The Classical Period was an era in Ancient Greece from 480-323 BCE that followed the Archaic Period.[1]

During the Classical Period, two massive wars involving the poleis of Greece occurred, which inevitably led to the fall of the Greek civilization to King Philip II of Macedonia in 338 BCE. The Persian War was fought between the joined forces of Athenians and Spartans, and the Persians. The Persians were defeated in 479 BCE, and retreated back to Asia Minor. The other was was the Peloponnesian War, fought between the two incredibly powerful rival poleis, Athens and Sparta. Several disputes and battles occurred until the mighty Athenian navy was crushed by the highly skilled Spartan hoplite infantrymen. The Classical Period ended when Alexander the Great, King Philip's son, died after he conquered land from Rome all the way to the northern edge of India in 323 BCE.[2]

The art of the Classical Period featured both pottery and sculptures, both of which drastically changed from what they were during the Archaic Period. The humans, and focuses of the art in pottery remained the color of clay while the background and insignificant details were black, which is basically the opposite of Archaic pottery. Classical sculpture was no longer rigid and idealistic, but leaning toward realism. The weight distribution in human sculptures varied, so some sculptures appeared to lean to one side, a common pose for a human.[3]

Classical Art of the Metropolitan MuseumEdit

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Classical Period Marble statue of Herakles seated on a rock, 400-300 BCE

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Classical Period Terracotta thymiaterion (incense burner), 400-325 BCE

The photograph directly on the right is of a sculpture from the Classical Period of Herakles. It was crafted between 400-300 BCE. Originally, the sculpture had legs that stuck out past the rock, and arms. However, those body parts are unnecessary to determine whether this art form is Classical. Herakles' torso is twisted, which is a sign of the use of contrapposto, unequal distribution of weight in the hips. This is also present in his shoulders. Contrapposto is one of the most defining features of Classical sculpture. Additionally, though Herakles muscles are clearly displayed in his chest and abdomen, the sculptor added smaller details of realism, like the rolls of fat on his belly. Though Herakles had a lot of muscles, he had flaws, which is a prime example of the "aesthetic idealism" of the Classical Period in art. Little details like rolls of fat added realism to art forms.[4]

The bottommost photograph on the right is of a terracotta thymiaterion, or incense burner, from the Classical Period. It was crafted between 400-325 BCE. This incense burner is a prime example of Classical pottery. Classical pottery had humans and the focus of each art form remain the color of clay to stand out from the black background. This is the antithesis of what Archaic Art is. The woman in the incense burner is the color of clay, and like Herakles, her facial features are defined as well. This includes wrinkles, eyebrows, and blemishes, subtracting idealism from the artwork.

The Archaic Period was all about idealism. The Classical Period was still somewhat idealistic, but many features of realism were included in art. This transitioned to the final era in Ancient Greece, the Hellenistic Period, when the focus of art was on humanism.


  1. Gloria Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition(New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 116-117.
  2. The Civilization of the Greeks, 69-76.
  3. Gloria Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition(New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 118-122.
  4. Gloria Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition(New York: McGraw Hill, 2011), 120-121.

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