Early Roman Marble Portrait of a Hellenistic Ruler
Type - Marble bust
Size - Height 29,3 in (74,3 cm)
Medium - Marble
Year - Circa 1st Century B.C. - 1st Century A.D.
Condition - intact, superb
Certificate of Authenticity
About the piece
The life-size head, perhaps Philetairos, mounted on a later, Neoclassical marble bust. The physiognomy of the subject, characterized by heavy jowls, thick neck, and small eyes, is consistent with the portrait type of Philetairos, the first ruler of Pergamon (283-263 BC), and founder of the Attalid Dynasty. The head turned to the left and looks up, his full corpulent face with a rounded chin, his mouth with lower lip protruding, the bridge of the nose broad, the narrow convex eyes with thick upper lids, the brows arching with a corresponding ridge across the middle of his forehead, his hair a mass of short curving locks.
Philetairos, son of Athos, was from the Greek city of Tius in the Propontis. He served as an administrator under Lysimachus, who was one of Alexander the Great's successors. After Lysimachus secured the Macedonian war chest, the booty of Alexander's conquest of Achaemenid Persia, he entrusted a share to Philetairos, which he guarded in the fortress city of Pergamon. He maintained his loyalty to Lysimachus until court intrigues endangered his position, and then switched allegiance to Seleucus Nicator of Syria. After Seleucus's defeat of Lysimachus in 281 B.C., he retained Philetairos as governor of Pergamon, and left the treasure to his care. Under his watch, Pergamon became one of the most important cities of the Hellenistic world (see Davis and Kraay, The Hellenistic Kingdoms, Portrait Coins and History, pp. 250-252).
Philetairos neither took the title of king, nor used his own portrait on coins. His image is known chiefly from coins minted by his successors, which may duplicate a now-lost statue from the acropolis of Pergamon created during his lifetime or shortly after his death in 263 B.C. On the basis of its similarity to the coin portraits, a marble herm from the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum has been identified as a depiction of Philetairos. The head presented here is the third known version of the type; the fine quality of the sculpture, especially in the treatment of the hair, suggests a late Hellenistic date, so probably a century earlier than the Roman example from Herculaneum, now in the Museo Nazionale, Naples, inv. 6148. The Herculaneum herm portrait turns left and looks up, same as our head.
For the coin portrait see Kraay and Davis, op. cit., no. 184. For the Herculaneum herm see R.R.R.Smith, Hellenistic Royal Portraits, pp. 74-75 and no. 22, p. 159.
Ex- Private European collection, 1980s; American private collection.
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