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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Alexander the Great

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Marble head of Alexander the Great, Pella Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Alexander the Great, end of 4th century BC. Pella Archaeological Museum. [1]
This page deals mostly with portraits of Alexander the Great and is currently being reworked. Some of the content originally appeared in the travel guide to Pella.


Alexander the Great

Alexandros III of Macedonia (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Alexandros o Megas, Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC), native of Pella, son of King Philip II of Macedonia (382-336 BC), pupil of the philosopher Aristotle and conquerer of the ancient Persian Empire.

The head in the photo above, 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.)

"... The outward appearance of Alexander is best represented by the statues of him made by Lysippos, and it was this artist alone that Alexander himself thought it fit that he should be modelled. For those traits that many of his successors and friends afterwards tried to imitate, namely the poise of the neck, which was bent slightly to the left, and the melting glance of his eyes, this artist has accurately observed..."

Plutarch, Lives, Alexander, IV, 1.

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 contemporary 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 became 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. Since 2010 there appears to have been no further news on this matter. On a recent visit to the Thessaloniki museum I enquired about the statuette, but the staff were unable to offer any information.

Perhaps less surprisingly, none of the paintings of Alexander commissioned by him or his successors have survived. A number of works of the Roman period are thought to have been based on Hellenistic originals, including the "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii (see below). A painting of the wedding of Alexander and Roxana by Aetion, described by the Roman author Lucian of Samosata (circa 125-180 AD), may have been painted during Alexander's lifetime, although it is unclear where or when it was painted, or who commissioned it (for further information, see Aetion of Amphipolis).
 
References to Alexander the Great
on My Favourite Planet
 
Travel guide to Pella, Macedonia, Greece
 
Travel guide to Stageira and Olympiada,
Macedonia, Greece:

History part 6
 
History of Pergamon
 
The Wedding of Alexander and Roxana
the fresco by Sodoma in the Villa Farnesina, Rome

A life-size marble statue of Alexander the Great, Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great.

An over life-size marble statue,
found with a marble plinth signed by
Menas of Pergamon. Excavated in
1895 by K. Buresch at the sanctuary
of Kybele, Magnesia ad Sipylum, Lydia
(Manisa, Turkey). Mid 3rd century BC.
Height 190 cm.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 709. Cat. Mendel 536.

Marble base with the signature of
Menas. Inv. No. 744. Cat. Mendel 537.
Inscription TAM V,2 1358.
 
Head of the statue of Alexander the Great in Istanbul Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

Head of the statue of Alexander the
Great from Magnesia ad Sipylum.
 
Head of the statue of Alexander the Great from Magnesia ad Sipylum in profile at My Favourite Planet

The Magnesia Alexander in profile.

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 headdress. Pentelic marble,
circa 300 BC. Found in Kerameikos,
Athens in 1875.

The Greek letters are thought to be magical
symbols scratched on the head later.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 366.
Statuette of the Greek hero Herakles wearing a lion skin at My Favourite Planet

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

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 of Alexander the Great as Herakles, 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.

Bode Museum, Berlin.

See Big Money at The Cheshire Cat Blog.
 
A silver tetradrachm coin depicting Alexander the Great wearing the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon

Silver tetradrachm of Lysimachus of Thrace.
305-281 BC. Thought to be the earliest
depiction of Alexander the Great wearing
ram's horns, the symbol of the syncretic
Egyptian-Greek god Zeus Ammon.
Alexander visited the sanctuary of
Ammon (Amun) at Siwa, in the
Western Desert of Egypt, in 332 BC.

Numismatic Museum, Athens.
The Alexander Gem, the head of Alexander the Great wearing the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon at My Favourite Planet

"The Alexander Gem", a tourmaline sealstone
from Beirut, 325-300 BC, with a portrait of
Alexander the Great wearing the ram's
horns of Zeus Ammon.

The tiny inscription below the neck is
carved in an oriental script, suggesting
that the gem was cut in the east of his
empire, perhaps near India. Width 2.4 cm.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. AN1892.1499.
Reverend G. J. Chester bequest.
A portrait of Alexander the Great on a gold Abukir medallion

Profile of Alexander the Great wearing the
ram's horns of Zeus Ammon on a gold Abukir
medallion. 211-235 AD. One of several large
gold medallions found in Abukir, Egypt in 1902.

See also a portrait of Alexander's mother
Olympias on an Abukir medallion
on Stageira History part 6.

The medallions were minted by Roman emperors
as gifts for high-ranking officers and officials
at the Alexandrian Olympic games, held in
Macedonian cities such as Veria (225-250 AD).

Bode Museum, Berlin.
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, Macedonia. 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
A marble statuette of Alexander the Great from Priene at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a marble statuette of Alexander the Great from Priene.

200-150 BC. Discovered in Priene, Ionia (near Güllübahçe, Turkey) in 1895.
Height 31.6 cm (without arm 28 cm), height of head 12 cm.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 1500.

Discovered among other sculptures, terracotta figurines and objects associated with religious sacrifice, in the "House of Alexander the Great", during excavations directed by the German archaeologist Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936) from 1895 to 1899. The house is in a residential area near the western gate of Priene, east of the temple of Kybele (see photo and map below). It is believed to have been used as a hieron (shrine for a deified hero) dedicated to the Alexander after his stay in Priene during the siege of Miletus in 334 BC. It is also thought that he may have resided there during his stay. An inscription from the Sacred Stoa in the agora of Priene, dated to before 130 BC, documents the renovation of an Alexandreion by private donations.

A fragment of a sword hilt with fingers of a left hand (Inv. No. Sk 1500a), thought to belong to the statuette, is now missing. The statuette was acquired by the Berlin museums as part of the division of archaeological finds agreed between the Turkish and German authorities.

See an inscription from Priene below, naming
Alexander as dedicator of the temple of Athena Polias.
 

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

Marble head of Alexander the Great,
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 the Great
from the Lower Agora of Pergamon.

First half of the 2nd century BC.
Height 42 cm.

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

See Pergamon gallery 2, page 2.
 

Marble head of Alexander the Great from Kos at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Alexander the Great,
found in 1904 in the Asklepion of the
Dodecanese island of Kos. Hellenistic,
circa 150 BC. Height 31.5 cm.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 1524 T. Cat. Mendel 539.
 
Marble head of Alexander the Great from Kyme at My Favourite Planet

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

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 388 T. Cat. Mendel 597.
 

Head of Alexander from Thasos at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of a statue of Alexander the Great
from the Court of the Passage of the Theoroi,
Thasos, Greece. 2nd century AD.

Alexander was worshipped on Thasos,
where an annual Alexandreia festival
was held on his birthday.

Thasos 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.

Roman period copy of an original from
around 330 BC. Acquired in 1874 in
Madytos, Thrace (now Turkey).

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 329.
 

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.

The lower part of the front of the nose and
the bust have been restored. The identification
of the head as Alexander-Helios is based on
seven holes drilled around the top, thought
to have supported metal solar rays. Probably
one of the antiquities ceded by Pope Pius V
to the municipality of Rome in 1566.

Sala del Galata, Palazzo Nuovo,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC732. From the Vatican.
 
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.
 

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.

Galleria, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC532.
 
Male head after a Greek original of the 4th century BC at My Favourite Planet

"Male head after a Greek original
of the 4th century BC."

Sala del Fauno, Palazzo Nuovo,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC701.
From the Albani Collection.

Marble head of Alexander the Great from Tivoli, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Alexander the Great.

Parian marble. 1st century BC. Found in the
portico of the temple of Hercules, Tivoli, Rome.

The holes around the top of the head indicate
the attachement of a metal crown. The find
spot suggests that Alexander was assimilated
to the worship of the god Hercules.

National Museum of Rome,
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
Inv. No. 124507.
 
Gilded bronze head of Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet

Gilded bronze head of Alexander the Great.

2nd century AD.

National Museum of Rome,
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
Inv. No. 661.
From the Kircherian Museum.
 

Bust of Alexander or Eubouleus in the Athenian Agora at My Favourite Planet

Bust of Alexander or Eubouleus, a god
connected with the Eleusinian Mysteries
(see Demeter).

Unfinished 2nd century AD copy of a work of
the 4th century BC. Discovered in 1959 by
Dorothy Burr Thompson in the Athens Agora.

Agora Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. S 2089.
 
Bust thought to be a portrait of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

Marble bust thought to be a portrait
of Alexander the Great.

From Thessaloniki, 175-200 AD. Perhaps
associated with the group of cult statues
of the family of Alexander in the city.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
 

Marble head of Alexander the Great from Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Marble head, with reconstructed nose
and upper lip, thought to be a portrait
of Alexander the Great.

Museo Civico, Castello Ursino,
Catania, Sicily. Biscari Collection.
 
Head in the style of depictions of Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet

"Fragment of a head in the style of depictions of Alexander the Great."
Late 3rd century AD.

Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum,
Dresden. Inv. No. ZV 4032.
 

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.
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.
  All photos: © David John

See also statues of Alexander and Hephaistion from Alexandria, Egypt
on Pella gallery page 17.

Mosaic of Alexander the Great from Pompeii at My Favourite Planet

Detail 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, perhaps the picture by Philoxenos of Eretria of the Battle of Issos, made
for King Cassander of Macedon (circa 350-297 BC), circa 315 BC. [10]

Floor mosaic, made using the opus vermiculatum (Latin, worm-like work) technique
with local stone and some glass tesserae, 125-120 BC. It was 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.
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 his favourite steed Bucephalos (Βουκέφαλος, Ox-Head).

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 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.
 
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) or the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC).

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 370 T. Cat. Mendel 68.

Detail of one of the coloured reliefs on the "Alexander Sarcophagus" (Iskender Laht), from the Royal Necropolis of the Phoenician city of Sidon (Sayda, Chamber No. III), today in southern Lebanon. Excavated in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910, first Director General of the Ottoman Imperial Museums, 1881-1910) and restored by sculptor Yervant Voskan (Osgan Efendi, 1855-1914).

Last quarter of the 4th century BC. Pentelic marble. Weapons and horse reins were made of silver, but only one silver axe has survived the attentions of grave robbers. The reliefs were painted red, blue, yellow, red ochre, violet, purple, earth, burnt sienna, black and white (see photo below).

The large sarcophagus is in the form of a Greek temple, with all four sides and both pediments on the lid decorated with reliefs showing what are considered to be historical events. One of the long sides depicts a battle between Macedonians and Persians, thought to be the Battle of Issos, the other a lion hunt (see photo below).

Shortly after its discovery it was proposed that the sarcophagus was the tomb of Abdalonymos (Ἀβδαλώνυμος), who was made king of Sidon by Alexander in 332 BC. The figures represented on the reliefs were identified as Alexander, Abdalonymos, Hephastion (Alexander's companion), Arrhidaios (Alexander's half brother, later Philip III), Perdiccas (one of Alexander's generals, later co-ruler with or regent for Arrhidaios), as well as other Macedonian and Persian aristocrats, soldiers and hunters. The figures identified as Alexander, Hephaestion and Abdalonymos appear on both long sides.

Alexander (left), wears a lionskin headdress (see above), a chiton (tunic), gathered up and belted at the waist, and a chlamys (short cloak). He rides a rearing horse (perhaps Bucephalos), and his right arm is raised to aim a spear (now missing) downwards and to the right at a fleeing and cowering Persian whose horse has fallen beneath him. Inevitably, the iconography of the relief has been compared to that of the "Alexander Mosaic" in Naples, and it has been suggested that both works derive from the same hypothetical painting (see above).

The Canadian historian Waldemar Heckel has challenged the traditional interpretation of the reliefs, arguing that the sarcophagus may have been made for Mazaeus (died 328 BC), a Persian general and satrap (governor) appointed by Alexander as the satrap of Babylon after the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC). According to this argument the identification of the figures and events on the reliefs should be reappraised, and the battle depicted is Gaugamela. Heckel also asserts that the primary source for accounts of the battle by later authors (Diodorus, Curtius, Plutarch) was the Alexandrou Praxis (Deeds of Alexander) by Callisthenes of Olynthos (see below), only fragments of which have survived. [5]
 
A model of Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issos from the Alexander Sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

A modern model reconstructing the polychrome decoration of Alexander the Great
at the Battle of Issos from the relief on the "Alexander Sarcophagus".

Study: Vinzenze Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann. Stereolithography: Alphaform, Munich.
Restoration of missing parts: Joseph Kotti, Sylvia Kellner. Painting: Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Detail of the statuette of Alexander in Berlin at My Favourite Planet   Marble statuette of Alexander the Great in Berlin at My Favourite Planet
Marble statuette of Alexander the Great. Around 150 AD.

The statuette belonged to the collection of Cardinal Melchior de Polignac,
from which it was purchased by King Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the
Great). It was formerly kept in Schloss Charlottenberg, Berlin. During
restorations in 1724 and 1735 the ancient head and torso with cuirass
were restored as a complete figure.

Height 103 cm, width 32 cm, depth 24 cm;
height of statue 95 cm, head (with neck) 17.8 cm.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 304.
Statuette depicting Alexander the Great as a Roman general at My Favourite Planet

Copper alloy statuette from Egypt depicting Alexander the Great
as a Roman general, wearing the Gorgoneion on his cuirass.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Egyptian Collection, Inv. No. 2577.
Statuette of Alexander the Great as Cosmocrator Helios at My Favourite Planet

Part of a copper alloy statuette from Egypt depicting
Alexander the Great as Cosmocrator Helios.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Egyptian Collection, Inv. No. X198.
The so-called Alexander Rondanini statue of Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet   The head of the Alexander Rondanini statue at My Favourite Planet
The so-called "Alexander Rondanini" marble statue, thought to represent Alexander the Great.

Right: photo of the head of the statue from a plaster cast.

The life-sized statue was named the "Alexander Rondanini" due to the fact that it was part of the large private collection of antiquities kept by the wealthy Rondanini family at the Palazzo Rondanini (now Palazzo Rondanini-Sanseverino) in the centre of Rome, from where it was purchased for the Glyptothek museum, Munich in 1814.

It was first identified as a portrait of Alexander by the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), but this identification remains a subject of debate.

According to one theory it is part of a Roman copy of a statue group by Euphranor of Corinth (Ἐυφράνωρ, flourished circa 390-325 BC), mentioned by Pliny the Elder (The Natural History, Book 34, chapter 19), depicting King Philip II of Macedon on a four-horse chariot with his son Alexander at the reigns. Other scholars believe it may be a Roman copy of a late Hellenistic portrait of Alexander as Achilles, or perhaps of Achilles himself.

Glyptothek, Munich. Inv. No. GL 298. Height 1.78 metres.

Image source: Ludwig Curtius (1874-1954), Die antike Kunst Band II, page 363, figs. 546 and 547. Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion M.B.H, Wildpark-Potsdam, 1926.

See also:

Ralf von den Hoff, Der "Alexander Rondanini". Mythischer Heros oder heroischer Herrscher?, in Münchner Jahrbuch für bildende Kunst, 48 (1997), pages 7-28.

Olga Palagia, Euphranor. Brill, Leiden, 1980.
 
Base of a bronze statue of Alexander the Great from Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

Inscribed marble base of a bronze statue of Alexander the Great from Thessaloniki.

Severan dynasty, late 2nd - early 3rd centuries AD.

According to the inscription, the city of the Thessalonians
honoured King Alexander the Great as a son of Zeus.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 11318.
Inscribed building slab commemorating Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet

Inscribed building slab commemorating Alexander the Great as a son of Zeus.

From Thessaloniki, 150-200 AD.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Inscribed building slab commemorating Alexander IV at My Favourite Planet

Inscribed building slab commemorating Alexander IV, the son
of Alexander the Great, naming the latter as a son of Zeus.

From Thessaloniki, 150-200 AD.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Silver decadrachm coin showing Alexander the Great fighting king Porus of Paurava on an elephant at My Favourite Planet

Replica of a silver decadrachm coin showing Alexander fighting King Porus
of Paurava (in present day Pakistan) on an elephant, at the Battle of the
Hydaspes River (today the Jhelum) in 326 BC. Alexander probably issued
the coins in Babylon, 325-323 BC, to commemorate his victory.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. HCR6280.

This type of coin is known as a "Porus Medallion" or "Franks Medallion", after the historian, museum administrator and collector Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-1897), who donated the first known example to the British Museum in 1887. It has been suggested that the coin was part of a hoard of ancient precious objects discovered near the Oxus River (the Amu Darya, Afghanistan), known as the "Oxus Treasure".

Franks' coin was first published in an illustrated article in The Numismatic Chronicle in 1887, where it was stated that it was "... found two or three years ago at Khullum, in Bokhara, and presented to the British Museum by Mr. A. W. Franks."

The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, Third Series, Volume VII, "VI. New Greek coins of Bactria and India", pages 177-181. Bernard Quaritch, London, 1887.

The reverse side of the coin shows a standing helmeted figure, believed to be Alexander, holding a spear or sceptre in his left hand and the thunderbolt of Zeus in his left, being crowned by a winged Nike (Victory). The coin type is considered historically important for several reasons, particularly because it may have been minted during Alexander's lifetime, and is thought to depict him fighting in a significant battle on one side, and in the guise of Zeus on the other. Following Alexander's victory at the Hydaspes, he made Porus (Πῶρος, Poros, the name given him by the Greeks; his real name is unknown) his satrap in the area, abandoned his military expedition through India and returned westwards to Babylon, where he died three years later.
 
A relief of Alexander meeting with Diogenes at Corinth at My Favourite Planet

A marble bas-relief in the Villa Albani, Rome, depicting
Alexander meeting the philosopher Diogenes at Corinth.

Roman, late 2nd century AD.

An engraving made by Giovanni Battista Casanova for Johann Joachim Winckelmann.

From the Albani Collection. Inv. No. 161. Now in the Torlonia Collection, Rome.

The relief is said to have been discovered by workmen in May 1726 at Monte Testaccio, near the Porta di S. Paolo, Rome. The artist Pier Leone Ghezzi claimed to have been drinking wine nearby at the time and to have purchased the find for one scudo. Soon after it was acquired by the art dealer Philipp von Stosch, who had it restored to its present state, which included the addition of the figure of Alexander and the head of Diogenes, based on other ancient sculptures. At some point it was acquired by Cardinal Alessandro Albani for his collection in the Villa Albani.

The anecdotal meeting of Alexander and the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (Διογένης, 412 or 404 - 323 BC) is mentioned by ancient writers, including Plutarch, who tells us that it occurred when Alexander was at a general assembly of the Greeks at Corinth, probably in 336 BC.

"And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus [Corinth], where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise.

But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, 'Yes,' said Diogenes, 'stand a little out of my sun.'

It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, 'But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.'"

Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, The Life of Alexander (Part 1 of 7). Loeb Classical Library, Volume VII, 1919. At Bill Thayer's website LacusCurtius.

The area of Corinth known as Kraneion was a cypress grove with a temple of Aphrodite Melainis, a chthonic divinity worshipped in cemeteries, and later a meeting place for philosophers. It is said that Diogenes lived in a large amphora or pithos (not a barrel, since they had not yet been invented). The dog on top of it is an allusion to the Cynical philosopher's nickname of the Dog, perhaps from the Greek word cynic (κυνικός, kynikos, dog-like; from κύων, kyon, dog). The Cynics were thought to have been given their name due to the fact that Antisthenes (Ἀντισθένης; circa 445-365 BC) taught in the gymnasium at Cynosarges (Κυνόσαργες, Kynosarges, place of the white dog), a sanctuary of Herakles east of the Athens city walls, near the Ilissos river (see a map of ancient Athens in Digging Aristotle at The Cheshire Cat Blog).

The relief was described and illustrated by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da Giovanni Winckelmann, Volume I (Unedited antique monuments, described and illustrated by Giovanni Winckelmann), plate 174. Rome, 1767. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.

Much of the Albani Collection was later sold off and the works are now dispersed among many collections and museums around the world (for example, the Capitoline Museums, Naples, Dresden and the Louvre). However, several works are still in the private collection of the Villa Albani which has belonged to the Torlonia family since 1866. Kept in storage for many years, plans were set in motion in 2016 to finally exhibit the works to the public.
 
A Byzantine relief depicting the ascension of Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet

A Byzantine marble relief depicting the ascension of Alexander the Great.

Late 10th - early 11th century AD. Found in the area of
the site of the Forum of Theodosius, Beyazit, Istanbul.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5799 T.

One of several Medieval images showing Alexander the Great, depicted as a contemporary king or emperor, ascending to heaven on a chariot-like device drawn by two griffins. Images of the type known as "the ascension of Alexander the Great", "Alexander’s celestial journey" and "the aerial flight of Alexander the Great" appeared from around the 9th century AD, until the 13th century on sculptures, reliefs and mosaics in or on the exterior of churches, and until the 16th century in miniatures in manuscripts and tapestries. Such representations have been found over an enormously wide geographic area, from Chester in northern England to the Yamalo-Nenetz district of Siberia. [6]

The literary source for the imagery is thought to have been a largely fictional account of Alexander's life known as the Alexander romance. The earliest known version is in Greek and dated to the 3rd century AD, containing legends about Alexander, some of which may have been in circulation during his lifetime or shortly after. The work was traditionally attributed to Callisthenes of Olynthos (Καλλισθένης, Kallisthenes, circa 360-328 BC), a great nephew of Aristotle who accompanied Alexander on his military campaigns and wrote an account of them. This attribution was later considered implausible due to the fantastic nature of the narrative, and because Callisthenes was executed by Alexander and could not have written about the king's entire life. The author is therefore usually referred to as Pseudo-Callisthenes.

Later versions, with various interpolations, embellishments and fabulous episodes, were written in several languages, including Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Syriac, French and English. Not all versions include the episode in which Alexander captures two fantastic birds or griffins, tethers them and has them pull him up into the sky to explore the heavens. As in several other ascension images, the relief above shows the figure holding up two sticks on the end of which are pieces of meat used to coax the griffins into flight.

The depictions of Alexander on a large number of Medieval artefacts across the Christian and Muslim world are evidence of the continuing popular fascination with the legends of the king as a wise ruler and accomplished, fearless warrior. The reasons for the use of the ascension scene to decorate churches are uncertain: either they were meant to illustrate Alexander's arrogant and sinful pride (hubris, or in Christian terms, exemplum superbiae, an example of pride) in attempting to fly to heaven, or as an allegory of the king as the ideal earthly ruler seeking spiritual salvation, whose ascension was associated with that of Christ.
 
A modern equestrian statue of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

A modern equestrian statue of Alexander the Great 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", 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.

Statue of Alexander the Great and Bucephalos in Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

Alexander and Bucephalos in Thessaloniki.
 
A modern bust of Alexander the Great in the entrance to the Town Hall of Serres, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

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

The Alexander Mosaic depicting 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).


Photos: © David John
  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), is 582 cm wide and 313 cm high, and the picture area 512 x 271 cm [7].

It originally decorated the floor of a room in the House of the Faun [8], 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. [9]

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 been suggested as authors of the original work from which this mosaic may be a copy [10]:

Aristides of Thebes

Helena of Egypt

Philoxenus of Eretria
 
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.
Battle of Alexander and Darius by Pietro da Cortona at My Favourite Planet

Battle of Alexander and Darius by Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669), painted 1644-1650.

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. PC260.

Probably painted for Alessandro Sacchetti, Captain of the Papal troops and brother of Cardinal Guilio who was one of Pietro da Cortona's main patrons.

The Baroque painting is remarkable for its dynamic composition, vivid colours, virtuoso representation of the action, figures, costumes and other details. It was not possible for artists of this time to be historically accurate in their representation of such details as armour, weapons or breeds of horses. However, da Cortona created a scene of a battle, including the brutality, fear and chaos, to tell a story in a convincing way.

Even more remarkable is the similarity of the composition to that of the Alexander Mosaic, two centuries before its discovery. As in the mosaic, Alexander on horseback (with Zeus as an eagle flying above his head) charges to the right, towards the fleeing chariot of a surprised and fearful looking Darius. Around the two main figures, warriors are engaged in fierce close combat above the bodies of fallen soldiers and horses. Da Pietro has even included the device of massed upright spears above and behind the main field of action, although they play a less dominant role in the overall composition.

Whereas the mosaic maker gives us a view of the battle from more or less eye level, Da Pietro shows the scene from a more elevated perspective so that we are above the action, and the enormous scale of the battle can be suggested by the fighting figures in the background, particularly on the right of the scene, beyond which we can see part of a broad plain. On the left a mountain rises above the figures and a bright blue sky with dramatic clouds which echo the action on the ground.
The lion hunt relief on the Alexander Sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

The lion hunt relief on the other long side of the "Alexander Sarcophagus",
opposite the scene showing Alexander fighting Persians (see above).

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 370 T. Cat. Mendel 68.

Alexander is shown riding the rearing horse on the left (see detail below). In the centre is the figure usually identified as Abdalonymos, dressed in Persian style, riding the horse being attacked by a lion. To the right of the lion, Alexander's companion Hephaistos (?), also on horseback, wears a red cloak (originally purple).

On the far right of the frieze, a Macedonian and a man in Persian dress hunt a stag. The poses of the figures are similar to those on the Lion Hunt mosaic and Stag Hunt mosaic in Alexander's hometown Pella, Macedonia.
Detail of the the lion hunt relief on the Alexander Sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the the lion hunt scene on the "Alexander Sarcophagus", with Alexander (left)
and Abdalonymos (?) on horseback. Both figures originally held spears made of silver.
A figure in Persian garb (right) is about to stike the lion with an axe. The horses are shown
at a smaller scale than the humans and the lion. Two hunting dogs are also shown in action.
An inscrition naming Alexander the Great from the temple of Athena Polias, Priene at My Favourite Planet

An inscription naming Alexander the Great as dedicator of the
temple of Athena Polias, Priene (Πριήνη), Ionia, Anatolia (Asia Minor).

ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΑΝΕΘΗΚΕ ΤΟΝ ΝΑΟΝ ΑΘΗΝΑ Η ΠΟΛΙΑΔΙ

King Alexander dedicated the temple to Athena Polias

334-330 BC. A wall block from the anta of the temple.
Height 49.53 cm, width 120.65 cm.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1870,0320.88 (part) (Inscription 399).

The inscription was discovered at the temple during excavations at Priene in 1868-9 directed by the architect Richard Popplewell Pullan (1825-1888) on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti. It was shipped with other finds from Priene to England and donated to the British Museum in 1870.

Alexander visited Priene in 334 BC when the Ionic temple, designed by the architect Pytheos, was still under construction. He left funds for its completion, for which he was named as the dedicator. Two other inscribed blocks below this dedication detail Alexander's funding of the temple.

At Ephesus his offer to pay for the rebuilding of the Temple of Artemis had been diplomatically turned down, on the grounds that it would be unfitting for a god to make a dedication to another god.
The ruins of the temple of Athena Polias, Priene at My Favourite Planet

The ruins of the temple of Athena Polias in Priene, designed by the architect
Pytheos in the 4th century BC, and finally completed during the reign
of Emperor Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD). Five reconstructed Ionic columns of
the north side of the temple (originally there were eleven) stand against
the city's 381 metre high acropolis, on the southeast side of Mount Mykale.
The House of Alexander the Great or Alexandreion, Priene at My Favourite Planet

The site of the "House of Alexander the Great", "Alexandreion" (Turkish, Alexander'in Evi)
or "Sacred House" on the south side of the West Gate Street in Priene, among similar
ruins of rows of houses along both sides of the street (see plan below). All that now
remains are strewn stone blocks, lower parts of walls and part of a pebble mosaic floor.
Map of Priene showing the location of the House of Alexander the Great at My Favourite Planet

Plan of the west of Priene showing the location of the "House of Alexander the Great" (B), House 22,
3rd insula, on West Gate Street (Westthor Strasse), just to the east of the sanctuary of Kybele (A).
The steep street led up from the city's western gate to the fish and meat market and the main agora.
Further uphill to the northeast is the sanctuary and the temple of Athena Polias (marked yellow).

Image source: Theodor Wiegand (1864-1936) and Johann (Hans) Schrader (1869-1948),
Priene: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen und Untersuchungen in den Jahren 1895-1898.
Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1904. At archive.org.
Schrader described the house and the archaeological finds in
V., 6. "Das heilige Haus an der Westthorstrasse", pages 172-182.
 
Alexander
the Great
Notes, references and links

1. Head of Alexander the Great in Pella

A chance find from Giannitsa, near Pella, Macedonia, Greece.
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 of Corinth is based on a reference from Pliny the Elder (Natural history, Book XXXIV, chapter 78). According to other theories it may be the head of Mithra Tauroctonos or one of the Dioskouroi with the features of Alexander.

See: 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 XXXIV, chapter 45).

See: 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 four-sided portico, 132 x 140 metres, was restored 27-23 BC by Emperor Augustus, who renamed it Porticus Octaviae (see drawing below) after his sister Octavia Minor (wife of Mark Antony), 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 were destroyed) and 203 AD, after which it was rebuilt by Emperor Septimius Severus, 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 founded by Pope Stephen III in 755, built using columns and other material from the portico. The monumental entrance (propylaeum) of the portico was repaired, with a brick archway replacing two of its four Corinthian columns, and still acts as an entrance to the precinct of the church (see photo below).

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 (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23-79 AD) also mentioned Metellus bringing the statues of the Granikos Monument to Rome (Natural History, Book XXXIV, chapter 19), and listed several of the other works of art exhibited within the porticus (Book XXXVI).

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

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. Morris Hicky Morgan. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and Oxford University Press, 1914. At Perseus Tufts.
 
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 by Lysippos.

On the other hand, some scholars believe it may have been made in the 5th century BC by Hegias of Athens (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.
Reconstruction drawing of the Porticus Octaviae, Rome at My Favourite Planet

A reconstruction drawing of the Porticus Octaviae, Rome, showing the temples
of Juno Regina (left) and Jupiter Stator. The latter was designed by the Greek
architect Hermodorus of Salamis in the 2nd century BC. The portico also contained
a Greek and a Latin library and the Curia in which the Senate sometimes met.

The inscription on the architrave of the central gateway (propylaeum):

OCTAVIAE SORORI OCTAVIANUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS (Octavia, sister of Octavian Caesar Augustus)

The fragmentary inscription which can now be seen on the architrave (see photo below)
is of a later date and mentions emperors Pertinax, Marcus Aurelius and Antoninus Pius.

Drawing made in 1827 by Felix Duban, a pensionnaire in the French Academy in Rome.
The remains of the Porticus Octaviae, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The remains of the monumental entrance (propylaeum) on the south side of the Portico of Octavia
in front of the church of Sant' Angelo in Pescheria, on the Via del Portico d'Ottavia.

One of the eagles carrying thunderbolts in their talons - symbols of Jupiter - which decorated the Corinthian capitals of the entrance can still be seen on the second column from the left.

The remains of the portico stand over 2 metres below the present street level, and much of it lies beneath the church and surrounding houses. On the right of the photo, a footbridge leads to the church, and a ramp and steps lead down to the ruins of the portico, the enormous Theatre of Marcellus and the temples of Apollo Sosianus and Bellona, in the area where the Circus of Flaminius once stood.

The archaeological area, which can also be entered from the east from Via del Teatro di Marcello, is open 9 am - 7 pm (winter 6 pm). Entrance is free.


5. Mazaeus on the "Alexander Sarcophagus"?

See: Waldemar Heckel, Mazaeus, Callisthenes and the Alexander Sarcophagus. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Band 55, H. 4 (2006), pages 385-396. Franz Steiner Verlag. At jstor.

6. Alexander ascension imagery

For further discussion about the sources and iconography of the "ascension of Alexander", including photos of several examples, a bibliography and links, see:

Julianna Lees, Representations of the Fantastical Adventures of Alexander the Great in Romanesque and pre-Romanesque Art. A series of papers from different sources with added notes and illustrations, 2012. PDF document at green-man-of-cercles.org.

See also:

A study of the iconography, origins, scholarship and literary sources of ascension images, including an extensive, illustrated catalogue of known Western examples.
Victor M. Schmidt, A Legend and Its Image: The Aerial Flight of Alexander the Great in Medieval Art. Translated by Xandra Bardet. (Mediaevalia Groningana, 17) Egbert Forsten, Groningen, 1995.

An illustrated article about the depiction of the "ascension of Alexander" on a 12th century floor mosaic designed by Pantaleone, in Otranto Cathedral, southern Italy.
Alexander in the Middle Ages, in Images of a legend: Iconography of Alexander the Great in Italy, pages 192-198 [see note above].
   

7. 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. www.electaweb.it.

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 archive.org.

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 archive.org.

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: alexandermosaik.de
 
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.

8. 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, see photo below right) 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 archive.org.

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 archive.org.

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 zeno.org.

9. 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. www.electaweb.it.

10. 4th century BC painters of Alexander's battles

The various theories about the identity of the painter whose work may have 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.

The first two contenders, Philoxenus of Eretria and Aristides of Thebes are mentioned briefly 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 (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23–79 AD), Naturalis Historia (Natural History), published around 77-79 AD. Book XXXV, chapter 110.
 
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.
Statuette of the Dancing Faun in the House of the Faun, Pompeii at My Favourite Planet

A replica of the bronze statuette of
the Dancing Faun after which the
House of the Faun was named.

Tuscan Atrium, House of the Faun (VI 12, 2),
Pompeii archaeological site.

The original, made in the late 2nd century BC,
is in the National Archaeological Museum,
Naples. Inv. No. 5002. Height 40 cm.
 
Photos on this page were taken during visits to the following museums:

Germany
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Dresden, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum

Greece
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Athens, Numismatic Museum
Pella Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia

Italy
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Pompeii archaeological site
Rome, archaeological site of the Theatre of Marcellus and Portico of Octavia
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

Italy - Sicily
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino

Turkey
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Priene archaeological site

United Kingdom
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum

Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
 
More photos and information
about mosaics
on My Favourite Planet


Hellenistic mosaics in Pella, Macedonia, Greece

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

Ancient mosaics depicting the Gorgon Medusa

Mosaics from Pompeii
signed by Dioskourides of Samos


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:
davidjohnberlin.de


Photos and articles © David John

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