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My Favourite Planet > English > Middle East > Turkey > Pergamon > gallery 2
Pergamon gallery 2 Pergamon art 18 of 26

Statue of Poseidon from the Great Altar of Zeus, Pergamon, Turkey at My Favourite Planet

Statue of Poseidon, circa 160 BC, from the Great Altar of Zeus.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin.

This statue was made of Proconnesian marble [1] around 160 BC, during the reign of Eumenes II (197-159 BC). Found at the Great Altar of Zeus (the "Pergamon Altar" see gallery 2, page 23) among statues of tritons. The statue group decorated the roof (akroterion) of the altar. The god originally held a trident in his raised right hand and a dolphin in his left. The statue is now in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, along with many other archaeological finds from Pergamon.

In comparison to the pugilistic statue of "Athena with the cross-banded aegis" on gallery 2, page 13, this statue makes the cruel sea god and seismic earth-shaker Poseidon (Ποσειδῶν), brother of Zeus, look rather beneficent. Although ancient writers did not shy away from describing the god's wrathful treatment of heroes such Odysseus, it seems that sculptors took no risks and preferred to present his grandeur.

According to Roman poet Ovid, it was Poseidon (known to the Romans as Neptune), who caused the Great Flood when his brother Zeus decided to destroy the first human race.

"Neptune himself strikes the ground with his trident, so that it trembles, and with that blow opens up channels for the waters.

Overflowing, the rivers rush across the open plains, sweeping away at the same time not just orchards, flocks, houses and human beings, but sacred temples and their contents. Any building that has stood firm, surviving the great disaster undamaged, still has its roof drowned by the highest waves, and its towers buried below the flood.

And now the land and sea are not distinct, all is the sea, the sea without a shore.

There one man escapes to a hilltop, while another seated in his rowing boat pulls the oars over places where lately he was ploughing. One man sails over his cornfields or over the roof of his drowned farmhouse, while another man fishes in the topmost branches of an elm.

Sometimes, by chance, an anchor embeds itself in a green meadow, or the curved boats graze the tops of vineyards. Where lately lean goats browsed shapeless seals play.

The Nereids are astonished to see woodlands, houses and whole towns under the water. There are dolphins in the trees: disturbing the upper branches and stirring the oak-trees as they brush against them. Wolves swim among the sheep, and the waves carry tigers and tawny lions. The boar has no use for his powerful tusks, the deer for its quick legs, both are swept away together, and the circling bird, after a long search for a place to land, falls on tired wings into the water.

The sea in unchecked freedom has buried the hills, and fresh waves beat against the mountaintops. The waters wash away most living things, and those the sea spares, lacking food, are defeated by slow starvation." [2]

"Virtuous and justice-loving" Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha are the only humans to survive the deluge, escaping in a small boat and landing on Mount Parnassos in Phocis (above Delphi). The gods allow the waters to retreat, and on the advice of Themis, daughter of Ouranos (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth), Deucalion and Pyrrha throw stones on the ground, from which grow a new human race.

The head of the Pergamon statue of Poseidon at My Favourite Planet

Head of the Poseidon statue.

The Pergamon Poseidon statue in full length at My Favourite Planet

The Pergamon Poseidon
statue in full length.

Votive pinax of Poseidon with a trident at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a small ceramic votive tablet (pinax) showing Poseidon
with a trident. Found in 1879 in the sanctuary of Poseidon,
Penteskouphia, near Corinth, Greece. [3] 7th - 6th century BC.

Neues Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 368.
gallery 2
Notes, references and links

1. Proconnesian marble was produced on the island of Proconnesos (Προκόννησος or Προικόνησος, Prokonnesos), today known as Marmara (Μαρμαρά), the largest island in the Propontis (the Sea of Marmara), north of Pergamon. The name Marmara is from the Greek word for marble (μάρμαρος, shining rock). Proconnesian marble was used for building and sculpture at many ancient sites in Greece and Anatolia, including Pergamon, Troy, Athens and Ephesus.

Underwater archaeological investigations of ancient sunken ships off the Black Sea and Aegean coasts of Turkey, such as at Kizilburun, have revealed cargoes of unfinished column parts and sculptures. The finds indicate that parts for buildings were shipped from Proconnesos in a semi-finished state, to be completed at their destination.

Since Pergamon did not have local marble quarries, it imported the stone mainly from Proconnesos, Ephesus and Lesbos, and to a lesser extent from Hymettos (Athens) and Thassos. The expense of buying and transporting marble and limestone forced Pergamese builders to become very creative with less suitable local stone such as andesite (see gallery 1, page 5).

Pergamon took control of Proconnesos at the end of the 3rd century BC, and its quarries became royal property. After this time marble was used in great quantites for building and sculpture in the city. During the Roman Imperial period the quarries belonged to the emperors.

See: Deborah Carlson and William Aylward, The Kızılburun Shipwreck and the Temple of Apollo at Claros. American Journal of Archaeology online, January 2010.

2. Ovid on the Great Flood

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC - 17/18 AD), a highly influential Roman poet who was exiled to Tomis on the Black Sea (Pontos) in 8 AD by Emperor Augustus.

Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Book I, lines 274-292.
Prose translation by A. S. Kline, at

3. Pinakes from Penteskouphia, Corinth

For further information about Penteskouphia Pinakes, see History of Stageira part 3.
Maps, photos and articles: © David John,
except where otherwise specified.

Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis

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See also
The Cheshire Cat Blog
photo essays about Turkey:

Istanbul Essentials part 1

Istanbul Essentials part 2

Istanbul Essentials part 3
with video

Ionian Spring part 1

Ionian Spring part 2

Ionian Spring part 3
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