BMCR 2005.07.16

Attalos, Athens, and the Akropolis. The Pergamene ‘Little Barbarians’ and their Roman and Renaissance Legacy. With an essay by Manolis Korres

, , Attalos, Athens, and the Akropolis : the Pergamene 'Little Barbarians' and their Roman and Renaissance legacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxv, 358 pages : illustrations, map ; 29 cm. ISBN 0521831636. $95.00.

The Pergamon Altar, as now reconstructed in Berlin, is certainly the most important sculptural representative of Hellenistic Pergamon, although its precise date and purpose are still debated. Only slightly less significant, however, if more hotly contested, are the so-called Attalid Dedications, as gleaned through scant evidence and alleged echoes in later works of art. They were originally victory monuments set up on the Pergamene citadel and on the Athenian Akropolis. Of the former, two marble compositions at heroic scale (the “Dying Trumpeter” and the “Gaul Killing Himself and his Wife”) have long formed the basis for modern interpretations of Hellenistic groups and the rendering of barbarians, specifically the Galatians. It has recently been shown that they could not have copied the bronze sculptures in Pergamon, whose imprints on the extant bases are lifesized; yet they remain central to discussions of Pergamene art. As for the Athenian offering, it is usually known as the Lesser (or Small) Dedication because ancient authors mention that its figures were under-lifesize. Pausanias (1.25.2) lists their subjects as the Gigantomachy, the Amazonomachy, the encounter with the Persians at Marathon, and a Mysian Galatomachy, but identifies the donor simply as Attalos. This has created chronological problems since both the first and the second king by that name could qualify for the honor, and historical events do not clearly favor one over the other. Ultimately, the choice has been based on a group of ten Roman sculptures that satisfy the requirements of reduced size and seem to portray representatives of the four ethnic groups cited. Yet Hellenistic style is difficult to pin down, especially through alleged marble translations from original bronzes, and scholars remain sharply divided on the subject, with German authors in general preferring Attalos II while other Europeans and Americans opt for Attalos I. The pertinent literature is vast and it would seem redundant to make a new attempt at a solution.

Fortunately, a new element has now entered the picture. In 1992, Manolis Korres, who is the acknowledged expert on the architecture of the Athenian Akropolis and has played a major role in the restudy and reconstruction of its monuments, identified some blocks as belonging to the Attalid Dedication. For the first time, contemporary evidence is available and, judging from the patterns of the attachment holes left by the original bronzes, appears to confirm the attribution of the Roman copies to the extant pedestals. Andrew Stewart — whose deep knowledge of ancient art is well attested by his numerous publications, including the wide-ranging Greek Sculpture. An Exploration (1990) — had long been interested in the subject and decided to expand an initial article into a book-length treatment of the statues, their echoes, and their possible message(s) through approximately 2200 years. The happy collaboration of these two scholars has resulted in the volume under review.

In order to understand the various levels of meaning, Stewart (henceforth cited as S.) has proceeded backwards: from the Renaissance to the Roman Imperial period and into Hellenistic times, through four chapters articulated into many sub-sections. An initial “Encounter” expresses his personal reactions in front of the sculptures — a sensuous, lyrical exploration of poses and surfaces of the ten “Little Barbarians” accompanied by outstanding photographs. “Conclusion” looks “Backward, Again, and Forward,” with discourse on the gaze and the glance. Korres contributes a technical Essay (pp. 242-285), 26 new drawings and two tables of dimensions. Appendix 1 cites the Testimonia (AT 1-8 for the ancient, RT 1-13 for the Renaissance); Appendix 2 catalogues the ten statues and four additional ones considered “Residue.” The fold-out plate of the core group allows for easy reference throughout the reading; also essential is fig. 193 (p. 171), highlighting all restorations.1 Indices of sources (Greek, Latin, and Biblical), of Inscriptions, and General, as well as an extensive Bibliography, a chronological chart (Greek, Roman, Renaissance), and a map (albeit limited to the Greek world) complete the documentation.

The first chapter covers previous scholarship from the 19th-century topographical studies by Leake and Penrose and Heinrich Brunn’s seminal lecture of April 21, 1865. The German scholar was the first to identify correctly the figures that have since formed the core of all further attributions to the Lesser Attalid Dedication (they were originally thought to be the Horatii and the Curiatii, or at least Roman gladiators). Each mention is accompanied by a concise biography of the authors cited and their ideological positions, which, in Brunn’s case, leads to an excursus on Positivism. The chapter continues through various phases of scholarship: the formalism of Lippold, Krahmer, and Carpenter (with an excursus on Formalism); the skepticism and revisionism of more recent publications (including my own) to ca. 2000; the search by art-historians through Renaissance and later inventories to trace the history of the marbles after their 16th-century discovery; and a statement of “Problems and Prospects,” which details S.’s own position. Chapter Two follows the “core group” from their first appearance through their dispersal to their present locations. It then highlights their likely citations by Raphael, Peruzzi, Parmigianino, Michelangelo, Sansovino, Titian, Pordenone, Veronese, and Tintoretto — painters seduced by the “figura serpentinata” embodied in the marbles. Many of these echoes had been previously recognized, but some are S.’s own discovery (e.g., p. 120, p. 126), together with his explanations of their Christian contexts. Photographs of the statues taken from angles that stress their resemblance to the paintings complement the impressive and unusual illustrations of details scattered throughout the book.

Chapter Three deals with the Ten Little Barbarians as products of Roman art. They are known in single exemplars and are therefore exempt from Kopienkritik, but S. attributes them to the Hadrianic period on the basis of extensive technical and stylistic comparisons with dated pieces, as well as on historical grounds. They may have been made by Aphrodisian sculptors based in Rome after casts taken (on Imperial commission, p. 142) from the bronzes in Athens. A possible display in the Saepta Julia — or elsewhere within the Campus Martius — is suggested on the premise that Renaissance nuns, the discoverers and initial owners of the marbles, would have lived in that area for their safety.2 The landscaped treatment of the plinths, unattested by the Akropolis pedestals, must be a Roman touch (p. 147). Also Roman is the elimination of the victors (originally present in Athens), meant to focus attention on the subjection of the enemy. Physiognomic theories are reviewed to stress that these barbarians are “beyond the pale” (pp. 152-162), and wounds are analyzed in both their Roman and Greek context.3 Since the Empire of Trajanic and Hadrianic times was deeply engaged in fighting the “Others,” these images of vanquished peoples would have had personal meaning for the viewers beyond the quasi-mythological quotations. A final section within this chapter points out the dubious echoes of these specific statues in later Roman monuments — what may look like imitations were probably drawn from an established repertoire of battle compositions.

Chapter Four finally comes to grips with the Hellenistic prototypes and the new evidence: over 40 orthostats and plinths in Hymettian marble and 13 cornice blocks (i.e., top surfaces) in Pentelic, no fewer than three of which formed the end of a pedestal. Differences in molding profiles (specifically the Ionic cyma reversa), systems of clamps and dowels, and lengths divide the cornices into at least four series, although Pedestal 4 is represented by a single extant block. S. summarizes (pp. 186-189) the main technical points which are later detailed by Korres in catalogue form and drawings of each cornice fragment. Although the statuary bronzes were forcibly removed in later times, thus blurring the contours of their sockets, four types of attachment cavities are distinguished: sausage-shaped footprints (of varying length, one smaller than the others for a female foot?), round/oval holes, square/rectangular ones, and a single example (on block γ 2) of a triangular socket with rounded corners. The four series correspond well to the four topics mentioned by Pausanias. The attachment holes are not incompatible with some poses attested by the Hadrianic marbles. In particular, the space left empty on one end block ( γ 1; cf. fig. 268c) in front of a presumably cowering figure suggests an opponent on a rearing horse. The possible traces of other horses (hooves on round holes, belly supports on rectangular ones) imply both mounted deities and human riders (Amazons, Persians, Gauls). Significantly, they ensure that the victors were included with the vanquished, hitherto a highly debated proposition. Location in front of the Akropolis South Wall is confirmed by a ledge extending inward from the latter (fig. 284); it would have supported the four pedestals, calculated to a total length of ca. 117 m. (including the gaps between each series), for a minimum of 132 figures (pp. 195-196; cf. figs. 218-219 for alternative reconstructions). The scenes would have been viewed from East to West alongside the Parthenon and its metopes, for immediate comparison and recall; they were preceded by the two colossal (akrolithic?) images of Attalos (I or II?) and Eumenes (II), later inscribed to Mark Antony, “the New Dionysos” (and Kleopatra? pp. 198-199, and fig. 228 for location), and toppled by a storm into the Theater of Dionysos below, together with “the Dionysos of the Gigantomachy” (Plutarch, Antony 60. 2-3; AT5).

From this basic evidence S. reconstructs the entire Lesser Dedication, in the conviction, strengthened by the attachment traces, that the ten marble core statues correspond in both scale and general poses to the original bronzes. Iconography is reviewed for each of the four topics, with comparison to the “Larger Gauls,” which are tentatively assigned to a podium in front of the Stoa of Attalos I at Delphi. Epigonos and Phyromachos may be the designers of the Athenian groups, around 200 B.C. Other compositional and stylistic parallels are cited. Interpretation follows, in subsections headed “For the Security of the City” (quoting the restored wording of a decree), “Rhetoric,” and “Responses” — by the Athenians, other Greeks, Pergamenes, Macedonians, visitors from other Hellenistic kingdoms, and, finally, Italians and Romans. Korres’ commentary is more limited in scope and mostly supports but also challenges some of the assumptions, as discussed below.

Readers of S.’s earlier writings, especially his Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece (1997), will recognize a familiar modus operandi.4 Vast historical and art-historical learning is accompanied by liberal doses of psychological and linguistic theory supported by numerous quotations, the whole expressed in an eloquent and flowing prose that at times assumes the tone of an intimate conversation spiced by the occasional witticism.5 With disarming candor, S. declares that “[each chapter’s] concrete factuality (its absolute truth content), never 100 percent even at the start, declines markedly with each move away from the objects themselves into the murkier realms of interpretation and reception. And the deeper we dig, the more conditional our inferences become …” (p. 80). Yet each argument seems to follow such strict logic that S.’s conclusions must be taken seriously. They certainly contribute immensely to our general knowledge, whether we can subscribe to them wholly or even in part. To be sure, it would take three experts to do proper justice to this book: an art-historian, a theoretician, and an archaeologist. I am not the first and, most definitely, not the second, but I have devoted some time to the third field and will venture to raise some issues for S.’s consideration.

First, some recent bibliography. The “Fallen Gaul” from Delos (ca. 100 B.C., Athens, NM 247; fig. 70 and pp. 148, 236) is correctly cited as an early example of a foe displayed in isolation, albeit in relative proximity to his opponent. This sculpture has now been extensively published, with reference to the “ten barbarians” and to another Gaul statue from the same Delian findspot that can be restored as a virtual high relief, lying on the ground near his shield, like the Dead Gaul in Venice. The article also discusses the meaning of the Galatian theme for the Italians (esp. pp. 68-70) and adds the new information that the Kneeling Persian in Aix was in the collection of Cardinal Lercari, State Secretary to Pope Benedict XIII, until sold to Cardinal de Polignac in 1728.6

The reclining figures within the core group pose a problem: how could they have been visible on their Akropolis pedestals at a height of ca. 1.77-1.85 m. above ground? Korres points out this difficulty and the even scarcer visibility from the city, given a certain distance of the bases from the South Wall. Moreover, he doubts the veracity of “the story of the Dionysos’ plunge into the theater in the storm before Actium” (p. 284 and esp. n. 74). S. acknowledges the predicament and can only suggest that viewers used the sloping ground between the Parthenon and the pedestals as “a convenient grandstand” but is less convinced that the sculptures could be properly seen from outside the citadel (p. 192). Yet he stresses (passim) that the marble Barbarians were carved fully on all sides and that therefore their prototypes were also meant for all-around inspection. He also accepts at face value the stormy demise of both the god and the Attalid colossi mentioned by the sources (e.g., p. 182). If the latter were truly akrolithic, they are more likely to have been toppled down by a storm than the much smaller and firmly anchored bronze. Perhaps Plutarch unwittingly duplicated, or tried to make sense of, his own sources.

How sure can we be that the Akropolis bases supported the originals of the ten “copies”? Both S. and Korres admit that the extant surfaces do not allow an exact fit.7 As cited above, one figure provided the strongest evidence for a mounted opponent, yet its reconstruction (p. 247, fig. 268c; cf. pp. 72 and 204) based on the attachment traces is only approximately similar to the Kneeling Persians in the Vatican and at Aix. The latter two support themselves on the arm corresponding to the bent knee, whereas the Athenian fighter would be doing the opposite (hand flat on the ground behind — within — the up-bent leg). The pose is possible but hard to sustain in real life (I tried it). Perhaps the traces should be read differently.

No dedicatory inscription has been found to prove that the pedestals truly belong to the Attalid Dedication, yet I readily accept the identification; I am also impressed by the length and richness of the total monument, which would seem to demand victors as well as vanquished. I am less confident about points of iconography. The sequence of subjects is attested by Pausanias’ account, but the blocks, coming from secondary contexts, do not provide complete certainty as to the original ordering of the pedestals from each series. I therefore wonder about the presence of mounted gods that would appear to tower not only over opponents but also over their fellow deities. In my own works, I have pointed out peculiarities in the costumes and equipments of the Ten Barbarians. S. explains them all away on interpretative grounds: the Dead Amazon with a nursing infant is Antiope with baby Hippolytos (although the presence of riders precludes the Akropolis as the battleground; p. 203); the three Persians are improperly attired for ” effect“, since nakedness and exomides signify slavery (pp. 204-205). Yet Greeks steeped in the Classical tradition would have read the former as virile and the latter as typical of heroes like Odysseus or gods like Hephaistos. Along these lines, almost any anomaly can find (modern) justification, rather than being attributed to a different period and interpreter. In the same vein, the Dying Gaul in Naples is described as wounded from the back as symbolic of cowardice, “the classic mark of the deserter” (p. 169 and passim). Yet the catalogue (p. 300, no. 9) mentions that he is “run through” and only an 1886 source believes it is “from back to front.” By contrast, RT2 (Bellièvre, p. 289) considers him “confossum … a mammilla sinistra trans humerus” — from the left breast through to the shoulder. I see no difference in his entry and exit wounds from those of the supine Dead Gaul in Venice (Cat. no. 10), “likely run through from right to left by a spear,” that is, from side to side.8

Some relevant blocks are still embedded in the South Wall of the Akropolis (cf. fig. 217) and therefore further discoveries may be expected. The same can be hoped for the Roman “life” of the Ten Barbarians. Great progress in Roman topography has been made by the combined efforts of Chrystina Häuber and Franz Xaver Schütz, an archaeologist and a geographer, who have devised a new system to pinpoint findspots of ancient monuments. A similar study has already queried the setting of the “Larger Gauls” within the Gardens of Sallust, since the Ludovisi property, in which the statues were found, extended beyond the gardens’ limits. S. is probably correct in thinking that both the Big and the Smaller Barbarians were by the same workshop, although we could wish for more specific marble analyses, especially since the Paris Gaul may be in alabaster, and the Venice Kneeling Gaul looks almost translucent in figs. 10, 51-52. Yet the polish and additions made by the restorers can be misleading.9

While there are many points of disagreement in the above comments, I fully subscribe to S.’s basic principles on Hellenistic sculpture (p. 219, numbers 1 to 4). I have expressed the same thoughts myself in various writings. We therefore differ only in matters of inferences and detail. Let me be the first to admit that I do not have S.’s depth and range of knowledge, and to state my admiration for the tremendous amount of research he has put into this book. The very length of my review is a consequence of the importance of its topic and the impact this treatment will undoubtedly have on all future studies. Add to it the elegant typographical appearance of the volume and its photographs, and it is clear that this book is a winner — without vanquished foes.


1. P. 96 states that the Naples Gaul had originally lost also his right forearm, but this seems contradicted by fig. 98 on p. 84 (the six barbarians owned by Alfonsina Orsini, with restorations), fig. 193, and the Catalogue entry, pp. 299-300, no. 9.

2. Cf. pp. 83-84 and n. 4 on p. 308; also source RT1 on p. 288 mentioning the find and the finders.

3. By editorial oversight, the statement on bleeding wounds in Greek battle scenes on pp. 168-169 seems later contradicted (p. 229). Another contradiction occurs on p. 161: “… in both art and the arena, Roman historical exempla were never invoked to celebrate such victories, only Greek.” But p. 164 mentions Julius Caesar’s reenaction of “his own victories against the Gauls and others as early as 46 B.C.,” as well as (p. 165) Titus’ staging of his storming of Jerusalem and Domitian’s Dacian battle in the Circus Maximus after his Dacian triumph of 89. That Gaius Caesar was Augustus’ nephew (p. 164) must be, however, a lapse in translation from the Italian “nipote” which applies to both a nephew and a grandson; Gaius Caesar was, in fact, the son of Augustus’ daughter Julia by Agrippa, and his adopted heir.

4. This term from police procedurals is deliberately chosen, since S. states (p. xviii) that “at times this study has felt like a six-year exercise in detection, Sherlock Holmes style.” Investigative expressions recur throughout.

5. In a Roman context, e.g., a sudden realization is accompanied by “The denarius drops” (p. 152).

6. Delian Gaul in Athens: J. Marcadé, F. Queyrel, “Le Gaulois blessé de Délos reconsidéré,” MonPiot 82 (2003) 5-97; second Delian Gaul: 43-46, figs. 33-40; Aix Persian: p. 56 n. 188, citing F. de Polignac, “Archéologie, prestige et savoir. Visages et itinéraires de la collection du cardinal de Polignac, 1724-1742,” in A.-M. Laurens, K. Pomian, eds., L’anticomanie. La collection d’antiquités aux 18e et 19e siècles ( Civilisations et Sociétés 86, 1992), p. 20 n. 7. For extensive treatment of the reclining Gaul, whose true pose had gone unrecognized previously, see F. Queyrel, “Le Galate expirant de l’Agora des Italiens à Délos; Presentation et fonction,” REA 99 (1997) 391-399; cf. p. 91 and n. 61 in my Hellenistic Sculpture III (2002). S. lists this book in his bibliography but he may have seen it too late to incorporate references to this and other relevant pieces into his text.

7. S., p. 193: “The sockets total thirty-five in number and occupy about 11.5 m. of extant statue platform. The ten Little Barbarians fit none of them exactly, though versions of them are detectable on γ 1, 4, 5, 8 and 11.” Korres, p. 271: “So with some reservations, the data do not allow us to fit any of the eight selected copies to any of the blocks examined. They merely indicate some possibilities and show that figures like those in Figure 280 and the Foldout perhaps stood on some of the blocks.”

8. Both wounds on the Dying Gaul show vertical cuts above and below the round holes (although partly obscured by blood); the same cuts in the Venice Dead Gaul are accepted as points of entry and exit of a lateral thrust: p. 206. Incidentally (same page), the pointed sword is said to persist in Gaulish hands only in Italy, but no inference is drawn from this discrepancy. Finally, anguiped giants in Greek sculpture (p. 201) existed as early as the Priene coffers (contemporary with the Halikarnassos Maussolleion, mid-4th c.) and the metopes of the Athenaion at Ilion, now redated (by B. Rose, Studia Troica 13 (2003) 49) to the first half of the 2nd c.

9. Ch. Häuber and F. X. Schütz, Einführung in Archäologische Informationsysteme (AIS) (Mainz 2004). K. Hartswick, The Gardens of Sallust. A Changing Landscape (Austin 2004) 104-108. Big and Smaller Barbarians by same workshop: S., pp. 136-137, with mention that they are in Asian marble (from Marmara or Denizli) and querying the alabaster test in n. 3 on p. 314.