BMCR 2001.10.02

Bildnisse griechischer Herrscher und Staatsmänner im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr

, Bildnisse griechischer Herrscher und Staatsmänner im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr.. Munich: Biering & Brinkmann, 1997. 274 pages, 30 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 31 cm. ISBN 3930609150 DM 189.

You will find that at other cities statues of athletes are set up in the agoras, at Athens statues of good generals and of the Tyrannicides. (Lykourgos, Leok. 51)

A publicly displayed portrait statue was one of the highest honors that could be bestowed upon an individual by a Greek city in thanks for services and benefactions. Public images of contemporary citizens signified their subjects’ power and enhanced their prestige; many hoped for such monuments, few received them. Athens was especially parsimonious in bestowing such extraordinary honors—after they set up the statues of the Tyrannicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton ca. 510 B.C.E., the people of Athens did not grant another public honorific portrait statue until over a century later in 394, when they awarded two statues to Konon for defeating the Spartan fleet at Knidos. Portrait statues were indeed set up in Athens, and elsewhere, during the 5th century, but these were primarily privately sponsored votive dedications set up in sanctuaries such as the Athenian Acropolis.

Previous studies of 5th-century portraiture have tended to focus primarily on the few extant bronze originals, such as the so-called Porticello philosopher, or the handful of Classical portraits preserved in later Roman versions, like the marble portrait herms of Perikles and Themistokles. Krumeich’s study, a 1993/94 Berlin dissertation written under the direction of Adolf Borbein, collects and examines all the evidence—literary, epigraphical, and archaeological—for the portraits of Greek rulers and statesmen of the 5th-century B.C.E. As the first comprehensive collection and analysis of this material, the study makes an important contribution to our understanding of the ways in which portraits were deployed in the 5th-century, and how politics and history may have both been reflected in and shaped by these monuments. The aims of K’s study, clearly stated on pp. 13-14, are 1) to test the widely held belief that there were no portrait statues of living Athenian citizens set up in the 5th-century, with the exception of victorious athlete statues; 2) to explore the assumption that an increase in the number of honorific statues signifies a decline in religious values; and 3) to examine whether and in what way the 5th-century practice of dedicating portrait statues differed from earlier Archaic or later 4th-century practices.

In the introduction (ch. 1) K. outlines the aims and objectives of his study, and then places it within the context of earlier scholarship. Ch 2 offers a brief survey of portraits of Greek statesmen in the Archaic period, which serves as an introduction to the main period with which the study is concerned. The portraits of the 5th-century are the focus of the four following chapters; the chapters proceed chronologically, and a short biography introduces each historical figure. The portraits of 5th-century rulers are treated in Ch. 3. Portraits of Athenian statesmen are the subject of Ch. 4, and represent the core material with which this study is concerned. At 97 pages, it is also by far the longest chapter of the book. Additional much shorter chapters survey the portraits of Spartan statesmen (Ch. 5), and statesmen portraits from other cities (Ch. 6). Chapter 7 briefly discusses other types of portrait statues, including the so-called Strategenköpfen and statues of victorious athletes. In order to place the 5th-century material in a broader historical context, K. includes a chapter (8) on 4th-century portraits of statesmen that examines the changing roles of public portrait statues in the period after the Peloponnesian War. Here again Athens plays a starring role.

A final chapter (Ch. 9) summarizes the study’s main conclusions. The catalogue includes only the 5th-century portraits discussed in Chs. 3-6, listed here in alphabetical order rather than in chronological order, which is how they are discussed in the text. Each brief catalogue entry provides the following information, if known: monument type (i.e., statue, statue base, painting), modern location, ancient provenance, dedicator, date, artist, a description of any extant remains, literary references, and bibliography. The comprehensive indices of proper names, provenances, inscriptions, and literary references make the text easy to navigate. The bibliography has been updated to include material published in 1996, but the text has been little changed ( geringfügig überarbeitete Fassung, pg. 9) since the completion of the dissertation in 1993/94. The illustrations and reconstruction drawings were well chosen to complement the text. It is especially helpful to have such complete documentation of the extant statue bases, including drawings of the tops and sides of the base that show the placement of both statue and inscription. Inscribed statue bases play an important role in a study of this kind, and the illustrative material allows the reader to get a better sense of these artifacts as (sometimes imposing) physical monuments.

K.’s thorough study of the literary, archaeological, and epigraphic evidence reveals that in the 5th-century there were at least 34 portrait statues of Greek rulers and statesmen, only some of which were part of multi-figured groups1 or chariot dedications (214). Perhaps most interestingly, K.’s reevaluation of the dedications from the Athenian Acropolis shows that many more portrait statues were set up here in the 5th century than has previously been recognized. These findings, K. also suggests, cast doubt on Raubitschek’s suggestion, first put forward in 19392 and thereafter generally accepted, that in the first half of the 5th-century Athenian politicians were only represented on the Acropolis in monuments that celebrated athletic victories. Political monuments celebrating military victories, such as the well-known dedications that lined the Sacred Way at Delphi, became a characteristic feature of major cities and sanctuaries from about 500, when the collective identity of the citizenry first begins to find expression in the political sphere.3 The statues collected by K. provide important evidence for mapping this process, especially at Athens. Although they are privately sponsored monuments, the Athenian statue dedications help to fill the century gap between the publicly sponsored honorific statues of the Tyrannicides and of Konon. K.’s study, therefore, presents a much fuller picture of the development and deployment of honorific portraiture in the formative years of the Athenian democracy.

Because he is dealing mostly with inscribed statue bases and monuments preserved only in literary sources, K. does not use style as a defining and organizing category, nor is he much concerned with indications of individuality in the portraits he studies, or the (imagined) actual appearance of the subjects represented by them. K. does not engage in a discussion of what constitutes a ‘true portrait’, a preoccupation with many previous studies of Classical portraiture. This approach has much to recommend it, as ‘likeness’ in the modern sense of the word seems not to have been a defining or even necessary feature of an ancient portrait. Given his more flexible and open approach to the material—he has, for example, no problem with calling the statues of Harmodios and Aristogeiton or the herm of Perikles portraits, as some do 4—I found it surprising that K. chose not to deal with the so-called Strategenköpfen on the grounds that it is impossible to decide on present evidence whether they are portraits of historical subjects or whether they instead represent mythological figures (199-200). While K. is surely right to point out that the wearing of a helmet does not immediately signify strategos, as the unhelmeted portraits of Themistokles, Miltiades, and Olympiodoros show, his decision not to include the Strategenköpfen seems a missed opportunity, especially since these heads, although only preserved in later Roman versions, represent a potentially important body of evidence for the visual appearance of Classical Greek portraiture. As K. himself points out, the strategos was one of the most influential office holders in Athens (51-54), and many of the Athenians he discusses in the text either held this office, or were honored for military victories. K.’s decision to exclude the Strategenköpfen from consideration is also surprising given the fact that he does include such questionable examples as the portrait of the Corinthian general Pellichos (179-81), which is more than likely a literary fiction.5

K.’s careful collection of all the evidence for portraits of 5th-century rulers and generals represents a real advance in our understanding of the origins and development of honorific statues. His study also shows the value and importance of dealing with the full range of evidence—archaeological, epigraphical, and textual—available for a given subject. In his treatment of the evidence, however, K. tends to err on the side of positivism. He includes, for example, at least 14 monuments that may not have supported portrait statues; this uncertainty, however, is clearly indicated in the text by a ?, and in the catalogue by an * after the catalogue number. Other areas of uncertainty, however, are not as visibly marked. K. is very keen to disprove the traditional interpretation that 5th-century portrait statues, other than those of victorious athletes, were only set up posthumously (13, n. 3).6 He claims, in fact, that a preponderant number of the portraits in his study were set up while their subjects were still living (214). This is something of an overstatement, based on an overly optimistic reading of genuinely tenuous evidence. We can be sure that a few of the portraits certainly were set up during the lifetimes of their subjects: the statue of Hipparchos Charmou (cat A16; K. argues against Raubitschek that this was an athlete statue, but there is little evidence to decide one way or the other); the painted portraits of Alcibiades in the Acropolis Pinacotheke (cat A1 and A2; although these commemorated athletic victories) and the statue of Alcibiades in Samos (cat A3); and the portraits of Lysander in Olympia (cat S1), Ephesos (cat S2), and Delphi (cat S3). But few of the other portraits with which this study is concerned can be precisely dated. While it is certainly possible that the portraits of Themistokles, Xanthippos, or Perikles, for example, were set up during their subjects’ lifetimes, as K. argues, we have no certain evidence that this was in fact the case. K. is clearly right, however, to point out that we should not simply assume a 5th century portrait dedication would have only been made posthumously. His study clearly shows that the practices governing portrait dedications in the 5th century were much more varied and complex than has previously been recognized.


1. See now Ch. Iakomidou, Die Statuenreihen griechischer Poleis und Bünde aus spätarchaischer und klassischer Zeit (Munich 1997).

2. A.E. Raubitschek, “Leagros,” Hesperia 8 (1939) 155-64.

3. Tonio Hölscher, ‘Images and Political Identity: The Case of Athens,’ in D. Boedeker and K.A. Raaflaub eds., Democracy, Empire, and the Arts in Fifth-Century Athens (Cambridge, MA 1998) 153-83.

4. J. Boardman, Greek Sculpture. The Classical Period (1985) 239: “Harmodios and Aristogeiton, Kresilas’ Perikles and Anakreon were no portraits…”. Gisela Richter did not include the statues of the Tyrannicides in The Portraits of the Greeks (1965), although they were included in the 1984 version abridged and revised by R.R.R. Smith.

5. A. Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration (New Haven & London 1990) 275, for the argument that Pellichos is a creation of Lucian rather than of Demetrios of Alopeke.

6. View also expressed by Boardman, Greek Sculpture, 239: “Literature mentions portraits, but, in the fifth century, at least until its near end, only of the dead, even recently dead.