The Sculptures in Ancient World

The ancient sculptures were works from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, and Greece, given that history associates these countries as the origin of their most famous sculptures.

Sculpture is a type of art only that it is three-dimensional and one of the oldest art forms. History records that the practice of carvings or modeling dates back to ancient times as the sculptures were used as either religious or political symbols. A Sculptor would either use stone, wood, clay, or ceramic to make these three-dimensional art pieces. However, evidence shows that stone sculptures were more durable than the ones made from any other material. The most available ancient sculptures found today were made of stone. Venus of Willendorf is an example of ancient sculptures that archeologists assume to be over 25,000 years old. The ancient sculptures were works from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, and Greece, given that history associates these countries as the origin of their most famous sculptures. The paragraphs below provide an in-depth analysis of ancient sculptures from these regions and their purpose.

The Purposes of Ancient Sculptures

The art of carving was first used for hunting during the period when man was a hunter. Rock carvings were the predecessor of sculpture in which most of the three-dimension cavings and modeling borrowed their techniques. Evidence shows that humans domesticated dogs for hunting, and the carvings were their hunting plans (Fleur, 2017). It is this dog-human relationship that led to the modern domestication of dogs as pets. 

However, evolution and the start of civilization changed the purpose of these sculptures. One of the most significant usages of sculptures in the ancient era was its association with cult or religion. Sculptures became the earliest form of art even before painting, reading, and writing, and people would have them in their places of worship to deliver the message of good and evil. One particular example is the Statue of Zeus at Olympia in Ancient Greek that served to remind its citizens of the gods (Cartwright, 2018). The Egyptians also used these sculptures for a similar purpose. However, their usage of these sculptures in religion differed as they used symbols to represent their gods in the temples. For instance, Horus was represented by the head of a hawk, Anubis with a jackal, and Sebek, with a crocodile. 

Another purpose was as a symbol of honor primarily used by powerful rulers. It was common for ancient rulers to have statues made of their likeness placed in their kingdoms. Such a practice was evident mainly in Egypt, where the Pharaohs would have their statues to show their strength compared to the ordinary Egyptians (Price, 2021). Mesopotamia also used sculptures for the same purpose through Gudea's portrait, a Mesopotamian ruler from 2144 to 2124 BCE. Greeks and Romans also had the same practice, which also extended to having their portraits on coins.

Sculptures in Ancient Mesopotamia 

Sculptures in Mesopotamia (10 BCE) mainly were for religious and political purposes. Most of the common materials, tools, and techniques used included terra cotta, metal, clay, stones, bronze, and copper carved in the relief or round form (Radi, 2021). The scripture evolved according to periods. The Uruk period's (4000-3100 BCE) sculptures predominately reflected religion and spirituality for offering purposes. The latter years of the period also depicted the evolvement of the sculpture of a human body with lifelike sculptures. The Early Dynastic Period marked the beginning of more sculptures that showed brutality and aggression of war with the Victory Stele of Naram Sin in the Akkadian Empire (2271-2154 BCE), providing the best example. 

Sculptures in Ancient Egypt

It is common among historians, scholars, and archeologists that sculpture cavings and modelling began in ancient Egypt around 32 BCE. The Egyptians mostly made their sculptures out of baked soil along the banks of the River Nile and imported materials. Some of these materials included ebony, iron, ivory, gold, and silver. It is believed that their use of these materials was borrowed for the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom. Most Egyptian sculptures utilized the sunken relief method or technique where the sculpted figures remained attached to one background. The style is evident in the Narmer Palette from Dynasty I. There is also evidence of bas-relief (figures slightly project), outline-relief (a sculptor only chisels the outline of a figure), and high-relief (elements of the sculpture project particular distance from the background). Egyptians utilize the bas-relief for all wall sculptures. On the other hand, the sunken and the outline relief were used in the New Empire. High-relief was used occasionally in the Tombs of the Pharaohs. 

Another convention evident in the ancient Egyptian sculptures is making the statues darker than those of females most characterized in Dynasty II before 2,780 BCE. The Egyptian Pharaoh's tombs craving is believed to have occurred in Dynasty XII and Dynasty IV (2680–2565 BCE). Egyptians believed in life after death and modeled small cavings and sculptures of boats, slaves, animals, and buildings for the deceased to continue their life in the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians are known and famous for creating the pyramids, the tombs, and the Great Sphinx, which dates back to around 2,500 BC. History reveals that Egypt's conventions, styles, and materials changed from the Ancient Empire to the New Empire. However, the subject matter and themes like war honor to the gods, and conquest remained constant. 

Sculptures in Ancient Greek 

The Sculpture of ancient Greece took its inspiration from Egyptian sculptural styles and techniques. Historians usually categorize the Sculpture of Ancient Greece into three distinct periods, all of which occurred between 800 to 300 BCE. The first one is the Archaic period (800-480 BCE), the developmental stage of Greek Sculptures. In this period, Sculptors experimented on nude figures looking like Egyptian figures (Cartwright, 2018). However, in the second period, the Classical period (480- 323BCE), the sculptures had progressed as they were more inclined to realism while capturing human beauty (Gunther and Bagna-Dulyachinda, 2020). Sculptors were able to make real-life figures as they had achieved the state of realism in three-dimensional art. The Hellenistic period (323-146 BCE) focused on expressing the young people's strength and energy (Cartwright, 2018). The sculptures sought to present the true nature of ideal youth.  In essence, the Greek's focused on capturing human nature and beauty in their scriptures by being realistic, an aspect unique from other forms of ancient sculptures. 

Egyptian sculptures, especially the kouroi - nude male and kore - clothed female, influenced the ancient Greek statues. However, these two figures did not provide any human expression, yet they represented males and females. It is one of the reasons that the Greeks sought to improve these sculptures to include more details that sharply resembled human beings. Some of the evolutionary changes to these figures had enhancement on the buttocks and shoulders of the nude male (Cartwright, 2018). In contrast, the female figure was sculptured to include clothing that replicated real-life attire. By 500BCE, sculptors already were adopting the change or shifting to realism. 

The tools and materials used attributed to ancient Greek sculptures from abstract to realism capture humans' beauty and essence. The early sculptor used bronze and limestone for their works. These two had disadvantages, so stone became the preferred material due to its workability as the sculptures were mainly painted (Cartwright, 2018). Stone and iron tools made it possible for sculptors to work on the material from all sides and angles. The sculptor would then use various tools like five-claw and flat chisels and hand drills to make more refined details of the figure. The figure was then painted, and bronze made additional elements like swords, jewelry, helmet, and spears. The work progression, the materials, and tools attributed to the advancement of ancient sculptures to realism. 

Ancient Roman Sculpture

The Romans adopted the Greek sculptures as there were art schools for copying the original Greek pieces. They perfected the Classical Greek Sculpture with a greater emphasis on realism by applying artistic styles from the East, like the Bronze and terracotta works (Cartwright, 2013). Most of these sculptures were made of bronze and marble though historical evidence shows that the Romans used precious metals, terracotta, and glass. 

The Roman sculptures differed from the Greek sculptures first by the depiction of military victories. Unlike the Greeks' sculptures that used metaphors and mythology in military victories, the Romans made architectural sculptures like triumphal arches and a portrayal of real people like the Arch of Constantine in Rome (c. 315 CE) to inspire their troops into war with the mindset of coming home victorious (Cartwright, 2013). Also, the Roman sculptures provided the public with varieties and a change of taste. And its market was divided into two distinct groups; the aristocratic ruling class, whose preference was on the classical and idealistic pieces, while the middle class was more inclined to choosing naturalist and emotional products like the sculptures. These differences showed how Roman sculptures came to be more superior to the rest of the ancient sculptures. 

An analysis of the ancient sculptures revealed that no particular Mesopotamia was the original sculptures. Egypt adopted some of the ideas but developed its unique style, especially the tomb and pyramid sculptures. The Greeks also adopted roman sculpture. The relationships of these pairs of ancient sculptures reveal that an original idea can be manipulated or modified to provide a much-refined outcome. However, what stand to be similar among these sculptures is the materials they utilize. The use of clay, stones, and bronze is standard, but the realism aspect is superior in Roman sculptures. 


Cartwright, M. (2013). Roman Sculpture. World History Encyclopedia.

Cartwright, M. (2018). Ancient Greek Sculpture. World History Encyclopedia.

Fleur, N. S. (2017). Rock carvings of ancient dogs getting taught new tricks. The Seattle Times.

Gunther, Y. H., & Bagna-Dulyachinda, S. (2020). From Realism to Idealism: Ancient Greek Sculpture in the Classical Period. Literature & Aesthetics, 29(2).

Price, C. (2021). How Accessible Were Statues in Pharaonic Egypt?. In Public Statues Across Time and Cultures (pp. 32-55). Routledge.

Radi, A. M. (2021). The Influence of Sculpture in the Land of Mesopotamia on the Art of Iran. Al Malweah for Archaeological and Historical studies, 8(24).