the western provinces, the Byzantine Empire was shorn of most of its African and Middle Eastern lands by invading Arab Muslim armies. It almost lost the Balkans to invading Slavs.

The empire reinvented itself to meet these challenges, replacing Roman-style legions with levies raised from large landowners and the judicious use of mercenaries. It was weakened by the advances of the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia from the 11th century, and crusaders who seized Constantinople in 1204 and held it for more than
50 years. The Byzantine Empire was finally destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.


The Byzantines produced several imposing buildings, such as the great domed cathedral of Hagia Sophia, constructed under Justinian I. They also produced beautiful religious icons, mosaics, frescoes, and jewelry. Even after Constantinople's fall, the city's artistic and religious tradition exerted a profound influence on the Balkans and Russia.

The Restoration of the Roman Empire

The Restoration of the Roman Empire
Theodora had a beautiful face and was in every way a graceful woman; not very tall and with a rather pale complexion, and when she looked at you her eyes were feral and penetrating. Were I to narrate her many adventures on and behind the stage, my story would never come to an end.

Procopius, Anecdota, sixth century AD

Theodora's father was a bear-keeper at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, where the Roman crowd went to enjoy the spectacles of chariot and horse racing, circus performances and gladiatorial combats. Growing up among jugglers and gladiators, Theodora ran with a dubious crowd. When she was a girl she stood out among the capital's actresses, dancers and hetaerae (female companions and courtesans) for her wit, her charm, her beauty and her shamelessness. The Byzantine historian Procopius said of her: "She bared her body front and back, inviting men to look at charms that are supposed to remain unseen, and became an expert in the techniques of exciting lust so as to hold worldly men in her thrall." Among her admirers were judges, scholars and statesmen — and a young Senator named Justinian. Roman law forbade the marriage of a Senator to an actress, but the ardent aristocrat persuaded the Emperor Julian to revoke the law so that he could marry her. Justinian's mother is said to have died of grief.

Justinian became ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire in AD 527 and the one-time courtesan became an empress, reigning jointly with her husband. We hear that priests who did not bend to her will were persecuted and that she had a secret police which spied on and tortured the thousands of people whom she considered her enemies. Her ladies-in-waiting, with whom she is depicted in a mosaic in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna, which was then a Byzantine outpost in Italy, are all supposed to have been former courtesans. In the same church, Emperor Justinian is portrayed with his attendants in another mosaic on a wall directly opposite Theodora. The two rulers were to be seen analogously to Christ and the Virgin, symbolizing the union of earthly and spiritual authority and "divine kingship".

Procopius seems to have taken a leering delight in writing Anecdota, an historical expose about an Emperor and Empress, whom he held in contempt. But others considered Theodora to be generous, compassionate towards the poor and a devout Christian. Together with the Emperor she had churches and monasteries built, most importantly Hagia Sophia (The Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople), 532—37, which remains the most important achievement of Byzantine architecture. Contemporary historians are kindly disposed towards Theodora. They admire her unusual erudition and intelligence and credit her with doing much to strengthen the will of her indecisive husband and inspiring him in the work of defending the Empire.