Sarcophagus with Scenes from the Life of Achilles

Unknown,Roman, Athens, A.D. 180 - 220, Marble
Unknown,Roman, Athens, A.D. 180 – 220, Marble

Four separate episodes from the life of the Greek hero Achilles decorate the sides of this Roman sarcophagus. The front shows Achilles desecrating the corpse of the fallen Trojan hero Hektor by dragging it behind his chariot. One short end shows Achilles putting on his armor, and the other shows Odysseus discovering Achilles hiding among the daughters of King Lykomedes on Skyros. The unfinished back of the sarcophagus shows a battle of Greeks and centaurs. This scene probably also refers to the life of Achilles, since he was educated by the centaur Chiron. The life of Achilles was a popular subject for the decoration of Roman sarcophagi.

On the lid, a man and a woman recline on an upholstered couch. As was the common practice, the heads of the figures were left unfinished so they could be carved as portraits of the deceased when the sarcophagus was purchased. In this instance, however, the portraits were never completed; the reason is unknown.

Burial in a sarcophagus was a popular custom during the period from about 150 to 250 A.D. Sarcophagi were mass produced in a few centers, one of which was Athens. Athenian sarcophagi were carved on all four sides and often surmounted with reclining figures.


Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum

“Barbaric Leader” – Who Is This Statue Of?


Head of a young barbaric leader. Found inside the Theatre of Dionysus, 2nd Century AD. Acropolis Museum, Athens. Photo: Nikos Daniilidis.

I love this gorgeous statue! If anyone knows more info about this statue, let me know! Thank you!

Statue of a Crouching Lion

Unknown, Greek, Attica, about 350 B.C., Marble
Unknown, Greek, Attica, about 350 B.C., Marble

This crouching lion with its head turned to the left originally afforded symbolic protection to a grave in Athens or its territory. The lion’s face and mane are stylized, and its body is rather doglike. The small incisions all over the body indicate fur. This unrealistic rendering of lions is typical of Greek artists, who would never have seen a real lion and thus modeled their depictions on a combination of artistic tradition, large dogs, and house cats.

In antiquity, walled family burial plots lined the roads out of Athens. Sculpted lions such as this one, placed at the corners of the plot, were especially popular in the 300s B.C. Funerary sculptures had a dual purpose: they protected the tombs and served to display the wealth and prestige of the family. The ostentation of these displays led to an Athenian law of 317 B.C. that banned all but the simplest of grave markers.

Source : J. Paul Getty Museum

How many Greek legends were really true?


How many Greek legends were really true? b

The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a remarkably long legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classical references from thousands of years ago continue to appear. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?

1. Was there ever really a Trojan Horse?

The story of the Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, an epic song committed to writing around 750BC, describing the aftermath of a war at Troy that purportedly took place around 500 years earlier.

After besieging Troy (modern-day Hisarlik in Turkey) for 10 years without success, the Greek army encamped outside the city walls made as if to sail home, leaving behind them a giant wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena.

The Trojans triumphantly dragged the horse within Troy, and when night fell the Greek warriors concealed inside it climbed out and destroyed the city. Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire-arrows.


2. Homer is one of the great poets of ancient Greek legends. Did he actually exist?

Not only is the Trojan Horse a colourful fiction, the existence of Homer himself has sometimes been doubted. It’s generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer’s name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrelsy stretching back for centuries.

While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.

3. Was there an individual inventor of the alphabet?

The date attributed to the writing down of the Homeric epics is connected to the earliest evidence for the existence of Greek script in the 8th Century BC.

The Greeks knew that their alphabet (later borrowed by the Romans to become the western alphabet) was adapted from that of the Phoenicians, a near-eastern nation whose letter-sequence began “aleph bet”.


The fact that the adaptation was uniform throughout Greece has suggested that there was a single adapter rather than many. Greek tradition named the adapter Palamedes, which may just mean “clever man of old”. Palamedes was also said to have invented counting, currency, and board games.

The Greek letter-shapes came to differ visually from their Phoenician progenitors – with the current geometrical letter-shapes credited to the 6th Century mathematician Pythagoras.

4. Did Pythagoras invent Pythagoras’ theorem? Or did he copy his homework from someone else?

It is doubtful whether Pythagoras (c. 570-495BC) was really a mathematician as we understand the word. Schoolchildren still learn his so-called theorem about the square on the hypotenuse (a2+b2 =c2). But the Babylonians knew this equation centuries earlier, and there is no evidence that Pythagoras either discovered or proved it.


In fact, although genuine mathematical investigations were undertaken by later Pythagoreans, the evidence suggests that Pythagoras was a mystic who believed that numbers underlie everything. He worked out, for instance, that perfect musical intervals could be expressed by simple ratios.

5. What made the Greeks begin using money? Was it trade or their “psyche”?

It may seem obvious to us that commercial imperatives would have driven the invention of money. But human beings conducted trade for millennia without coinage, and it’s not certain that the first monetised economy in the world arose in ancient Greece simply in order to facilitate such transactions.

The classicist Richard Seaford has argued that the invention of money emerged from deep in the Greek psyche. It is tied to notions of reciprocal exchange and obligation which pervaded their societies; it reflects philosophical distinctions between face-value and intrinsic value; and it is a political instrument, since the state is required to act as guarantor of monetary value.

Financial instruments and institutions – coinage, mints, contracts, banking, credit and debt – were being developed in many Greek cities by the 5th Century BC, with Athens at the forefront. But one ancient state held the notion of money in deep suspicion and resisted its introduction: Sparta.

6. How spartan were the Spartans?

The legendary Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus decreed that the Spartans should use only iron as currency, making it so cumbersome that even a small amount would have to be carried by a yoke of oxen.

This story may be part of the idealisation of the ancient Spartans as a warrior society dedicated to military pre-eminence. While classical Sparta did not mint its own coins, it used foreign silver, and some Spartan leaders were notoriously prone to bribery.


However, laws may have been passed to prevent Spartans importing luxuries that might threaten to undermine their hardiness. When the Athenian playboy general Alcibiades defected to Sparta during its war with Athens in the late 5th Century, he adopted their meagre diet, tough training routines, coarse clothing, and Laconic expressions.

But eventually his passion for all things Spartan extended to the king’s wife Timaea, who became pregnant. Alcibiades returned to Athens, whence he had fled eight years earlier to avoid charges of shocking sacrilege, one of which was that he had subjected Athens’ holy Mysteries to mockery.

7. What were the secrets of the Greek Mystery Cults?

If I told you, I’d have to kill you. The secrets were fiercely guarded, and severe penalties were prescribed for anyone who divulged them or who, like Alcibiades, were thought to have profaned them. Initiates were required to undergo initiation rites which may have included transvestism and centred on secret objects (perhaps phalluses) and passwords being revealed.

The aim was to give devotees a glimpse of the “other side”, so that they could return to their lives blessed in the knowledge that when their turn came to die they could ensure the survival of their soul in the Underworld.

Excavations have uncovered tombs containing passwords and instructions written on thin gold sheets as an aide-memoire for deceased devotees. The principal Greek Mystery Cults were those of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and of Dionysus (also known as Bacchus), god of wine, ecstasy – and of theatre.

8. Who first made a drama out of a crisis? How did theatres begin?

In 5th Century Athens, theatre was closely connected to the cult of Dionysus, in whose theatre on the southern slopes of the Acropolis tragedies and comedies were staged at an annual festival.

But the origin of theatre is a much-debated issue. One tradition tells of the actor Thespis (hence “thespian”) standing on a cart and playing a dramatic role for the first time around 532BC; another claims that drama began with ritual choruses and gradually introduced actors’ parts.


Aristotle (384-322BC) supposed that the choruses of tragedy were originally ritual songs (dithyrambs) sung and danced in Dionysus’ honour, while comedy emerged out of ribald performances involving model phalluses.

As a god associated with shifting roles and appearances, Dionysus seems an apt choice of god to give rise to drama. But from the earliest extant tragedy, Aeschylus’ Persians of 472BC, few surviving tragedies have anything to do with Dionysus.

Comic drama was largely devoted to making fun of contemporary figures – including in several plays (most famously in Aristophanes’ Clouds) the philosopher Socrates.

9. What made Socrates think about becoming a philosopher?

Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes’ comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd (“How do you measure a flea’s jump?”) to the socially subversive (“I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they’re in the wrong”).


This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates’ earlier activities.

In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.

We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.

As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.

10. Was Alexander the Great really that great?

Alexander (356-323BC) was to become one the greatest soldier-generals the world had ever seen.

According to ancient sources, however, he was physically unprepossessing. Short and stocky, he was a hard drinker with a ruddy complexion, a rasping voice, and an impulsive temper which on one occasion led him to kill his companion Cleitus in a violent rage.


As his years progressed he became paranoid and megalomaniacal. However, in 10 short years from the age of 20 he forged a vast empire stretching from Egypt to India. Never defeated in battle, he made use of innovative siege engines every bit as as effective as the fabled Trojan Horse, and founded 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt.

His military success was little short of miraculous, and in the eyes of an ancient world devoted to warfare and conquest it was only right to accord him the title of “Great”.

Article by Dr Armand D’Angour. Dr D’Angour is associate professor of classics at the University of Oxford.

Saving The Colosseum

??????????????????????????Living History : Saving the Colosseum by Darius Arya

“I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Colosseum, but I can’t enjoy it because of all this scaffolding …” a lament we hear more and more as the epic monument undergoes an even more epic clean up.

Who doesn’t dream about seeing the Colosseum? The nearly 2000-year-old monument was the site of the Roman empire’s amazing physical contests and setting for one of the most memorable movies from the 20th century: Ridley Scott’s Gladiator starring Russell Crowe. But like every cultural heritage monument around the world, the Colosseum had succumbed to time, nature and pollution; it was in dire need of help.

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Dedication By Alexander The Great To Athena Polias

k63220_lGreek, around 330 BC, From Priene, Asia Minor

In 336 BC Alexander the Great embarked on a programme of territorial expansion, which would eventually extend the boundaries of the Greek world to Egypt in the south and to India in the East. In 334 BC Alexander crossed the Hellespont, the narrow strait separating Europe and Asia, and went first to Troy. There he dedicated his armour to Athena and laid a wreath at the tomb of Achilles, the legendary hero and champion of the Greeks in the Trojan War. This act prefigured Alexander’s role as a new Achilles liberating the Greek cities of Asia Minor from Asiatic rule.

That same summer of 334 BC, a successful engagement with the Persian army at the river Granicus, east of Troy, opened the gates of Asia Minor, and Alexander proceeded to tour the Greek cities of the west coast, expelling their Persian garrisons.

On reaching Priene, he made a further dedication to Athena. There the townspeople were laying out their new city and building a temple to its patron goddess. Alexander offered funds to complete the temple, and the inscription on this wall block, cut into a block of marble, records his gift. The inscription was found in the nineteenth century by the architect-archaeologist Richard Pullan leading an expedition on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti. It reads: ‘King Alexander dedicated the Temple to Athena Polias’.

Source: British Museum

Mosaic with the Removal of Briseis


Mosaic with the Removal of Briseis, Roman, A.D. 100 – 200, stone and glass

About to lose possession of the concubine Briseis to Agamemnon, Achilles sits morosely, leaning his head on his hand. This contest between two great Greek warriors set in motion the rest of Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad. Achilles’ companion Patrokles is on the far left, and an elderly bearded man, probably Phoenix, stands beside him in the center of this fragmentary Roman mosaic. Only Briseis’s face remains, just to the right of Phoenix; the rest of her body has been largely destroyed. At the right, partially preserved, are the two heralds who will take the slave girl to Agamemnon.

The Romans made mosaics from tesserae, tiny cubes of stone or occasionally other materials, set into a bed of mortar. They used mosaics to cover the floors in wealthy private homes and public buildings. Roman mosaics show strong regional differences; this example appears to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean in the 100s A.D. Mosaics in the formerly Greek areas of the eastern Mediterranean often depicted complex mythological themes such as this one.

Source : The J. Paul Getty Museum

Torso of Actaeon


Unknown Roman, A.D. 1 – 200, Marble

Only the torso and part of one arm of this Roman statue survive, but they provide clues to the sculpture’s original appearance. The firm, well-muscled torso indicates that the statue represented a young man. A chlamys, or short cloak, is fastened around his neck, then pulled to one side, and wrapped around his extended right arm. This combination of nudity and a short cloak suggests that the statue represents a hero or mythological figure. Furthermore, the torsion in the abdominal muscles point to a twisting and violent motion in the figure’s pose. Similar representations survive of the young man Actaeon, who had the misfortune of seeing Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt, naked. She punished Actaeon by transforming him into a stag and setting his own hunting dogs on him. This statue may have depicted Actaeon, still in human form, whirling around to defend himself as his dogs attack.

Source : Getty Museum

Portrait Busts of Two Youths


Portrait Busts of Two Youths, Unknown, Gallo-Roman, A.D. 60 – 70, Bronze

Who do these two bronze portrait busts represent? They are very similar in appearance, although one appears slightly older than the other. Both boys have a hairstyle with a distinctive wave across the forehead, which was popular during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. The busts originally had long, separately made locks of hair, which were attached to the back of the heads. Their long locks may indicate that they represent a pair of attendants in a youth organization called the Iuventus, which held special favor under Nero. If so, these busts are the only known portraits of such attendants in the Iuventus and were probably created to be displayed in one of the organization’s shrines.

One bust has an acanthus band at the bottom; while this feature is missing on the other bust, traces of solder may indicate its original presence. Also missing from both heads are the original inlaid eyes made of colored stone or glass paste. The emphasis on the front view, the simplistic treatment of the back of the head, and the overall style indicate that this pair of busts was made in the Roman province of Gaul.

These busts are said to have been found in France along with the Offering Box and the Statuette of Mars/Cobannus. The pieces were probably all displayed together in a local shrine of the Iuventus.

Source : The Getty Museum

Head of Athena

01212701Head of Athena, Unknown Greek, Asia Minor, 160 – 150 B.C., Marble

A helmet often identifies Athena, the Greek warrior goddess, and this helmeted head is all that remains of an over life-size statue of the goddess. Here, she wears a type of Athenian helmet with a low crest and a decorative frontlet that ends in volutes above the ears. As for the original appearance of the statue, the remains of the neck indicate that Athena’s body twisted to her left, in relation to the body.

Both stylistic and technical details of the carving suggest that the statue was sculpted at Pergamon, now in modern Turkey, in the mid 100s B.C. It may have been modeled on a statue of Athena carved in Athens in the early 300s B.C. Pergamene artists saw themselves as the heirs of Classical Athens and often turned to Classical models in their work.

Today, much of the helmet’s crest is broken off and Athena’s nose is missing, but the head had already been damaged and repaired in antiquity. The front edge of the helmet was re-cut and a series of small holes drilled into the hairline, in order to add now-missing newly carved marble to replace the damaged areas. Iron dowels left in some holes suggest that this repair was made in late Hellenistic or Roman times.

Source : The J. Paul Getty Museum

Happy Birthday Marcus Aurelius!

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born on this day in 121 AD
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born on this day in 121 AD

Birth of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius by N.S Gill

On this day in A.D. 121, the future Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was born. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “five good emperors” and was the father of the infamous emperor Commodus.

Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic Philosopher who wrote his Meditations. The following is from the third book of a public domain translation of the Meditations. It tells how to live, even if one is an emperor, modestly and virtuously:

Do nothing against thy will, nor contrary to the community, nor without due examination, nor with reluctancy. Affect not to set out thy thoughts with curious neat language. Be neither a great talker, nor a great undertaker. Moreover, let thy God that is in thee to rule over thee, find by thee, that he hath to do with a man; an aged man; a sociable man; a Roman; a prince; one that hath ordered his life, as one that expecteth, as it were, nothing but the sound of the trumpet, sounding a retreat to depart out of this life with all expedition. One who for his word or actions neither needs an oath, nor any man to be a witness.
Book 3

Full Article: Marcus Aurelius, Marcus Aurelius Introduction, This Day in Ancient History

Reclining Youth

Reclining YouthReclining Youth, Cinerary Urn, Early 4th century BC, Bronze; l of stand 69 cm, h of figure 42 cm

This item was found in Perugia in 1842. Inside, the hollow sculpture contained ashes and some small gold ornaments. This is a rare bronze example of an Etrurian cinerary urn in the form of a reclining youth. The stand is decorated with stylized waves, a symbol of the sea separating the world of the live from that of the dead. Assembled from six cast parts, the back and front of the vessel are both equally carefully finished. Generalized austere forms are combined with realistic details. The author of the statue seems to have been influenced by Greek art.

Source : The State Hermitage Museum