BMCR 2017.09.22

Pergamo e il re: forma e funzioni di una capitale ellenistica. Studi Ellenistici Supplementi 3

, Pergamo e il re: forma e funzioni di una capitale ellenistica. Studi Ellenistici Supplementi 3. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. 283. ISBN 9788862278188. €245.00 (pb).

In this third volume of the series Studi Ellenistici Supplementi, Coarelli presents the results of his long research on the archaeology of Pergamon. In the preface, he highlights that the scholarship, mainly German-speaking, has built up a ‘vulgata dogmatica’ (p. 10) about the identification, reconstruction, and dating of the monuments of Pergamon. This communis opinio, which, according to Coarelli, mostly emerges in collective works such as the catalogue of the 2011 exhibition in Berlin,1 is based only on the archaeological evidence and proposes a monolithic view that permits no alternative hypotheses Coarelli questions the conclusions of this scholarship about many matters. Through the reassessment of archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic, and literary sources, he seeks support for proposals so far neglected and suggests new ideas that offer the reader a different overview of Pergamon. In accordance with his aim, Coarelli does not present a full discussion of the archaeology of Pergamon, but focuses on commonly accepted hypotheses that he finds unconvincing, and thus his book is a collection of case studies.

The first chapter deals with the temples hosting Attalid ruler cult in the Hellenistic age and Imperial cult in Roman times: the Ionic temple of the Theatre Terrace, the Traianeum, the temple of Hera Basileia, and the not yet located temple of Rome and Augustus. Coarelli’s most innovative conclusions concern the first and the last of these four case studies. He assumes that the Ionic temple of the Theatre Terrace was originally dedicated to Asklepios Soter, and not Dionysos Kathegemon as commonly stated. He adds that this latter deity was worshipped in Temple R. As for the cult of Roma and Augustus, Coarelli argues that it was added to the cult of Athena Nikephoros in her temple.

The second chapter is devoted to the sanctuary of Athena Nikephoros, including its ‘appendici’ (p. 61), the library and the Museum. It is known that the oldest part of this architectural complex is the triumphal monument set in the holy precinct of the sanctuary, of which just the circular base survives. It was dedicated by Attalos I to celebrate his victories over the Galatians and the acquisition of the royal title. Coarelli highlights that in spite of this, scholars attribute the construction of the sanctuary and its annexes in most part or even completely to Eumenes II, underplaying the role of Attlalos. Instead, he argues that on the basis of archaeological and epigraphic evidence it was the first Attalid king to conceive the general plan of this complex and to begin the its building. Coarelli goes on with a digression on Attalos I’s triumphal monuments and concludes the chapter by reviving the reconstruction for the circular-base monument set in the holy precinct of the sanctuary he suggested in a paper published in the 1970s.2 In his opinion, it was composed of a five-part sculptural group: the so-called Ludovisi Gauls, the Dying Gaul, and the statue of a dead woman with a child, now lost, but described by ancient literary sources.3

The third chapter concerns the so-called Great Altar, which was begun by Eumenes II in the late 180s BC. Coarelli first presents some evidence supporting the assumption that this altar was dedicated to Zeus Soter, then argues that it was built in the area of the altar dedicated to the eponymous hero Pergamos, which Philip V had destroyed at the end of the 3 rd century BC. According to this thinking, the construction of the new altar necessitated the move of the altar of Pergamos into the ‘Temenos’ of the Herrscherkult. The chapter ends with a digression about the four gymnasia of Pergamon.

Through the reassessment of the epigraphic evidence concerning the path of the processions held during the Nikephoria, the fourth chapter provides support for many of the identifications proposed in the previous chapters and suggests that the pritaneum was located in ‘Haus I.’

The first part (pp. 219-221) of the fifth and last chapter deals with the city walls that, according to Coarelli, were begun under Attalos I and completed by Eumenes II. The second part of the chapter (pp. 222-252) concerns the still-debated location of the Nikephorium, a sacred area that was devastated several times between the 3 rd and the 1 st century BC. After rejecting a recent hypothesis, which identifies the Nikephorium with the temple of Athena Nikephoros 4, Coarelli demonstrates that, as commonly supposed, the Nikephorium lay outside the city walls 5 and suggests that it was not a temple, but an area housing many temples, including the Asklepieion and one to Aphrodite. The volume concludes with a list of abbreviations, bibliography (pp. 253-267), list of figures (pp. 269-272) and an index (pp. 273-283).

The overview of Coarelli’s conclusions is surprising and somewhat confusing. By changing the identifications of many monuments, Coarelli literally re-shapes the received image of Pergamon. Furthermore, he argues that Attalos I promoted the building of two important elements of Pergamon’s city plan: the sanctuary of Athena and the city walls. In doing so, he promotes this king as the instigator of the great building project, which would have rendered Pergamon the amazing city we know from archaeological excavation. Consequently, Eumenes II, who is commonly considered “the great builder” of Pergamon, just fulfilled his father’s plans.

The text is rich, the arguments are many and some of them are not easy to refute. And yet, although almost free from typos,6 it seems to not have been completely revised in some parts and some arguments are not fully developed, so that the point of Coarelli’s speculations is not always clear. The volume also would have benefitted from the addition of a conclusion and index locorum. The first would have emphasised the impact of Coarelli’s research—briefly presented only in the preface—and diminished the perception of fragmentation deriving from the fact that this volume is a collection of case studies. The second would be useful to readers in view of the (valuable) wide quotation of literary and epigraphic sources.

Coarelli’s intent is commendable and his warning against the ‘vulgate dogmatiche’ is worthy: even well-known case studies may require a reassessment of evidence to prove or reject the current hypothesis. Nobody can question the validity of his exhortation to a critical approach to the ancient sources and modern bibliography. Despite its good methodological premises, this (very expensive) book could have been better than it is. However, it contains some interesting remarks and proposals worthy of being taken into account by the archaeologists, epigraphers and historians who constitute the readership of this volume.


1. R. Grüßinger, V. Kästner & A. Scholl (ed.), Pergamon: Panorama der antiken Metropole, Imhof 2011. It would be interesting to make a comparison with the catalogue of the 2016 exhibition in New York: C.A. Picon and S. Hemingway (eds.), Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World, New York 2016.

2. F. Coarelli, “Il ‘grande donario’ di Attalo I”, in I Galli e l’Italia, Roma 1978, pp. 229-256. This proposal is perfected in F. Coarelli, Da Pergamo a Roma. I Galati nella città degli Atalidi, Roma 1995.

3. For alternative proposals about the original setting of these statues, see A. Stewart, Attalos, Athens and the Akropolis. The Pergamene “Little Barbarians” and Their Roman and Renaissance Legacy, Cambridge; New York 2004, 204-213.

4. M. Kohl, “Das Nikephorion von Pergamon”, Revue Archéologique, Nouvelle Série, Fasc. 2 (2002), pp. 227-253.

5. Cf., e.g, Stewart, Attalos, Athens and the Akropolis (note 3), p. 209.

6. I noticed only a typo on p. 186 (‘pritane’ instead of ‘Pritaneo’).