4. A Royal Macedonian Portrait Head from the Sea off Kalymnos

  • Olga Palagia, University of Athens


The over-life-size head of a bearded man wearing a kausia, the Macedonian elite hat, and a padded headband was found in the sea near Kalymnos in 1997.

Representations of Macedonians wearing kausias in Macedonian wall-paintings, for example, the hunting frieze of Vergina Tomb II and the banquet frieze of the Tomb of Agios Athanasios, do not include headbands. Only Macedonian kings could wear the kausia with a cloth diadem, its ends falling down the back, according to a custom introduced by Alexander the Great. This headgear is documented by the ancient sources, by the coins of Seleukos II and of Antimachos I of Bactria, and by a wall-painting from Boscoreale portraying a Macedonian king.

The Kalymnos head does not, strictly speaking, wear a royal diadem since its tail ends do not fall down his back, and it has consequently been argued that it is not a royal portrait. However, the similarity of the bronze head to a marble head of the second century BC from Kos wearing a royal diadem indicates that he is a king. As both the Kalymnos and Kos heads resemble the coin portraits of Philip V of Macedon, it is suggested that they are portraits of this king.

Figure 4.1. Bronze head of a man wearing a kausia, here identified with Philip V of Macedon. Kalymnos Museum, inv. 3901 Image: Olga Palagia
Figure 4.2. Bronze head of a man wearing a kausia. Right profile. Kalymnos Museum, inv. 3901. Image: Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 195
Figure 4.3. Bronze head of a man wearing a kausia. Left profile. Kalymnos Museum, inv. 3901 Image: Olga Palagia

The fine bronze portrait head of a man wearing a kausia (figs. 4.1–3), which was on display in the exhibitions Power and Pathos in Florence, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, and Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is one of four over-life-size bronze statues of the Hellenistic period that were recovered from the sea near Kalymnos.1 Another colossal bronze is a female portrait statue of very fine quality, dating from the late third century BC.2 A third monumental bronze from the same area is the cuirassed torso of a horseman,3 while a fourth is an even larger headless horseman,4 which may or may not belong together with the kausia head. It is sometimes assumed that this bronze head belonged to an equestrian statue, but this is by no means established.

All four statues could conceivably come from the same shipwreck, but we do not have a verified excavation context. The works were recovered by fishermen, who specified different findspots for each before turning them over to the Greek government. No shipwrecks have been located so far and the bronzes are not yet fully published, even though two of them were found in the previous century: the female statue was found in 1994, the head with a kausia in 1997, the cuirassed torso in 2006, and the headless horseman in 2009.5 There is little doubt that all four statues are portraits. Their high quality and monumental size suggest that they are portraits of rulers or high officials of the Hellenistic period. In 2013 I published an article tentatively identifying the female portrait statue from the sea off Kalymnos with the Ptolemaic queen Arsinoë III, who reigned in the late third century BC, by comparison with the bronze head of Arsinoë in Mantua, which was also included in the exhibition Power and Pathos.6 I associated the statue with the island of Kos, where several portraits of the queen are attested and where a ruler cult of the Ptolemies was located. Kos is very close to Pserimos, where the bronze female allegedly came to light.

The bronze head wearing a kausia (see figs. 4.1–3) is slightly over life-size. It was created by an outstanding sculptor and is one of the finest bronzes to have come down to us from antiquity. He has a long, oval face, large ears, short hair, sideburns and a short beard. He wears a distinctive hat of mushroom shape, slightly pointed, ending in a sweatband around the scalp. It seems to imitate a leather cap, judging by its sharp edges, with a woolen sweatband. A similar hat is represented on the weapons frieze of the propylon of the sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon (fig. 4.4), which dates from the reign of Eumenes II, probably from the 180s BC,7 The same hat is worn by Seleukos II on his bronze coins minted at Susa in 228 BC.8 Two Bactrian kings are also portrayed wearing this type of hat: Antimachos I on his coin portraits from around the first quarter of the second century BC (fig. 4.5);9 and Demetrios II on a clay seal from Seleukeia on the Tigris from the last quarter of the same century.10 Their hats may be interpreted as a version of the kausia, the Macedonian hat for elite men.11

Figure 4.4. Block of the weapons frieze from the propylon of the sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon. Berlin, Pergamonmuseum Image: Hans R. Goette
Figure 4.5. Silver tetradrachm of Antimachos I of Bactria. New York, American Numismatic Society 1954.11.1 Image: Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society

The kausia is mentioned by the historians of Alexander the Great as having been worn by Alexander and his companions. After his conquest of Persia, Alexander introduced a new royal headgear by combining his kausia with a Persian diadem, which was originally a cloth ribbon worn at the royal court of the Achaemenids.12 It was tied around one’s head, with its ends falling on the neck. Alexander tied the diadem around his kausia, which became a kausia diadematophoros and henceforth a royal prerogative.13 Demetrios Poliorketes, king of Macedon from 306 to 283 BC, wore a kausia with a double diadem.14 This Macedonian royal headgear persisted until the time of (or was revived by) Cleopatra VII of Egypt. In 34 BC she presented her infant Ptolemy, son of Antony, at a public ceremony known as the Donations of Alexandria, wearing a kausia with diadem.15

After his return from the expedition to India, Alexander presented his friends with purple kausias as royal gifts.16 This gesture was later imitated by Eumenes, who distributed purple kausias to Alexander’s veterans.17 Plutarch tells us that Alexander’s friend Krateros wore a kausia,18 and the hat is still attested at the court of Demetrios’s great-grandson, Philip V, who reigned from 221 to 179 BC.19

An earlier version of the kausia, closer to Alexander the Great’s own time, is attested in the wall-paintings of Macedonian tombs from the late fourth and early third centuries BC. The hunting frieze on the facade of the so-called Tomb of Philip at Vergina shows two Macedonians in kausias hunting with Alexander the Great.20 More kausias are worn by royal pages and Macedonian bodyguards represented on the facade of the tomb of Agios Athanasios.21 One of Alexander’s companions on the Alexander mosaic, a second-century BC copy of an early Hellenistic painting of the battle of Issos, wears a similar kausia.22 We have no contemporary representations of Alexander wearing a kausia with diadem, but he has been tentatively identified in a Roman copy of a Macedonian painting: a wall-painting from the Villa of Synistor at Boscoreale, dating from the mid-first century BC, shows a Macedonian sitting next to a Macedonian shield.23 The figure wears a kausia with a diadem tied around the head under the hat, its ends falling over the right ear. The identification with Alexander is based on the fact that the figure wears a Persian chiton.24 We know that Alexander adopted a mixed Persian and Macedonian dress after the death of Dareios III in 330 BC;25 he is therefore the only Macedonian king who ever wore both a Persian garment and a kausia with diadem, like the figure on the fresco from Boscoreale.

Alexander’s royal diadem was adopted by the Successors as a sign of royalty from 306 BC on. Plutarch, in his Life of Demetrios (18), provides a vivid description of the assumption of the diadem by Antigonos the One-Eyed and remarks that Ptolemy I and Lysimachos followed his example soon thereafter.26 Ptolemy I was the first to depict himself wearing a diadem on his coins.27 The diadem continued to serve as royal insignia until the end of the Hellenistic period.

It is of course quite obvious that the bronze head (see figs. 4.1–3) does not wear a royal diadem. Could he be a Macedonian king? Or is he one of the king’s friends, who were entitled to wear a kausia without a diadem? Equestrian bronze statues of high officials of the Macedonian kingdom voted by the Greek cities are attested as early as the late fourth century. For example, the Athenians honored Asandros with a statue in the Agora in 314/13 BC, while the Eretrians set up a statue of Timotheos in 309 BC.28

The head with kausia from near Kalymnos preserves no royal insignia. Could he still be a royal? The answer lies on Kos. A fragmentary portrait head in Parian marble (figs. 4.6–7), showing almost certainly the same man and being of the same scale as the bronze head, comes from an unknown findspot on Kos.29 The marble head has the same oval-shaped face, large ears, drooping eyelids, sideburns, and short beard as the bronze head (see figs. 4.1–3). It differs in having luxuriant locks over the ears, but these may indicate a slight change of hairstyle or may be due to the fact that the hair is not constrained by a hat. The marble head differs in another crucial detail: it wears a royal diadem, visible on the right profile;30 it therefore portrays a Hellenistic king.

Figure 4.6
Figure 4.7
Marble portrait head of Philip V (?) from Kos. Kos Museum, inv. 82. Image: Olga Palagia

The Kos head was originally published by Gerhard Neumann, who suggested that it may represent the last Macedonian king, Perseus.31 However, the shape of the face, the cheekbones, and the curly beard of Perseus’s coin portraits are quite different from the features of the man on Kos.32 In her catalogue of the sculptures from Kos, Renate Kabus-Preisshofen pointed out the differences between the marble head and Perseus. She tentatively dated the Kos head to the last quarter of the third century, before the reign of Perseus, and suggested that it might be Philip V of Macedon, Perseus’s father.33 Another possibility is of course Antigonos Doson, king of Macedon from 229 to 221, uncle and predecessor of Philip V. Doson received ruler cult on Kos in a shrine called Antigoneion, which is documented by a third-century inscription.34 We do not know the location of this shrine or the nature of Doson’s benefaction to the Koans. It appears that this cult functioned until the second century BC. As Antigonos Doson did not portray himself on his coins, we do not know what he looked like. We do not even know whether he had a beard. The Successors of Alexander the Great were all clean-shaven following the example of the conqueror, and this fashion persisted in most Hellenistic dynasties. The situation in Macedon after Demetrios Poliorketes, who was clean-shaven,35 is uncertain, because we have no coin portraits of his successors until his great-grandson, Philip V, ascended the throne in 221. And Philip V sported a beard.

Figure 4.8. Silver tetradrachm of Philip V of Macedon. New York, American Numismatic Society 1967.152.211 Image: Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society

The coin portraits of Philip V (fig. 4.8)36 betray a lot of similarities to the bronze head (see fig. 4.3), especially the hairstyle and oval face. They also exhibit the same drooping eyelids as the marble portrait on Kos. Could the bronze and marble heads be portraits of Philip V? As we do not know what Antigonos Doson looked like, Philip V remains a distinct possibility. The presence of his marble portrait on Kos would not be so easy to explain, given that relations between Philip V and Kos were not friendly.37 But we know that his son Perseus had a royal estate on Kos, which he may well have inherited from his father.38 In addition, the shrine of Antigonos Doson may have served as a repository of other royal Macedonian portraits. The Koans were more often than not staunch supporters of the Ptolemies,39 but they may have had to placate the aggressiveness of Philip V. The original location of our bronze head with kausia is of course unknown, but Kos is not impossible.

In sum, the bronze head appears to represent a king of Macedonia of the late third century BC, very likely Philip V, and deserves pride of place among extant portraits of Hellenistic rulers. In addition, this is the only original over-life-size bronze portrait of a Macedonian king known to date, thus enriching our appreciation of the sculpture of Macedonia.


I would like to thank Hans Goette for the photo in fig. 4.4; Andrew Meadows for the photo in fig. 4.5; and Ute Wartenberg Kagan for the photo in fig. 4.8. Thanks also to George Koutsouflakis and Despina Ignatiadou for advice and suggestions.


  1. Kalymnos Museum, inv. 3901; Tzalas 2007, 362, fig. 37; Koutsouflakis 2007, 46–47, figs. 6a–b; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 78; Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 194–95, no. 5 (Bairami); Picón and Hemingway 2016, 212–13, no. 138.
  2. Kalymnos Museum, inv. 3903; Tzalas 2007, 362, fig. 38; Palagia 2013, 154–56, figs. 9.7–8; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 74–75, fig. 5.1.
  3. Athens, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2006/1; Koutsouflakis 2007, 42–45, figs. 1–2; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 75–76, fig. 5.4.
  4. Athens, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2009/28; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 75–76, fig. 5.3.
  5. Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015. See this paper also for further bronzes recovered from the sea near Kalymnos.
  6. Mantua, Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, inv. 96190279; Palagia 2013, 156, fig. 9.9; Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 200–201, no. 8 (E. Ghisellini).
  7. Bohn 1885, 96, plate 45; Dintsis 1986, 309, cat. no. 293, plate 83.1; Schwarzmaier et al. 2012, 315.
  8. Houghton and Lorber 2002, 233, 279, 281, nos. 797–98, plate 84.
  9. Dintsis 1986, 310, cat. no. 295, plate 80.3; Cribb 2007, 340, fig. 23; Palagia 2012, 379, fig. 14.
  10. Torino, Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, inv. S7-4058; Messina 2007, 50, cat. no. 26.
  11. On the kausia, see Dintsis 1986, 183–95; Saatsoglou-Paliadeli (1993) argues that the kausia was made of leather.
  12. Xenophon Cyropaedia 8.3.13. See also Wiesehöfer 2012.
  13. Ephippos ap. Athenaios 12.537e; Arrian Anabasis 7.22.2. See also Lane Fox 2007, 278; Dahmen 2012; Palagia 2014, 212–13.
  14. Plutarch Demetrius 41.4. For rulers wearing a kausia with a diadem, see fig. 4.5 and nn. 8–10 above.
  15. Plutarch Antonius 54.5; Green 1990, 675.
  16. Plutarch Moralia 11e.
  17. Plutarch Eumenes 8.7.
  18. Plutarch Eumenes 6.1.
  19. Worn by the royal pages: Plutarch Moralia 760b.
  20. Saatsoglou-Paliadeli 1993, 135, fig. 3; Saatsoglou-Paliadeli 2004, plates 15, 19, and 20γ.
  21. Tsimbidou-Avloniti 2005, plates 35–39.
  22. Naples, National Museum, inv. 10020; Dintsis 1986, 305–306, cat. no. 284, plate 83.2; Saatsoglou-Paliadeli 1993, 136, fig. 4.
  23. Naples, National Museum, inv. 906; Dintsis 1986, 307, cat. no. 287, plate 80.4; Palagia 2014, 211–14, figs. 1 and 2.
  24. Palagia 2014, 211–14. For the identification of this figure as Alexander, see also Torelli 2003, 245–46.
  25. Arrian 4.7.4; 4.9.9; Plutarch Alexander 45.1; Diodorus Siculus 17.77.5; Curtius Rufus 3.3.17–19; 6.6.4. Lane Fox 2007, 278; Palagia 2014, 212.
  26. See Haake 2012, 299–302.
  27. On his gold coins minted in the early third century BC: Lorber 2012, 213, fig. 12.4.
  28. Asandros: IG2 450, ll. 10–15; Wycherley 1957, 208, no. 278; Siedentopf 1968, 83, no. 1; Ma 2013, 129. Timotheos: Siedentopf 1968, 83, no. 2; Ma 2013, 129.
  29. Kos Museum, inv. 82; Kabus-Preisshofen 1989, 102–105, 280–81, no. 79, plate 28.1–2.
  30. Kabus-Preisshofen 1989, plate 28.1.
  31. Neumann 1967.
  32. See Mørkholm 1991, plate 39, no. 589.
  33. See n. 29 above.
  34. Sherwin-White 1978, 115–18; Kotsidu 2000, 240, cat. 158 (ca. 220 BC).
  35. For coin portraits, see, for example, Mørkholm 1991, plate 10, nos. 172–73.
  36. Mørkholm 1991, plate 39, no. 588.
  37. Sherwin-White 1978, 120–24.
  38. Sherwin-White 1978, 134.
  39. See Sherwin-White 1978, 90–112 and 134–37; Kotsidu 2000, 241–44, cat. 160–62.


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