Classical Greek and Roman Sculptures: Artistic Expression Inspired by War, Politics, and Religion

Unknown artist: Nereus, Doris, a giant, Oceanus, from the Pergamon Altar (detail), 2nd century BC. Pergamonmuseum, Berlin

Art from Classical Greek to The Roman Empire reflects the dramatic and influential societies. Victory and religion influenced artistic expression.

The Temple of Athena Nike was built in the Bronze Age and represents the order of Classical Greek temples and artistic expression. The Athenians defeated their longtime enemies from Persia and enjoyed their status as victors. The temple was meant for worship of gods of victory. The Temple of Athena Nike is smaller than comparable temples and is framed by Ionic styled columns. The typical style was Doric. The Goddess is atypically wingless in a motion to sustain the Athenians role as vanquishers.

Hellenistic Period and Nike of Samothrace

The Hellenistic period followed the Bronze Age. The 8’ tall sculpture Nike of Samothrace, also known as The Winged Victory of Samothrace, was presented to the people of Rhode’s in honor of naval victory. The gift represents the importance of battle and victory and the relative pride to the Hellenistic society. The sculpture also represents amazing talent and dedication of the artists . The original sculpture made of marble depicts the goddess of victory on the prow of the ship, her garments and body against the winds. Nike of Samothrace is a valiant reminder of the hard battle fought and won.

Etruscans and the Tomb of Reliefs

Nestled in for a few centuries between the fall of Athens and the rise of Rome was the city of Etruscan. The Etruscans are known for focus on burial. They believed the spirit stayed with the body after death, very similar to the Egyptian belief.

The Tomb of the Reliefs is a well preserved monument to the otherwise buried Etruscan society. Dug deep in the ground and supported by columns, the friezes are decorated with accessories of war. The tomb is inviting, meant to comfort the deceased. It is possible this tomb was constructed for those who died in battle as the time coincides with wars against the rising Rome.

Roman Republic and Aqueducts

The Roman Republic introduced political gods in lieu of formerly religious deities. All aspects of art in the Roman Republic included the three prior civilizations of Classical Greece, Hellenistic Greece, and Etruscan culture. An amazing invention of the Roman Republic is the aqueducts which signify strides in engineering. The system of water delivery required a full time staff of hundreds for constant maintenance. Eleven aqueducts stretched across the territory, built to flow with the land, delivering one cubic meter of water per civilian. The sluices ran above large arches protected from debris by flat, marble stones.

The Roman Empire and The Arch of Constantine

The Roman Empire is the last powerful regime that enjoyed polytheism. The Arch of Constantine is a prominent attribute of the shift to Christianity. Some reports testify the Arch was dedicated to Constantine who conquered the Roman Emperor Maxentius, concluding a drawn out civil war. Other sources say Constantine ordered the Arch for himself as a symbol of his power. Regardless, the people loved Constantine as godlike.

The Arch of Constantine is a compilation of carvings from various sculptures. The compilation may have been a tribute to those before him or simply an economic decision. On the Arch, a singular god is credited. Constantine was the first Christian ruler of any society in his part of the world. Workers were hired by priests early on to maintain the arch so it is well preserved. The Arch of Constantine stands for victory in battle and the implementation of a new belief system.


  1. Benton, J. & Di Yanni, R. (2005) Arts and Culture An Introduction to the Humanities New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall
  2. History of Greece: Classical Greece (2009) Temple of Athena Nike.