BMCR 2006.10.37

Les portraits des Attalides. Fonction et représentation. Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 308

, Les portraits des Attalides : fonction et représentation. Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome ; fasc. 308. Paris: Ecole française d'Athènes, 2003. 378 pages, 76 pages of plates : illustrations ; 30 cm.. ISBN 286958153X €110.00 (pb).

The study of Hellenistic royal portraiture has rightly attracted intense scholarly interest. Like any other work of art, royal portrait images were a social production rather than an individual creation. Moreover, their correct interpretation is important for our understanding of Hellenistic political drama, as the works themselves within their context, or reference to them when lost, also represent models into which their contemporaries translated part of their intangible world. In this respect royal images can be understood as inventions which were set within a specific social scene inside a public building or outside, at a civic center. Alternatively they could be set up within sacred space, undamaged, their dedicatory inscription intact, perhaps next to an honorific decree, inviting viewers to partake of the experience they constructed for their benefit. Their dedication, most likely during a specifically organized celebration, was sometimes part of an elaborate process and may even have occasioned performances where history, as the honoree understood it, was presented as drama to target audiences.1 The aim of portraits, then, was to multiply the honoree’s influence and generate the views that he or she wished to promote about events, contemporary political discourse, foreign and/or domestic policies, as well as ideas on leadership and kingship. The expected viewers’ response was to assume that the actions, assumptions, biases, and hopes that these constructs reflected were the product of their own opinions, observations, and beliefs.

Queyrel’s (henceforth Q.) eagerly awaited book on Attalid portraiture, an admittedly neglected area of study, is based on his 1998 thèse de habilitation. According to the preface, the manuscript was submitted for publication in 1999 and was slightly revised in July 2001 by the addition of a few bibliographical notes. It finally appeared in 2003. The author has been prolific for over a decade, with several articles on Pergamene art and most recently a new book on the Altar of Pergamon.2 His work on Attalid portraiture, under review here, aims at supplementing the discussion on the topic in R. R. R. Smith’s seminal work on Hellenistic royal portraits, as well as more specialized studies on individual royal houses by H. Kyrieleis and, more recently, by P. Stanwick on the Ptolemies and R. Fleischer on the Seleucids.3 Unfortunately the book, a traditional analysis, falls short of its goals due to the absence of some of the most important scholarly discussion on the topic. However, this absence does not appear to be entirely the author’s fault.

First, an overview of the work’s structure is in order: a first part addresses issues of function and representation, including dynastic image, problems of physiognomy, as well as the function and types of portraits, their dimensions, and reception. It also includes the presentation of a number of portraits. The second and largest part handles iconographical issues related to the Pergamene royal family. It is divided into nine chapters, describing the six Attalid rulers, the two queens (Apollonis and Stratonike), and unidentified members of the Pergamene royal family. Four appendices follow. The first contains an epigraphic dossier featuring texts and their French translation on honors that Eumenes II received from Miletos, including portrait statues. The second appendix offers information on the setting up of colossal Attalid portraits on pillars in Athens. In appendix 3, Queyrel discusses the so-called “Terrace of Attalos I” in Delphi. Finally, Appendix 4 expands on the case Q. makes in the core of the book suggesting that the development of the type of Apollo Delphinios was influenced by images of Eumenes II (see pp. 193-196).

During the last decade or so Attalid scholarship has been booming. This is not only due to the fact that new epigraphical evidence has allowed us to rewrite the history of the Attalid kingdom, but also because of the publication of important scholarly works that have redefined the whole picture, recast old debates, and addressed new problems relating to the royal dynasty of Pergamon. Unfortunately Q. has not consulted many of these new publications, most notably Nancy De Grummond and Brunilde Ridgway’s superb edited volume on problems relating to Pergamene art that was published early in 2000.4 Most of these omissions may be due to the apparently long time that Q.’s book remained in press, which has hurt several of its arguments. However, the reader’s confusion is accentuated by the fact that the author appears to have changed certain of his views shortly after the publication of his study of Attalid portraiture. A few examples are in order.

In the first chapter of the book dealing with the status quaestionis and the construction of the Attalid image, Q. sets his criteria for identifying Pergamene royal images: “family look” ( air de famille), statuary genre, and location. His reflections on Attalid aesthetics unavoidably focus on the Pergamene Altar, the traditional Fixpunkt against which all Hellenistic sculpture chronology used to be established, and which the author prudently avoids identifying as the “Altar of Zeus.” Its two friezes represent two different styles that had been previously explained on the basis of their presumed chronological difference of twenty years (180-160 BC). Q. challenges this view, considering the friezes to be contemporary works and citing Callaghan’s 1981 dating of the monument to the 160s BC on the basis of ceramic material from its excavation (p. 11-12). A footnote offers additional bibliography on the problem: Hübner has opted for a dating of the monument in ca. 180 BC, while the issue has been thoroughly discussed by De Luca and Radt in their 1999 publication of material from their 1994 sondages. However, the prevailing and prudently cautious opinion on the altar’s construction date is that it cannot be settled at the current state of the evidence.

An overview of the relevant research is therefore in order: At the time of the excavation of the altar in 1879 and 1904, the pottery was impossible to date because no chronological sequence of Hellenistic ceramics had yet been established. Another excavation in 1961 yielded some more ceramic material, which was studied by Callaghan twenty years later in light of a better understanding of Hellenistic pottery. Callaghan downdated the altar’s first construction to ca. 165 BC and associated it with Eumenes II’s victories against rebellious Galatians in 167-166. Hübner placed the same material in ca. 185 BC, a date that was challenged by Rotroff, who sided with Callaghan.5 Finally, De Luca and Radt’s 1994 sondages yielded yet more pottery that was dated to just after 172 BC, the date of the recovery of Eumenes II from a reported assassination attempt at Delphi that almost cost him his life. Rotroff found merit in some of De Luca’s conclusions, especially for dating the trefoil-style garland and shield bowls earlier than Callaghan. She also agreed with the excavators that we may be confident that construction of the Altar did not begin between 190 and 180 BC. Nevertheless, she questioned some of De Luca and Radt’s other theories, and partly their methodology, arguing that there are serious indications for downdating certain pottery styles on the basis of archaeological contexts to 157-150 BC. Seeing that scholars have not reached definitive conclusions regarding the dates of certain ceramic styles, Rotroff refrained from rejecting De Luca and Radt’s conclusions altogether. The same observations were made by two other prominent scholars who have written extensively on Hellenistic art. B. S. Ridgway cautiously suggested that construction began in 159, shortly before Eumenes II’s death and during his co-regency with Attalos II, and ended with the death of Attalos III in 133 BC.6 This plausible scenario is supported by evidence that the monument remained unfinished, presumably on account of the dynasty’s end. Interestingly, the proposed 20-year span in the construction of the monument may account for the stylistic differences between the two friezes. Stewart also concluded that studies of the altar’s pottery are best judged as inconclusive.7 In his more recent publication on the Pergamene Altar, Q. seems to have changed his mind on the date for the construction of the Altar, and he accepts the proposed late date, while going as far as suggesting that the monument was dedicated to the Twelve Gods and to Deified Eumenes II.8

Continuing his discussion of the character of Pergamene art, Q. sums up the discussion on Attalid architecture and urban planning and offers the usual reconstruction of controversial Attalid victory monuments commemorating royal victories against the Galatians. Thus, we hear thus that the element of surprise was an important aspect of Pergamene art, employed in an exemplary way, according to Q., in the setting for the so-called grand Attalid ex-voto in Pergamon (associated with the so-called long base), where the viewer was suddenly confronted with the presumed original statue of the Ludovisi Galatian committing suicide after having killed his wife. This theme returns repeatedly throughout the book and is even repeated in Q.’s most recent 2005 study of the Altar (132-136), where the long Pergamene base is associated, following 19th century tradition, with the Athenian “lesser Attalid ex-voto.”

This latter monument was long presumed to be a replica of a Pergamene counterpart, which featured, as Q. insists, a series of dead Gauls, Persians, and Amazons, copies of which have been identified among the holdings of museums in the Vatican, Venice, Paris, and Aix-en-Provence. This is an old theory, the weaknesses of which have long been pointed out by scholars, most notably Ridgway, whose concerns Q. never addresses. More recently this debate has been settled beyond any doubt. While Q. may not have had the opportunity to consult J. Marszal’s article on the reconstruction of the Pergamene Long Base in De Grummond and Ridgway 2000, it is truly disappointing that he did not choose to cite Marszal’s earlier work on the monument in the Palagia and Coulson 1998 edited volume on the regional schools of Hellenistic sculpture.9 Elsewhere in his work (p. 17, n. 34) he discusses an article by Damaskos on a head of Herakles that was discovered in Pergamon that was published in the same volume and immediately follows Marszal’s. Even in his more recent and valuable work on the Pergamene Altar (p. 133), Q. insists on the earlier reconstruction, citing Marszal in a footnote, and attributing his brilliant, definitive reconstruction of the Long Base as “a different analysis which has been recently advanced by Brunilde S. Ridgway”! 10 While scholars are under no obligation to agree with theories that are proposed by their colleagues, it is important to address them, even when in disagreement, in the context of healthy scholarly dialogue. At any rate, this case is an example of how good scholarship will always be vindicated by new finds. Specifically, A. Stewart’s 2005 study of the base of the “‘lesser’ Attalid ex-voto” recently discovered on the Athenian Acropolis by M. Korres supports Marszal’s reconstruction of the Pergamene victory monument and convincingly argues for a similar reconstruction for the Akropolis ex-voto on the basis of hard evidence (i.e., the ca. 60 pedestals preserving traces of bronze figures’ feet and horses’ hooves), putting to rest all previous arrangements of presumed Roman copies of Hellenistic originals from one Attalid base to the other.11 Even though Stewart’s book postdates Q., the pedestals were known to scholarship as early as 1994, following the publication of Korres’ diligent reports on the restoration works on the Akropolis and Stewart’s collegiality in sharing information.12

Q. is quite generous in identifying the six Attalid rulers and their two queens on extant portraits in stone, bronze, and gemstones. Oddly enough, the Attalids do not appear to be inclined to portray any other member of their dynasty. His identifications include several works from unknown archaeological contexts, as well as some from unlikely provenance, all well-described and annotated with the appropriate bibliography. In determining which Attalid king they belonged to, the author bases his arguments on such shaky grounds as highly subjective stylistic analysis, founded upon his personal determination of what he calls air de famille. In truth, there are very few surviving Attalid portraits from reasonably good contexts that can be firmly associated with specific members of the royal family; these include Philetairos and Eumenes II from their surviving portrait coins, as well as a marble head, now in Berlin, which has been plausibly identified as Attalos I on the basis of the later addition of a diadem. It is doubtful whether they provide enough evidence to allow us to expand our catalogue of Attalid portraits in any significant way, besides the possible association of extant sculptures from Pergamon that may represent unidentified, possibly even unknown members of the royal family. In this respect, I am hesitant to accept Q.’s associations of the Attalids with certain extant works. A few examples follow:

—The Naples bronze bust from Herculaneum (D3) identified as Eumenes II on the basis of its comparison to the king’s portrait coin. There are obvious differences between the two, including the former’s fleshy as opposed to the latter’s almost hollow cheeks, not to mention the former’s significant overbite and different hairstyle.

—Similarly, a head from Cos (C2, p. 108-111) identified by several scholars as Ptolemaic is now associated with Attalos I. The work receives extensive and superb description by Q. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see its resemblance to the Berlin head, while the historical context would allow us to make a case for a Ptolemaic association seeing the significance the island of Cos had in Ptolemaic propaganda.

—The entire section concerning the Sebasteion at Boubon in Asia Minor, especially the discussion of a number of Roman Imperial portraits which are presented alongside presumed Hellenistic pieces, most of which are headless, and associated with a head that may have come from that area which Q. identifies as Attalos I (C4). Q. divides all extant sculptures into three groups: a Hellenistic group, a Roman Imperial group associated with the Sebasteion, and a third group from the Roman Imperial period that is unrelated to that monument. There is no historical review that would allow us to understand the significance of the area for the Attalids.

—In the section dealing with Philetairos, founder of the dynasty whose portrait graced the so-called “Philetairoi” series of early Attalid silver, we read that portrait coins bearing his image were struck by the dynast himself during the last years of his rule. As a matter of fact, the evidence does not support this statement, which derives from a theory introduced by Georges Le Rider in his publication of the Meydancikkale hoard. This important find led Le Rider to fine-tune the chronology of Attalid coinage to a certain extent, but it did not allow for a more precise date for the introduction of the “Philetairoi II” series which bore Philetairos’ portrait. Le Rider cautiously proposed to revise the commonly held view, first introduced by Ulla Westermark, according to which Philetairos was only allowed by his Seleucid masters to mint coins in his name as long as they bore the portrait of deified Seleukos I on the obverse. The association of the “Philetairoi II” series with the emancipation of Pergamon from the Seleucid empire under Eumenes I, is still a very real possibility given the state of the evidence, which rests on eleven preserved coin hoards. Most of these were found as a result of illegal excavations, and the only safe terminus ante quem for the “Philetairoi II” is 240 BC.13

The sad fact that the majority of extant royal images are hopelessly fragmentary and mostly severed from their original context creates obvious problems to those wishing to make sense out of the disorder of this large body of often undocumented material. It is therefore essential to resort to the epigraphical and literary evidence in order to fill some gaps and to understand, at least in part, the historical background against which we may place surviving statues and portrait coins. As is expected, establishing objective criteria for the identification of portraits has become the object of fierce debate among scholars. Today most of us accept that traditional stylistic analysis alone constitutes shaky grounds for the attribution and dating of portraits, especially given insurmountable problems of chronology associated with Hellenistic sculpture. On the other hand, much remains to be said about their political context, even when all that we have is an inscribed base or a reference in an honorary inscription. It is therefore to be hoped that future studies on Hellenistic royal portraiture, and on the fascinating Attalids in particular, will focus on reconstructing their dynastic story beyond any doubtful extant portraits. Such a work should encompass a thorough analysis of extant portraits from secure archaeological contexts without reference to identification when this is impossible. At the same time we can compile catalogues of all known dynastic single and group monuments, extant or not, examine the evidence on their setting, possible appearance, function, sponsors, and occasion for their dedication. The emerging picture may not enlighten us as to the color of Eumenes II’s eyes and hair, or indeed of his body type and general appearance. However, we are bound to benefit from what these royal portraits will tell us about Attalid foreign and domestic policies, about the role Pergamon played in the politics of the Hellenistic period, and how its kings constructed and reconstructed their self-conceptualization in order to influence their world and forge their memory.


1. Attention should be drawn to the ongoing study on performance and dedication of Roman portraits by D. Erkelenz which deals with these questions. Results of it were presented in a paper entitled “Die Ehrung als Fest: Wie werden Ehrenstatuen der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert?” at the international conference on Senatores populi Romani: Realität und mediale Präsentation einer Führungsschichte that took place at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2004. See also idem, “Ara pro salute und statua honoraria — Überlegungen zur epigraphischen Praxis und Überlieferung in den Grenzprovinzen des Römischen Reiches,” ZPE 143 (2003) 287-294 and Optimo Praesidi. Untersuchungen zu den Ehrenmonumenten für Amtsträger der römischen Provinzen in Republik und Kaiserzeit (Bonn 2004). On the reconstruction of the events leading to the dedication of the monument associated with the Philetairos Base on Delos see the forthcoming study by E. Kosmetatou and A. Petrovic. The above works obviously appeared too late for Q. to consult.

2. F. Queyrel, L’Autel de Pergame. Images et pouvoir en Grèce d’Asie. Antiqua vol. 9. Paris: Éditions A. et J. Picard, 2005. Reviewed by B.S. Ridgway, BMCR 2005.08.39.

3. P. E. Stanwick’s superb study of Ptolemaic royal portraits entitled Portraits of the Ptolemies. Greek Kings as Egyptian Pharaohs (Austin 2003) obviously appeared too late for Q. to consult.

4. N. De Grummond and B.S. Ridgway, eds., From Pergamon to Sperlonga: Sculpture and Context, (Berkeley 2000).

5. S. Rotroff, Review of G. De Luca and W. Radt, Sondagen im Fundament des Grossen Altars, AJA 105 (2001) 129-130.

6. B.S. Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture II. The Styles of ca. 200-100 BC, (Madison, Wisconsin 2000) 21-22. This book appeared late in 2000 and, besides Stewart’s 2005 study of the “Lesser Attalid dedication,” it is perhaps the most important work on Pergamon to date, presenting problems in a coherent way, reviewing evidence, separating fact from fiction, data from wishful thinking, and presenting an accurate picture of the state of evidence. Most importantly, any conclusions are presented with caution and never as dogma.

7. A. Stewart, “Pergamon Ara Marmorea Magna. On the Date, Reconstruction, and Functions of the Great Altar of Pergamon,” in De Grummond and Ridgway, eds., From Pergamon to Sperlonga, 32-33.

8. Queyrel 2005:123-125.

9. J. Marszal, “Tradition and Innovation in Early Pergamene Sculpture,” in O. Palagia, and W. Coulson, eds., Regional Schools in Hellenistic Sculpture: Proceedings of an International Conference held at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, March 15-17, 1996 (Oxford 1998) 117-128; J. Marszal, “Ubiquitous Barbarians: Representations of the Gauls at Pergamon and Elsewhere,” in De Grummond and Ridgway, eds., From Pergamon to Sperlonga, 191-234.

10. “Une autre analyse a été récemment avancée par Brunilde S. Ridgway.”

11. A. Stewart, Attalos, Athens, and the Akropolis: The Pergamene “Little Barbarians” and their Roman and Renaissance Legacy, (Cambridge 2005). A large number of pedestals belonging to this monument were found exactly where Pausanias described them (1.25.2), and it appears that it was massive, including more than 100 bronze statues. Cf. reviews by B. Ridgway, BMCR 2005.07.16 and E. Kosmetatou, American Journal of Archaeology 110 (2006) 181-183. The discovery was first recorded in M. Korres, Meleti Apokatastaseos tou Parthenonos, vol. 4 (Athens 1994). Both Stewart and Korres were very generous with sharing information and discussing their views on this monument prior to its 2005 publication. I have always been amazed at the fact that of all extant bases of Attalid ex-votos, as well as the other monuments that are reported in the ancient sources, it is only the one Athenian and two Pergamene sculptural groups which scholars tend to associate with the Ludovisi Gaul, the Trumpeteer, and the Vatican, Naples, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Venice assorted dead figures. Korres’s study of pedestals proves now that, while dead figures may have been part of the Athenian monument, none of the presumed “replicas can be restored on the surviving bases.”

12. Their discovery was first recorded in M. Korres, Meleti Apokatastaseos tou Parthenonos, vol. 4 (Athens 1994) 10: “to megalou mekous bathro tou anathematos tou Attalou A’.” In his discussion of the discovery of the base for the dedication of a four-hourse chariot by Pronapos (ca. 460 BC Korres mentions the fact that the material in that latter monument allow for a complete reconstruction of the sculptural composition (“me stoicheia pou epitrepoun ten plere anaparastase tes glyptes syntheseos”). Naturally, this has also been the case with the Attalid dedication as well. For a preliminary discussion of the Attalid dedication of a four-horse chariot on the Akropolis, possibly honoring Eumenes II and his brother Attalos (later king Attalos ιἰ, see M. Korres, “Anathematika kai timetika thethrippa sten Athena kai tous Delphous,” BCH Supplement 36 (2000) 293-329. It was rededicated to Anthony and Cleopatra in the 1st c. BC and after the Battle of Actium to Agrippa.

13. U. Westermark, Das Bildnis des Philetairos von Pergamon. Corpus der Munzprägung (Stockholm 1960-1961); A. Davesne and G. Le Rider, Le trésor de Meydancikkale (Cilicie Trachée 1980; Gülnar II) (Paris 1989) 334-340. The following coin hoards contained “Philetairoi II” (cf. Davesne-Le Rider): Meydancikkale (buried before 240-235 BC Asia Minor or Syria (before 220-215 BC; cf. Trésors de Levant 1), and Asia Minor (before 230 BC; cf. IGCH 1529.