Hellenistic Tombs Greek Main Land Term Paper

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Hellenic Tombs

One of the ways in which the art, history and architecture of ancient cultures can be understood and investigated is through what is left behind to be examined. Some of the most permanent artifacts that are available for examination are ancient tombs which have stood the test to time. From these tombs one can not only understand and form opinions of the architecture and historical context of the time, but the content of many tombs reveals a plethora of information and insight into the culture being studied. Many experts concur with this view and emphasize the archelogivla significance of ancient tombs, monuments and burial sites.

In view of the chancing conditions under which primitive people have always lived, it is not surprising that they should have left no more permanent memorials of their existence than their tombs. All else is apt to be swept away by subsequent civilization. The graves remain, and it is to them that we must first turn in Greece, is in other ancient countries.

As Murray, A.S. (1892) states, there is a wealth of data in the tombs of ancient Greece which provides us with insight into the culture and architecture of the period. For example, there is evidence of Greek pottery and vases as well as other artifacts found in primitive Greek tombs which provide access to ancient history. He also refers to the construction of ancient Greek tombs on the islands of Amorgos and Antiparos.

These graves, he says, were of irregular shape, oblong, triangular, or square, with three stone slabs forming three sides, the fourth side being built up of rubbish, while on the top was always a covering slab. On an average the graves were only three feet long, two feet wide, and seldom more than two feet deep. Most of them contained bones of more than one person. In one small grave were two skulls.

The artifacts found in these tombs as well as their architectural attributes, are also extremely important in ascertaining the level of sophistication of the society at the time. For example, Murray describes a figure found in the tombs at Amorgos.

There is in Athens a small marble figure found in one of the tombs at Amorgos, representing a person playing on the lyre. The attempt to sculpture such a subject implies a state of civilization no small measure in advance of the general contents of these tombs. We may therefore conclude that the contents of these tombs indicate both poverty and primitiveness -- a poverty in which primitive ways of vase-making and such-like were retained, when in more favoured districts a considerable advance had been achieved. Small marble figures, of varying degrees of rudeness, have been found from time to time in the Greek islands, and have constantly been associated with primitive civilization.

In discussing the tombs of ancient Greece, cognizance must be taken of the inextricable relationship between architecture and art; between sculpture as part of the architectural edifice and art for its own sake. Art and architecture are often aligned in the understanding and appreciation of ancient tombs in Greek architecture.

Ancient Greek architecture is usually seen in terms of two essential categories. The first class is comprised of "what may be called works of substantive art, statues or groups made for their own sake and to be judged by themselves."

This category includes statues if Gods and Goddesses associated with temples and shrines. The second class is comprised of sculptures, made particularly for the decoration of temples and tombs. These are intended as an addition to the architectural effect of the tombs and monuments.

This paper will attempt an overview and discussion of some of the most pertinent aspects of Hellenistic tombs. The paper will focus on their architectural significance as well as on the related architectural and historical connotation and implications of these tombs. One of the aspects that the paper will focus on will be the antecedents of Hellenic forms of architecture, their forms design and meaning.

2. Historical and architectural overview

Before the age initiated by Alexander the Great, the Greeks erected stone buildings which were exclusively for religious purposes. In this sense they were similar to the Egyptians, and Hindus. In terms of architectural design, Greek Temples and tombs usually have a simplicity and directness of form. This aspect is related to the idea of the Grecian rationalism and a more sophisticated approach to art and architecture that replaced more primitive perceptions of the world and art.

It is important to note that in terms of the development of Hellenistic architecture and art, there was a dramatic change after Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great, conquered Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and parts of India, transforming the whole into the most powerful state in the civilized world. Greek architecture suddenly became that of this rich, powerful Hellenic empire and was forced to break out of the fixed, small-scale vocabulary of forms that had been satisfactory for the Periclean temple.

These were factors that were to affect the construction and design of Hellenic tombs.

The roots of Greek culture lie mainly in the Mycenaean culture. This cultural period extended from approximately 1600 to 1100 B.C. This is a period characterized by great kings and fortified cities and palaces. It was particularly a time of "highly developed monumental art and architecture."

Mycenaeans built simple houses of a type that the Greeks continued to build long after the Bronze Age ended. And Mycenaean workshops established a tradition of painted pottery that continued without interruption, though not without great changes, into later periods. In short, much of Mycenaean culture carried over into later Greek society.

However, the Mycenaean culture was destroyed by various wars at the end of the Bronze Age, which resulted in Greece entering a "dark" period of relative impoverishment in art and architecture. Despite this, there were also signs of cultural contact with other nations during this period, especially to the East, with the incorporation of many artistic and architectural concepts. For example, it is during this period that pottery known as protogeometric or 'first geometric' appears.

This was a development that was to reflect on the precision and design of later Greek art and architecture.

During the Archaic Period (750-480 BC), there was a resurgence of monumental buildings and city states. The monumentally designed architecture was largely a result of competition between the various city states. Panhellenic religious edifices such as Delphi were constructed in the Classical Period (480-323 BC) Athens established itself as an independent empire after the Persian wars with the city-state of Sparta as a dominant force during the 5th century. This period is usually considered the culmination of the best forms of Greek art and architecture; for example, the achievement of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Parthenon in Athens.

In essence, the history of Greek architecture begins with, "the simple houses of the Dark Age and culminates in the monumental temples of the Classical period and the elaborately planned cities and sanctuaries of the Hellenistic period."

It is also important to note that the forms and range of the architecture was also largely determined by the availability of raw materials and technologies at the time. The main element used in early Greek architecture was wood and bricks and terracotta,

The principal materials of Greek architecture were wood, used for supports and roof beams; unbaked brick, used for walls, especially of private houses; limestone and marble, used for columns, walls, and upper portions of temples and other public buildings; terracotta (baked clay), used for roof tiles and architectural ornaments; and metals, especially bronze, used for some decorative details. Greek architects of the Archaic and Classical periods used these materials to develop a limited range of building types, each of which served a fixed purpose -- religious, civic, domestic, funerary, or recreational.

The main forms of funerary architecture were "circular earthen mounds covering built tombs, rectangular earthen mounds with masonry facades, and mausoleums (large independent tombs typical of the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods)."

Two major architectural styles developed in Greece by the end of the 7th century BC. These dominant styles are known as the Doric and Ionic. " The Doric order developed on the Greek mainland and in southern Italy and Sicily, while the Ionic order developed a little later than the Doric order, in Ionia and on some of the Greek islands. "

In the Late Classical and Hellenistic Architecture, the Doric style was still maintained except for certain adjustments of ground plans ands columns. The ionic style however evolved. Then Ionic was also applied to the monumental tombs of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, on the coast of Turkey. Interestingly, the architect who designed these tombs, Pytheos, was responsible for the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene.

Late Classical and Hellenic architecture was also characterized by various advances in engineering. This included the development of the circular type of building, known as the Tholos -- for example, the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at…

Sources Used in Document:


Greek Architecture . 2004. In The Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed., edited by Lagass, Paul. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dinsmoor, William Bell, William J. Anderson, and R. Phene Spiers. 1973. The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development. New York: Biblo and Tannen.

Fyfe, Theodore. 1936. Hellenistic Architecture: An Introductory Study. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, Percy. 1892. New Chapters in Greek History, Historical Results of Recent Excavations in Greece and Asia Minor. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

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