Sculpture in the Ancient World

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: History of Sculpture: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque & Rococo

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Earliest Sculpture
  • 0:50 Egyptian Sculpture
  • 2:03 Mesopotamian Sculpture
  • 3:08 Greek Sculpture
  • 4:53 Roman Sculpture
  • 5:42 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore sculpture in the ancient world. We will learn about sculptural trends and great works of sculpture in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.

Earliest Sculpture

Hey! My name is Rocky. What? You've never seen a talking statue before? Well, get used to me. I'm going to take you on a little tour of sculpture in the ancient world. We'll look at sculptural trends and great works of sculpture in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.

First, though, we need to define sculpture. It's really just three-dimensional art. Some of it is sculpture in the round, which is free-standing sculpture. Other sculptures are in relief, which means that they stand out from a base surface - kind of like a 3D picture.

Sculpture is probably the world's oldest form of art. People have been carving little figures in stone since the stone ages. In fact, the oldest-known sculpture is called Venus of Willendorf, and it's over 25,000 years old. Now that's one ancient sculpture!

Egyptian Sculpture

Sculpture really started to take off in ancient Egypt. Remember all those Egyptian pyramids? They were tombs for the pharaohs, and they were filled with sculptures of all kinds. Relief sculptures decorated the tombs' walls, and Egyptian sculptors had a knack for showing figures partly in profile. Their bodies face front, their legs and arms are in profile, and their faces are in profile all except for their eyes, which look straight forward.

These relief sculptures were joined by life-sized sculptures of the pharaoh and his family that were carved out of limestone, alabaster, slate, or gold. They were accompanied by statues of nobles and gods, as well as hundreds of small clay statues of animals and of common people performing the actions of daily life, like kneading bread, taking care of cattle, sailing, or working as scribes. These life-like little images were meant to symbolically serve the dead in the afterlife.

Along with sculptures in the pyramids, Egyptians are famous for creating the fantastic Sphinx, a mythical blend of human and lion, which watches over the giant pyramids at Giza.

Mesopotamian Sculpture

Okay, let's move on. We've got a lot of ground to cover. Our next stop is Mesopotamia, which was comprised of cultures like the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. These societies were not as stable as the Egyptian society, and they didn't have access to the massive stones that the Egyptians did. But they still created sculptures.

Early on, sculptures were probably used in funeral rites or religious worship, for they portrayed priests, gods, and worshipers. These funny little statues were cone-shaped and had little heads with big noses and eyes. Some Mesopotamian statues have been found that depict real and mythical animals in gold and bronze. Others are reliefs of battles, banquets, hunts, great adventures, and religious rites. Still others are fanciful depictions of rulers and priests, often with long beards, which symbolized power in that society. Carved out of diorite, a very hard stone, these statues probably served as representatives or deputies before the gods.

Greek Sculpture

As interesting and creative as sculpture was in Egypt and Mesopotamia, this art form reached its height in Greece. Art historians usually divide Greek sculptural achievements into three periods: the Archaic (about 600-480 BCE), the Classical (about 480-323 BCE), and the Hellenistic (323-146 BCE). Let's take a quick look at each of these.

In the Archaic period, Greek sculpture was just developing, and sculptors were experimenting with the nude male figure called the Kouros and the lightly draped female figure called the Kore. These figures were still pretty stiff looking, kind of like Egyptian statues.

In the Classical period, however, Greek sculptors made some incredible progress in realism. Artists tried to capture the beauty of the human body through life-like figures with regular proportions and normal, nicely balanced poses. Their faces are expressive, and they often look like they had just taken a break from their movements and could come to life at any moment. All ages and classes could be and were depicted in sculpture, and artists attempted to make each statue as realistic as possible, even showing the hobbling of an old woman.

The Hellenistic period focused primarily on the ideal of youth, and sculptors tried to capture young people in all their strength and vigor.

Even though Greeks tended to focus on sculpting the human body in stone, especially marble, or bronze, they also created sculptural reliefs, architectural sculpture, portrait busts, grave memorials, and stone objects like perirrhanteria, which were basins supported by female statues.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account