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Marble head of Alexander the Great, end of 4th century BC. Pella Archaeological Museum. 
|Alexander the Great
This page deals mainly with portraits of Alexander the Great and is currently being reworked. Some of the content originally appeared in the Pella travel guide.
Alexandros III of Macedonia (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Alexandros o Megas, Alexander the Great, born 20/21 July 356 BC in Pella, died 10/11 June 323 BC in Babylon), native of Pella
, son and successor 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 tilted to the left, lips slightly parted and his gaze direct.
Several portraits show his hair styled with the characteristic "anastole" (from the Greek ἀναστολή, to put or push back), brushed back over the forehead, often with a prominent forelock or "cow-lick". One of the most obvious or exaggerated examples is on the head found in Thasos (see photo below
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..."
, 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 (see Aetion of Amphipolis
|Alexander and coinage
|Two silver tetradrachms minted in Macedonia 336-323 BC,
during the reign of Alexander the Great ("lifetime issues").
Alpha Bank Numsimatic Collection, Athens, Greece.
Both coins and the Celtic coins below shown at the same scale.
|The obverse side (left photo) shows the head of Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς) in profile, facing right, wearing the headdress made from the skin of the Nemean Lion. On some coins of this type the lion's head has more elaborate details and the skin is shown tied around Herakles' throat by its forepaws. On this example the design has been reduced to bold, simple forms.
Herakles was most often depicted with a beard in ancient Greek art and on coins, but heads of a beardless Herakles wearing the lionskin appear on some of the oldest known coins, including elctrum hekte (= 1/6 stater) coins of Erythrai (Ἐρυθραί), Ionia, issued around 550-500 BC. Beardless Herakles also appears on Sicilian coins of the 5th century BC, and silver tetradrachms of around 425-405 BC from Kamarina (Καμάρινα), on the south coast of Sicily, have a head of beardless Herakles wearing the lionskin, similar to that on the coins of Alexander.  Similar heads also featured on coins of previous Macedonian kings Amyntas III (ruled 393 BC and again 392-370 BC) and his son Perdiccas III (ruled 368-359 BC).
According to theories developed by a number of scholars, the face of Herakles on the coins issued during Alexander's lifetime in Macedonia and other regions he conquered gradually came to resemble portraits of the king himself as he become associated with the invincible hero-god, claimed by Macedonian rulers as an ancestor and founding father. While debate on the matter continues, it seems certain that coins issued by Alexander's successors (the Diadochi) bear portraits of the great king in the guise of Herakles (see photos below).
On the reverse side (right photo) Zeus Aetophoros (Ζευς αετοφόρος, Zeus holding an eagle) is seated on a stool, facing left, holding a sceptre vertically with his left hand, which his held behind him (to the right). On his right hand, stretched out in front of him (to the left), stands an eagle. He is naked to the hips, below which his lower torso and legs are wrapped in a himation (cloak). The lower right leg is drawn back to the right, so that the foot rests behind (to the right of) the left foot. Inscribed vertically to the right: AΛΕΞANΔΡΟΥ (Alexandrou, of Alexander).
In the left field, below the eagle are the marks Λ above a torch (often referred to as a race torch), and below the stool is a cross or star monogram. Coins with these marks are usually said to be from the Macedonian royal mint at Amphipolis, where the majority of Alexander's Macedonian silver tetradrachms are believed to have been minted, made with silver from mines on nearby Mount Pangaion. However, it remains uncertain - yet another subject of debate - where many coins of this type were minted, and it is also thought that at least some of them may be from other Macedonian mints such as Philippi (on the other side of Pangaion from Amphipolis) and the capital Pella.
An enormous number of coins of this type have survived and are now in several public and private collections. The Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection) of the State Museums Berlin (SMB) owns over 1400 from different mints and eras, varying enormously in quality and condition (from excellent to totally corroded). The SMB website has a searchable online catalogue, Münzkabinett - Online Catalogue, with images and details of items in its numismatic collection, including coins displayed in the Bode Museum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum. A search for "Alexandros III tetradrachme" returned 1480 results, the vast majority of which are coins of this type and classified as Macedonian.
It is evident that the die-cutters copying the designs at various locations over many generations varied in artistic and technical skills, as well as the ability to identify and imitate details such as the face and the complex forms of the lionskin headdress. Thus it is not so surprising that non-Greeks who copied such coins (see below) had difficulty imitating the iconography and inscriptions.
|Two silver tetradrachms minted by the Eastern Celts in the Danube region,
2nd century BC, imitating designs on Macedonian coins such as those above.
Alpha Bank Numsimatic Collection, Athens, Greece.
|Greek coins were copied by various peoples beyond Hellenized areas, particularly by Celts and Thracians, often for centuries after they were first circulated. The originals were acquired through trade, by mercenaries who had worked for Greeks (both Philip II and Alexander hired Celtic mercenaries), or as war booty. In some cases, as copies were successively made of copies, the motifs gradually became indistinct or stylized to the point of abstraction, and the original iconography, religious significance and political propaganda messages dissolved. Since many were produced by people who could not read Greek, the inscriptions were often reduced to letter-like forms (i.e. nonsense) or simple shapes such as rows of dots.
Macedonian silver tetradrachm with a portrait
of Alexander in the guise of Herakles wearing
the skin of the Nemean Lion's head, facing
right. One of the lion's forepaws is shown
below his jaw. The reverse side shows Zeus
Aetophoros and is inscribed AΛΕΞANΔΡΟΥ,
as in the coin above.
Circa 310-275 BC. Minted in Macedonia
or Greece, perhaps during the reign of
Philip III of Macedon (Philip Arrhidaios,
Φίλιππος Γ΄ ὁ Ἀρριδαῖος; reigned
323-317 BC), Alexander's half brother
and successor as king of Macedonia.
Diameter 28 mm, weight 17.11 g.
Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection),
State Museums Berlin (SMB).
Bode Museum. Inv. No. 18202512.
Purchased in 1875 with the coin collection
of Graf Anton Prokesch von Osten.
See Big Money at The Cheshire Cat Blog.
Silver tetradrachm of Ptolemy I of Egypt,
305-283 BC, showing the head of the
deified Alexander wearing an elephant hide,
over which is the the Uraeus, the serpent
symbol of Egyptian pharoahs, and below
it the aeigs of Zeus.
Numismatic Museum, Athens.
Onyx and chalcedony cameo gem with
a portrait of Alexander the Great.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. AN1941.403.
Sir Arthur Evans bequest.
Head of Alexander the Great wearing
a lion-skin headdress. Pentelic marble,
circa 300 BC. Found in Kerameikos,
Athens in 1875. Height 28 cm.
The Greek letters are thought to be magical
symbols scratched on the head later.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 366.
Marble statuette of Herakles wearing
the skin of the Nemean lion.
Pentelic marble, 350-325 BC. Height 54 cm.
Found 1885 near 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.)
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", 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.
Alexander the Great driving a chariot
drawn by four elephants, on a gold stater
of Ptolemy I of Egypt. Minted in Alexandria,
circa 305-298 BC.
Bode Museum, Berlin.
Profile of Alexander the Great on a silver
tetradrachm of the Roman province of
Macedonia, 95-75 BC, used as a symbol
to encourage the Macedonians in the war
against Mithridates VI of Pontus.
Numismatic Museum, Athens.
Replica of a silver decadrachm coin showing Alexander fighting King Poros
of Paurava (in present day Pakistan) on an elephant, at the Battle of the
Hydaspes River (today the Jhelum) in May 326 BC. Alexander may have
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 "Poros 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 may have been 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. At the Internet Archive.
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 Poros (Πῶρος, the name given him by the Greeks; his real name is unknown; Latin, Porus) his satrap in the area, abandoned his military expedition through India and returned westwards to Babylon, where he died three years later.
See: Frank L. Holt, Alexander the Great and the mystery of the elephant medallions. Hellenistic culture and society No. 44. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2003.
Holt examines numismatic and iconographic aspects of the medallions, their historical and political significance, the circumstances of finds of the coins, including the Oxus hoard and another large hoard found near Babylon in 1972-1973, as well as arguments concerning when, where and for whom they may have been minted. One suggestion is that Alexander authorized them as a special commemorative issue for veterans of his Indian campaign. The inscriptions on the coins (Alexander's name does not appear) and their poor and uneven quality suggest that they were minted "on the road in the East" or at a local rather than royal mint.
Portrait of Alexander the Great in profile, facing left, wearing a diadem
and the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon on a gold Abukir medallion.
211-235 AD. Diameter 54 mm, weight 112.66 grams.
Bode Museum, Berlin (Room 242, BM-035/01).
Inv. No. 1903/837. Acquired in 1903.
|One of several large gold niketeria (victory medallions) found in Abukir, Egypt in 1902, and now in various collections. They 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).
Apart from the five "Berliner Abukir-Medaillone" (Berlin Abukir medallions) exhibited in the Bode Museum, other examples are also displayed in the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Greece (see a bust of Alexander's mother Olympias on an Abukir medallion on Stageira History part 6).
See the reverse side of this medallion and the other Abukir medallions in the Bode Museum below.
A similar gold niketerion depicting Alexander the Great, in profile facing right, was found in the Tarsus Treasury. Thought to have been minted in the 2nd century AD, probably during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.
The reverse side of Berlin Abukir medallion No. 1 (BM-035/01, see above),
Winged Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, driving a quadriga (four-horse
chariot) to the right. She carries a palm branch and a taenia in her left hand,
and holds the reins in the right. Inscribed to the left and below the quadriga:
ΒΑCΙΛΕωC ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ (Basileos Alexandroy, King Alexander).
Bode Museum, Berlin.
NOTE: This and the reverse sides of the other Berlin Abukir medallions
in the photos below are museum copies, exhibited so that both sides
can be viewed by visitors. The copies are smaller than the originals.
|Berlin Abukir medallion No. 2.
Obverse side (left): A bust of Alexander the Great in profile, facing left with raised
head, wearing a cuirass covered by a cloak, and a high-crested Attic helmet decorated
with a relief of Artemis riding a bull on the side. The crest is supported by a sphinx.
Reverse side (right): On the left winged Nike, her left foot resting on a helmet, and
winged Eros hold a shield decorated with a relief of two men (one perhaps Alexander)
clasping hands. On the right, a set of trophy armour (tropaion) with two seated captives.
Inscribed to the left, above and right of the image:
ΒΑCΙ-ΛΕ-ΩC - ΑΛΕ-ΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ (Basileos Alexandrou, King Alexander).
Diameter 60 mm, weight 105.06 grams.
Bode Museum, Berlin (Room 242, BM-035/02). Inv. No. 1905/1.
|Berlin Abukir medallion No. 3.
Obverse side (left): A bust of Alexander the Great, shown frontally with his bare
head raised. He wears a diadem and a cuirass decorated with reliefs of two figures
on the breast, and holds a spear and a round shield, decorated with reliefs. In the
central medallion is a bust of Gaia (Earth), above which are the heads of Helios
and Selene (Sun and Moon). Around these are five signs of the zodiac.
Reverse side: The same as on medallion No. 2 above.
Diameter 56 mm, weight 84.30 grams.
Bode Museum, Berlin (Room 242, BM-035/03). Inv. No. 1907/230.
|Berlin Abukir medallion No. 4.
Obverse side (left): A bust of Olympias (Ὀλυμπιάς, circa 375-316 BC), mother of Alexander,
in profile facing left, veiled (with the back of her head covered with part of her cloak),
and wearing a diadem and a bracelet in the form of a snake coiled around the wrist of
her raised right forearm; in her hand she holds a sceptre with a small sphere at the top.
Reverse side (right): A naked Nereid, sitting on her garment and facing left, rides a fabulous
sea creature, the front (left) part of which is a garlanded bull, and with the tail of a fish. Her
hair is bound, she wears an arm band on the upper left arm, and holds an object in her
raised right hand. Among the waves are two shellfish and two dolphins.
Diameter 58 mm, weight 81.86 grams.
Bode Museum, Berlin (Room 242, BM-035/04). Inv. No. 1907/229.
|Berlin Abukir medallion No. 5.
Obverse side (left): A bust of Emperor Caracalla (reigned 211-217 AD) facing left, wearing
a laurel wreath and a cuirass. In his raised right hand he holds a spear which rests on his
right shoulder. He carries a round shield, in the centre of which is the head of Alexander
with a diadem facing left, and above it Alexander with a spear on horseback, hunting a lion.
Reverse side (right): On the left, Alexander the Great seated, wearing a diadem and
a cloak over his lower torso and legs, facing right towards winged Nike, who carries
a crested Attic helmet in her right hand, and supports an upright round shield with the
left. On the shield is a relief depicting Achilles killing the Amazon queen Penthesilea.
Inscribed to the left and above the figures:
ΒΑCΙΛΕVC - ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟC (Basileos Alexandros, King Alexander).
Diameter 48 mm, weight 65.12 grams.
Bode Museum, Berlin (Room 242, BM-035/05). Inv. No. 1908/3.
Portraits of Alexander and sculptures associated with him
|An over life-size marble statue of Alexander the Great, wearing a himation (cloak) around his
left shoulder and lower body, and with his left hand holding the handle of his sheathed sword.
Mid 3rd century BC. Height 190 cm. Excavated in 1895 by K. Buresch at the sanctuary
of Meter Sipylene (Kybele), on the slopes of Mount Syplos, Magnesia ad Sipylum, Lydia
(Manisa, western Turkey). Found with a marble base inscribed 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]
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 709. Cat. Mendel 536.
Base with the signature of Menas. Inv. No. 744. Cat. Mendel 537. Inscription TAM V,2 1358.
|Marble statuette of Alexander the Great as the god Pan.
From Pella, Macedonia. Around 300-270 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.
Pliny the Elder
(The Natural History
, Book 35, chapter 36) wrote that the painter Protogenes
, who painted a portrait of Aristotle's mother Phaestis, was advised by the philosopher to paint the exploits of Alexander the Great "as being certain to be held in everlasting remembrance". He appears to have ignored this advice but later painted depictions of Alexander and the god Pan.
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 thought that Alexander may have resided there during his stay in Priene during the siege of Miletus in 334 BC. It is also believed to have been used as a hieron (shrine for a deified hero) dedicated to Alexander after his visit, with the northern hall of the building, in which the statuette was found, as the cult room. 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.
Marble head of Alexander the Great of
the "Acropolis type", 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, perhaps after the
Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC) when
Alexander visited Athens.
Pentelic marble. Height 35 cm, width 23 cm.
Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Acr. 1331.
Head of Alexander of the "Erbach type".
The type is named after the best copy, found
at Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, now in Schloss Erbach,
Germany, Inv. No. 642. Also known as the
"Acropolis-Erbach type" due to the similarity to
the head from the Athens Acropolis (photo left).
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.
Marble head of Alexander the Great found
at Volantza, near Olympia, Elis, Greece.
Hellenistic, circa 200 BC. Height 37 cm.
The village of Volantza (Βολάντζα) was
renamed Alfeiousa (Αλφειούσα) in 1927,
and may be the location of ancient Bolax
(Βώλαχ), a town of Triphylia in Elis. It is
located south of the river Alpheios (Αλφειός)
and the road between Pyrgos and Olympia,
around halfway between the two.
Olympia Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. Λ 246.
Currently exhibited in the Museum of the
History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity,
Olympia. No. 399.
Marble head of Alexander the Great,
found in 1900 among rubble above the
north hall of the Lower Agora in Pergamon.
The head, along with the rubble, may have
fallen from a building uphill from the agora, perhaps the gymnasium.
1st half of the 2nd century BC. Height 42 cm.
According to one theory, this may be the
head of a giant from the Gigantomachy
frieze of the Great Altar of Zeus.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 1138 T. Cat. Mendel 538.
See Pergamon gallery 2, page 2.
Marble head of Alexander the Great
from Kyme (Namurt, Turkey). Found
during excavations by Demosthenes
Baltazzi in 1887 . Height 43.5 cm.
At first thought to depict Apollo. The
holes drilled around the top of the
head have led to its identification
as Helios or Alexander-Helios.
Hellenistic, late 3rd century BC or,
according to other theories, circa
125-75 BC. also tentatively linked to
Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontos,
in the context of his war against
Rome, 89-84 BC.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 388 T. Cat. Mendel 597.
Marble head of Alexander the Great,
found by R. Herzog in 1904, in the
Asklepieion of the Dodecanese island 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.
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.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme,
National Museum of Rome.
Inv. No. 124507.
Colossal head of Alexander the Great.
Greek marble. Found in Lazio Rome
in 1839. Perhaps a Hellenistic original.
Galleria, Palazzo Nuovo,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC532.
"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 as Helios.
1st century AD, "after a Hellenistic original of
the 3rd-2nd century BC" . 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.
Head of Alexander the Great.
Pentelic marble. 2nd century AD
"copy after a Greek original from
the late 4th century BC" attributed
to Euphranor . Height 45 cm.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 157.
Marble head of a statue of Alexander the Great
from the Court of the Passage of the Theoroi,
Thasos, Greece. 2nd century AD. Height 41 cm.
Thasos was one of the first cities to worship
Alexander as a god. An annual Alexandreia
festival was held there on his birthday. This
head features one of the most obvious
examples of the "anastole" hairstyle
characteristic of several portraits of Alexander.
Thasos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. Λ3719.
Gilded bronze head of Alexander the Great.
2nd century AD.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme,
National Museum of Rome.
Inv. No. 661.
From the Kircherian Museum.
Plaster cast of the marble head of Alexander
the Great in the British Museum.
University of Leipzig Museum of Antiquities.
Inv. No. G 30.
The original is from Alexandria, Egypt.
2nd - 1st century BC. Height 37 cm.
British Museum. Inv. No. 1872,0515.1
(Sculpture 1857). Acquired in Alexandria, 1872.
Plaster cast of a "head of the type
of Alexander the Great (?)".
Perhaps 1st century AD. The original was
discovered during excavations at Medinet Madi,
Egypt, 1935-1939 by the papyrologist Achille
Vogliano (1881-1953) of the University of Milan.
Medinet Madi, in the southwestern Fayum
region of Egypt, was known to the Greeks as
Narmouthis (Νάρμουθις). During the Ptolemaic
period a chapel (or cenotaph) for the worship
of Alexander was dedicated there.
CMA Milano. Inv. No. E 0.9.40449.
Temporary exhibition: Milano in Egitto: Gli scavi
di Achille Vogliano nel Fayum (Milan in Egypt:
The excavations of Achille Vogliano in Fayum),
Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan,
17 May - 15 December 2017,
extended until 13 May 2018.
Unfortunately, the museum provides little
information about this head, and no
indication of the location of the original.
|A small marble head of a statuette of Alexander the Great.
From Alexandria, Egypt. 200-175 BC. Height 13 cm, width 8.2 cm, depth 9 cm.
A hole in the top of the head is thought to have been for the attachment
of a crown or emblem of an Egyptian deity. On the right is a plaster cast
of the head with a reconstruction of a divine emblem.
University of Leipzig Museum of Antiquities. Inv. No. 99.037.
Donated by E. P. Warren and J. S. Marshall, 1908.
Marble head of a colossal statue of
Demetrios Poliorketes (Δημήτριος
Πολιορκητής, Demetrios the Besieger, 337
-283 BC), king of Macedonia (294-288 BC),
in the style of portraits of Alexander the
Great. He originally wore an attached
diadem and goat's horns on the forehead.
3rd century BC. From the Dodekatheon,
(Δωδεκάθεον, Temple of the Twelve
Olympian Gods), Delos. Height 54 cm.
Delos Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. A 4184 + A 197.
Marble head thought to be a portrait
of Alexander the Great.
175-200 AD. Found in the area of the agora
of Thessaloniki. Perhaps part of a group of
cult statues of the family of Alexander in
the city. The work was previously described
as "head of a woman".
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Bust of Alexander or Eubouleus, a god
connected with the Eleusinian Mysteries
Unfinished 2nd century AD copy of a work
of the 4th century BC. Discovered in 1959
by Dorothy Burr Thompson in the Athens
Agora. Thasian marble. Height 61 cm, height
of base 12 cm, width (at shoulder) 39 cm.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 2089.
Bust of the sun god Helios with drilled holes
for a solar-ray crown. When first discovered
it was thought to be possibly a portrait of
Alexander. It has been described as being
"related to the so-called Eubouleus type".
2nd century AD. Found 31 July 1970 during
excavations by John McK. Camp II in a well
(Deposit P 21:2) in the east colonnade of the
peristyle of a large late Roman complex
known as Roman House H, on the slope of
the Areopagus, south of the Athens Agora.
Pentelic marble. Height 52.3 cm.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 2255.
Among other ancient objects found in
the well was a marble head of Nike.
Marble head, with reconstructed nose
and upper lip, thought to be a portrait
of Alexander the Great.
Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania,
Sicily. From the Biscari Collection.
"Fragment of a head in the style of
depictions of Alexander the Great."
Late 3rd century AD.
Dresden. Inv. No. ZV 4032.
A marble head of Alexander in Dresden, known as the "Dresselscher Kopf", has not been on display since 2002. Thought to be a Roman period copy of a Greek original of around 325-300 BC, it was acquired in Rome in 1885 from the Dressel Collection. Height 39 cm. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. Inv. No. Hm 174.
Bust in Palazzo dei Conservatori,
Capitoline Museums, Rome.
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.
A colossal marble head, thought to be a Gorgoneion,
dated to the first half of the 2nd century BC, at the entrance
to the Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
The largest Gorgon head found in Greece, thought to have been attached to the northern
defensive walls of ancient Veria (Βέροια) as an apotropaic symbol to scare off attackers.
The features of the head, particularly the hairstyle, resemble those of Alexander the Great.
Part of a copper alloy statuette from Egypt depicting
Alexander the Great as Cosmocrator Helios.
Cosmocrator Helios was one of the syncretic deities introduced by Greek rulers
of Egypt as part of the Hellenization of Egyptian religion and the religious-
philosophic system of astrology developed during the Hellenistic period.
The name Cosmocrator (Κοσμοκράτωρ, Kosmokrator) has been interpreted as
ruler of the known world (kosmos) or master of the universe. Roman emperors
were also depicted as Cosmocrator Helios, the incarnation of imperial power.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Egyptian Collection, Inv. No. X198.
|Marble statuettes of Hephaistion (left) and Alexander the Great from Egypt. Probably
1st century BC. Perhaps from a statue group erected in Alexandria in Hephaistion's honour.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Egyptian Collection. Inv. numbers 45 and 44.
|Formerly in the Demetrios Collection, they are often referred to as the "Demetrio Hephaistion" and "Demetrio Alexander". The figures stand in mirrored contrapposto poses, each with the opposite arm raised. Each wears a chlamys, chiton, zona belt and open-toed, lace-up boots. It is tempting to speculate that the figures were placed next to each other, each holding a horse, in the manner in which the twin divine horsemen heroes Castor and Pollux (the Dioskouri) were represented in sculptures and coins.
A marble head from Kyme below, thought to be a portrait of Hephaistion.
A Hellenistic double hero relief from Miletus, on Pergamon gallery 2, page 10.
A Hellenistic relief from Pella depicting Hephaistion, on Pella gallery page 17.
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.
|Marble statuette of Alexander the Great. Around 150 AD.
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.
|The statuette belonged to the French Cardinal Melchior de Polignac (1661-1742), who lived in Rome 1724-1732, and commissioned the sculptors Lambert-Sigisbert Adam, Edme Bouchardon and Pierre Lestache as restorers for objects in his collection of Roman antiquities. The statuette may have been at first restored as Archangel Michael during this time. It was restored again as a Roman emperor, probably after the cardinal took it with him on his return to Paris.
The entire collection was purchased by King Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the Great), and the statuette was first mentioned as Alexander in 1742, when it stood in the oval dining room of Schloss Charlottenberg, Berlin. Later it was placed in the "Saal der Hermen" (Hall of the Herms) in the Altes Museum, as No. 398 (number on the base).
|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 (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.
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.
Sculpted marble metope depicting Helios in a quadriga (four horse chariot) rising out of the sea.
The sun god's features, poise of the neck and hairstyle resemble portraits of Alexander.
Hellenistic period, 300-280 BC. The best preserved metope from the temple of Athena Ilias,
Ilion (Troy), northwest Anatolia; today Hisarlik, around 30 km southwest of Çanakkale, Turkey.
Found in 1872 during Heinrich Schliemann's first excavations of 1871-1873 (his second excavations
were in 1878-1879). Height 85.8 cm; width of triglyph block 201.2 cm; width of metope 86.3 cm.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sch 9582; L 21.1.
On loan from the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Berlin.
|The metope is from the architrave at the east end of the north side of temple of Athena Ilias, the patron goddess of Ilion (Ancient Greek, Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios, and Τροία, Troia; Latin, Troia and Ilium). The Doric temple was built at the beginning of the 3rd century BC by Lysimachus, king of Thrace and Macedonia (see History of Pergamon), allegedly in fulfilment of the wishes of Alexander the Great. It is thought that, as at the Parthenon in Athens, the row of metopes continued with battle scenes, perhaps from the Trojan war, and ended with an image of the moon goddess Selene.
"The present city of Ilium was once, it is said, a village, containing a small and plain temple of Minerva [Athena]; that Alexander, after his victory at the Granicus, came up, and decorated the temple with offerings, gave it the title of city, and ordered those who had the management of such things to improve it with new buildings; he declared it free and exempt from tribute. Afterwards, when he had destroyed the Persian empire, he sent a letter, expressed in kind terms, in which he promised the Ilienses to make theirs a great city, to build a temple of great magnificence, and to institute sacred games.
After the death of Alexander, it was Lysimachus who took the greatest interest in the welfare of the place; built a temple, and surrounded the city with a wall of about 40 stadia in extent. He settled here the inhabitants of the ancient cities around, which were in a dilapidated state. It was at this time that he directed his attention to Alexandreia, founded by Antigonus, and surnamed Antigonia, which was altered (into Alexandreia). For it appeared to be an act of pious duty in the successors of Alexander first to found cities which should bear his name, and afterwards those which should be called after their own. Alexandreia continued to exist, and became a large place; at present it has received a Roman colony, and is reckoned among celebrated cities."
Strabo, Geography, Book 13, chapter 1, section 26. At Perseus Digital Library.
According to Arrian (Anabasis, 1.11-12) and Plutarch (Life of Alexander, 15), Alexander visited Ilion before, rather than after the Battle of Granicus, immediately following his crossing of the Hellespont into Asia (Anatolia) in May 334 BC. He visited the temple of Athena Ilias, made sacrifices at the supposed tombs of the Homeric heroes Achilles and Patroclus, and exempted the city from tribute (taxes).
Before Alexander's death in 323 BC, it was said that he made plans to rebuild the temple of Athena Ilias as the largest in the known world. At 16.4 x 35.7 metres, Lysimachus' peripteral temple, with 6 columns at each end and 12 along the sides, was far from being the largest or grandest, and to judge by the metopes, not particularly well sculpted; the building and sculptures probably depended on paint to create an impression.
Ilion was sacked in 85 BC by the Roman commander Gaius Flavius Fimbria during the First Mithridatic War (88-84 BC). In 20 BC Emperor Augustus visited the city and ordered repairs, including the restoration of the temple. Little remains of the temple today, since it has provided building material for local people over the centuries.
Marble bust thought to be
a portrait of Lysimachus,
one of Alexander's generals
Augustan copy (23 BC -
14 AD) of a 2nd century
BC Greek original.
Inv. No. 6141.
Pergamon gallery 2, page 3.
Bronze statuette of Alexander the Great on horseback.
1st century BC. Found in 1761 at Herculaneum, Italy.
Height 48.5 cm, Length 47 cm, depth 29 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy. Inv. No. 4996.
|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 the sculptor 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.
Alexander, with swept-back, wavy hair, wears a royal diadem, a short chlamys (cloak), a cuirass over a short chiton, and laced high military sandals. The figure originally held a sword in his right hand, and reins in the left, probably both of silver. Her rides without a saddle or stirrups, as the latter were unknown to the ancient Greeks. The rearing 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. 
Unfortunately, the museum lighting and reflections from the glass case (which is near a large window) make photographing the statue difficult.
|"Alexander Aigiochos" type statues
|Lifesize marble statue of Alexander the Great of the "Alexander Aigiochos" type.
From Egypt. Roman period, thought to be a copy of a Greek original from
Alexandria, around 310-280 BC. Height 135.5 cm, width 55.5 cm, depth 25.5 cm.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1963.74.
Purchased with funds from the Campe'schen Historischen Kunststiftung.
|There are 17 known examples of the Alexander Aigiochos (αἰγίοχος, aegis-bearing) type, as fragmentary statues and statuettes (see photos below). All those for which the provenance is known are from Egypt. One of the finest and most complete examples is a marble statuette from El Manshah (ancient Ptolemais Hermiou), Egypt, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Inv. No. GR.69.1970 (see data.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk ...).
The figures show Alexander the Great standing barefoot in a "contrapposto" pose, with his weight on his right leg, the left leg bent and resting on the toes. He wears a chlamys (short cloak), covering his shoulders and torso, and falling to the knees, with the opening at his right side. His outstretched left forearm lifts the left side of the chlamys, exposing his naked left thigh. The snake-fringed chlamys is covered with scales, as on the aegis, asociated with Zeus, but most often shown on depictions of Athena (particularly Athena Parthenos, see Pergamon gallery 2, page 13). A Gorgoneion (head of Medusa) is attached to the cloak at his left breast (on the Hamburg statue, below the breast).
He probably held a spear in his raised right hand, and in the palm of the left hand a Palladion (Palladium), an ancient statue of Pallas Athena which protected Troy (see Homer). The features of the heads on some of the figures have led some scholars to associate the original work with Lysippos.
The date and location of the original statue are unknown, but is thought to have stood in Alexandria, Egypt, where it may have been a cult statue representing the deified Alexander as the founder (κτίστης, ktistes) of the city (in 331 BC). It may have been made as early as the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (Πτολεμαῖος Α' Σωτήρ, ruled 323-283/282 BC), founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The statue may represent Alexander as Zeus Aigiochos, and has also been identified with Agathos Daimon (Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων, Good Demon), the anguiform (serpentine) protective spirit of Alexandria. (See a statuette of the syncretic deity Serapis Amun Agathodaemon on Pergamon gallery 1, page 27.)
It has been suggested that it may have been set up at the tomb of Alexander in Alexandria. Ptolemy (Πτολεμαῖος, circa 367 - 283/282 BC), one of Alexander's generals and close friends, took control of Egypt after the king's death in 323 BC and became Ptolemy I Soter. He stole Alexander's body from the funeral cortege on its way from Babylon to Macedon and took it to Memphis. His son and successor Ptolemy II Philadelphus (Πτολεμαῖος Β' Φιλάδελφος, ruled 283-246 BC) moved the body to the tomb he built in Alexandria, where it was still to be seen in Roman times. The tomb was visited by several prominent Romans, including Pompey, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, Septimius Severus and Caracalla. During the Middle Ages the tomb disappeared, and its location remains unknown.
See: Klaus Parlasca, Alexander Aigiochos: Das Kultbild des Stadtgründers von Alexandria in Ägypten. Städel-Jahrbuch, Band 19, pages 341-362. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, 2004.
The Gorgoneion on the Alexander Aigiochos
statue in Hamburg.
Bronze statuette of the
Alexander Aigiochos type.
Roman period, 1st century AD.
Perhaps from Egypt. Height 32.6 cm,
width 13.2 cm, weight 2 kg.
British Museum. Inv. No. 1922,0711.1.
From the collection of Dr Daniel Marie Fouquet.
Donated by The Art Fund (as NACF), 1922.
Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum
Source: britishmuseum.org ...
Bronze statuette of the
Alexander Aigiochos type.
Roman period, 1st - 3rd century AD.
Said to be from Alexandria. Bronze, inlaid
with silver. Height 12 cm, width 6.5 cm,
depth 3.2 cm. Weight 218 grams.
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
Inv. No. 54.1075 (not on display).
From the Matossia Collection.
Purchased by Henry Walters, 1922.
Creative commons photo. Source:
|A headless marble statue from Thessaloniki, thought to have
depicted a Roman emperor, wearing an aegis and Gorgoneion.
Made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
|The work is a copy of the "Alexander Aigiochos", with a few differences: the left arm is raised and the right arm extended; the right shoulder, side and lower torso are exposed; the Gorgoneion is on the centre of the breast. The folds on the aegis are more pronounced, and the "collar" forms a socket for a separately sculpted (and interchangeable) head.
If the statue depicted a Roman emperor it may have been one of Hadrian's deified predecessors, perhaps Trajan (reigned 98-117 AD), who became the main focus of the imperial cult during Hadrian's reign (see the Trajaneum in Pergamon). A number of depictions of emperors were modelled on portraits of Alexander.
A now lost cameo portraying a youthful emperor, probably Caracalla (reigned 211-217 AD), shows him as Alexander Aigiochos. The figure, standing contrapposto, wears a crown of solar rays, the aeigis and Gorgoneion and high military boots, with a spear in his right hand and a Palladion statuette in the left. The cameo, once in the treasury of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (Konkatedra św. Jana Chrzciciela), Kamien Pomorski (Cammin), northwestern Poland, disappeared along with other obects from the treasury at the end of World War II, when they were being transported to safety during a tank battle in 1945.
See: Andrew Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics. page 246 (fig. 82). University of California Press, 1993.
A cast of the cameo is in the Sammlung der Gipsabgüsse (Cast Collection) of the Archaeological Institute of the University of Göttingen, Germany. See: viamus.uni-goettingen.de/fr/e/uni/c/04
Caracalla is said to have suffered from Alexander mania, and presented himself as the reincarnation of the deified king. When a mob in Alexandria jeered him for his pretensions he ordered their massacre. His apotheosis is shown on a cameo made around 210-220 AD, now in the Bibliothèque Municipale, Nancy. The figure, carried by a large eagle, wears a wreath and the aeigis and Gorgoneion. In his left hand he holds a cornucopia, and in the right a winged Nike offering a victory wreath.
See a bust of Caracalla on an Abukir medallion below.
|The "Alexander Sarcophagus"
Detail of one of the coloured reliefs on the "Alexander Sarcophagus" (Iskender Laht), with a depiction
of Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issos (333 BC) or the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC).
Last quarter of the 4th century BC. From the Royal Necropolis of the Phoenician city
Sidon (Sayda, Chamber No. III), today in southern Lebanon. Pentelic marble.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 370 T. Cat. Mendel 68.
|The "Alexander Sarcophagus" was excavated in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910, first Director General of the Ottoman Imperial Museums, 1881-1910) and Demosthenes Baltazzi [see note 3], and restored by sculptor Yervant Voskan (Osgan Efendi, 1855-1914).
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). The reliefs were painted red, blue, yellow, red ochre, violet, purple, earth, burnt sienna, black and white (see photo below). Weapons and horse reins were made of silver, but only one silver axe has survived the attentions of grave robbers.
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, Hephaistion (Alexander's companion), Arrhidaios (Alexander's half brother, later Philip III of Macedon), 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, Hephaistion 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. 
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.
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 Hephaistion (?), also on horseback, wears a red cloak (originally purple).
On the far right of the frieze, a naked 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 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 strike 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.
|The "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii
Detail of the "Alexander Mosaic", depicting Alexander the Great
on horseback, during a battle with the Persian King Darius III.
See a photo of the entire mosaic and further information below.
The "Alexander Mosaic" from Pompeii, depicting a battle between
Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius III (circa 380-330 BC),
either the Battle of Issos in 333 BC or the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC.
Floor mosaic, made using the opus vermiculatum (Latin, worm-like work)
technique, of local stone and some glass tesserae. 200-100 BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. 10020.
In this photo the mosaic frame around the image has been cropped.
See a photo of a reconstruction of the entire mosaic below.
Alexander the Great wearing the Gorgoneion
on the breastplate of his linothorax (armour
made of layered and stiffened linen).
Photos: © David John
||The large floor mosaic was discovered on 24 October 1831 in the House of the Faun (Casa del Fauno, VI 12, 2, 37, 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).
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 .
It originally decorated the floor of a room in the House of the Faun , 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. 
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 would have 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 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.
It is thought by some scholars that the composition of the mosaic is based on a lost 4th century BC painting, perhaps one of those mentioned by ancient authors. Three painters of this period have been suggested as authors of the original work :
Philoxenos of Eretria
Aristeides of Thebes
Helena of Egypt
Persian King Darius III
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 the Great and Darius by Pietro da Cortona (Pietro Berrettini, 1596-1669).
Painted 1644-1650. Oil on canvas. Height 173 cm, width 375 cm.
Sala dei Trionfi (Hall of the Triumphs), Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums,
Rome. Inv. No. PC260. From the Sancchetti Collection.
|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.
Pietro da Cortona also made a drawing of an enormous statue of Alexander the Great carved out of the side of Mount Athos. See Deinokrates.
|Alexander and Priene
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 1868-1869, 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 dedications to other gods.
"Artemidorus says that Alexander promised to defray the expense of its restoration, both what had been and what would be incurred, on condition that the work should be attributed to him in the inscription, but the Ephesians refused to accede to this. Much less, then, would they be disposed to acquire fame by sacrilege and spoliation. He praises also the reply of an Ephesian to the king, 'that it was not fit that a god should provide temples in honour of gods.'"
Strabo, Geography, Book 14, chapter 1, section 23. At Perseus Digital Library.
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 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.
The house is believed to have been where Alexander the Great may have lived there during
his visit to Priene in 334 BC, and the location of an Alexandreion where he was worshipped.
A fragmentary marble statuette of Alexander (see above) and other and objects associated
with religious sacrifice appear to support this theory.
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.
|Inscriptions from Thessaloniki
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 as a son of Zeus.
From Thessaloniki, 150-200 AD.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
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.
|Alexander and Diogenes in Corinth
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.
Kraneion (Κράνειον) was a cypress grove on the southeast of Corinth, outside the city walls, with a temple of Aphrodite Melainis (Αφροδίτη Μελαίνις), a chthonic deity worshipped in cemeteries. The gymnasium there became a meeting place for philosophers. Pausanias wrote that Diogenes was buried by the city gate at Kraneion (Description of Greece, Book 2, chapter 2, section 4).
The scenery of the relief is most probably imaginary or generic, not reflecting the appearance of Corinth, particularly not the city of the 4th century BC. Alexander, in armour and holding a spear (not the garb he is likely to have chosen for a political assembly), stands in front of an arched gateway (an anachronism) of the city walls above which a raised Ionic prostyle temple can be seen. The gnarled tree branch growing from the wall and the rough ground in front probably indicate a rural area outside the city.
Diogenes is said to have lived in a large amphora or pithos (not a barrel, since they had not yet been invented, nor a tub, see below), although he did not necessarily spend his days lounging in it. The dog on top of it is an allusion to the Cynical philosopher's nickname "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 because 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 description of the relief by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) and the illustration were published in:
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.
And while we're on the subject of Diogenes ...
A drawing of the epitaph of Diogenes in Venice by George Wheler.
|The travellers Jacob Spon and George Wheler visited Corinth in 1676, noting the topography, water supply, ruins and inscriptions of the city. Wheler wrote about Diogenes' epitaph in Venice and his life, but made no mention of the story of his meeting with Alexander.
"We found not the tomb of Diogenes the Cinick: which was in times past by the entrance into the town coming from the Isthmus. But we saw it and copied his epitaph at Venice, in the palace of Signior Erizzo, upon a marble, under the basso-relievo of a dog; which we suppose was brought from hence, when the Morea was under the dominion of that state.
On it is an epigram, that importeth thus much. Supposing a passenger going that way, enquireth of the dog, whose tomb he guardeth? He answers, The Dogs. But who is this man you call the Dog? Answer is made, Diogenes the Cinick, who lived in a tub: But now being dead, inhabits among the stars. This rigid philosopher, Diogenes, who lived in a tub, was a native of Sinope; but his sowre and austere nature and discipline having changed his nature: it seems they changed his name from that of Σινοπεὐς to Κυνοπεὐς, his nature being transformed from humanity to the churlishness of a dog. He was one of the magistrates of his city; and flattered by the oracle, aspir'd to the highest place in it by coining of false money: but for this he was chased from Sinope, and fled to Athens: where he came acquainted with that great philosopher, Antisthenes, who disputed so much against the seeking of glory. He fell afterwards, passing by sea, into the hands of pyrats who brought him to be sold in the publick market-place: where being asked what he could do, he answer'd govern men; and seeing a certain spend thrift of Corinth, he desired he might be sold to him, because he wanted a governour: who bought him, and set him to teach his children: where he lived and died."
George Wheler, A journey into Greece, pages 444-445. London, 1682. Wheler's spelling, punctuation and italics.
|Alexander and the Gordian Knot
Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot with his sword.
Centre of a repoussé, gilded silver decorative dish, made around 1670-1674 in Augsburg,
Bavaria, by Alexander Warnberger II (born 1632, master goldsmith 1664-1704).
The scene is surrounded by portraits of Roman emperors Claudius, Nero, Otho and Galba.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 2007.284.
|According to an oracle, supremacy over Asia would be gained by whoever could undo the intricate knot of cornel bark tied to the ox-cart (in art usually depicted as a chariot) of King Gordias of Phrygia, the legendary or mythical founder of Gordion (Γόρδιον, central Anatolia) and father of Midas. While Alexander was in Gordion in 334-333 BC, he is said to have sliced through the knot with a single stroke of his sword.
Alexander bends forward intently, legs astride, his right arm raised high and bent back, with the forearm and sword hand behind his head. His left arm is held rigid at his side, with the hand stretched back horizontally. His mind and body are totally concentrated on destroying the knot tied to the shaft of the massive chariot which is stretched before him like a sacrificial animal. The pose is full of tension and determination, but the figure remains graceful. He is watched attentively by a similarly-armoured companion (Hephaistion?). Both he and Alexander have curved, scimitar-like swords. The Macedonian army is suggested by a small cluster of four soldiers in the background holding upright spears, and even one with a halbard, and like Alexander and his companion, wearing a plumed helmet.
To the left of Alexander, the long-robed priest solemnly points back behind him to a statue of a seated Helios who looks down from an ornate niche, high on the side of a tall monument. The brooding cloud high above may stand for Zeus. The two figures in turbans presumably represent Asians. One tends two ferocious hunting dogs (Molossians?), while the other holds one end of a long cloth (the cover of the ancient chariot?), which, passing behind Alexander, appears to be supported at the other end by the soldier with the halbard. The stump of a dead tree leans into the rocky foreground. The edge of a curtain on the far right underlines the theatricality of the scene.
An almost identical dish, made in Augsburg around 1692-1700 by Marx Weinold (master 1665, died 1700), shows the same scene mirrored. National Museum, Warsaw, Poland, Inv. No. SZM 11403.
|The Ascension of Alexander
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 on tapestries. Such representations have been found over an enormously wide geographic area, from Chester in northern England to the Yamalo-Nenetz district of Siberia. 
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.
|Modern depictions of Alexander
The modern equestrian statue of Alexander the Great
by Evangelos Moustakas on the seafront of Thessaloniki.
|This colossal bronze sculpture of Alexander, made 1971-1974 by Evangelos Moustakas (Ευάγγελος Μουστάκας), stands on a high plinth at the southeast 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 work are provided by the agitated state of his rearing 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 found in many town squares and in the lobbies of public buildings. Even the airport of Kavala has been named after him.
Evangelos Moustakas was born in 1930 in Piraeus. His design won the 1971 competition for an Alexander the Great monument in Thessaloniki, contested by twenty five Greek sculptors and judged by a committee which included the archaeologist Manolis Andronikos (Μανόλης Ανδρόνικος, 1919-1992). Two previous competitions had failed to provide an acceptable design. The bronze elements were cast and welded in an Italian foundry, and the monument was unveiled on 30 August 1974 (Saint Alexander's Day).
The public park area around "Alexander's Garden" (ο κήπος του Αλεξάνδρου), the piazza on which the monument stands, was reopened to the public in 2014 after substantial renovation which began in 2011. The tree-lined piazza connects 30th October 1944 Avenue (Λεωφόρος 30ης Οκτωβρίου 1944, Leoforos 30is Oktovriou 1944), on the landward side, with the broad pedestrianized seaside promenade.
The statue is 6 metres high, 11 metres high with the marble-clad plinth, and 7 metres long; the head of Bucephalos is 2 metres long. A masterpiece of balance, the sculpture's entire mass is supported only by the horse's rear legs. It is flanked by two rows of 3-metre high sarissas (long Macedonian spears) - three on the north side of the statue and five to the west - on which hang round shields, each decorated with a relief symbolizing the insignia of Alexander's military corps: a snake, a bull's head, a lion, an eagle, a hawk and a Gorgoneion.
To the west of the statue stands a 15.2 metre long bronze relief with 45 figures, representing the Battle of Issos (333 BC). A Greek cavalryman and a group of infantrymen advance from the left (in ancient Greek iconography the victors of a battle were traditionally shown on the left), led by Alexander on horseback charging at the chariot of the fleeing Darius. On the right stands a group of Persian infantrymen.
It is notable that Alexander (and his father Philip II in another nearby statue) is commemorated here and elsewhere as a heroic military leader rather than for the effects his life and deeds had on the cultures of Europe and Asia. Generally accepted by historians as a genius with broad intellectual and cultural interests, he seems fated to remain in the popular consciousness as a warrior, conquerer and tactician.
Symbolic reminders of warfare and militarism in this part of Thessaloniki are not confined to these sculptures or other martial monuments. The White Tower and the city's walls are testimony to a long history of wars and foreign occupation, and 30th October 1944 Avenue is named after the date of the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Nazi occupying forces by the Greek resistance army ELAS. Ensuing power struggles between left and right divided the already devastated and impoverished Greece and flared up into a bitter civil war which had disastrous effects on the populations of Macedonia and Thrace.
The Alexander the Great Statue (Άγαλμα Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου) was commissioned during the Greek military dictatorship (the Colonels' Junta, 1967-1974), at a time when troops were stationed around the nearby university to control potential student and public unrest, and many opposition leaders, intellectuals and artists were imprisoned. Most of Moustakas' public sculpture commissions were for war memorials, including a number around Greece commemorating fallen airmen.
As Moustakas himself commented, at the time when the statue was being put in place in summer 1974, civil conflict in Cyprus led to the Turkish invasion of the island. The consequent loss of face for the Greek military was among the factors, including student demonstrations (particularly at the Athens Polytechnic) supported by artists, intellectuals and working people, which caused the collapse of the dictatorship.
Alexander and Bucephalos in Thessaloniki.
Evangelos Moustakas' website:
(in Greek and English)
A modern bronze bust of Alexander
in the Town Hall of Serres, Macedonia.
The modern bronze equestrian statue of Alexander the Great
in the centre of Pella, Macedonia, Greece.
|Not quite as dramatic or warlike as the Thessaloniki statue, the handsome Άγαλμα του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου (Agalma tou Megalou Alexandrou, Statue of Alexander the Great) in the centre of Pella village depicts him riding Bucephalos, who strides calmly but boldly into the king's hometown. Alexander returns carrying the symbol of his victorious career in the form of a small figure of a winged Nike standing on an orb, held in the palm of his raised right hand.
The larger than lifesize bronze statue stands on a rectangular bronze base, placed on a tall marble-clad plinth. The surrounding monumental marble platform is designed in the same way as war monuments, and even has the kind of steps in front which dignitaries ascend to lay wreaths to fallen military heroes on particular anniversaries. Pella's main square, in front of the town hall has even been renamed Plateia Megalou Alexandrou (Πλατεία Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου, Alexander the Great Square) after the monument, which stands on its northeast corner.
The front of the plinth is inscribed with Alexander's name, Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας (Alexandros o Megas, Alexander the Great), and a smaller inscription below records that the statue was officially unveiled on 25th May 2002, no doubt with great pomp, ceremony and several speeches. Scratched on the back of the base are the names of the sculpture's makers, K. Xyterio (Κ. Χγτηριο) and M. Gabala (Μ. Γαβαλα).
Alexander and Nike in Pella.
A round ceramic plaque with the head of Alexander the Great in Pella.
Alexander, shown in profile wearing the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon, is surrounded
by a countinuous relief frieze depicting war scenes. On the front of a water fountain in
the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Apostles, on the northeast edge of Pella village.
An earlier, more modest tribute to Pella's most famous native. The church was built in
1867, but there is no indication of when or by whom the plaque was made.
Alexander on the beach.
A modern metal cut-out head of Alexander the Great at the seaside resort
Asprovalta, Macedonia, Greece. The square on which the town hall, post
office, theatre and folk museum stand is named Alexander the Great Square.
Sculpture by Tasos Papadopoulos, 2008. Inscribed in Greek
and English on the dedicatory plaque next to the sculpture:
"May all mortals live as one nation
together for the common prosperity."
|In 2002 a scheme was proposed - and seriously considered - to carve a 73-80 metre tall face of Alexander the Great on a rock outcrop on the south side of the 1092 metre high Mount Kerdylion (Ὄρος Κερδύλιον) near Asprovalta. The new tourist attraction would have included a theatre and a visitor centre (or museum), and even a cable-car up the pine-covered mountain was proposed. No doubt at least one restaurant and souvenir shop would have also appeared. Luckily, although this megalomanic proposal was supported by some local politicians, it was halted by opposition from environmentalists, archaeologists and the Greek Ministry of Culture.
Chicago-based Greek-American sculptor Anastasios (Tasos) Papadopoulos (Αναστάσιος Παπαδόπουλος) founded the organization Alexander the Great Mountain to raise support and money for his project, which would have cost an estimated $10 million and taken ten years to complete. According to Papadopoulos the head of Alexander would have been "four times the size of the presidents of Mount Rushmore" and was designed to "enlighten the world for the contribution of Alexander the Great to humanity". The sketch and the plaster model he made to publicize the project look pretty hideous. Perhaps the metal head by Papadopoulos set up on Asprovalta beach is meant as a kind of consolation prize for the failed project.
The plan is reminiscent of the design proposed to Alexander by the architect Deinokrates to carve out of the nearby 2033 metre high Mount Athos a colossal statue of Alexander, so large that the figure would have held a city in its left hand. Ancient writers tell us that Alexander rejected the proposal, which in the opinion of the satirist Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, circa 125 - after 180 AD), actually increased the king's greatness.
"'Leave Athos alone,' he said, 'and do not degrade a mighty mountain to the similitude of a poor human body.' This only showed the greatness of Alexander, and itself constituted in the eyes of all future generations a monument higher than any Athos; to be able to scorn so extraordinary an honour was itself magnanimity."
Lucian of Samosata, Defence of the 'Portrait-Study', chapter 22. At eBooks@Adelaide, University of Adelaide.
|Notes, references and links
1. Marble head of Alexander the Great in Pella
A chance find from Giannitsa, near Pella, Macedonia, Greece.
Around 300-270 BC, early Hellenistic period.
Height 30 cm.
Pella Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. ΓΛ 15.
The identification of the head as Alexander has been challenged, and it has been suggested that it may represent a river god. Arguments for or against such claims are difficult if not impossible to prove conclusively. As can be seen from the illustrations on this page, ancient artworks considered to depict Alexander are not uniform and vary considerably. Many sculpted heads representing other known and unknown figures are similar to and were obviously influenced by portraits of Alexander. See, for example, the colossal "Medusa" head in Veria above.
2. Beardless Herakles on coins from Kamarina
The name of the issuing city is inscribed KAMAPINAION, next to the head of Herakles. The reverse sides of these finely made coins show Athena, driving a quadriga, being crowned by a flying Nike, and the signature of the die-cutter Exakestidas (Εξακεστίδας). The signature on coins signed by Exakestidas appears either as ΕΞΑΚΕΣΤΙΔΑΣ or abbreviated ΕΞΑΚΕΣ.
Many sources describe the obverse (front or recto, right) side of these and other types of Sicilian coins as the reverse (back or verso, avers, left), and vice versa. See further discussion of this matter on the Nike page.
Further reading on beardless Herakles on Sicilian coins:
Dimitrios Kousoulas, Unbearded Hercules on the coins of the Sicilian cities in the Late 5th c. BC: some thoughts on the origins of the iconographical type and its spreading in the sculpture. In: Maria Caccamo Caltabiano (editor), Proceedings of the XV. International Numismatic Congress, Taormina 2015, Volume I, pages 374-377. Roma - Messina, 2017.
In this short article Kousoulas examines the apparently sudden appearance of beardless Herakles on coins from Kamarina and Selinous in Sicily and their possible connections to contemporary Greek statues attributed to the Myronian school and Skopas of Paros.
3. Head of Alexander the Great from Kyme
This head has been associated with other sculptured heads found by Baltazzi at the same findspot at Kyme, referred to as the "Kyme Alexander Group", now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum (see photos, right): "Hephaistion", Inv. No. 387 (Cat. Mendel 599); a woman ("Artemis"), Inv. No. 386 (Cat. Mendel 598); and Emperor Augustus, Inv. No. 385 (Cat. Mendel 333).
The site of the ancient Aeolian city of Kyme (Κύμη) is at the modern Turkish coastal village of Nemrut Limani, in the Aliağa district north of Izmir, and 40 km south of Pergamon. It was one of the largest of the twelve cities of Aeolia (Αἰολία, Aiolia, or Αἰολίς, Aiolis), colonized by Aeolian Greeks from Thessaly and Boeotia around 1000 BC when they were driven from mainland Greece by invading Dorians (see History of Pergamon).
The site was first excavated in November 1887 by Demosthenes Baltazzi (1836-1896), who had a farm at Aliağa. He was described as "his Excellency Demosthenes Baltazzi-Bey, a learned archaeologist of Smyrna, and inspector of ancient monuments" *, and as "directeur du service archéologique du Vilayet d’Aïdin" (director of the archaeological service of the Aydin province) **. He and his brother Epaminondas (1828-1887), members of a wealthy Greek family based in Smyrna (Izmir), were both involved in early archaeological investigations in the Ottoman Empire. He also excavated at Magnesia on the Meander, Aegae, Hypaipa, Pergamon and Myrina (where another of his brothers, Aristides Baltazzi, owned the land of the necropolis site). With his friend Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910, founder and first director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums), he co-directed excavations in 1887 at Sidon (Saida), where the "Alexander Sarcophagus" was discovered. He was assistant director of the Imperial Museum in Aydin Province until 1892, after which he worked as a researcher at the Istanbul museum.
* The recent excavations at Saida (translated from Les récentes fouilles de Saida, an article in Le Bachir, a journal in French and Arabic, published in Beirut, 8 June 1887), in Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly statement for 1887 (Volume 19), Issue 4, page 201. London, 1887. At the Internet Archive.
** Osman Hamdi Bey, Theodor Reinach, Une nécropole royale à Sidon: Fouilles de Hamdy Bey, Texte, Introduction, page III. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1892. At Heidelberg University Library.
G. Kökdemir, 120. Ölüm Yıldönümünde Aydın Vilayeti Müze-i Hümayun Müdür Vekili Démosthènes Baltazzi ve Menderes Magnesiası’ndaki Çalışmaları (1887, 1890) (On the 120th anniversary of the death of Demosthenes Baltazzi, assistant manager of Asar-i Attika in the vilayet of Aydın and his excavations in Magnesia on the Meander (1887, 1890)). Türkiye Bilimler Akademisi Arkeoloji Dergisi (Turkish Academy of Sciences Journal of Archaeology), Volume 19, pages 291-304. Ankara, 2016. In Turkish, at academia.edu.
4. 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 (54-68 AD), 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).
See: Imagini del mito: Iconografia di Alessandro Magna in Italia (Images of a legend: Iconography of Alexander the Great in Italy), pages 174-175. 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.
5. 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 34, chapter 19). 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, pages 138-139. Gangemi Editori, Rome, 2006.
Marble head of a statue from Kyme,
perhaps a portrait of Hephaistion.
Late 3rd century BC. Height 42.5 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 387 T. Cat. Mendel 599.
Marble head of a statue from Kyme,
thought to depict Artemis.
Late 3rd century BC. Height 39 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 386 T. Cat. Mendel 598.
Marble portrait head of a statue
of Emperor Augustus from Kyme.
1st century AD. Height 37 cm.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 385 T. Cat. Mendel 333.
6. 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 Portico of Metellus (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 (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, including those of Pheidias, Praxiteles, Kephisodotos, Timarchides, Dionysios, Polykles and Heliodoros (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 and Albert A. Howard. Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press, 1914. At Perseus Digital Library.
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, 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 (active circa 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.
A reconstruction drawing of the Porticus Octaviae, Rome, showing the temples of Juno
Regina (left) and Jupiter Stator built in the 2nd century BC. The latter is thought to have
been designed by the Greek Cypriot architect Hermodoros of Salamis. 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 temples of Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina were also referred to as "the two temples without inscriptions", and it is thought that it was not usual to place inscriptions on temples in Rome in the 2nd century BC. The lack of labels to identify the buildings and provide information about their history is thought to have later led to the stories, probably legends, related by Pliny the Elder, which attributed their design to two Spartan sculptors with the unlikely names Saurus (Σαύρα, Lizard) and Batrachus (Βάτραχος, Frog), who are otherwise unknown. The tale may have arisen from the reliefs of a lizard and a frog said to have been carved on the temple columns, imagined to be the artists' signatures. The statue of Jupiter was also said to have been accidently placed in the Temple of Juno and vice versa.
"Saurus, too, and Batrachus must not be forgotten, Lacedaemonians by birth, who built the temples enclosed by the Porticos of Octavia. Some are of opinion that these artists were very wealthy men, and that they erected these buildings at their own expense, expecting to be allowed to inscribe their names thereon; but that, this indulgence being refused them, they adopted another method of attaining their object. At all events, there are still to be seen, at the present day, on the spirals of the columns, the figures of a lizard and a frog, emblematical of their names.
In the Temple of Jupiter by the same artists, the paintings, as well as all the other ornaments, bear reference to the worship of a goddess. The fact is, that when the temple of Juno was completed, the porters, as it is said, who were entrusted with the carriage of the statues, made an exchange of them; and, on religious grounds, the mistake was left uncorrected, from an impression that it had been by the intervention of the divinities themselves, that this seat of worship had been thus shared between them. Hence it is that we see in the Temple of Juno, also, the ornaments which properly pertain to the worship of Jupiter."
Pliny the Elder, Natural history, Book 36, chapter 4. At Perseus Digital Library.
Earlier in the same chapter Pliny had mentioned that there were statues of the two deities in their respective - and correct - temples, made by Polykles and Dionysios, and that an ivory statue of Jupiter by Pasiteles stood in the "Temple of Metellus".
"In the Temple of Juno, within the Porticos of Octavia, there is a figure of that goddess, executed by Dionysius, and another by Polycles, as also other statues by Praxiteles. This Polycles, too, in conjunction with Dionysius, the son of Timarchides, made the statue of Jupiter, which is to be seen in the adjoining temple."
"Pasiteles constructed the ivory statue of Jupiter which is now in the Temple of Metellus, on the road to the Campus Martius."
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 9 am - 6 pm. Entrance is free.
8. 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 4], page 151, states 555 x 317 cm, and also gives the invoice number as 9991.
Kevin A. Wohlgemuth, A survey and history of the conservation of the opus vermiculatum mosaics of Pompeii, Catalog Entry 24, page 139. MA thesis, Florida State University College of Arts and Sciences, 2008. States 548 x 317 cm, and dates the mosaic 100-80 BC.
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 sees his reflection in a shield.
Detail of the Naples Alexander mosaic.
9. The House of the Faun, Goethe and the Alexander Mosaic
"The House of the Faun" (Casa del Fauno), a Roman villa 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 excavations of the city which had begun 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 the excavation at 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 (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), Letter 381, pages 488-490. George Bell and Sons, London, 1887. At the Internet Archive.
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, pages 417-420. Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, Berlin, 1834. At the Internet Archive.
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.
10. 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.
11. 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, Philoxenos of Eretria and Aristeides 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, 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 for further details.
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.
A modern 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 Greek original, late 2nd century BC,
is in the National Archaeological Museum,
Naples. Inv. No. 5002. Height 40 cm.
12. 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.
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 5].
|Photos on this page were taken during visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Dresden, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Leipzig, University of Leipzig Museum of Antiquities
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Athens, Numismatic Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Olympia, Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity
Pella Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
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
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Priene archaeological site
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
More photos and information
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,
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 and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.|
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