Ancient Civilizations

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Ancient Civilizations
I. Egypt

A. The Nile, the longest river in the world ran through the desert

and is central to ancient Egyptian agriculture, history, economy,

religion, mythology and science.

B. Pre-dynastic Egyptians were believed to be wanderers from Asia

who settled by the Nile

1. Creation of city-states

a. Upper Kingdom and Lower Egypt

b. The King became the Pharaoh

C. Egyptian Society from nobility to slave

1. Land around the rivers and sources of water were considered

to be sacred land.

2. Priests owned the land cultivated by serfs or slaves.

3. Farmers, shepherds and swineherds were free classes.

a. All lands were taxed according to how much

they produced.


1. Priests were free of taxation. The Pharaoh

taxed the temple in order to receive revenue.

4. Egyptians developed an irrigation system, paper, pens, ink,

a writing system and a calendar and created libraries to store

their writings.

D. Dancers. King, priests, virgins and professional dancers were among

the major dancers in ancient Egypt.

1. The Pharaoh was the mediator between God and the people

and performed secret and ritual dances.

2. Priest, or a leading dancer performed magical dances. Priests

were the evolution of the shaman in early societies.

a. Complexities of rituals required codification of the correct


1. Groups of Priests trained in dance and drama trained

the next generation.

3. Female Temple Dancers

a. Women had four professions from which to select

1. Priesthood


2. Midwifery

3. Mourning

4. Dancing

a. Groups of female virgins were trained

to perform in ceremonies led by the

priests. The virgins were taught by

women and performed naked with only

flower decorations.

4. Upper class people performed dance in the temple as part of

religious worship but not for entertainment.

a. Professional dancers and musicians provided entertainment

for the upper class.

5. Lower class Egypt participated in pantomime and comic dances

linked to harvest and other calendric events including the rise and

fall of the Nile.

a. Harvest festivals included popular dancing with people

carrying canes and sticks and striking them together.

6. Trained dancers first appeared at religious festivals, then at

banquets and festivals.


a. Male and female performers were trained as musicians,

singers, dancers and acrobats by dance masters.

7. Dwarf dancers. Pygmies from Lybia were brought to Egypt

during the fourth dynasty to dance for the Pharaohs and it

was considered to be good luck for all in attendance.

a. The Pygmies performed grotesque dances

mimicking clumsy movement which were

later a part of funeral ritual dances.

8. Egyptian religion and dance. Dance was the main means of

expression in religious services and mysteries and doctrines

were communicated through symbolic dance-dramas.

a. The most significant dance was about the Nile and

was a fertility dance.

b. It is assumed there were animal dances but there is no

evidence of this.

1. There is pictorial evidence of a dance about wind.

9. Funeral Dances.

a. Ritual dances were performed by men and women

clapping their hands together rhythmically.


b. Postures and gestures that expressed grief.

1. In later dynasties, professional dancers

were hired instead of friends and family

of the deceased.

c. Secular dances. Men and women performed the favorite

dances of the deceased nobleman.

10. Dance as Entertainment

a. As Egyptian society became more complex, dance

developed to include dance as entertainment beyond

dance for religious rites.

1. Servants, slaves, Pygmies and trained dancers


a. The influence of the slaves brought from

other countries changed the dance style

from linear to more flowing and closed.

b. Solo and group dances were performed.

1. The King performed the Sun dance.

2. Priest appointed by the King also performed

solos or led religious dances.


3. The King or an appointed soloist danced at the

harvest festival.

c. Group dances

1. Competition dances.

2. War dances performed in a circle.

d. Pair dancing

1. Two dancers of the same gender performed

pair dances as entertainment.

a. Evidence of this as early as the sixth


b. Fifth dynasty dances had symmetrical

and dynamic movements and expressed

emotions of longing and depression.

e. Circle dances

1. As in prehistoric times, circle dances symbolized

astronomical themes or fertility.

2. Pairs or ranks of dancers formed two or three


f. Line, procession or serpentine dances.


1. Lines and similar formations were used for religious,

funeral and entertainment purposes with the musical

accompaniment of harps and pipes and hand clapping.

g. Dance movements ranged from processional walking to

acrobatics and gymnastics. There were also hand gestural

dances of the stars and mimetic dances.

h. Accompaniment

1. Music was believed to be a spiritual element by the

priests and was not as developed as the other arts.

a. Egyptian music used seven tones

1. Instruments were the harp, the lyre,

guitar, pipes and tambourine.

2. Songs were also sung.

a. The oldest preserved record is in 4/4 time

with a dancer trainer shouting, “ha, ha ha,


3. Tempos ranged from slow to lively.

i. Costumes and adornment remained unchanged until


Greece and Rome conquered Egypt in the first century


1. Simple for slaves and extravagant for Kings

and royalty.

a. Dancers seldom wore ordinary clothing

for dances.

1. Kilts and aprons were worn by both

men and women to allow freedom of


b. Women’s hair was braided and under a cap

with the braids hanging down to the side. Men

were clean shaven and later wore wigs and

false beards for dances and ceremonies.

c. Henna and kohl were used on hands and eye

and both men and women painted their bodies

as adornment.

II. Ancient Crete- 3000-1400 B.C. The island of Crete and Egypt had their high

points at about the same time. The Cretan people are thought to have migrated

from Asia minor.


A. The Cretans took slaves from the city-state of Athens.

1. Highly-sophisticated culture that was rich in the arts.

2. The people were tall and athletic and lived in harmony

with the sea.

3. Archeological digs from 1900 A.D. uncovered the remains

of the civilization.

a. Collapse of Athens might have been from an earthquake

or a volcanic eruption.

B. Early Crete

1. Clans or “genos” engaged in agriculture and commerce.

2. Dance was part of everyday life and society.

a. Men performed armed dances and funeral dances.

b. Women danced in religious and ritualistic ceremonies.

c. Both men and women performed bull dances.

1. Central to Cretan mythology was the legend of

the Minotaur which a creature that is half man

and half bull who ate humans.

3. Dance themes in Crete included military training, healing,

religious rituals and entertainment.


a. Military dances were for training.

b. Medicine men performed harvest and fertility

dances with high leaps and shouting to frighten

evil spirits away.

c. There is historical evidence of women performing

skirt dances and dances of snake handling and bull


1. Bull dancing served both as a religious rite

and entertainment. Bull dancers or athletes

performed acrobatic movements over the back

of a bull. Male and female performers grabbed

the bull’s horns and somersaulted over its back.

Training for bull dancing took about three years and

was life-threatening.

III. Ancient Greece

A. Crete was a stepping stone between Egypt and Greece and each

civilization borrowed from the other around the Mediterranean Sea.


B. Greece is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean and the

Aegean Seas. The northern border of Greece connect to both Europe

and Asia.

C. Early Greeks were nomadic farmers.

1. Communities were ruled by elders, then city-states but

not united.

2. Athens and Sparta were the largest and they only united

to fight against stronger groups who threatened them.

3. Although not united, the city-states shared religion, language,

customs, literature and the Olympic games.

4. The periods in Greek history follow the standard of historical

references of periods for civilizations.

a. The Dark Ages

b. Archaic period

c. Classical period

d. Hellenistic period

1. Rome conquered Greece

5. During the Classical period, Athens, Greece experienced a vast


wave of immigration and the arts flourished. This is called the

Golden Age of Greece.

a. There was an artificial, ideal form of beauty.

6. Greeks believe man to be a combination of mind and body.

a. A person was considered educated if he could dance.

b. A person’s moral character was defined by the dances


1. Dances were not what would be considered

to be dances today.

a. Ordered form, integrated with music and

poetry as part of rituals, religion and social


c. Dionysian cults. Dionysus or Bacchus, was the god of

fertility and wine.

1. Men of the cult were known as satyrs and women

as maenads.

2. Dancers entered an altered state called “enthousiasmos” and the wild, crazed dances were

called “oreibasia.”


D. Professional dancers were hired for funerals and feasts.

1. Usually slaves, freeman or foreigners

a. nude acrobatics

b. animal dances

c. burlesque

d. Fourth century- professional female dancers wore helmets,

shields and carried spears while performing graceful warlike


E. Dance was performed for every occasion in Greece.

1. Music scores written for dances with varying tempo and mood.

2. Names of dances

a. scattering the barley

b. knocking at the door

c. the itch

3. Orcheisthai means to dance but is broader than the translation

to English. Greek dance was inseparable from music and poetry.

a. Terpsichore means “join in the dance.”

4. Plato classified movement into two categories.

a. noble was movement of beautiful bodies


b. ignoble meant distorted movement

c. Diexis was pure dance in which the male dancer portrayed

the essence of the human character or an animal or natural

element such as fire or wind.

5. Ancient Greeks believed a man’s grace in dance equaled his

prowess in battle.

a. Greeks celebrated life-span and calendric events. These

religious activities later transformed into a theatrical art.

6. Armed dances were part of a young man’s education in Greece.

In Sparta, women had military training and performed some of the

Men’s military dances to increase strength and endurance for child


7. Military dance figures and steps

a. Formations included circles, diagonals, squares and groups

accompanied by a flute.

b. Pantomime of the skills used in battle.

8. Weapon and war dances

a. Pyrrhic was a form of weapon dance which boys in Sparta

began training at the age of five.


b. Originally dedicated to Apollo, the dance began

with hymns of praise.

c. A choragus was a person who sponsored training

for competition pyrrhic dances.

9. Animal dances

a. Young men and women performed these dances wearing

masks and costumes.

b. Most important animal dances were bull and cow dances

which began as solemn rituals and evolved into entertainment

and were sometimes part of comedies.

c. Wedding celebrations.

1. In Athens, the bride and groom rode in a cart and the

guests danced behind them.

2. In Sparta, women had more equality than men and

more freedom than Athens women. In Sparta, the

bride and groom danced together.

d. Funeral dances.

1. The priest led the procession of friends and family

to the tomb of the deceased. Hired mourners gestured


grief. Family was permitted to participate in the dance.

The ,more participation, the greater the show of

strength for the deceased.

e. Religious and cult dances.

1. Priests were both men and women.

a. Ancient worship included prayer, sacrifice,

prophecy, dreams, ecstasy and dance.

10. Dance in Greek Theater

a. Dance changed from festival to spectacle.

1. The chorus and the audience separated.

b. Dionysian feasts honoring the earth, fertility and vegetation

moved from the temple to outdoors in spaces which evolved

into theaters.

c. Drama was created by a priest of Dionysus named Thespis

who was a dancer and singer and added dialogue to the dance while wearing a goat’s mask.

1. Tragedy came into being

a. Tragedy translates to “goat’s song.”

11. Theater started in a field and then was performed in a hut.


a. Athens had a population of 30,000 and the theater

seated 15,000.

b. Dionysian festivals included four days for tragedy

and three days for comic plays.

c. In the transformation to the theater, a circular part of

of the path of oxen walking around a post became

the orchestra where the chorus performed.

12. Playwrights and poets originally set the dances for their own

plays and in the seventh century B.C. Arion of Lesbos taught

the chorus steps and gestures.

a. The choragus was a rich man who financed the play

and trained the chorus.

1. A volunteer acted as assistant to the playwright

a. The assistant hired a dance instructor.

b. Plays were eleven months in rehearsal.

c. Before the play was performed, the choragus and

made a sacrifice to Dionysus so the play would be



d. Only men were allowed to performed and played both

parts of men and women.

1. Dancers were paid in food and costume.

e. By the second century, in tragedy, the chorus sang\

but did not dance.

13. Theatrical dances included

a. Serious noble dances with the

chorus marching and staying on stage during all of play and then marching out in a procession.

b. In comedies, actors spoke directly to the audience

and the chorus consisted of fewer people with light

lively steps. By Roman times, some of the dances

had changed to lewd and suggestive dances with

hip rolls and suggestive gestures.

14. Performers’ Unions

a. The first union for professional poets, actors, trainers,

chorus members and musician was called the Artists

of Dionysus.

1. The union specified that their members could


travel through foreign or hostile states unharmed

to give performances and were exempt from

compulsive military service and taxes.

2. The Artists traveled toured the classical plays

around the Mediterranean area spreading Greek


15. Accompaniment

a. At the beginning of a play competition, a trumpet was


1. A herald announced as each tribe entered.

2. A flute player walked in with the chorus.

3. The dancers formed a circle around the alter and


16. Dancers’ costumes were less elaborate than actors’

a. Since all of the dancers were men, they wore masks

and enhanced breasts and rears.

b. The choragus rented the costumes for the performance.

17. Three forms of plays evolved

a. tragedy, comedy and satyr


b. Tragedies were the most important of the plays.

1. No more than three actors were in each

play and they often played multiple roles.

2. Actors used symbolic gestures and struck

poses that went with the songs being sung.

3. Comedies and satyrs were parodies of the

tragedies and the provided comic relief.

18. In the early part of the 20th century, there was a resurgent

interest in Greek antiquity and its dance and performers

like Isadora Duncan used this as their inspiration.

19. During the Hellenistic period of Greek, they brought their

culture to the Italian peninsula which provided much of the

foundation for the development of Roman dance.

IV. Rome and the Roman Empire

A. The Italian peninsula, west of Greece was a climate and location

which provided a strong agricultural society.

B. Romans amalgamated the strengths of many cultures to create a

ruling power that reigned for more than a thousand years until its

collapse at the end of the ancient time period.


C. Rome was a Republic that conquered most of the area surrounding the

land mass and eventually took all of Greece under its power. Rome

continued to expand during years of internal revolution and dominated

Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor.

D. Rome experienced two hundred peaceful years under the reign of

Augustus and during this golden age, art and literature flourished.

E. Emperors ruled Rome for more than 500 years and Constantine legalized Christianity.

1. The Empire divided into eastern and western halves and

the Catholic Church remained in Rome and the Greek

Orthodox in Constantinople.

2. The economic classes of Roman society included nobles,

knights and common people.

F. Society and the arts

1. The first professors were Greek.

a. Latin was the language for law and administration.

2. Aristocrats in Rome spoke Greek.

a. Wealthy Romans studied with tutors and the lower

classes had only a grade-school education.


1. Visiting teachers taught music and dance.

3. Rome is known for its contribution of pantomime or dance-

drama without words.

a. The Roman pantomimes wore elaborate costumes

and masks.

b. An actor summarized the story to be performed and

the chorus accompanied by a small orchestra sang

songs offstage before and between episodes.

G. Dancers and personalities

1. Dance in Rome served a variety of purposes

a. religious, social and entertainment

2. There were colleges of twenty-four dancing priests

who performed for religious ceremonies and some

secular occasions.

3. The upper classes did not dance preferring to be audience

a. Evidence does indicate that young aristocrats were

trained in dance as part of their education and social


4. Professional dancers, flute players and acrobats were slaves


imported from Greece and other conquered nations.

5. Mimes and pantomimes

a. Mimes would imitate anything, did not speak, wore

masks and sometimes strolled down the street accompanied

by a flute player.

6. Theodora was a beautiful actress and dancer and a well-known


a. Her performances ranged from pantomime to striptease.

1. Many of the court were shocked by this but

Justinian who was heir to the throne fell in love

with her and convinced his uncle and adoptive

father to change the law so that he could marry


a. Justinian and Theodora became emperor and

empress of the Eastern Roman Empire.

7. Dances of Rome

a. Dance had a smaller role in Roman life than it did in

Athens or Sparta.

1. War dances were preparation for war in mock battle.


2. Religious and dance rites.

1. Greek colonies living in Rome

continued the Dionysian festivals.

2. Roman had annual festivals and

dance had many purposes in the religious

ceremonies of calendric events and to

frighten away evil spirits.

3. Games and contests

1. Second century A.D. the Greek games

included music and drama contests.

2. Winners of pantomimic dances won

4,000 drachmae (a silver coin of Ancient


3. During the first century A.D. performers

had become corrupt performing erotic,

sensational and grotesque dances.

a. Women became dancers performing

roles that were previously performed

by men.


b. Condemned criminal were dressed in

elaborate costumes treated with a

flammable substance and they were

forced to dance through amphitheaters

and their costumes would burst into


c. Many Roman emperors and the public

enjoyed these performances, but the

Christian church objected to these

performances and Marcus Aurelius

put a ceiling on dancers pay and

production costs in order to discourage

this practice.

8. Roman dance in the theater

a. Roman theater was influenced by the Greeks

1. The Theater of Pompey was the first permanent


2. By A.D. 550 more than a hundred theaters

had been built in Rome with limited seating


of a few hundred people and the hall was

closed for the audience.

3. Mime was considered part of the actors

repertoire using this technique to imitate

another person.

4. Pantomime became a highly developed art.

5. The Circus Maximus, completed in 329 A.D.

was the largest and most famous amphitheater.

a. Dancers performed in circus shows and

dramatic interludes along with musicians.

9. Roman literature flourished during this time but the greatest

impact Rome may have had on the theater was to lower it in

the esteem of the church which stymied the growth of the dramatic

arts for years.


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