Upper Paleolithic: Late Neanderthal - Early Cro Magnon. Small sculptures and wall paintings in caves of Southern Europe and Greece. Hollowed bones were used to blow the pigments uniformly, which lasted forty thousand years.

Mesolithic period: Circa twelve thousand years ago, with warmer temperatures and the cultivation of wild grains. Beer seems to have been the first discovery for the use of barley, before bread. 

Late Neolithic: Civilizations are born, starting roughly 4500 BC to 3000 BC, depending on the region.

Called the Cradle of Western Civilization. The idea to irrigate around 3000 BC is the defining step to structured societies. Irrigating meant a team of specialized workers year-round with someone to plan and effectuate. From this was born a hierarchy as well as organized religion, with powerful priests.

City-states had their favorite gods: the gods Enki and Ishtar were associated with Uruk, while Marduk was the god of Babylon. Towering structures (ziggurat) and monumental sculptures, ostensibly to honor the cities favorite deities, provided communities their identity. Altogether archaeologists have come up with two thousand four hundred deities. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, circa 2700 BC, Ishtar punishes him for his arrogance during his reign in Uruk. Humbled, he seeks the advice of Utnapishtim, survivor of the Flood.

The Nubians and Egypt:
The Nubians saw their lakes dry to desert and headed north along the Nile to the burgeoning Egyptian dynasties, who had also mastered irrigation. Work on pyramids, temples and obelisks is what seems to have fed most the population, particularly after harvest. Harbors were cut to the sites and laborers lived in well planned nearby housing. However, they had only two tools and the work was brutal. 

Egypt was occupied by the Persians in 525 BC, and by Alexander of Macedonia in 332 BC. After his untimely death his empire was divided between his closest generals. Ptolemy was given Egypt and his dynasty lasted three hundred years until the last descendant, Cleopatra, killed herself and Egypt came under the dominance of Rome. Accumulated silt from the Nile eventually polluted and blocked the irrigation system.

Minoan, Mycenaean, Cycladic cultures:
The Minoans in Crete were an advanced civilization, figuring trade was more lucrative than invading territories. The cheerful palace in Knossos was public space with workshops and meeting rooms. Not obsessed with the afterlife as were other cultures, with only one apparent goddess. They highly influenced artists on the Cycladic (Santorini) islands, and their pottery was a favorite for the Mycenaeans in Greece, a warring people described in Homer's poem.

Thera Eruption and Dark Ages in Western Mediterranean and Near East

Around 1500 BC a volcanic eruption in Santorini, several earthquakes, a tsunami in Crete and invasions by a mysterious "Sea People" precipitated the collapse of societies along the Mediterranean and Near East, and caused major disruption in Egypt.

Hellenic and Hellenistic periods:
The Mycenaean Civilization had disappeared, the inhabitants of Greece reduced to small isolated villages. The Phoenician traders seem to have been relatively spared and, with knowledge from the East, provide the foundations for the cities that appeared along the Mediterranean around 800 BC. In particular a phonic alphabet and techniques in winemaking that hugely improve the income of the populations. 

Athens took the first steps towards democracy, leading to the Greek Golden Age with the leader Pericles, around 500 BC. After Alexander of Macedonia occupied Greece, 334 BC, he established Greek philosophy, art, architecture and language across his empire. His father, King Philip II, greatly admired Greek culture and had asked Aristotle to teach his son. 

The Etruscans in Tuscany, the Romans in Latium, and Sicily
Villanovan Period: The first signs of an advanced civilization in Italy appeared around 1700 BC, in Tuscany. Not Indo-European, of unknown origins. Rome, officially founded in 753 BC, was governed mostly by Etruscan kings, altogether wisely until a sex scandal caused the unpopular Superbius to rescind, to be replaced by the Roman Republic, in 509 BC to be replaced by the Roman Empire, with Caesar, in 44 BC. If the Etruscans built Rome, Romans copied the Greeks to embellish their city. 

The Greeks called the early inhabitants of Sicily Sicani, and called the inhabitants of southern Italy Italoi. The neolithic ancestors of the Sicani built the megalithic temples in Malta around 3,800 BC. Sicily's strategic location made it a continuous battleground starting ca 400 BC between the Greeks, the Romans and the Phoenicians, who by then were called Carthaginians after their newly built city, Carthage, in Tunisia facing Sicily. The Carthaginians were defeated by the Romans during the Punic Wars, which ended in 146 BC. After that, and until Italy was united by Garibaldi the island was occupied by European kings.

Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic architecture:
In the 4th century Emperor Constantine, predicting unrest by the Goths, relocated the center of the Catholic Church from Rome to Byzantium (settled by Greek colonists in the 7th century BC). In 330 AD the name was changed to Constantinople. The Goths, continuously mistreated by the Romans who had promised to protect them, revolted and pillaged the city. Constantine was the first emperor to officially embrace Christianity, though apparently he was baptized on his deathbed.

East Roman Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy in 565. Bishops, called Papa, moved from Constantinople to Rome, rebuilt and governed. Soon enough the powers of the Church were omnipresent in Europe during the whole Middle Ages, where the writings of the Greeks were destroyed as heresies. Some manuscripts were spared and hidden in monasteries (not everyone agreed with the Popes) few survived the rats and mold. However, there were copies in the Constantinople library, translated to Arabic and Persian which would later be translated to Latin, after the Crusades.

Though civil to each other the divide in the Church between Rome and Constantinople was insurmountable in every aspect. In Constantinople, where the common language was Greek, scholars from around the known world were welcomed to share their knowledge, while the West plunged into an intellectual Dark Ages where only Church doctrine was permitted. Actors were banned from Italy under penalty of imprisonment even death and for a thousand years roamed Europe, settling definitively in Florence in the 15th century to establish the first actors' guild.

Renaissance and Mannerism
In a twist of irony the failed Crusades, launched by the Popes in Rome, were responsible for the revival of interest in Greek art and philosophy, in particular Plato and Aristotle, subsidized by wealthy merchants. When Greek ruins were uncovered in Rome artists made pilgrimages to be inspired. 

The discovery stage of the Early Renaissance was replaced by academic dogma at the end of the 16th century, which caused younger artists starting Michelangelo to break from norms. As perfect as the Greek standard may be the academics forgot the achievement of the ancient masters was an ongoing process. 

Baroque-Rococo and Neoclassicism:
The flippant Baroque-Rococo style of the 17th century, reflection of a frivolous aristocracy immortalized by Louis XIV, caused a revival by the academies of the classic Greek standard. The Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris held the most prestigious exhibit in all of Europe, le Salon de Paris, where students received awards, and commissions. 

Modern Art
Some students experimented notwithstanding the risk to their professional careers. After much ridicule, where the word Impressionist was intended by one important critic as derogatory, they received recognition by American collectors during the "1900 Exposition Universelle" in Paris, which paved the way for more artists to explore. The Beaux Arts eventually loosened up and allowed landscapes.

With total freedom comes responsibility. If in the past the artists' role was clear, serious questions arose within the artistic community starting the Industrial Revolution, around the turn of the century in Europe and the United States, leading to a full-fledged identity crisis after World War I.

After World War II many artists and writers had moved to the United States to teach (Bauhaus...) and along with new post-war materials came a generation of American artists active during the Cultural Revolution. In Europe it is was more of a political revolution, where students and workers united. 

Western Civilization and the Near East

A birds-eye view of history shows periodic surges of advanced intellectual and artistic creativity, simultaneously in different parts of the world. While Socrates walked the streets of Athens teaching people to think for themselves, Confucius in China was spreading his ideal for a wise society. The small "venus" figurines of the Paleolithic period are remarkably similar all over Europe and the Near East, while circular megaliths and pyramids are built on all continents, more or less around the same time. 

Weather has a lot to do with bursts of creativity, starting with the extraordinary cave paintings and carvings during the Ice Age. The next big event comes with climate warming roughly 10,000 BC and the settling down to harvest. Here is an outline to situate you chronologically.