Archive for the 'Greece' Category

Object: Silver Drachm of Alexander the Great

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

336-323 B.C.
Materials: Silver

When Alexander the Great, or Alexander III of Macedon, came to power, he entered into an already expansive empire of Greek city-states built by the expeditions and military successes of his father, Phillip II. Alexander followed his father on campaigns, received the best education from tutors, such as Aristotle, and successfully gained the throne at the age of 20 after his father’s murder. Unfortunately, at the beginning of his reign, he inherited both the land his father had conquered as well as the great amount of debt his father acquired while trying to enforce his claim as hegemon of Greece. For this reason, Alexander had to borrow money early in his new reign in order to provide the financial means to secure the borders of his empire. He pursued his father’s legacy of conquest and after much warring, more debt, and victories against the Persian realm, Asia Minor, and various other territories, he finally gained the resources he needed to continue his military efforts and pay his debts. Alexander then ruled a massive empire that reached from the Adriatic Sea up to the Indus River. He wanted to extend his rule all the way to the end of the world. So, he required great sums of money to afford his expensive troops, pay for supplies, and provide presents to significant cities and persons in order to maintain important ties. His need for coined money was great while he was trying to fund his campaign, so be began introducing his own currency, the date of which is under dispute. This currency system would unexpectedly gain validity in years to come.

The most prevalent coins of Alexander’s reign were the drachm and tetradracm. While coins struck in that time often had minor differences because of the sloppiness of technique by which they were created, the drachm was usually about 18 mm wide and made of silver. The process of striking the coins, commonly believed to have been made of smelted silver and gold gained from Alexander’s campaign, involved “an oven for heating blanks (flans), tongs for handling hot flans, a table or bench on which an anvil was mounted, and a pair of dies struck with a heavy hammer to impress the design into the flans” (Classic Coins). Dies were made of hard bonze or iron. One (the obverse die) would be mounted on the anvil while the other (reverse die) would be struck to make the impression as the punch. There has been some debate about the techniques used for both creating the flans as well as the actual striking of the coins since artisans wanted to protect the security of the coins so they could not be illegally copied. To learn more about how we believe blanks and coins were most likely created in Alexander’s time, take a look at this video:

Similar to the coins made before his time, Alexander’s drachm portrayed the head of Hercules on the obverse (front) and Zeus, father of Hercules sitting in his throne holding a scepter and eagle on the reverse (back). There are many theories as to why Alexander chose the image of Hercules for this coin. Some contend that it was a way, in keeping with previous tradition, to proudly link the possible lineage of the Argead dynasty to the profound hero. Others believe it was to show the pronounced physical likeness between Alexander and the hero Hercules. Yet others believe Alexander wanted to portray himself as a symbolic figure of heroism to the people he was exchanging and trading with (Kampmann). Hercules was a renowned hero in Greek mythology, and the lion headdress he wears on the drachm is believed to have portrayed his heroic slaying of the Nemean lion. Lions were also an important symbol for Macedonia, where this specific coin is believed to have been created.

Coins created during Alexander’s reign were believed to be sound money because those who exchanged them knew they were regulated by magistrates and thoroughly inspected by their creators. Often these magistrates marked the coins with their official symbols or monograms, and it was not uncommon to find test cuts made in coins where a person had checked to make sure they were of good quality silver. During his lifetime, there were 26 mints producing his coins. After his death at the age of 32, there were nearly 52 mints, representing the peak of coin production for the Alexandrian Empire. Alexander’s empire devolved into many city-states after his death, and they were warred over by his generals. These conflicts were called the Wars of Diadochi, and they lasted until finally they decided to crown Alexander’s brother as king until Alexander’s son could come of age. In this time after his death, there are many who argue that the head of Hercules on coins began to show characteristics of Alexander’s features. This is believed to show both the prominence and acceptance of the coins in the Greek and non-Greek worlds as well as a way of remembering the legacy of the king who created them. However, coins differed across different regions and varied based on the reasons they were used. In any case, it is evident that the coins of Alexander the Great of Macedon left a great and lasting impression on the field of numismatics.

[Destiny Trejo]


Art Institute of Chicago
2012    Launchpad: Coin Production in the Ancient Greek World. Facebook.

Classical Coins
N.D.    How Ancient Coins Were Made. Classical Coins. Kampmann, Ursula

2015    The Coins of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. CoinsWeekly.

British Museum
2007    Coin of Alexander the Great, III. Self made, Photographed at the British Museum.

2014    Alexander the Great: between god and man. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.

Object: Aryballos

Figure 1    Arybollas with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette
Greece: Corinth
Unknown Date, Late Corinthian
Materials: Terracotta

This jar, or aryballos, from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History measures 2 5/16” high with a circumference of 6 1/2”, the lip of the vessel is 1 1/4” wide while the handle is 1” L X 1/8” wide. The images on this vase include (from left to right) a lion, a bird (perhaps a goose or swan), and rosettes (flower shapes).

An aryballos is an oil jar used by Greek athletes during bathing. This type of jar could be carried on the wrist using a string looped through the small handle.[i] This usually spherically-shaped vessel originated in Corinth, Greece. However, other aryballoi jar shapes include oval, animal or even human-shaped vessels.[ii]

Corinth became the leading center for ceramic production in Greece during the Orientalizing period of the 7th century BCE. The term “Orientalizing” refers to the spread of Near Eastern or Egyptian themes to Greece during a time of intensive trade. The Near East and Egypt inspired both the shapes and designs of this type of pottery as well as the images painted on the vessels. Corinth experienced great success in the production of containers and through the invention of the black-figure firing technique. In this technique, incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes of figures.[iii]

Corinthian style vessels may be recognized by their yellow or beige-colored clay as well as by their decorations. Orientalizing period vessels, such as this aryballos, display floral decorations along with images of animals surrounding the body of the jar. Images of vegetation and animals spread from the Near East and Egypt, most likely through trade, and heavily influenced the themes of Greek vase decoration.[iv]

The aryballos from the Classics Collection, is an example of a Late Corinthian vessel style and most likely dates to around 600 BCE. The date may be assumed to be around this time because earlier vessels tended to be more precisely painted, sometimes with miniature figures. Because this aryballos does not appear as detailed, it was most likely created towards the end of the Corinthian period. Earlier Corinthian aryballos often featured one large figure, while animal images and small fillers like the rosettes are seen in later examples. [v] This aryballos therefore presents an interesting example of a Corinthian oil jar used by Greek athletes that was heavily influenced by Near Eastern and Egyptian design elements.

[Cacie Thomas]


[i] Clark, Andrew J., and Maya Elston. 2002. Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Harvard Art Museum Aryballos Collection., accessed February 14, 2015.

[iv] Boardman, John. 1998. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC : A Handbook. New York City: Thames and Hudson.

[v] Boardman, John. 1974. Athenian Black Figure Vases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Object: Marble bust of Alexander the Great

Modern Cast of 3rd. Century Original
Materials: Marble, Metal, Wood

This marble bust Alexander III of Macedonia, otherwise known as Alexander the Great, is a modern copy of the original bust that was created in the town of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedon. Alexander the Great was a famous conqueror of the ancient world. By the end of his life, his empire spread from Greece all the way east to India. At age 16, Alexander was already leading troops for an army led by his father, Philip II. After his father was assassinated, he was proclaimed king by the army and led them to victory after victory. Among the many features that set Alexander apart from other military leaders of the time was his preference to actually ride out in front of his men when they charged into battle.

Little is now known about Alexander’s physical appearance, but most agree that he was of average height, for a Greek of that time, and had brownish hair (not blonde) as figure 2 illustrates. One thing that cannot be questioned was his intelligence. As a boy he was educated by one of the most brilliant minds of the time, the Greek scholar Aristotle, who instructed him in a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to the arts. Alexander won almost every battle he fought, not so much with brute force, but with cunning and brilliant military strategies. He would use the geography of the land to pin his enemies against a cliff or river. After years of campaigning he was planning to continue, but fearing mutiny from his army he decided to turn back for home. On this journey he received a fatal wound and then became very sick. He died in Babylon in 323 BC.

The legacy of Alexander continues even today. People everywhere know of him and his accomplishments. Some say that he was a great man while others claim him to be a devil. Since his death, military leaders have tried to imitate his actions. There have been many movies and books written about him. Below you will find a documentary on Alexander.


Work Cited

2013  Aristotle Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story.

History of Macedonia
2013  Alexander the Great of Macedon Biography: King of Macedonia and Conqueror of the Persian Empire.

[Rob Million]

Object: Mosaic Floor Panel

Mosaic floor panel
Seleucid Empire
Antioch, Syria (modern Turkey)
Date: 240 – 63 BC
Materials: Stone tiles and concrete

This is a section of mosaic floor panel from the House of the Evil Eye in the ancient capital of Antioch, Syria (present-day Turkey). The mosaic section is approximately 40” high by 38” wide. It shows a series of geometric designs made from hundreds of small blue, white, and red stone chips (called tesserae) set in cement.

The Seleucid Kingdom or Empire at its greatest stretched from Thrace (Greece) to the border of India. It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator, who rose in power and influence under Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army. He became the Governor of Babylon in 321 BC before grabbing the reigns of the kingdom, taking control, and embarking on his ambitious expansion efforts. Antioch was one of the most important cities, both politically and culturally, in the Seleucid Kingdom. The wealthy in Antioch projected their economic and cultural influence by building lavish homes in the Greek (Hellenistic) style. This often involved the inclusion of intricate and beautiful mosaics on the floors.

The House of the Evil Eye is named for a mosaic found on the interior (image shown below) that is currently at the Antakya Archaeology Museum in the Hatay Province of Turkey. The mosaic is apotropaic, meaning it was designed to warn off evil, as can be seen in an attack on the “Evil Eye.” This private residence, where a wealthy family would have resided, was occupied several times over the span of many years. It was, in fact, reoccupied after the fifth century AD. The mosaic from the Classics Collection came from the floor of this home.

Much of the city of Antioch was excavated by a team of archaeologists from Princeton University in the late 1930’s. Their findings (including further information on similar mosaics) were published by Doro Levi in Antioch Mosaic Pavements (Princeton, 1947).

This mosaic panel is similar to another mosaic held by the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Take a look at this great video to learn about the history of Hellenism and how it led to the creation of some truly incredible objects:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Fragmentary figurine

Fragmentary Phi figurine
Mycenae: Greece
ca. 1400–1300 BCE
Materials: Ceramic

This object is a fragmentary female terracotta figurine from Mycenaean Greece. This type of figurine was particularly common in the late fourteenth and early thirteenth centuries BCE. They typically come in three variations the “tau,” “psi” and  “phi” figurines, each named for the Greek letters they resemble. Each type shows simple female figures, perhaps meant to be goddesses, wearing long dresses, with necklaces, long hair and sometimes wearing a headdress. They have been found in large numbers throughout mainland Greece in sanctuaries and tombs, which suggests they served as votive offerings or ritual items.

Similar, intact, figurines can be found in the Louvre, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wilcox Classical Museum at the University of Kansas, the Archaeological Museum at Delphi, and many others.

The Mycenaean civilization thrived on mainland Greece from ca. 1600 to 1200 BCE. It was a period of prosperity during which the fortified cities of Mycenae, Tiryns, Thebes, and Athens were built and according to legend, was also when the Trojan War took place. However, by the late thirteenth century BCE a vast majority of the Mycenaean cities had been destroyed by unknown forces and Greece entered a period called the “Greek Dark Age.”

The following video discusses the city of Mycenae, where this figure was found, and the Mycenaean civilization. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Lekythos

White ground lekythos
Tymbos Painter
Athens, Greece
ca. 450 BCE
Materials: ceramic, slip

A lekythos is a container for oil and perfume, with a single vertical handle. They commonly have an angular shoulder, a tall cylindrical body which rounds slightly at the bottom, and a foot. This lekythos is decorated in the white ground style, in which the figural decoration is painted in an outline style on a field of white slip. While red and black figure lekythoi were used for many common domestic purposes, white ground lekythoi are usually associated with funerary rituals and offerings. They have been found in many archaeological excavations of cemeteries and are often depicted in vase painting siting on or near graves.

This video shows some of the many funerary scenes depicted on white ground lekythoi.

This lekythos, at the Sam Noble Museum, has been attributed to the so-called Tymbos Painter. When identifying the maker or artist behind a piece of ancient pottery archaeologists occasionally encounter signed pieces. More often, pieces of pottery are grouped together based on the style of the decoration or repeating themes in the designs. Like many other Greek vase “painters,” the Tymbos Painter was named by archaeologist based on what designs he seemed to paint the most often, tombs (tymbos in Greek). These “painters” could be actual individuals or a workshop of artisans trained and working together to produce very similar pieces. This painter was originally identified by German archaeologist Ernst Buschor, and was also described by famed British archaeologist Sir John Beazley. While the Tymbos Painter was not known for elaborate designs or careful craftsmanship he was definitely prolific. There are many examples of Tymbos Painter lekythoi found in museums around the world today. For instance, a number of other examples can be found in the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ashmolean Museum, the Louvre and many others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Cast

Cast of the Sandal Binder relief
Acropolis, Athens, Greece (original)
421-410 BCE (original)
Materials: Plaster, metal

This is a modern plaster cast replica of the famous Sandal Binder relief from the Temple of Athena Nike located on the Acropolis in Athens.  The Athena Nike was a form of the goddesss Athena that was worshiped in Athens as a goddess of victory in war and wisdom. After nearly a century of war the great Athenian statesman Pericles to negotiate a peace with Persia in 449 BCE, called the “Peace of Callias” which finally ended the Persian Wars. Following this great victory, Athens was chosen to house the treasury for the Delian League. This influx of wealth allowed Pericles, and the leadership of Athens, to embark on a historic building project in honor of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. That building project became what we recognize today as the Acropolis. Along with the better-known Parthenon and the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike was one of several structures built (or re-built) on the Acropolis in honor of the Athenians victory in war. The Acropolis had long been a place of worship, with structures dating back to the Bronze Age. The buildings we see today were built on the foundations of these earlier structures, many of which had been destroyed and rebuilt many times before.

Located near the entrance to the acropolis, just to the south of the Propyla, the Temple of Athena Nike was one of the smaller structures on the Acropolis. The Ionic order temple was designed by Kallikrates and was completed in 420 BCE, nearly ten years after the death of Pericles. The interior of the temple once housed the cult statue of Athena Nike. An ornately carved parapet surrounded the temple and served as a type of guardrail, to keep visitors from falling down the cliff-like edges of the sanctuary. It is thought that the parapet was completed after the Temple of Athena Nike, perhaps as late as 410 BCE. We do not know the identity of the master sculptor, or sculptors, who worked on this project. The parapet was decorated with a number of scenes, including the so-called “Sandal Binder” relief shown in the cast from the Sam Noble Museum. The decoration on the parapet did not tell a continuous story, like that on the Parthenon frieze, but instead contained a number of similar but largely decorative scenes involving the winged goddess of victory, Nike. The “Sandal Binder” version of Nike is shown adjusting her sandal. This has been interpreted in a number of ways: some believe that Nike is removing her sandal before stepping on an altar; others believe she is fastening her sandal in preparation for flight. The Temple of Athena Nike has undergone many restorations, in both antiquity and during the modern era. The most recent restoration was completed over a year ago after the temple was completely deconstructed.

Replicas and casts remain important to sites such as the Acropolis. As weather and pollution pose serious threats to the structural integrity of stone, casts of the originals are placed on-site in order to protect the originals in museums. Casts are also produced for educational purposes, allowing students from around the world hands-on access to antiquities. The original marble Sandal Binder is currently housed in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

For more information see:
Gaifman, Milette
2006,  Statue, Cult and Reproduction. Art History, 29(2): 258-279
Koda, Harold
2000, “Classical Art and Modern Dress”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Chelsea Pierce]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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