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Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art
Nike (Νίκη) was the Greek goddess and personification of victory in war and sport. Her Roman equivalent was Victoria.
She is thought by some scholars to have been a daemon who only later came to be considered as a goddess, a belief which reached its height in the Hellenistic period and continued by the Roman worship of her as Victoria.
As with other deities, she was at some point appended to the complicated divine genealogies, of which there are several versions. According to Hesiod, her father was the Titan Pallas, and her mother the nymph Styx (daughter of Okeanos and Tethys). Her sister was Bia (Force), and her brothers Kratos (Strength, Supremacy) and Zelos (Zeal, Rivalry). 
Styx and her chilren sided with Zeus in the great battle against the Titans, and after lived with him on Mount Olympus. The battle, known as the Gigantomachy, was depicted several times by Greek artists, notably on the frieze around the Great Altar of Zeus
(early 2nd century BC) on the Pergamon Acropolis.
It may be significant that there are no known myths in which Nike is a main protagonist; she always plays a supporting role, for example as the chariot driver for Zeus.
She was closely associated with both Zeus and Athena, and statues were made of these major deities accompanied by a diminutive and subordinate Nike.
Famously, the Athenian sculptor Pheidas
made a colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena Parthenos holding Nike in her right hand for the Parthenon
, and another of Zeus holding Nike for the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. The latter was named by Philo of Byzantium as one of the Seven Wonders of the World
In the Sanctuary of Athena Polias Nikephoros
(Athena of the City, Bringer of Victory) in Pergamon stood the Library of Pergamon which housed a statue of Athena Parthenos
(circa 200-150 BC), based on Pheidias' original in Athens. Although the arms of the statue are missing, it is thought that this figure also held a Nike in her hand.
It is not clear what part Nike took in human victories, although one poet wrote: "Nike ... in gold-rich Olympus, you stand beside Zeus and judge the outcome of prowess for immortals and mortals." 
Usually in Greek myth and literature, other gods are shown helping or hindering combatants in battles and competitions: Hephaistos
and Athena aided Achilles at Troy, Athena helped Perseus against the Gorgon Medusa
, and Pan
caused chaos among the Persian invaders at Marathon (see Athens Acropolis gallery page 5
). Nike is usually depicted flying to deliver victory, often carrying the victor's laurel wreath (see photo below
), a palm or a trophy. Like Hermes
, she appears to be merely the messenger of Zeus and other gods.
Like Hermes too, she seems to be constantly busy and on the move. In the balustrade relief panels of the Temple of Athena Nike
on the Athens Acropolis, she is shown busily rushing around to serve Athena.
It is no wonder that at some point she was given wings to help her with her hectic work schedule. According to an ancient commentator on Aristophanes' comedy Birds
, the sculptor Archermos of Chios
(mid 6th century BC) was the first to represent Nike with wings (see photos below
). She became one of the winged deities, along with Hermes, Eros, Iris and Nemesis; Hypnos, Thanatos, the Gorgon Medusa and the hero Perseus are also often shown with wings in ancient Greek and Roman art.
However, Pausanias reports that the cult statue (xoanon) in the Temple of Athena Nike had no wings and the goddess was known as Nike Apteros (Νίκη Ἄπτερος, Wingless Victory). His explanation for this is that the Athenians deprived her of wings so that she could never leave them. 
It is unclear whether the statue and temple were dedicated to Nike or Athena as Nike (i.e. Nike assimilated by the Athena cult, and Athena assuming her role as the bringer of victory). If the temple was originally dedicated to Nike alone, the statue may have been a very ancient cult image (or a copy of one) predating depictions of the goddess with wings.
The Byzantine encyclopaedia, the Suda
, had the following to say about Nike and her wings:
"Athena Nike: Lykourgos in the speech On the priestess
mentions her. That the xoanon of Nike, wingless, holding a pomegranate in her right hand and a helmet in her left, was worshipped by the Athenians Heliodoros the Periegete
has shown in the first book of his On the Acropolis
Alternatively she stands allegorically for the notion that even winning is completely dependent on thought; for thought contributes to victory, but being thoughtless and impetuous while fighting leads to defeat.
When she has wings she symbolizes that aspect of the mind that is sharp and, so to speak, swift-winged; but when she is depicted without wings she represents that aspect of it that is peaceful and quiet and civil, that by which the things of the earth flourish, a boon of which the pomegranate in her right hand is a representation. Just as the helmet in her left is a representation of battle. Thus she has the same capability as Athena." 
Nike was depicted on many coins, vase paintings and reliefs. Most of the statues, or parts of statues, of the goddess which have so far been found are thought to have either been set up on columns as part of victory monuments, or were aktroteria which decorated the corners of temple roofs.
Marble head of a statue of Nike.
2nd century AD copy of an original
by Paionios, 5th century BC.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 2354.
Head of a statue of Nike
from the Villa of Dionysos,
Dion, Macedonia, Greece.
Copy of a 5th century BC original.
Dion Archaeological Museum.
Marble relief of Nike adjusting her sandal,
known as «Σανδαλίζομἐνη» Νίκη
(the Sandalbinder), from the balustrade
(south parapet) around the bastion of
the Temple of Athena Nike on the
Athens Acropolis. Circa 410 BC.
Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. Acr. 973.
An Attic red-figure lekythos showing
Nike approaching an altar.
1st half of the 5th century BC.
Found in Corinth.
Corinth Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. CP-39-4.
Archaic statue of winged Nike.
Parian marble. Found at the Temple of
Artemis, Delos in 1877. The earliest known
free-standing statue of a Nike, probably
by Archermos of Chios, circa 550 BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 21. Height 90 cm.
|The Scholia (commentary) of Aristophanes' play Birds mentions Archermus, artist, father of Bupalus and Athenis (or Athenidos), said to have been the first to represent Victory with wings:
"Only more recently have Nike and Eros acquired wings. For some say that it was Archennos [sic] the father of Boupalos and Athenis, others that it was Aglaophon the Thasian painter who made Nike winged, as Karystios of Pergamon relates."
There are varying translations of the Scholia. "Archennos" is thought to have been an error or misreading by those who copied the manuscripts.
See: John Williams White, The scholia on the Aves of Aristophanes, 574, pages 120 and 368. Ginn and company, Boston and London, 1914. At archive.org.
An inscribed statue base signed by Archermos and Mikkiades (perhaps Archermos' father), found near to the Nike at Delos, was thought to belong to the statue (see photo below), leading archaeologists to believe they had discovered the first winged Nike by Archermos. However, the base was later thought to have supported a sphinx. The inscription:
Μ̣ικκι̣ά̣[δης τόδ’ ἄγ]α̣λ̣μ̣α καλὸν μ̣’ [ἀνέθηκεν καὶ υἱὸς]
Ἄ̣ρχερμ̣ος θ[υσ]ί̣η̣σιν ℎ(ε)κήβο[λον αὖθ’ ἱλάσασθαι]
οἱ Χῖοι Μέλ̣α̣ν̣ος πατρώιον ἄσ[τυ λιπόντες]
Inscription SEG 19:510.
It has been translated in several ways, for example:
"Farshooter [Apollo, receive this] fine figure [... worked by] the skills of Archermos, from the Chian Mikkiades..."
John Boardman, Greek art, page 91. Thames and Hudson, London, 2012 (4th edition).
The statue may have stood on a column as a votive offering or as an akroterion (roof ornament). The wing tips, parts of the lower arms and right hand, the lower left leg and both feet are missing. The lack of the bottom of the sculpture makes it impossible to be certain of the type of base to which it was attached.
Nike's head and upper torso are frontal, while her lower body and legs are shown in profile. She is shown with arms and legs bent in what appears to be a running or kneeling position, typical in Archaic depictions of flying deities and other mythical figures, for example the Gorgon Medusa (see also photos below). The pose is often referred to as the "Knielauf" (literally knee-run) schema, a phrase coined by German archaeologists.
She wears a peplos and chiton, with her lower right leg exposed. On her head she wears a stephane (crown) with holes for attaching metal ornaments. The holes in her ear lobes probably held earrings. Her hair has elaborately carved curls around the brow, and falls in tresses over her shoulders and breasts. She has the "Archaic smile" seen on kouros and koure statues of the 7th - early 5th century BC (see examples on Samos gallery pages 4 and 5).
The inscribed statue base from Delos associated with the statue of winged Nike above.
According to the inscription, it was a base for a statue by Archemos of Chios.
Parian marble. Around 550 BC.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 21a.
A running/flying four-winged Nike carrying a victor's wreath. 550-500 BC.
Detail of an Attic black-figure amphora made in or near Athens for the Cypriot market.
From Site E, tomb 78, Amathus (Ἀμαθοῦς), on the south coast of Cyprus.
Amathus was excavated November 1893 - March 1894 by A.H. Smith and John Myres,
as part of the Turner Bequest Excavations on Cyprus (1893-1896).
Nike, wearing a flat band (taenia) on her head, a short tunic and fawn skin (nebris), runs to the
right with outstretched legs and wings. The original report on this amphora describes the figure
as a Boread, and a similar figure on the other side as a Harpy.  Both figures are incised and
painted in the black figure technique on a red ground, with added white and purple paint.
British Museum. GR 1894,11-1.161.
Archaic bronze plaque from the Athens Acropolis,
with a relief of a winged Nike in the "Knielauf" position.
Probably a decoration of a bronze vessel.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
|Marble Archaic statue of winged Nike from the akroterion of the Archaic
temple of Apollo in Delphi. Marble, 515-505 BC. Height 113 cm. Found
during excavations around the temple and the Sacred Way in 1894 and 1895.
Nike is shown in the conventional running/flying position and has wings attached
to her lower left leg. It has been suggested that the figure may be by Antenor.
Delphi Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 1872.
Fragments of a painted terracotta akroterion depicting winged Nike, from
the poros (limestone) temple of Athena Pronaia, Delphi, circa 500 BC.
Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Fragment of the painted terracotta head of the Nike akroterion above.
Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Stamped terracotta relief with a winged Nike carrying prizes for a chariot race.
From Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily, 6th - 5th century BC.
One of a number of rim fragments of locally made louteria (λουτήρια, large basins
on pedestals for ritual washing), with stamped reliefs depicting racing four-horse
chariots alternating with Nikes. The scenes are separated by Doric columns. The
louteria were also decorated with continuous friezes showing battles with Centaurs.
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
Another fragment of a louterion (λουτήριον) from Akragas showing a running/flying winged Nike.
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily. Inv. No. C. 315.
A similar fragment of a louterion from Selinous (today Selinunte), Sicily, about 520-500 BC.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1923.4-17.1.
Detail of an Attic red-figure oichonoe showing Nike at an altar by the Eucharides Painter.
Made in Athens around 490-480 BC. Found in a well at the Athenian Agora.
Winged Nike, wearing a stephane (crown) and a himation over a long chiton,
bends over a flaming altar. With her right hand she sprinkles incense on the
altar from a box held in her left hand.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. P 15010.
|"The Varvakeion statuette" of Athena Parthenos holding Nike in her right hand.
Pentelic marble. 2nd - 3rd century AD, Roman period copy of the statue
by Pheidas, circa 447-439 BC, which stood in the Parthenon.
Found 18 December 1880 near the Varvakeion School,
in the Athens suburb of Psychiko.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 129.
photo, left: © Konstanze Gundudis
Lycian limestone block with a relief of Nike. Winged Nike, holding a victory weath in her left hand,
flies towards the left. Behind her a female figure holds a small round object (an offering of fruit?).
From Xanthus (Kinik), Lycia, Southern Turkey. Severe style, second quarter of the 5th century BC.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Marble statue of winged Nike running or flying.
Akroterion from the Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios
in the Ancient Agora, Athens.
Circa 400 BC. Height 129 cm.
Discovered in 1933 by archaeologists of the
American School of Classical Studies in Athens.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 312.
Bronze head of a statue of winged Nike
from the Ancient Agora, Athens.
420-415 BC. Probably one of the series of
"Golden Nikai" made in the time of Perikles.
Part of the Athenian state gold and silver
reserves was hammered into sheets which
covered statues or busts of Nike. In the
case of financial necessity the sheets
could be removed and made into coins.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. B 30.
A dedicatory relief from the Athens Acropolis of a winged Nike crowning Herakles
or a victorious athlete, and with her left hand on Athena's shoulder. 420-410 BC.
Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Acr. 1329.
See also a 2nd century AD clay disc depicting Nike crowning Hermes.
A marble votive relief dedicated to Athena. Winged Nike flies down to place
a laurel wreath on a charioteer driving a four-horse chariot (quadriga;
Greek, τέθριππον, tethrippon), perhaps a victor in the Panathenaic Games.
Made in Athens around 425 BC. From Athens.
A fragment of the left side of the relief in the British School
at Athens shows the lower half of a standing figure of
Athena, depicted at a much larger scale than the charioteer.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1816.6-10.197 (Sculpture 814). Elgin Collection.
Fresco showing Nike driving a four-horse chariot.
Northern slab from Tomb 84 (350-340 BC), Andriuolo, Paestum (ancient Poseidonia), Italy.
National Archaeological Museum of Paestum.
Fresco showing Nike driving a two-horse chariot on a race-course.
Northern slab from Tomb 86 (330-320 BC), Andriuolo, Paestum.
National Archaeological Museum of Paestum.
Relief showing Nike driving a four-horse chariot.
Detail of a fragment of an Athenian decree for Arybbas, king of the Molossoi of Epirus.
From the Athenian Acropolis. 343/342 BC.
The decree granted hospitality and privileges to Arybbas, son of Alketas, after he was
dethroned by Philip II of Macedonia and fled to Athens. The relief and laurel wreaths on the
marble stele are reminders of Arybbas' equestrian victories at the Olympian and Pythian games.
Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. EM 1 3291 (From the Athens Epigraphical Museum).
A fragment of an Archaistic relief showing Apollo with a lyre,
holding out a bowl into which winged Nike pours a libation.
Pentelic marble. Hellenistic period.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 188. Purchased in Rome.
A plaster copy of the "Winged Victory of Samothrace"
in Samothraki Archaeological Museum.
|The statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Νίκη της Σαμοθράκης, Niki tis Samothrakis) depicted Nike standing or landing on the prow of a warship. The sculpture is thought to have been made by Pythokritos of Rhodes, circa 220-185 BC, as part of a monument to commemorate a victory in a naval battle, and stood above the cavea (audience seating area) of the theatre at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods.
The original statue, now in the Louvre, Paris (Inv. No. MA 2369), was made of Parian marble, and the ship's prow and the base (not included with the copy on Samothraki) are of gray marble from Lartos, Rhodes (lithos lartios). There is also a copy in Istanbul Archaeological Museum (see below).
A copy of the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue in Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
|The Istanbul copy, looking grubby and in much need of restoration, stands with other unlabelled and forgotten sculptures and copies in a dark corridor of a side building leading to the toilets. It is smaller than the original, but unlike the copy in Samothraki it stands on the ship's prow now to be seen in the Louvre.
I have not yet found a reference to this copy, and can only assume it was a gift from the French. It may be understandable that its restoration is not a top priority for Istanbul's enormous museum, but it is yet another case of a neglected artefact for which other museum directors would give their right arm.
Several other replicas of the statue have been made for museums, galleries, universities and other buildings and spaces around the world, including one outside Caesar's Palace casino in Las Vegas, where perhaps Fortuna (Tyche) may have been more appropriate. "Everyone's a winner" or "Luck be a lady tonight"?
Winged Nike of Samothrace
in Istanbul, March 2010.
A winged Nike blowing a trumpet on the prow of a warship.
|A gold stater minted by Demetrios Poliorketes to commemorate
his naval victory over Ptolemy. Salamis, Cyprus, circa 300-295 BC.
Bode Museum, Berlin.
The similarity of the images of Nike on such coins to the statue of the Winged Victory of Samothrace have led scholars to search for a connection between them.
Tetradrachm of Demetrios
Poliorketes. Salamis, Cyprus,
circa 300-295 BC. A winged
Nike blowing a trumpet on
the prow of a warship.
Altes Museum, Berlin.
Winged Nike Akroterion from the Hieron, in the the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, Samothraki.
Proconnesian marble, 120-100 BC.
Samothraki Archaeological Museum, Paleopolis, Samothraki.
|This was the third Nike statue found at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods (the first was the "Winged Victory of Samothrace", see above). It was discovered by American archaeologists of New York University in 1949, carefully buried 9 metres north of the southwestern corner of the Hieron.
The winged figure wears a chiton, with a himation draped over the lower body, and a sandal on her left foot. Her right arm was raised, and in her left hand she may have held a phiale (libation bowl).
The statue has often been described as being made of Parian marble. However, recent analysis has proved that the marble came from the island of Proconnesos (today Marmara, Turkey). It is thought that the statue was damaged in the first century BC and replaced by the Nike statue now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Photo taken at the exhibition "Samothrace, the island of the mysteries of the Great Gods",
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 20 June 2015 - 10 January 2016.
Statue of winged Nike from
an akroterion (roof decoration)
in the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Roman period, 2nd century AD.
Bergama Archaeological Museum,
Terracotta statuette of winged Nike flying.
From Myrina, near Pergamon. 200-150 BC.
Antikensammlung SMB, Berin. Inv. No. TC 8192.
Purchased in Myrina by the collector
Alfred J. Lawson in 1888.
Winged Nike among plant forms on a marble
akroterion from the Pergamon Asclepieion.
Bergama Archaeological Museum, Turkey.
Small altar with a relief of a winged Nike carrying a wreath
and a palm branch. Provenance unknown. 2nd century AD.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
Basalt statue of Nike from Der'a,
Hauran, southern Syria. Roman
period, late 2nd century AD.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 2408 T. Cat. Mendel 1399.
A marble relief of winged Nike from the "Herakles Gate" on Kuretes Street, Ephesus.
Ephesus archaeological site, Turkey.
|Roman Imperial period, 1st - 2nd century AD. It decorated one of the spandrels of the arch over the "Herakles Gate", and is thought to have been matched by a mirror image Nike relief on the opposite spandrel. The gate was built in the 4th century AD with materials from another monument. In her left hand Nike holds out a laurel wreath to crown a victor in war or sport, and in her right hand she carries a palm branch.
Winged Nike and Eros above the handle tang of a bronze mirror.
Made in southern Italy, perhaps at Locri, around 480 BC.
British Museum. GR 1923.5-14.1.
Silver phiale (φιάλη, libation bowl) with relief decoration, showing five four-horse chariots
driven by Nikai, carrying Athena, Herakles, Ares, Hermes and Dionysos. The scene represents
the apotheosis of Herakles: the hero is taken to Olympus to join the ranks of the gods.
Made in southern Italy, around 300 BC. From a hoard of Greek silver phialae,
dated to the 3rd Century BC, found in the late nineteenth century in Èze,
southern France. Acquired in 1891 from the dealers Rollin & Feuardent.
Diameter 20.6 cm, weight 393.6 gm.
British Museum. GR 1891.6-27.3 (Silver 8).
Nike on a coin of Menander (Μένανδρος), the
Greek ruler of Afghanistan-Pakistan 155-130 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. HCR4605.
Fresco of a statue of Nike driving a two-horse chariot in
an architectural setting, above the pediment of a building.
In situ in "Sede degli Augustali", Insula VI, Herculaneum.
|Victoria standing on a celestial globe, a plaster cast of the "Victoria of Calvatone",
a gilded bronze Roman statue, made around 161-165 AD. Height 170 cm.
The original statue went missing in 1945, and was rediscovered
in 2016 in a storeroom of the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
Altes Museum, Berlin.
Original from Calvatone, Italy. Acquired in 1841. Inv. No. Sk 5.
Plaster cast: Abguss-sammlung, Freie Universität, Berlin. Nr. 87/33.
|The head of the original statue was found by chance in February 1836 by farm workers on the estate of Luigi Alovisi, near Calvatone (ancient Bedriacum), Cremona province, northern Italy. Alovisi encouraged local people to search for other parts, and in March they discovered three other parts: the torso, right arm and leg, and the globe. The fragments were reassambled soon after, and the work was purchased for the Berlin State Museums in December 1841 by the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen (1794-1868), director of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery). The statue was further restored, probably in Berlin, with the addition of the missing parts: the wings, left leg, left forearm and palm branch.
The plaster cast was made from the original in 1871 for the Abguss-Sammlung Antiker Plastik Berlin, and placed in the Altes Museum in 1987.
According to the inscription on the globe, the statue was commissioned by Marcus Satrius Maior to commemorate a victory of co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, probably in the Roman-Parthian War of 162-165 AD.
Antonini et Veri
M[arcus] Satrius Maior
Unusually for a depiction of Victoria, she wears a nebris (panther skin) normally associated with maenads and other members of the retinue of Dionysus, and the pose of the lithe figure has been likened to that of dancing maenads.
In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, the original statue and other exhibits from the Berlin state museums were stored for safety in the cellar of the mint on the Molkenmark. It went missing during the final, chaotic days of the war, and was considered, like many other artworks and artifacts, to have been destroyed, looted or, more likely, taken as war booty by Soviet army trophy brigades. During the Soviet era and for some time after, information concerning war trophies was classified, and authorities usually either refused to comment on inquiries or flatly denied knowledge of artworks taken from public and private collections.
In 2016 it was announced that the statue had been found in a storeroom of the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, where it had been deposited 1946, erroneously catalogued as a 17th century French work. Although it had been on a list of artworks specifically sought by trophy brigades, when it arrived at the Hermitage, in one of 40,000 cases of plunder, it was not correctly identified or catalogued. After the war the political climate and the meagre resources available to museums made the investigation of such matters unthinkable, and the kind of research project which led to the discovery of the statue has only recently become possible. The find was first published in a journal published by the Hermitage:
A.V. Vilenskaya and A.N. Aponasenko, 'The Calvatone Victory': the fate of one artefact (in Russian), Transactions of the State Hermitage LXXIV, pages 106–113, Saint Petersburg, 2016.
The museum sent a copy of the article to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz), which led to an agreement between Hermann Parzinger, President of the foundation, and Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage, on a joint scholarly study and restoration of the sculpture. This is a positive sign of cultural cooperation between the two countries, which will hopefully lead to further research and discoveries.
Bronze plaque in the form of a naiskos with a relief of Nike-Nemesis.
From Thessaloniki. 3rd century AD.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Stathatos Collection.
A running/flying winged goddess as a bronze attachment for a vessel.
Made in southern Italy, Perhaps in Taranto, around 570 BC.
British Museum. GR 1867.5-8.767 (Bronze 495).
A running/flying winged goddess as a bronze attachment for a vessel.
Made in southern Italy, Perhaps in Taranto, around 500 BC.
British Museum. GR 1824.4-97.21 (Bronze 491).
Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight.
A gilded bronze statue of Victoria on top of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in Berlin.
Made 1864-1873 by the German sculptor Friedrich Drake (1805-1882).
Cast by Hermann Gladenbeck. Height 8.30 metres, weight 35 tonnes.
|The winged figure strides forwards confidently, holding up the laurel wreath of victory in her right hand, and a military standard with the Iron Cross in the left. She wears a helmet topped by an imperial eagle. The helmet particularly transformed the Greek goddess into Borussia, the personification of Prussia, just as in the British Empire Athena was used to represent Britannia. Berliners, with their typically disrespectful sense of humour, nicknamed the statue Goldelse (Golden Elsie), and some of the jokes about her were quite ribald.
Nike/Victoria was a clear symbol of victory in sport and war for the ancient Greeks and Romans, part of the propaganda campaigns of city states, kings and emperors, proclaiming moral and intellectual as well as physical and military superiority over their adversaries. Such symbols have been exploited by modern states since the rediscovery of ancient art during the Renaissance.
Architect Johann Heinrich Strack (1805-1880) was commissioned to design the Siegessäule monument, originally to commemorate the Prussian victory over Denmark in 1864. However, further victories of Prussian-led German armies over Austria in 1866 and France in 1871, meant that the original design had to be modified in order to include references to these later conflicts. The so-called "unification wars" were provoked by Prussian Minister President Otto von Bismarck as part of his plan to create a united German Empire under Wilhelm I, with himself as Chancellor.
At the base of the 66.89 metre high monument (originally 60.5 metres) is a massive four-sided entrance hall of polished red granite, the outer walls of which are decorated with large bronze reliefs illustrating episodes from the wars, very much in the way the Greeks and Romans decorated their sacred and secular buildings and columns with scenes of historical and mythical battles. Above the hall, around the column base, the wall within a circular colonnade (another classical form) is decorated with an enormous glass mosaic designed by Anton von Werner. From the colonnade a spiral stairway of 285 steps inside the fluted sandstone column leads up to an observation platform beneath the statue. Around the outside of the column hang gilded cannon barrels, booty from the three wars, again echoing the ancient tradition of displaying the arms of defeated enemies of monuments (see for example the "Monument of Shields" in Dion, Macedonia).
The choice of a monumental column for a war memorial was influenced Roman victory columns, such as those of emperors Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius and Phocas, which had been admired by northern Europeans visiting Rome. Similar victory columns were erected around Europe during the 19th century, notably Nelson's Column in London.
Prussia's eagle (in German Adler) was a symbol of the Hohenzollern dynasty's chivalric past, their place in the Holy Roman Empire (from 1512 the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), and eventually their claim to imperial supremacy. The eagle, originally associated with the supreme Greek god Zeus and his Roman conterpart Jupiter, became the symbol in turn of the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire and the Christian Holy Roman Empire. With the addition of the swastika it served the Nazi Third Reich (Third Empire), and without it remains the symbol of modern German Federal Republic.
Originally the monument stood on Königsplatz (now Platz der Republik), at the end of the Siegesallee (Victory Avenue), between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag parliament building. As part of the meglomanic plans of Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer to rebuild Berlin as the Nazi world capital Germania, in 1938-1939 it was moved 1.6 km westwards to its present location in Tiergarten. It now stands in the centre of an enormous traffic roundabout, the Großer Stern (Great Star), at the junction of major arterial roads, which is surrounded by other Prussian monuments such as the colossal statue of Bismark. The column is accessed by four underground pedestrian tunnels, designed by Speer and built in 1941.
Surprisingly, the column survived British and American aerial bombing as well as Russian artillery bombardment of the city during World War II. It was restored in 1954 when the statue was regilded by the Hermann Noack foundry, and was further restored in 1989 und 2011.
The Friedenssäule (Peace Column),
an earlier, smaller Prussian bronze
statue of Victoria holding a laurel leaf
and a palm brach, on a 19 metre high
granite column with a Corinthian
capital of Carrera marble, decorated
with Prussian eagles.
Mehringplatz, Kreuzberg, Berlin.
Commissioned by Prussian king
Friedrich Wilhelm III to commemorate
the allied victory over Napoleon in 1813,
designed by Christian Gottlieb Cantian
(1794-1866) and erected in 1843.
The statue was designed by Christian
Daniel Rauch (1777-1857), after an
ancient bronze original discovered in
Pompeii in 1823. Friedrich Drake, who
designed the Siegessäule Victoria,
had been a student of Rauch.
||Notes, references and links
1. Hesiod on Nike's family, Zeus and the Gigantomachy
"And Styx the daughter of Ocean [Okeanos] was joined to Pallas and bare Zelus (Emulation) and trim-ankled Nike (Victory) in the house. Also she brought forth Cratos (Strength) and Bia (Force), wonderful children. These have no house apart from Zeus, nor any dwelling nor path except that wherein God leads them, but they dwell always with Zeus the loud-thunderer.
For so did Styx the deathless daughter of Ocean plan on that day when the Olympian Lightener called all the deathless gods to great Olympus, and said that whosoever of the gods would fight with him against the Titans, he would not cast him out from his rights, but each should have the office which he had before amongst the deathless gods. And he declared that he who was without office and rights under Cronos, should be raised to both office and rights as is just.
So deathless Styx came first to Olympus with her children through the wit of her dear father. And Zeus honoured her, and gave her very great gifts, for her he appointed to be the great oath of the gods, and her children to live with him always. And as he promised, so he performed fully unto them all. But he himself mightily reigns and rules."
Hesiod (8th - 7th century BC), Theogony, lines 383-403. Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.
2. Nike as judge
"Nike, giver of sweetness, to you the father, son of Ouranos, on his high bench has granted glorious honour, so that in gold-rich Olympos you stand beside Zeus and judge the outcome of prowess for immortals and mortals: be gracious, daughter of thick-tressed, right-judging Styx; it is thanks to you that Metapontion ... is now filled with the celebrations and festivities of strong-limbed youths, and they sing the praises of the Pythian victor."
Bacchylides (Greek lyric poet, 5th century BC), "For Alexidamus of Metapontion, victor in the boys' wrestling match at Pytho (Delphi)". Ode X, Fragment 11, British Museum Papyrus 733.
David A. Campbell, Greek lyric poetry: a selection of early Greek lyric, elegiac and iambic poetry. Bristol Classical Press, 1982.
J. M. Edmonds, Lyra Graeca Volume III, Book VII: Victory songs, 38 (X), pages 174-185. The Loeb Classical Library. William Heinemann, London; G. P. Putman's Son, New York, 1927.
Richard Claverhouse Jebb, Bacchylides: The Poems and Fragments, Ode X (XI), pages 208-212 and 321-335. Cambridge University Press, 1905.
3. Pauanias on Nike Apteros
Pauanias, describing the entrance to the Athens Acropolis, wrote:
"On the right of the gateway [Propylaia] is a temple of Wingless Victory."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book I, Chapter 22, section 4. At Perseus Digital Library.
Later, he comapres a cult figure of Enyalius [Ares] in Chains in Sparta, with the Wingless Nike in Athens:
"Near is a temple of Hipposthenes ... Opposite this temple is an old image of Enyalius [Ares] in fetters. The idea the Lacedaemonians express by this image is the same as the Athenians express by their Wingless Victory; the former think that Enyalius will never run away from them, being bound in the fetters, while the Athenians think that Victory, having no wings, will always remain where she is."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book III, Chapter 15, sections 7-8. At Perseus Digital Library.
4. Nike in the Souda
The Suda or Souda (Σοῦδα), a Byzantine encyclopaedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, written in the 10th century AD.
See: Suda On-Line
Heliodoros the Periegete, Heliodoros Periegetes, also known as Heliodorus of Athens (Ηλιόδωρος, Heliodoros, Gift of the Sun), a 2nd century BC Athenian author, thought to have written fifteen books on the Athens Acropolis around 150 BC. His works, now lost, were used as a source by several ancient authors, including Pliny the Elder and possibly Plutarch.
5. Nike on a black-figure amphora from Amathus, Cyprus
Arthur H. Smith (1860-1941), Excavations at Amathus. In Alexander S. Murray, Arthur H. Smith, Henry Beauchamp Walters, Excavations in Cyprus, pages 87-126, plates IV and XIV. British Museum, London, 1900. At Heidelberg University Library.
Description of the amphora on page 110, figs. 161 and 162.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Corinth Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Samothraki Archaeological Museum, Thrace
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Herculaneum Archaeological Site
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum
Rome, Barracco Museum
Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Palermo, Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum
Bergama Archaeological Museum
Ephesus archaeological site
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
Red-figure lekythos with
a depiction of winged Nike.
Attributed to the Nikon Painter.
Mid 5th century BC. From
Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily.
Antonino Salinas Regional
Archaeological Museum, Palermo.
|Photos and articles © David John|
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