The 4th Century(c. 400-330 BCE)


The art of the Fourth century (400-330 BCE) can be seen in various ways, depending on one's emphasis. In a sense it is a transitional period, with a lingering classicism in the first half and something new in the second half. Yet it also exhibits enough differences from the fifth century to signal a definite stylistic break. In this view, the 4th century and the succeeding Hellenistic period can be seen as a continuum.

In the 4th century artists worked in highly individualized styles, almost in reaction to the homogeneous Pheidian style of the 5th century. New individuality of the period also expressed in philosophy. Realism increased as artists attempted to show emotion and states of mind. The strict bonds of idealism were slowly being loosened. In the second half of the century, Lysippos made great changes in almost all aspects of the representation of mortals and gods. The 4th century, then, may be seen as a bridge between the Classic and Hellenistic styles.

Historical background

Peloponnesian War, 431-405 BCE, between Athens and Sparta. Sparta was victorious, but both city-states were crippled. Domestic strife followed at Athens under an oligarchic government set up with Spartan support. It was a period of short rule characterized by political suppression and murder. It was overthrown by democratic forces in 403.

The power vacuum created by the dissolution of the Athenian Empire was filled largely by Sparta, but the Spartan Empire proved worse than the Athenian. A Second Athenian Sea League was established in 378 to oppose Sparta. There was war from 378 until 371, when a peace was signed recognizing Athens' predominance on the sea, Sparta's supremacy on land, and the autonomy of all Greek cities. But, another power arose, Thebes, which defeated Sparta in battle and upset the balance. Alliances shifted to oppose Thebes and another war was fought, ending with the defeat of Thebes in 362.

Greece then collapsed into a general state of disarray. In this divided state, Greece fell pray to King Philip of Macedon (a semi-Hellenic monarch of northeastern Greece). Philip thoroughly defeated a Greek force in 338 BCE and imposed a unity on the bickering city-states. Philip also proclaimed a crusade against Persia to free the Greek cities of Asia Minor and to punish the Persian King for the invasions of Greece in the 5th century. However, in 336, before the expedition began, Philip was assassinated and his place was taken by his twenty-year-old son, Alexander. Alexander embarked on this campaign against Persia in 334. His exploits in the East profoundly changed history.

The 4th century, then, was a period of almost constant warfare. It was a period of general upheaval and much internal strife. This turmoil was also felt on the intellectual level. The city-states had somehow failed, and the 4th century saw the rise of cosmopolitanism and individualism. A man's primary duty was no longer to serve his city (as it had been under Perikles), he could also focus on private interests. With Philip of Macedon, arose a national monarchy with allegiance to the king rather than the state.

© Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe