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Alexander the Great. Marble head from Pergamon. 2nd century BC. Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
|The marble head of Alexander the Great , dated to the 2nd century BC, was discovered in Autumn 1900, during excavations at the Lower Agora of the Pergamon Acropolis, and is thought to have been made in the city.
The head is now one of the most popular attractions in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. There are are also plaster casts in the Bergama Museum and the Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
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).
Alexander is said to have studied Xenophon's "Anabasis" (in which the earliest known historical mention of Pergamon appeared, see the history of Pergamon) as a field guide to Anatolia before embarking on his campaign against the Persian king Darius III. In 334 BC Alexander defeated Darius on the River Granicus (near modern Çanakkele). As he marched through western Anatolia, Pergamon surrendered to him, and he appointed Barsine, the widow of the Persian commander, as administrator.
After Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC, his generals and relations (the Diadochi, or successors) waged war on each other for control of parts of his empire. Eventually, in 301 BC Lysimachus (360-281 BC), king of Thrace, took control of western Anatolia, including Pergamon. With the great riches he had accumulated as the spoils of war, he began rebuilding ancient cities such as Ephesus, and several new cities appeared in Anatolia.
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, Ammon or Pan to ascert his claims to divine descent. See images on Pella gallery, page 5, in the My Favourite Planet guide to Pella, Macedonia Greece.
Many of the orginal sculptures of Alexander were made in bronze, though until now no complete bronzes of him have been unearthed. However, in February 2010 Greek authorities arrested two men accused of illegally possessing antiquities, including a bronze statue of Alexander. Experts and the press got very excited about the possibility that it could be an original work of Lysippos, and it was taken to the 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.
Alexander the Great.
Marble head, end of
the 4th century BC.
Pella Archaeological Museum
Alexander the Great.
Detail of an over life-sized marble statue, signed by Menas of Pergamon. From Magnesia ad Sipylum, Lydia (Manisa, Turkey) .
Mid 3rd century BC.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 709.
Cat. Mendel 536.
|See more images of Alexander the Great|
on the Alexander the Great page
in the My Favourite Planet People section.
|Notes, references and links
1. Head of Alexander the Great from Pergamon
Marble. Height 42 cm.
Hellenistic period, first half of the 2nd century BC.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 1138 T. Cat. Mendel 538.
See: Gustave Mendel (1873-1938), Catalogue des sculptures grecques, romaines et byzantines, Tome Second, pages 254-255. Musée Impérial, Constantinople (Istanbul), 1914.
This sculpture and many of the other exhibits in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums were described in a large three-volume catalogue in French, compiled between 1912 and 1914 by Gustave Mendel (1873-1938) who was the curator of the museum, then known as Müze-i Hümayun (the Imperial Museum).
Mendel's Catalogue des sculptures grecques, romaines et byzantines, usually abbreviated to "Cat. Mendel", remains an important work for scholars, and its numbering sequence for museum objects is still used for reference.
According to one theory, the head may be that of a giant from the Gigantomachy frieze of the Great Altar of Zeus.
2. Statue of Alexander the Great from Manisa
Mid 3rd century BC. White marble. Height 190 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 709. Cat. Medel 536.
Inscribed marble base, also in Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 744 T. Cat. Mendel 537.
The statue was found in the sanctuary of Meter Sipylene on the slopes of Mount Syplos, Magnesia ad Sipylum, Lydia (Manisa, Turkey) in 1895. The statue base discovered with the statue bore inscriptions with a dedication to Meter Sipylene, the local mother goddess, and the signature of Menas of Pergamon:
Μηνᾶς Αἴαντος Περγαμηνὸς ἐποίησεν
(Menas Aiantos Pergamenos epoisen)
Menas of Pergamon, son of Aias, made [it]
Inscription: Tituli Asiae Minoris, TAM V 2, 1358.
See: Gustave Mendel (1873-1938), Catalogue des sculptures grecques, romaines et byzantines, Tome Second, pages 249-254. Musée Impérial, Constantinople (Istanbul), 1914.
|Map, photos and articles: © David John
Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis
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Some of the information and photos in this guide to Pergamon
originally appeared in 2004 on davidjohnberlin.de.
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