BMCR 1996.08.11

]Archaic Greek Equestrian Sculpture

, Archaic Greek Equestrian Sculpture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1996. Pp. 141]. $39.50.

This book is the first work to consider all extant Greek equestrian stone sculpture from the Archaic period as a group. To the uninitiated this might seem to be a daunting task, but a glance at the catalogue appended to the text quickly dispels ones fears. There are only eighteen separate statues, all of which are fragmentary. Even given the small fraction of Archaic Greek sculpture in existence today, this is a remarkably close knit set of statues. The book, which is based on the author’s dissertation for the University of Michigan, is divided into four main chapters. In the introduction E. reviews the previous scholarship on the pieces and presents her methodology, which is a synthetic approach combining information from vase paintings, architectural sculpture, literary references, and the statues themselves to derive possible meanings and identities of the sculptures.

In the second chapter, entitled “Geographical and Chronological Distribution”, several important points are discussed. The find spots of the sculpture are limited to Attica and Delos, a Cycladic island under Athenian influence at this time. A comprehensive survey of terracottas and bronze statuettes demonstrates that there is a discrepancy between freestanding large-scale representations in stone that are found only in Attica and Delos and a much more widespread production of small-scale equestrian figures in bronze and terracotta. E. argues that the stone equestrian statue type fills a need specific to the Athenians. This limited geographic distribution is striking. However, given the very small number of extant Archaic Greek sculptures, one must always be wary of such an argument ex silentio. Since none of the statues has a securely dated archaeological context, dating the sculptures relies heavily on stylistic traits and establishing a relative sequence. The entire range of dates for the sculptures is ca. 560-480 B.C. E. sees the statues as falling into two chronological groups, one dating to ca. 550 and the other to ca. 500. She links this production to the period of Peisistratid rule of Athens. The specific arguments for dating each piece are presented in the catalogue entries. The merits and pitfalls of using vase painting comparanda, architectural sculpture as comparanda, and linking equestrian statues with historical events as a means of refining the relative chronology are all discussed with specific reference to the previous scholarship on equestrian statues.

In the third chapter, entitled “Origins of Style and Iconography”, E. discusses the statue types in terms of the pose of both horse and rider and the relationship of the viewer to the sculptures. She observes that most of the horses tend to have the same static stance with one hoof advanced, but two represent more active positions, possibly a gallop. The riders turn their head to the side in a pose quite distinct from representations in other media. This gesture as E. points out must have been significant to the ancient viewer even if we cannot determine its meaning today. Certainly it removes the rider to a degree from the central act of riding. Bases for equestrian statues are usually inscribed on the short side suggesting that this was an important viewpoint. E. finds little support for the argument that some of these figures might belong to sculptural groups. Despite similarities in pose, the riders have quite a variety of costume, headdress and hairstyle. Both nude and draped figures are represented. Indeed one is struck by such diversity in so small a corpus of material. E. concludes from this that the statues each had specific individual meanings. An overview of the evidence for Egyptian or Near Eastern prototypes for Greek equestrian statues provides few examples. Since horses played a prominent role in aristocratic Athens, as is evinced by their prominence in the iconography of Attic vase painting after 700 B.C., E. concludes that the stone equestrian statue type evolved out of local inspiration.

In chapter four, entitled “Meaning and Identity”, E. considers the most likely interpretations for the figures based on a careful consideration of Athenian mythology, history, and iconography. She notes the importance of horses as an aristocratic symbol in Attic vase painting of the Geometric and Archaic periods. E. finds little support for the identification of the marble equestrian statues as athletic victors. She considers the Dioskouroi, Poseidon, and Akamas and Damophon (the sons of Theseus) as the best possible identities for the marble riders. E. favors the latter identifications which she believes were appropriate heroic figures for Athenian citizens to emulate. Such marble equestrian statues, she quite rightly asserts, could have been set up as dedications in commemoration of either military or athletic victory.

Throughout the main text, E. addresses a wide variety of issues related to the topic, providing ample bibliography and raising numerous interesting points of discussion. Her even and thorough treatment of the pieces in the catalog form a useful supplement for further research. While I am not necessarily swayed by her argument for the specific identities for the statues, she constructs her argument clearly and succinctly, recognizing the lack of evidence for such definitive identifications. This book is a welcome and significant addition to the scholarship on Archaic Greek equestrian sculptures.