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My Favourite Planet > English > Europe > Greece > Macedonia > Pella > gallery
Pella, Greece Pella gallery 5 of 18
Marble head of Alexander the Great, Pella Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Pella Archaeological Museum. Head of Alexander the Great, marble, end of 4th century BC. [1]
Alexandros III of Macedonia (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Alexandros o Megas, Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC), son of Philip II of Macedonia (382-336 BC). Pella's most famous native.

This head, found at the nearby town of Giannitsa, is one of many Hellenistic copies of Alexander's official portraits made during and after his lifetime throughout his empire and the Greek world. The typical idealized portait of Alexander shows the young king with long wavy hair, his head slightly titled to the left, lips slightly parted and his gaze direct. This style of sculpture had a great influence on art, and many of his successors copied it for their official portraits and monuments, a tradition which continued with Roman emperors. (See also the portrait head of Attalus I of Pergamon.)

Alexander is said to have taken great care in choosing artists to portray him and deciding how he should be represented. Apart from the type of portrait above, the original of which is thought to be by his personal sculptor Lysippos, he was also shown in sculpture and coins in the guise of a god such as Herakles (see photos below right), Ammon or Pan to ascert his claims to divine descent.

The famous conquerer hero was greatly revered throughout the Hellenic and Roman world for centuries after his death, and statues of Alexander were made as copies, and copies of copies of originals. As with his portrait on coins, later sculptures bore little resemblance to the originals and often reflect contempory local tastes (see photos below).

Many of the original sculptures of Alexander were made in bronze, though until now no complete bronze statues of him have been unearthed. However, in February 2010 Greek authorities arrested two men accused of illegally possessing antiquities, including a bronze statuette of Alexander. Experts and the press becme very excited about the possibility that it could be an original work of Lysippos, and it was taken to the laboratory of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum for examination. If the piece is authentic, it would be the only original work by Lysippos and the first complete bronze of Alexander yet discovered.

Many of the photos on this page
are currently being moved to the
new Alexander the Great page
of the My Favourite Planet
People section.

Head of a marble statue of Alexander the Great, Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great.
Detail of a life-size marble
statue, signed by Menas.
From Magnesia ad Sipylum,
Lydia (Manisa, Turkey).
Mid 3rd century BC.

Istanbul Archaeological
Museum. Inv. No. 709.
Cat. Mendel 536.
A silver tetradrachm coin of Alexander the Great, Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany at My Favourite Planet

Silver tetradrachm from
Macedonia, Greece, circa
310-275 BC, with a portrait
of Alexander in the guise of
Herakles wearing the skin
of a lion's head.

Bodenmuseum, Berlin.

See Big Money at
The Cheshire Cat Blog.
Head of Alexander the Great wearing a lion-skin, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander the Great
wearing a lion-skin. Pentelic
marble, circa 300 BC. Found in Kerameikos, Athens in 1875.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
photos and articles:
© David John
Head of Alexander the Great as Pan, Pella Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece

Head of Alexander the Great as Pan
Marble statuette of Alexander the Great as the god Pan.
From Pella, late 4th - early 3rd century BC.
Height: 37.5 cm.
Pella Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. ΓΛ 143.

The figure has two small horns projecting from the top of the head, pointed ears and a goat's tail, in imitation of the rustic half-goat deity Pan, who was popular in Macedonia. It is presumed that the statuette had cloven hooves which are now missing.
  Statuette of Alexander the Great as the Greek god Pan at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great as Pan
Statuette of the Greek hero Herakles wearing a lion skin at My Favourite Planet

Marble statuette of Herakles wearing a lion skin.
Pentelic marble, 350-325 BC. Height 54 cm.
Found near the church of Agia Irene, Athens, 1885.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. NAM 253.

(Photo taken when the statuette was on loan
to the Numismatic Museum, Athens, in 2011.)
  A silver tetradrachm coin depicting Alexander the Great wearing the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon.

Silver tetradrachm of Lysimachos of Thrace.
This is the earliest known depiction of
Alexander the Great wearing ram's horns,
the symbol of Zeus Ammon. 305-281 BC.

Numismatic Museum, Athens.
Head of Alexander the Great from the Acropolis, Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander, found in
1886 near the Erechtheion of
the Athens Acropolis. Thought
to be an original work of the
Athenian sculptor Leochares,
made 340-330 BC.

Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. Acr. 1331.
  Head of Alexander the Great from Pergamon at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Alexander.
From Pergamon, Turkey.
First half of 2nd century BC.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 1138 T.
Cat. Mendel 538.

Pergamon gallery 2, page 2.
  Detail of a statuette of Alexander the Great from Priene, Turkey at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a marble statuette
of Alexander the Great,
200-150 BC, discovered
in Priene, Turkey in 1895.
Height 28 cm.

Altes Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. Sk 1500.
Colossal marble head of Alexander the Great in the Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Colossal head of Alexander.
Greek marble. Found in Lazio,
Rome in 1839. Perhaps a
Hellenistic original.

Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC532.
  Marble head of Alexander the Great in the Barracco Museum, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander the Great.
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD
"copy after a Greek original
from the late 4th century BC" attributed to Euphranor [2].
Height 45 cm.

Barracco Museum, Rome.
Inv. No. MB 157.
  Alexander-Helios in the Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Alexander
as Helios. 1st century AD,
"after a Hellenistic original
of the 3rd-2nd century BC" [3].
Height 58.3 cm.

Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC732.
Marble head of Alexander the Great from Kos at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander the Great,
from the Asklepion of the Dodecanese island of Kos. Marble. Hellenistic, circa 150 BC.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 539.
  Marble head of Alexander the Great from Kyme at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander the Great, from Cyme (Namurt), Turkey. Marble. Hellenistic, late 3rd century BC.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
  Head of Alexander of the Erbach type at My Favourite Planet

Head of Alexander of the "Erbach
type", named after the best copy
in Schloss Erbach, Germany.
End of the 4th century BC.
From Madytos, Turkey.

Altes Museum, Berlin.
Inv. No. Sk 329.
Herm of Alexander the Great in Rome at My Favourite Planet

Bust in Palazzo dei Conservatori,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.

  Bust of Alexander the Great in Rome at My Favourite Planet

Bust in Palazzo dei Conservatori,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
  Bust of Alexander or Eubouleus in the Athenian Agora at My Favourite Planet

Bust of Alexander or Eubouleus,
a god connected with the
Eleusian Mysteries. Unfinished
2nd century AD copy of a work
of the 4th century BC.

Agora Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. S 2089.
These two busts in the Sale Castellani, of the Capitoline Museums' Palazzo dei Conservatori have been placed either side of the bronze horse associated with Lysippos (see below). They are not labelled, and so far we have found no reference to them in the museum's online database. Another source identifies the left bust as Alexander without giving further details.  
See also statues of Alexander and Hephaistion from Alexandria, Egypt
on gallery page 17.
Mosaic of Alexander the Great from Pompeii at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the mosaic of the Alexander Mosaic, depicting Alexander the Great fighting the
Persian King Darius III (circa 380-330 BC) at either the Battle of Issos (or Issus) in 333 BC
or the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. Thought to be based on a lost 4th century BC
painting by Philoxenos of Eretria of the Battle of Issos, made for King Cassander of
Macedon (Κάσσανδρος Ἀντίπατρος, Kassandros Antipatros; circa 350-297 BC), circa 315 BC.

Floor mosaic, made using the opus vermiculatum (Latin, worm-like work) technique
of local stone and some glass tesserae, 125-120 BC. Discovered on 24 October 1831
in the House of the Faun (Casa del Fauno), Pompeii.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. 10020.

See a photo of the entire mosaic and more information below.

Photo: © David John
Relief of Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issus from the Alexander Sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issos, 333 BC.

Detail of one of the coloured reliefs on the "Alexander Sarcophagus" (Iskender Laht), thought to be the tomb of the Sidonian king Abdalonymos (Ἀβδαλώνυμος).
Pentelic marble, last quarter of the 4th century BC.

One of the long sides of the sarcophagus depicts the Battle of Issos, the other a lion hunt. Both feature Alexander, Hephaistion and Abdalonymos. Weapons and horse reins were made of silver, but only one silver axe has survived the attentions of grave robbers.

From the Royal Necropolis of Sidon (Sayda, Chamber No. III). Excavated in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey (Director General of the Ottoman Imperial Museums, 1881-1910) and restored by sculptor Osgan Efendi. Now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Photo: © David John
Equestrian statue of Alexander the Great from Herculaneum at My Favourite Planet

Bronze statuette of Alexander the Great on horseback. 1st century BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy. Inv. No. 4996. Height 48.5 cm, Length 47 cm.

One of a group of three similar equestrian bronzes discovered in Herculaneum. It is thought to be a copy of a statue of Alexander the Great from a bronze equestrian group of 25 mounted figures (there may have been more figures in the work, perhaps depicting Persians), known as the Granikos Monument (or Granicus Monument). The work was commissioned by Alexander and made by Lysippos (Λύσιππος) to commemorate members of Alexander's Companion royal guard, recruited from young Macedonian noblemen, who died at the Battle of the Granicus River (Γρανικὸς ποταμός) in 334 BC, and erected at Dion, Macedonia around 330 BC. The horse is thought to be Alexander's favourite steed Bucephalos.

The Battle of the Granicus River was the first of three major battles fought by Alexander against armies of the Persian King Darius III during his ten year campaign in Asia; the other two were at Issos (or Issus) in 333 BC and at Gaugamela in 331 BC (see below). In each case his victory against superior numbers has been put down to his brilliant, innovative and unconventional tactics. These victories and his eventual complete defeat of the Persian Empire astonished the world and cemented his legendary status.

The Granikos Monument was recognized from antiquity not merely as a memorial to fallen soldiers but, perhaps more importantly, as part of Alexander's sophisticated propaganda campaign, aimed at convincing supporters and enemies - in Greece as well as in Asia - of his determination, invincibility and extraordinary persona. The point was certainly not lost on the Romans.

The Roman praetor Quintus Cecilius Metellus took the sculpture group to Rome after defeating Andriscus (Ἀνδρίσκος, also known as the Pseudo-Philip, pretender to the Macedonian throne, arguably the last Macedonian king) at the Second Battle of Pydna in 148 BC and reducing Macedonia to a Roman province (146 BC), and set it up in a new portico he built there. [4]

Unfortunately, the museum lighting and reflections from the glass case (which is near a large window) make photographing the statue difficult.
Equestrian statue of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Modern equestrian statue of Alexander on the seafront of Thessaloniki.

This larger-than-life 20th century sculpture of Alexander stands on a high plinth at the southeast end of Thessaloniki's long promenade, near the city's trademark White Tower (Lefkos Pirgos) and the Achaeological Museum. It portrays the great conquerer, placid but resolute, his sword at the ready, looking into the far distance; he faces eastward - towards Asia. The drama and excitement in the monument are provided by the agitated state of his horse, the renowned Bucephalos, echoing ancient portrayals of Alexander in action (see photos above). As in ancient depictions of him, such as the Alexander Sarcophagus above, he is shown wearing a short cloak which billows out behind him, rather like a modern comic book super hero.

During the 20th century Greece as a whole and Macedonia in particular rediscovered Alexander in a big way. Once again he is seen as the great pan-Hellenic hero, a defiant unifying symbol and a heritage trademark both for the country and the region. Statues and busts of him can be be found in many town squares and in the lobbies of public buildings. Even the airport of Kavala has been named after him.

Photos: © David John

Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessalonica at My Favourite Planet

Alexander in Thessaloniki
Modern bust of Alexander the Great in the entrance to the Town Hall of Serres, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Modern bronze bust of Alexander,
Town Hall, Serres, Macedonia.
Hotel Okeanis, Kavala, Macedonia, Greece

George Alvanos

in Kavala's historic Panagia District

Anthemiou 35,
Kavala, Greece
Hotel Orestias Kastorias Thessaloniki, Greece - The heart of hospitality beats at the heart of the city
Big Dino's Galini, self-catering beach hotel, Nea Vrasna, Macedonia, Greece
Hotel Liotopi, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Hotel Germany, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Vyzantino Greek Restaurant, Plaka, Athens, Greece
NEWGEN Travel Agency, Athens, Greece
Mosaic of Alexander the Great and Darius III at the Battle of Issus at My Favourite Planet

The Alexander Mosaic of a battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius III.

In this photo the mosaic frame around the image has been cropped (see photo of a reconstruction of the entire mosaic below).

Alexander the Great in battle at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great wearing the Gorgoneion
on the breastplate of his linothorax (armour
made of layered and stiffened linen).
  Floor mosaic, made using the opus vermiculatum (Latin, worm-like work) technique, of local stone and some glass tesserae. 200-100 BC. Discovered on 24 October 1831 in the House of the Faun (Casa del Fauno, VI 12, 2, exedra), Pompeii, during excavations directed by Carlo Bonucci. It was moved to the National Archaeological Museum, Naples in September 1843 by Antonio Niccolini (1772–1850).

Inv. No. 10020.

The entire mosaic, including the frame of dentils (see photo below), measures 582 x 313 cm, and the picture area 512 x 271 cm [5].

It originally decorated the floor of a room in the House of the Faun [6], the villa of a wealthy citizen of Pompeii, and the museum also displayed it on a floor. However it was reset on a wall in August 1915. [7]

The decision to exhibit the work on a vertical surface was undoubtedly a wise one. Several other museums consider such floor mosaics should be set on a floor to give visitors the impression of how they actually appeared to the people who lived with them in ancient times. Unfortunately, this approach makes it difficult to see such works in their entirety or appreciate the compositions, images, colours or workmanship. This is particularly true of such as large picture mosaics as this. Since it is believed that such works were copies of famous ancient paintings which have since disappeared, they are important sources for the study of Classical and Hellenistic art.

Much has been written about this work and the first articles appeared soon after its discovery. It is considered as one of the most important ancient mocaics yet discovered as it it is thought to be a copy of a painting of a critical historical event made soon after it happened. Unfortunately, most of the accounts by contemporary writers and eye-witnesses of Alexander the Great's life and deeds, and the art works commemorating them (primary sources) have been lost, and we only have retellings by authors living centuries later.

There has been much debate over whether the image represents the Battle of Issos (or Issus) in 333 BC or the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, both decisive battles at which Alexander and Darius faced each other to decide the future of western and central Asia, and ultimately of Europe.

Three painters of the 4th century BC have also been suggested as authors of the original work from which this mosaic may be a copy: [8]

Philoxenos of Eretria

Aristeides of Thebes

Helena of Egypt

Photos: © David John
Persian King Darius III at My Favourite Planet

Persian King Darius III

Modern painted reconstruction of the Alexander Mosaic at My Favourite Planet

Modern reconstruction of the Alexander Mosaic, painted in oils soon after the discovery of the mosaic. National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

The monochrome frame of the mosaic is in the form of rows of raised blocks (dentils) rendered in perspective to give an illusion of three-dimensionality.
Each of the corners is decorated with a coloured floral emblem (rosette), and the frame is surrounded by a band of grey-white tesserae.
Pella gallery
Alexander the Great
Notes, references and links

1. Head of Alexander the Great in Pella

A chance find from Giannitsa, near Pella.
End of 4th century BC, early Hellenistic period.
Marble. Height 30 cm.
Pella Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. ΓΛ 15.

2. Head of Alexander the Great in the Barracco Museum, Rome

The theory that this head is a copy of the idealized Alexander by Euphranor is based on a reference from Pliny the Elder (Natural History, Book 34, Book 34, chapter 78). According to other theories it may be the head of Mithra Tauroctonos or one of the Dioscuri with the features of Alexander.


Imagini del mito: Iconografia di Alessandro Magna in Italia (Images of a legend: Iconography of Alexander the Great in Italy), pages 138-139. Catalogue, in Italian and English, of the international travelling exhibition of photographs, organized by the Italian Directorate General for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation and the Ministery of Foreign Affairs. Gangemi Editori, Rome, 2006.

3. Head of Alexander the Great as Helios

The larger-than-lifesize head, part of a huge sculpture thought to have been copied from a Hellenistic model, was formerly in the Vatican and was probably donated by Pope Pius V in 1566. Seven regularly-spaced holes around the head are thought to have been drilled for the attachment of a thin metal band from which radiated pointed spikes as solar rays, typical of depictions of the sun god Helios (known to the Romans as Sol).

Various dates have been proposed for the head, from the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD. According to the prevailing theory, it was made in the 1st century AD, perhaps during the reign of Nero, who is known to have placed a statue of himself as Helios in the vestibule of the Domus Aurea (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 34, chapter 45).


Imagini del mito: Iconografia di Alessandro Magna in Italia, pages 174-175. Gangemi Editori, Rome, 2006.

4. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus and the Alexander statue group

Following his victories in the Macedonian Wars, the long-lived Quintus Caecilius Metellus (circa 210 BC – 116/115 BC) added Macedonicus to the end of his name.

The Porticus of Metellus Macedonicus (Porticus Metelli), in which the Granikos Monument statue group was placed, was built in 146 BC as an entrance to the colonnade surrounding the temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina ("the two temples without inscriptions"), on the triumphal route at the southern side of the Field of Mars (Campus Martius), near the Circus of Flaminius.

It has been seen as significant that the Granikos Monument was removed from the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dion and placed at a sanctuary of Jupiter (Jove), Zeus' Roman equivalent.

The portico was later restored by Emperor Augustus, who renamed it Porticus Octaviae after his sister Octavia Minor, and the statue group remained the main attraction among a number of works of art put on display there. The sculptures may have survived at this location until at least the 5th century AD, despite damage to the sanctuary by fire in 80 AD (when most of the buildings on the Campus Martius was destroyed) and 203 AD and consequent restorations.

After the closing of pagan temples by Emperor Theodosius I at the end of the 4th century AD, the portico was again damaged by an earthquake in 442. The sanctuary became a fish market in which the church of Sant' Angelo in Pescheria was built in the 8th century. The facade of the portico was repaired, with an archway replacing most of its Corinthian columns, and still acts as an entrance to the precinct of the church.

A brief account of Metellus' victories and the removal of the statue group to Rome was written by Marcus Velleius Paterculus (circa 19 BC – circa 31 AD). Velleius also related the tradition that Alexander the Great commissioned the group from Lysippos, and wrote that Metellus was the first to build a temple of marble in Rome, inside the colonnade entered by the portico, "in the midst of these very monuments".

Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, Book I, Chapter 11, sections 1-7.
At Bill Thayer's excellent website LacusCurtius: Into the Roman World, University of Chicago.

Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) also mentioned Metellus bringing the statues of the Granikos Monument to Rome (Natural History, Book 34, chapter 19), and listed several of the other works of art exhibited within the porticus (Book 36).

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. Translated by John Bostock and H. T. Riley. Taylor and Francis, London, 1855. At Perseus Digital Library.

The marble temple built by Metellus is thought to have been the temple of Jupiter Stator (Aedes Jovis Statoris) in the Porticus Metelli, mentioned by Vitruvius, who named the architect as Hermodorus (thought to be Hermodorus of Salamis).

Vitruvius, The ten books on architecture, Book III, chapter 2, section 5. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan. Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press, 1914. At Perseus Digital Library.
Bronze horse in the Capitoline Museums, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The bronze horse found in 1849 in Rome,
thought to be part of Lysippos' Granikos
Monument statue group from Dion, Macedonia.

Palazzo dei Conservatori,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.

The bronze horse known as "il Cavallo di Vicolo delle Palme" (the Horse from Vicolo delle Palme), found in 1849 during excavations on the Vicolo delle Palme (now Vicolo dell'Atleta), Trastevere, Rome, and now in the Capitoline Museums (see photo right), is thought to be the only surviving element of the Granikos Monument statue group.

On the other hand, many scholars believe it may have been made in the 5th century BC by the Athenian Hegias (490-460 BC), the teacher of Pheidias. The horse was returned to the Capitoline Museums in April 2007 following a $680,000 restoration which was begun in the 1970s.

5. Dimensions of the Alexander Mosaic

Dimensions taken from Bernard Andreae, Das Alexandermosaik aus Pompeji, page 9. Verlag Aurel Bongers, Recklinghausen, 1977.

The same figures appear in:

Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman world, pages 40-41. Cambridge University Press, 1999. At googlebooks.

John R. Clarke, Chapter 21, Domestic decoration: Mosaics and stucco, page 325, in The world of Pompeii, edited by John J. Dobbins and Pedar W. Foss. Routledge, London and New York, 2007.

Modern scholarly sources do not agree on the dimensions of the mosaic: 513 x 272 cm, 550 x 242 cm, 555 x 317 cm, 582 x 313 cm, 584 x 317 cm and 592 x 342 cm, etc. are stated by various authors, without citing their sources or making clear whether they are referring to the entire work or only the picture area. The Naples museum's website gives a length of 555 cm and a height of 317 cm, while the official guidebook states 582 x 313 cm.

Rosanna Capelli and Annalisa Lo Monaco, The National Archaeological Museum of Naples: Guide, page 59. Ministero per i Beni el le Attività Culturali Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Mondadori Electra S.p.A., Verona. Second edition, 2014.

I am so far unable to confirm any of these measurements, since I seldom travel with a tape measure. But perhaps somebody ought to do just that.

The German archaeologist Gustav Körte (1852-1917), writing in 1907, quoted the measurements of architect and archaeologist Friedrich Adler (1827-1908): 550 x 242 cm.

G. Koerte, Das Alexandermosaik aus Pompeji, in Mitteilungen des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts, Roemische Abteilung, Band XXII, pages 1-24. Loescher and Co., Rome, 1907. At

Friedrich Adler, Die Alexanderschlacht in der Casa del Fauno zu Pompeji, in Deutsche Rundschau, Band 126, Januar–März 1906, pages 189-204 (dimensions and estimated total area of 13,4 square metres on page 199). At

The art historian Professor Carlo Bertelli, a mosaic specialist, states 592 x 342 cm. Mosaics, pages 23-25. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milan, 1988.

Paulo Stirpe, in the catalogue Imagini del mito: Iconografia di Alessandro Magna in Italia (see note 2 above), page 151, states 555 x 317 cm, and also gives the invoice number as 9991.

Estimates of the number of tesserae also vary from half a million to 4 million (!) - according to the official guidebook "about a million" - "with 15 to 30 tesserae per square centimetre". While the tightly-set tesserae are much smaller than those of most surviving ancient mosaics (allowing an astonishing amount of fine detail in the image), and have dimensions of 1 - 4 mm, this figure seems too high.

Dr Werner Kruck, member of a team which recently made a reduced-size copy of the mosaic, writes that the original is 582 x 313 cm and has 5-6 tesserae per square cm. See:
Fallen Persian soldier sees his reflection in a shield at My Favourite Planet

Fallen Persian sees his reflection in a shield.

Detail of the Naples Alexander mosaic.

6. The House of the Faun, Goethe and the Alexander Mosaic

"The House of the Faun" (Casa del Fauno), built circa 180-170 BC on the foundations of a building of the 5th century BC, covers an area of around 40 x 110 metres and is one of the largest and most richly decorated houses uncovered from the ruins of Pompeii, the Campanian seaside city destroyed by the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24th August 79 AD.

In 1830 the newly-discovered house was named the House of Goethe (Casa di Goethe) in honour of the visit made to Pompeii by the German savant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in March 1787, during early excavations of the site (Pompeii was discovered in 1748). This dedication was made on 8th October 1830 when his son August (Julius August Walther von Goethe, 1789-1830) was present at the start of excavations of the 2nd century BC villa. August died twenty days later in Rome, apparently of smallpox or scarlet fever.

This dedication was not accepted by all those involved in the excavations at Pompeii, and other names were also used in descriptions of the house: House of the Gens Cassia; M. Marcellus and Satuninus with an apartment of the Lucretii Satrii; Casa del gran Mosaico (House of the Large Mosaic); House of the Battle of Alexander; Casa del HAVE; House of Abarces the Egyptian... The name House of the Faun, after the famous bronze statuette of the Dancing Faun (Greek, 3rd - 2nd century BC) discovered there, was certainly preferred by the Italian scholars such as Niccolini and Guiseppe Sanchez, and eventually accepted universally. Ironically, this statue was discovered on the day of August's death.

On 18th February 1832 Goethe senior (who coined the phrase "See Naples and die!") was sent a description and drawing of the Alexander Mosaic by the architect and painter Wilhelm Johann Karl Zahn (1800-1871) who made drawings and paintings at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae 1824-1827.

In a letter to the composer Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832), Goethe wrote on 11th March 1832:

"I have received from Naples a very pleasant reminder from Zahn, that good, energetic young fellow, whom I dare say you still remember. I am well pleased to find that they have given my name to the house, which has been recently discovered, though they have not yet completely unearthed it. This is an echo from afar, meant to commemorate my son's death.

The house is admitted to be one of the most beautiful hitherto discovered, and remarkable for a mosaic, such as we have not yet met with in antiquity. This was announced in the newspapers long ago, so perhaps you have already heard something about it.

However, they are sending me a detailed drawing of the great, enclosed space, columns and all, as well as a small copy of the famous painting. We must take care that we do not behave like Wieland, who, owing to his great susceptibility, allowed what he read last to blot out, as it were, all that went before, for we might quite be tempted to say, that nothing has as yet come down to us from antiquity, equal to this in picturesqueness of composition and execution.

What would you say, were they to lay before you an intelligible page in musical type, belonging to that time – a time suggestive of earlier Grecian models – in which you were forced to recognize a master of the Fugue, with its inner and outer criteria?"

Goethe's letters to Zelter, with extracts from those of Zelter to Goethe, translated and edited by Arthur Duke Coleridge (1830-1913), page 489. Bell and Sons, London, 1887. At

Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer (editor), Briefwechsel zwischen Goethe und Zelter in den Jahren 1796 bis 1832: Jahre 1825 bis 1827. Sechster Teil, die Jahre 1830 July bis 1832. Brief 853, Seite 417. Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1834. At

Goethe replied to Zahn's letter on 10th March 1832 (12 days before his death), commenting that there could be no doubt that the mosaic represented Alexander overcoming Darius and driving him to flight.

"Neither present nor future generations will succeed in providing a worthy commentary on this artistic marvel, and after having studied and scrutinized it, we will always have to return to simple, pure wonder."

Goethes Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe, IV. Abteilung, Bd. 49, S. 259-284.
Goethes Werke. Herausgegeben im Auftrag der Großherzogin Sophie von Sachsen.
IV. Abteilung: Goethes Briefe, Bd. 1–50, Weimar 1887–1912. In German at

7. Repositioning of the Alexander Mosaic in the Naples Museum

See: Pier Giovanni Guzzo, Per la replica del Mosaico di Alessandro, in La Battaglia di Alessandro torno alla Casa del Fauno, pages 2-4. Soprintendenza archeologica di Pompei. Mondadori Electa S.p.A., Milano, 2005.

8. 4th century BC painters of Alexander's battles

The various theories about the identity of the painter whose work provided the model for the Alexander Mosaic are based on thin evidence and much speculation. Modern scholars have examined details of the mosaic for evidence concerning which battle is depicted, which individuals (apart from Alexander and Darius) are portrayed, and whether certain traits of style and technique point to the work of a particular artist.

Two of the contenders, Philoxenos of Eretria and Aristeides of Thebes are mentioned by Pliny the Elder:

"Philoxenus of Eretria, who painted for King Cassander a picture representing one of the battles between Alexander and Darius, a work which may bear comparison with any."

"Aristides also painted a Battle with the Persians, a picture which contained one hundred figures, for each of which he was paid at the rate of ten minae by Mnason, the tyrant of Elatea."

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 35, chapter 110. At Perseus Digital Library.

Ptolemy Hephaistion (also known as Ptolemaios Chennos) wrote that Helena of Egypt painted the Battle of Issos, and that the picture was exhibited in the Temple of Peace in Rome during the reign of Vespasian (69-79 AD). See the Helena of Egypt page in the MFP People section for further details.
Drawing of a Persian soldier from the Naples Alexander mosaic at My Favourite Planet

Drawing of one of the Persian soldiers in the
Alexander Mosaic, made soon after its discovery.

Source: Cav. Antonio Niccolini, Quadro in musaico
scoperto in Pompei, a di 24 Ottobre 1831
Tavalo VI. Dalla Stamperia Reale, Napoli, 1831.
More photos and information
about mosaics
on My Favourite Planet

Hellenistic mosaics in Pella, Macedonia, Greece:

pebble mosaic floor

Stag Hunt mosaic

Abduction of Helen mosaic

Dionysos riding a panther

Lion Hunt mosaic

A mosaic of Dionysos and "Sleeping Ariadne"
from Ephesus, now in the Izmir Archaeological Museum, Turkey:
Selcuk photo gallery 2

A Hellenistic mosaic, signed by Hephaistion,
from Pergamon, Turkey,
now in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin:
Pergamon photo gallery 2

A 2nd century AD mosaic featuring the head
of Medusa, from Piraeus, Greece, now in the
National Archaeological Museum, Athens:
Pergamon photo gallery 2

Mosaics at Dion Archaeological Site,
Macedonia, Greece:
Dion: garden of the Gods
at the Cheshire Cat Blog

"Choklakia" mosaics in Kastellorizo, Greece:
Kastellorizo photo gallery

Mosaics of Saint John the Theologian,
on Patmos, Greece:
Patmos photo gallery

Modern mosaic commemorating Saint Paul
the Apostle's visit to Veria, Macedonia, Greece:
Veria photo gallery

See also a mosaic mural made
by the author of this guide:
Photos, maps and articles: © David John

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See also
The Cheshire Cat Blog
photo essays and articles
about Greece:

Athens (street life)

Athens (Aristotle's Lyceum)






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