5. The Bronze Head of Arsinoë III in Mantua and the Typology of Ptolemaic Divinization on the Archelaos Relief

  • Patricia A. Butz, Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia


The paper proposes the bronze head of Queen Arsinoë III from the collection of the Museo Civico di Palazzo Te in Mantua, Italy, as a portrait type relating directly to the representation of the queen on the bottom register of the British Museum’s Archelaos Relief. There, the figure is identified by inscription as Oikoumene. The structural elements that so distinguish the bronze head in its profile views are very similar to those of this marble relief, in which the queen, together with Ptolemy IV, is presented as a deified and deifying force in the act of crowning Homer. Arsinoë’s label “Oikoumene” helps define the meaning common to the relief and the head and suggests a new dimension of immortality, including the choice of bronze. In contrast is Arsinoë’s representation on the contemporary trilingual Raphia Stele, where she is divinized in the Egyptian manner. The role of Hellenistic Alexandria, arguably the place of origin for both the bronze head and the marble relief, is seen as essential for the gestation and diffusion of such a sophisticated typology.

Ὑπὲρ Πτολεμαίου ἐμοῦ τοῦ Ἐπιφανεστάτου

The bronze head of Arsinoë III is one of the most important pieces in the Giuseppe Acerbi Collection of the Museo Civico di Palazzo Te in Mantua, a collection assembled when Acerbi was the Austrian consul general in Alexandria between 1826 and 1834 and later given to his hometown of Mantua (fig. 5.1). Even compared with the exceptional quality of the overall collection, which is particularly strong in Late Period, Ptolemaic, and Roman material, this representation of Arsinoë III is singular. It is the only major bronze Acerbi acquired, and it is a rare embodiment in that material of Hellenistic royal portraiture in the Greek tradition. The head (fig. 5.2) connects strongly with other significant portraits displayed in the same room at the Palazzo Te. One is possibly a portrait of Psammetichus I, who took the throne of Egypt in the seventh century BC with the help of Greek mercenaries and who, by formally authorizing the Greek settlement at Naukratis (southeast of Alexandria), opened the intercultural contact that would culminate in the Ptolemaic period.1 One of the portraits of a Ptolemaic king is also nearby, rendered in the Egyptian style and identified as perhaps Ptolemy II Philadelphus,2 who would have been the queen’s grandfather.

Figure 5.1. Northwest corner of the Courtyard of Honor, Palazzo Te, Mantua (1524–1534), looking up at the gallery windows of the Acerbi Collection. Architect Giulio Romano Image: By author
Figure 5.2. Frontal view of the bronze head of Arsinoë III, 30 x 20 x 30 cm (11 ¾ x 7 ⅝ x 11 ¾ in.). Mantua Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, Acerbi Collection, inv. no. 96190279 Image: © Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, Mantua

While the head of Arsinoë III was published in the catalogue for the 2015–16 exhibition Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, it was exhibited only at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and did not travel to either of the American venues. The catalogue entry, entitled “Portrait of Arsinoë III” and written by Elena Ghisellini, is illustrated with the same frontal image shown here as figure 5.2.3 It is important to note the title of the entry and the firmness of Ghisellini’s identification of this queen’s portrait, especially since other publications have sometimes opted for more generic names. For example, it is called simply “Testa femminile” in the Palazzo Te’s own publication La Raccolta Egizia di Giuseppe Acerbi;4 in Paul Stanwick’s Portrait of the Ptolemies it is called “Bronze head attributed to Arsinoë III.”5 Ghisellini has also written the most recent and complete monograph on the subject, La regina Arsinoe: Un ritratto bronzeo tolemaico da Mantova a Roma (2008) in conjunction with the exhibition La Forza del Bello: L’arte greca conquista l’Italia held between Mantua and the Musei Capitolini in Rome. As she summarizes in the Power and Pathos entry, citing Kyrieleis (1975) on the coinage, “The identification is confirmed by comparisons with the image of the queen on a series of gold octodrachms … minted during the early years of the reign of her son Ptolemy V (204–180).”6 My position, which fully accords with Ghisellini’s—that the bronze head from Mantua belongs to Arsinoë III—is substantiated, as will be shown, by the Archelaos Relief at the British Museum in London.

What struck me initially upon seeing the bronze head, first from photographs and then in person, was the remarkably subtle combination of realism and idealism in the rendering of the features, an impression that is heightened when one compares the two profile views (figs. 5.3a–b). They are appreciably different, a point to which I will return. Many scholars have considered two marble heads of a Ptolemaic king and queen in Boston as standards for studying the portrait sculpture of the fourth Ptolemaic royal couple, Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III.7 But the Boston case is not definitive, as is the case with the numismatic evidence such as the series of gold octodrachms already cited. A unique realism has been noted in these coin portraits of Arsinoë III by R. R. R. Smith:

The queen’s coin portrait is unusual. It is close to Arsinoe II and Berenike II in its crisply articulated court style and greatly enlarged eyes, but here the queen has a sharp mortal individuality. Her prominent nose breaks the classical profile and she looks a little older than the ideal of young womanhood; and the whole seems to be of a woman who could age. The queen has no divine, only royal attributes: stephane, diadem and sceptre; and an air of reality is given by the prominent earrings and necklace. Her predecessors created new female royal ideals; she uses the same formal means but introduces a strong portrait element to express her more stern, rather Victorian-looking, royal style.8

Figure 5.3a-b. Profile views of the bronze head of Arsinoë III Image: © Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, Mantua

It was her son Ptolemy V Epiphanes, of course, who introduced the series, not the queen herself. In speaking about the Mantua head, which he identifies as “most likely” the queen, Smith surprisingly describes it as “stiff and lifeless and the hair merely engraved on top of the head rather than modeled” and “not the best Hellenistic bronze-work.”9 A view of the top of the head shows the incised patterning to which he refers (fig. 5.4). Ghisellini, while recognizing the restrained realism, asserts that the whole adds up a little differently:

Classical principles dominate the structure of the head. The almost frontal view, the even contours, the harmonious proportions and the essentially symmetrical rendering of the features, and the simple elegant hairstyle are all classically inspired. However, this legacy does not diminish the portrait’s realism, but rather enhances it with a stately note. Indeed we can immediately perceive the divine nature of the queen who enjoyed immense popularity among all her subjects….10

Figure 5.4. Top view of the bronze head of Arsinoë III Image: © Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, Mantua

Ghisellini, as already noted, utilized the frontal view for her principle assessment in this entry, but in the above quotation refers to it as the “almost frontal view.” By that she surely means the fine difference between the left and right sides of the face if divided on axis. As can be seen by close examination of figure 5.2, the head is shifted very slightly to its left. There is the slightest uplift visible in this left side of the face, from the mouth to the nose, the eye and eyebrow, through to the hairline. This matches the infinitesimal turn of the head also to the left. It must be remembered that if the statue had survived intact, parallax would have made this analysis impossible from the ground. It is a great luxury indeed to understand the finesse with which the axis is handled, which exact measurement would corroborate.11 Comparing the profiles, however, is even more revealing of the dichotomy. The right profile (see fig. 5.3a) embodies the realistic characteristics noted by both scholars: a certain heaviness in the treatment of the features and the ability to age, as Smith puts it very well. The rounded face gains little definition from the underlying bone structure, especially in the transition to the neck. The nose, a key element to Arsinoë’s portraiture recognized by both Smith and Ghisellini, maintains the slightly convex swelling along the bridge seen on the coins, as well as the sharp angularity at the tip. The line of the mouth is downward, but not in the extreme.

The left profile (see fig. 5.3b), on the other hand, has a different vitality. There is an uplift, which one also observes from the front, and a focused energy that even the loss of the inlaid eye cannot impair. The mouth actually curves upward at the corner and the overall effect is one of tempered lightness. The hairstyle, considered her own as confirmed on the coinage, balances the face very well from any angle, but on this side the thrust of the twisted braids forming the bun at the back is stronger and extends forcibly, a perfect counterweight to the face. We appreciate how the braiding, far more plastic in its rendering of the strands of hair, forms a natural diadem for the queen making a stephane unnecessary (see fig. 5.4). Yet the deep groove between the side braids and the carefully combed crown is capable of receiving one, as noted by Smith. It is the more enlivened left profile, then, that has the sense of rejuvenation and hence divinity about it.

There is one Hellenistic relief that I claim relates directly to the Mantua head because it sheds further light on these mixed elements of realism and divinity in Arsinoë’s portraiture: the Archelaos Relief, signed by Archelaos of Priene (fig. 5.5). Found at Bovillae, some 19 kilometers (12 mi.) outside of Rome, and now in the British Museum, the relief presents the immortalization of Homer in a series of four registers.12 The event itself is depicted on the bottom register; then it is celebrated by Apollo and the Muses and Mnemosyne on the second and third registers, and finally by Zeus at the apex. These deities indicate the divine inspiration enjoyed by Homer from the inception of his works and facilitate his triumphant “homecoming.” J. J. Pollitt states that the facial similarity between Homer and Zeus not only brings the two together but also is responsible for the modern title “Apotheosis of Homer” sometimes given to the relief.13 There is in addition a standing figure on the far right of the second register, positioned in contrapposto upon a statue base and holding a scroll with a lightly incised tripod behind him. While this could very likely be a victorious poet honored by the stele or the dedicant proper,14 it could conceivably be Homer himself as a younger genius, especially if the relief were implying an actual apotheosis, that is, the raising of the individual to the higher status.15 But of greatest interest to us here is the pair of figures farthest to the left on the bottom register, stepping toward the seated Homer, framing the scene on that side, and acting as sole agents in his crowning (fig. 5.6a). Recognizable from coin portraits, the couple are unquestionably Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III—Richard Neer calls the portraits “thinly disguised”16—although other rulers have been proposed in the past.17 No matter what date is given to the relief or its actual place of manufacture, in the end it comes back to this couple and hence the traditions of the Alexandrine literati.18 Ptolemy IV, known throughout his reign for his religious piety, erected a Homereion as part of his temple-building campaign in Alexandria honoring many of the Egyptian gods.19 An important anonymous papyrus preserves an epigram in which Ptolemy IV is called “blessed” for this act.20 Aelian (Varia historia 13.22) also attests to the foundation of the Homereion. While the location of the shrine is not known, it is worth citing the passage:

Figure 5.5. The Archelaos Relief (“Apotheosis of Homer”), approx. 121 x 76 cm (47 ¾ x 30 in.). London, British Museum, inv. 1819,0812.1 Image: Courtesy of John Pollini
Figure 5.6a. Portraits of Ptolemy IV, Arsinoë III, and Homer from the Archelaos Relief viewed from side angle Image: Courtesy of John Pollini

Πτολεμαῖος ὁ Φιλοπάτωρ κατασκευάσας Ὁμήρῳ νέων, αὑτὸν μὲν καλὸν καλῶς ἐκάθισε, κύκλῳ δὲ τὰς πόλεις περιέστησε τοῦ ἀγάλματος, ὅσαι ἀντιποιοῦνται τοῦ Ὁμήρου. Γαλάτων δέ ὁ ζωγράφος ἔγαψε τὸν μὲν Ὅμηρον ἀυτὸν ἐμοῦντα, τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους ποιητὰς τὰ ἑμημεσμένα ἀρυτομένους.21

This description brings to mind the circle of poets, part of the dromos installation at the Sarapieion of Saqqara, the statuary of which may well be dated to the reign of Ptolemy IV.22 Homer was among the subjects of that elite circle of statues, if not the focal point. This has led me to a tentative theory that what is depicted on the Archelaos Relief may also be related to the larger installation, firmly connecting Alexandria to Memphis.23 The Archelaos Relief depicts at least two distinct environments. The first is the theatrical ambience of the bottom register with its backdrop of columns joined by a draped curtain attached just below the abacus of each column. The result is a shallow, contained space dominated by Homer and the royal couple to the left. In front of Homer, just off-center, is a circular altar, with a magnificent, Apis-like horned bull looming over it. Two small figures, kneeling and flanking Homer’s throne, are personifications of the bard’s epic creations, as the inscriptions below tell the viewer. Facing Homer on the other side of the altar are the genres of literature and intellect that acknowledge his inspiration and will ultimately carry it forward. The rhythmos of the scene is interesting. There is a processional quality to the repetitious, fixed contrapposto position of many of the figures on the right, with everyone gesturing toward Homer. The votive effect has been noted by several scholars.24 The second environment of the relief is the mountain-like ascent of the upper registers combining some architectonic elements, such as the cave-like archway or grotto sheltering Apollo and the curving, graded stairway connecting the third register to the top. Neer has associated these details with a shrine to the Muses overlooking the Great Library at Alexandria,25 but it is very possible that we could be looking at some part or parts of the Homereion itself. The figure on the statue base is positioned directly below the staircase between the third and fourth registers. Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, stands in contrapposto on an outcropping of rock to the left of the stairway, looking upward toward a reclining Zeus. Her imposing figure breaks down the division between the third and fourth registers. Their offspring, the Muses, are the major occupants of the registers below. Zahra Newby traces what would have been the orchestration of the eye contact between these figures, many now missing their actual heads.26 Space and the transmission of knowledge are definitely handled differently in the upper three registers.

Figure 5.6b. Detail from the bottom register of the Archelaos Relief of the royal couple, Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III, crowning Homer Image: P. Butz

While undoubtedly advancing side by side toward Homer in three-dimensional space, the conventions of the two-dimensional relief put Ptolemy IV’s head just ahead of his wife’s on the left end of the bottom register. The hands of Arsinoë III holding the stephane over Homer’s head, however, extend beyond the hands of her husband, each holding a scroll. But the subtleties go beyond this. The three heads—those of Ptolemy, Homer, and Arsinoë—are cut at significantly different levels. They range from the very precise, coin-like quality of Ptolemy IV’s profile in low relief, to the higher treatment of the seated Homer’s almost three-quarter turn, to the fully achieved three-quarter high relief of Arsinoë III (fig. 5.6b). It is even possible to sense the existence of the far side of her face, recalling the profile views of Arsinoë III in Mantua and that peculiar blending of the realistic and divinized aspects of the queen in a single artwork. It may be asking too much, given the wear on her image (breakage of the nose to start with), to talk about the far side of Arsinoë’s portrait on the Archelaos Relief; but my assessment of her right profile is that it is idealized. There is, once again, that rejuvenated quality in the face; she looks young, especially alongside her husband. Her mouth is visibly upturned. This is not the “Victorian” realism of the octodrachm coin portrait. One can speak even more definitively of her hairstyle: it is exactly that of the Mantua head but with an important difference. The twisted bun at the back is draped, the long material visibly extending over her right shoulder, signifying the religious import of her action. But unlike the full capite velato regularly seen in the coinage of her predecessors Arsinoë II and Berenike II, the coin portrait of this queen, as we have learned, is more worldly. If she were to have worn the full capite velato on the Archelaos Relief, what a shift it would have made in the whole iconographical message. Instead, Arsinoë III takes absolute command of the deification of Homer via her choice of headgear, namely the polos crown reserved for goddesses, among them Aphrodite or Tyche, dominating the partial capite velato. Ptolemy may have been given wings (rendered in the lightest relief), but she is the deified and deifying force propelling the action of the relief.

The set of inscriptions situated along the narrow frame below the relief zone clinches the meaning of the bottom register where the couple is so strategically located (fig. 5.7). These inscriptions are labels or tags. Their force is didactic but in the fullest sense of the word because they teach on multiple levels. They congregate in two groupings, one to the left and the other to the right, positioned beneath the subject matter to which they relate. They have enabled Andrew Stewart to call this one of the most important visual allegories in all of Hellenistic art.27 Significantly, a vacat (empty space) is left directly under the cylindrical altar, heightening its heraldic position, but there is a graphic mark in the middle of its squared base. The labels are selective in their disclosure as they identify only Homer and his works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, by true name; the rest of them are personifications from the major genres of literature, together with four of the Virtues (on the far right paying homage). Most importantly, Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III could, like Homer, have been labeled by name, but they are not. The very first inscription on the left is Oikoumene, and it belongs to Arsinoë III. It is closely followed by Khronos, the identifier for Ptolemy IV; together they designate the embodied power that deifies Homer. “Oikoumene” is extremely rich in its possible interpretations here. Literally, the word translates as the “inhabited region”28 but at various periods of usage it could mean the Greek world as opposed to the barbarian, the generally inhabited versus the uninhabited, and finally the whole world or (in the plural) earthly worlds. The message must be that Homer would be comprehensible to such worlds, further implying the pervasiveness of the Greek language, epitomized by the very use of Greek inscription on the relief. The remarkable thing about associating Oikoumene with Arsinoë III is the fact she is herself crowned with the polos. Before its definition as the headdress of a goddess, polos means a pivot, an axis on which things turn, including that of the celestial sphere.29 The turning of such a sphere implies dissemination through space, and the fact that Arsinoë crowns Homer with a circular stephane held by her outstretched hands is surely in keeping with the imagery being invoked by her label.

Figure 5.7. An etching of the Archelaos Relief by Giovanni Battista Galestruzzi (1658) at the British Museum records the disposition of inscriptions with, however, several inaccuracies along the framework of the bottom register. The inscriptions are difficult to see in most photographs of the stone. For the epigraphy, see Newton et al. 1874, no. 1098. 449 x 325 mm (17 ¾ x 12 ⅞ in.), British Museum. inv. 1874,0808.782 Image: © Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Khronos (time) is necessarily more two-dimensional in depiction compared to Oikoumene, but the profile of Ptolemy IV loses nothing and compares beautifully with the coins.30 Time in the sense of this relief is not Egyptian time, whether neheh or djet, so eloquently explicated by Jan Assmann.31 The linearity of time is the product of the Greeks, Assmann asserts, and was ultimately embraced by the West. It is well that Ptolemy IV embodies it. Furthermore, as previously stated, he is carrying two scrolls, one in each hand. The right proper hand is raised, the left is lowered, actually mimicking the respective gestures of the Odyssey and the Iliad figures alongside Homer. Ptolemy’s scrolls are surely alluding to the epics themselves, preserved on papyrus as they would be found in the Great Library, and consequently a concrete metatext. The single scroll held by Homer with his right hand—his left holds a staff—reinforces the power of the written word despite the genesis of the epics through the oral tradition. There is thus a practicality that comes with Assmann’s linearity: documentation provided by the relief itself, which is expected to last through time, just as the Homeric epics themselves did. Homer’s footstool appears to bear a relief of two mice facing off; it has been judged by some to be symbolic of the Batrachomyomachia attributed to the poet in antiquity, but Stewart describes the combative mice as “reminders of what would happen to his books in a lesser institution.”32 Most importantly, I would argue, the mice are embellishments deliberately placed under the feet of Homer. While there could be multiple meanings, there is a sure sense that he is subjugating any threat to his greatest works, parody or otherwise, entirely in the tradition of any Pharaonic footstool richly ornamented with the foes of Egypt in tow (it is important that the enemies of Egypt are always bound together in this iconography).33

The build of this relief as it climbs from footstool through to the uppermost register implies something enormous in vision, but it is still a very active, not crystallized, immortality; things work in all directions, horizontally and vertically, including not only the association of Homer with Zeus but also the location of the artist’s signature. It is essential to consider why the artist’s signature, the only other inscription besides those connected to the bottom register, is boldly placed in a wide, strip-like tabella ansata just below Zeus (fig. 5.8). Furthermore, Euterpe, identifiable by her double flute, is seated underneath the signature and points to the name of the artist with her instrument. Archelaos signs on the central vertical axis of the relief; only Zeus is higher. Newby does not examine the palaeography of the signature, the disposition of the name, or the gesture of the Muse beyond the generalized observation that “The one to the left looks upwards and points towards Zeus and Archelaos’ signature with a double flute,” and this is surely a major omission.34 The signature is very well cut with extended serifs, its letterforms enlarged and regular in size as compared to the variable letter height of the bottom register. Brunilde Ridgway makes the interesting comment that the tabula-like treatment of this signature links it more likely to an Italian manufacture. I would add that the ordering of the patronymic and demotic separated by the verb could be significant in that respect as well. This palaeography requires more study than it has thus far received.35 The signature of Archelaos of Priene, like the royal couple and the standing figure on the second-register statue base, is on the conduit between Homer and Zeus. It all starts in the bottom left-hand corner with Arsinoë III labeled “Oikoumene.”

Figure 5.8. Detail of the signature of Archelaos of Priene from the third register of the Archelaos Relief Image: Courtesy of John Pollini

In contrast to the Archelaos Relief but also prompting analysis of the real and divine nature of Arsinoë III, mention must be made of one of the most critical representations of this queen from the standpoint of Egyptian history, namely her image on the Raphia Decree. One of three surviving fragmentary copies of the decree, which was enacted in 217 BC to commemorate the victory of Ptolemy IV over the Seleucids that year, is displayed in the Ptolemaic galleries of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.36 This Egyptian-style stele carries the official decree in dark granite; it is trilingual like the Rosetta Stone, with an incised composition in the lunette portion where, because of the break lines, only images of the king and queen are preserved. In a simple line relief, Ptolemy IV, in Egyptian military dress and wearing the double crown, rides on horseback against the enemy, presumed to be Antiochus III if the other portion of the relief had survived.37 Goddess-like, Arsinoë III stands immediately behind him, substantiating the ancient description of the battle and her physical presence there.38 In the Raphia representation, as opposed to the Archelaos Relief, the couple’s roles have reversed. Here Ptolemy IV is the active member, charging his horse toward the Seleucids, with Arsinoë standing firm. On the more fully preserved lunette of the copy known as the Pithom Stele II,39 Ptolemy IV is likewise shown on horseback, now in Macedonian military dress; he dominates over the kneeling enemy with the Egyptian gods in attendance while Arsinoë retains the full Egyptian style.40 Günther Hölbl remarks on the innovation the Raphia Decree brings to official Egyptian art by showing the pharaoh on horseback.41 But there can be no doubt that this image of the king, authorized by the priests in the decree itself,42 resonates with the Greek tradition and the power of Alexander on his famed horse Bucephalos. Arsinoë, however, is Egyptianized in stance and costume. Her double-plumed solar crown is a type worn by queens as well as goddesses, one of the most renowned examples being the depiction of Ankhesnamun attending the seated Tutankhamun on the back of the golden throne from his tomb. The horns of Hathor enclosing the double plumes of Ankhesnamun’s crown are not apparent on either of the copies of the Raphia Decree, but Arsinoë’s divine identity is assured. The text of the Raphia Decree not only honors the divinized Theoi Philopatores but also commissions statues of the queen in standing position beside her husband for all major temples.43 Thus, via the lunette’s most economical of images, the whole of the famous battle—which Arsinoë is also credited with saving—is reduced down to the principal figures. They are depicted acting as pure divinities on the battlefield and in modified heraldic composition, securing simultaneously their fame and the continuity of their dynasty within Pharaonic Egypt.

The head of Arsinoë III in Mantua, however, is the key to understanding her subtle, two-sided portraiture and exploring the phenomenon of the Greek interaction with Egypt under the Ptolemies. The specific dynamic between this representation and that of the queen on the Archelaos Relief calls for a reinterpretation of her portrait type. The survival of these works is fortuitous: the bronze for its material in the heroic sense and the marble relief for the divine personification of the queen as Oikoumene. Both masterfully mix realism and divinity. The head in Mantua may be argued to show the queen at her most beautiful: the perfect balance between realistic and idealized parts, whether analyzed from the front, sides, or any other viewpoint. The relief, on the other hand, shows her leading the action not only on the bottom register but in the narrative as a whole: the overwhelming feminine presence, the sheer number of Muses and female personifications needs to be taken into account. It is she who bestows the crown and hence births the deification of the epic embodiment of Greek cultural memory. The role of Hellenistic Alexandria, her home base, is acknowledged very soundly as the place of genesis, if not origin, for the ideology embodied in both the bronze head and the marble relief. It is the necessary catalyst for motivating two such sophisticated responses within the type.44


I foremost acknowledge Chiara Pisani, conservator of the Museo Civico di Palazzo Te in Mantua, for her generous permission to study the head of Arsinoë III in September 2015 and for our ensuing dialogue. My sincere appreciation also goes to Daniela Saccenti, librarian at the Palazzo Te, for discussing the Acerbi Collection in detail and inspiring me to come back and work more on this material. Special thanks are owed to the organizers of the XIXth International Congress on Ancient Bronzes at the J. Paul Getty Museum, who coordinated the rich program and schedule of events with the Power and Pathos exhibition; and especially Jens Daehner, Kenneth Lapatin, and Ambra Spinelli for their work in ensuring the excellence of the proceedings.


  1. Donatelli 1995, 43, cat. no. 10. See also Butz 2010, 98–103, for the site of Naukratis as a place of important epigraphic exchange between the Egyptian and Greek traditions.
  2. Donatelli 1995, 46, cat. no. 13.
  3. Ghisellini 2015, 201, cat. no. 8.
  4. Donatelli 1995, 162, cat. no. 390.
  5. Stanwick 2002, 80–81, figs. 252–53.
  6. Ghisellini 2015, cat. no. 8, 200; Kyrieleis 1975, 102–104, pl. 88.
  7. Smith 1988, nos. 48 and 49, pls. 35, 1–3 and 4–6. Smith says the pair “can certainly be identified as Ptolemy IV Philopater and his queen Arsinoe III by their single, highly consistent coin-portrait types” (91). See also Stanwick 2002, nos. 248–49 for the Boston Ptolemy IV and nos. 250–51 for the Boston Arsinoë III. Stanwick states that the arguments favoring the identifications “are not fully convincing” because of the recutting of the Philopater head and the hairstyle of the Arsinoë head (55).
  8. Smith 1988, 91–92, and pl. 75.8, which shows the coin dated to ca. 200 BC.
  9. Smith 1988, 92.
  10. Ghisellini 2015, 200.
  11. The proportional analysis of the head in Mantua would be one of my goals for a future study.
  12. Zeus’s register, while pedimental in shape and imitating the peak of a mountain, is still its own entity. It is accessed by the transitional space on the right, connecting to the next register below. Newby (2007, 158) counts only three main registers. She also discusses the “false closure” on the far right side of the second register where the statue on its base is located, and the “mezzanine platform” just below Zeus occupied by Mnemosyne (162). The British Museum description for fig. 5.7 refers to “four tiers.”
  13. Pollitt 1986, 304, n. 24.
  14. Stewart 1990, 1: 217; Pollitt 1986, 16; Newby (2007, 172–74) also includes Herodes of Priene and mentions Homer and Hesiod as considerations by some scholars.
  15. The column krater attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 50.11.4) shows just such a scene: the deified (or soon-to-be deified) Herakles looking on at the painting of his statue, also witnessed by Nike and by his father, Zeus, who is in the same iconic lounging position as that found on the Archelaos Relief.
  16. Neer 2012, 380.
  17. Stewart (1990, 1: 217) accepts the identification of the Ptolemaic couple: “… recognizable as Ptolemy and Arsinoe from both the context and the king’s rather bloated features.” Ridgway (2000, 207) gives the “range of proposed attributions”: Ptolemies, Seleucids, and Attalids. She concludes, “This very range of suggestions should suffice to prove our inability to make a positive identification of two diminutive heads that, in my opinion, correspond to common types rather than to specific individuals.” See also Richter 1965, 1: 54 and fig. 120; and 3: fig. 1831, who advocates Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë III and shows in fig. 3: 1831 a close-up of the heads on the relief, almost coin-like in precision.
  18. Pollitt (1986, 16) indicates the role that letterforms have played in the dating: “The date of the Archelaos relief has been sought for by most scholars in the form of the letters in its inscriptions. For many years it was generally held that the lettering confirmed a date of ca. 125 B.C. Recent studies suggest, however, that a somewhat earlier date is not only possible but perhaps even probable.” Stewart (1990, 1: 217) brings in the sculptural types as well: “Dates range from Ptolemy’s own lifetime to the later second century, depending on where one dates the Muses it reproduces and the letter forms of the inscriptions.” Ridgway (2001, 265–66) favors a first century BC date and offers sound evidence for the Late Republican interest in Homer in the area in which the Archelaos Relief was found. She reiterates this in Ridgway 2000, 207–8 and Ridgway 2002, 96, n. 8.

    See also the author’s forthcoming article, “The Ptolemaic Dedication of Archepolis in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina: materiality and text,” in Proceedings of the XI International Congress of Egyptologists, Florence Egyptian Museum, Florence, 23-30 August 2015, ed. G. Rosati and M. C. Guidotti, 69-74, to be published by Archaeopress Publishing Ltd., Oxford, in 2017. The inscription of Archepolis, son of Kosmos, deme Leonnateus (one of the oldest and most venerable demes in Alexandria) reflects the same Alexandrine sophistication discussed here but on a non-royal and more modest level.

  19. McKenzie 2007, 64; Fraser [1972] 2001, 1: 611. Fraser discusses the association of the poems in P.Cair. 65445 dealing with the Homereion and the Fountain of Arsinoë with Ptolemy IV Philopator and Arsinoë III. While McKenzie references the Homereion, she does not bring in the Archelaos Relief or its architectural implications.
  20. Fraser ([1972] 2001, 2: 862) gives the text for the epigram (P.Cair. 65445) including the vocative address, εὐαὶων Πτολεμαῖε. In a disappointing assessment, Fraser seemingly disassociates the Archelaos Relief not only from Ptolemy IV and Arsinoë but from Alexandria itself. The reasons given are not clear. Mention is made of a “later date.”
  21. See http://data.perseus.org/​citations/​urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0545.tlg002.perseus-grc1:13.22.
  22. Thompson 2012, 108–9; Bagnall and Rathbone 2004, 100–101, especially fig. 3.4.6.
  23. I intend this to be the subject of a longer publication, together with a full palaeographic treatment (see n. 35 below).
  24. Stewart 1990, 1: 216; Newby 2007, 158.
  25. Neer 2012, 380. Stewart (1990, 1: 217), describing the upper registers of the relief, writes, “And soaring above this firm foundation [the first register] are the dizzy heights of the Mouseion, where the poet may keep company with the Muses and Apollo, progeny of Zeus himself.” McKenzie (2007, 51) gives details of the Museum and Library complex based on Herodotus, but states that the location and exact plans are not known (74, 76).
  26. Newby 2007, 162.
  27. Stewart 1990, 1: 217. Newby (2007, 158, 165) takes exception with the word “didactic” and to some degree with the allegorical identification, arguing that allegory lies not in the personifications of Homer’s worshippers per se but in the literal differentiation between the bottom section of the object (where the inscriptions are) and the votive relief above. Ridgway (2000, 207) considers the didactic nature of the relief its raison d’être, as opposed to connections with a votive offering, arguing for its pragmatic, educational use in Italy. My response is that the bona fide allegory begins with Oikoumene and Khronos on the far left because they really are Arsinoë and Ptolemy. Homer is ultimately going to be dwelling in more than one “inhabited world” and “time zone,” and that is worth teaching.
  28. LSJ9, s.v. “οἱκουμένη, ἡ.
  29. LSJ9, s.v. “πόλος, ὁ.
  30. See the detail of the relief already cited in Richter (see n. 17 above), which matches Ptolemy IV’s profile.
  31. Assmann 2003, 18–19.
  32. Stewart 1990, 1: 218.
  33. While Ridgway (2002, 3: 117–118) does not discuss the footstool, she sees Egyptianizing influence in the presence of the two small literary “offspring” of Homer, like the children or wives placed alongside the principal male figure in Egyptian reliefs “as is typical of Egyptian family groups since the Old Kingdom.” She further suggests that the Italian taste for Egyptianization “may serve to confirm the first-century date and Italian destination.”
  34. The omission is noticeable because Newby’s article on the Archelaos Relief is the second entry in Part II: Images and Their Labels, in Art and Inscriptions in the Ancient World, the publication she also co-edited.
  35. The palaeography is valuable in this inscription, both aesthetically and for chronological considerations as already noted. Newby (2007, 172) mentions the “epigraphical grounds,” leading some to a date of ca. 125 BC, but does not explain what those epigraphical grounds are. Concerning the inscriptions of the Hellenistic period in general, Ridgway, referencing Pinkwart (1965), states a commonly held belief that “Epigraphy is of little help, since no clear development can be discerned over wide geographical areas. Relative chronology can be attempted only within each site, if a fairly substantial corpus of inscriptions is preserved for internal comparison.”
  36. Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Cat. Gén. 31088. Hölbl 2001, 131–32, and fig. 6.1.
  37. Hölbl 2001, 163, caption to fig. 6.1.
  38. Hölbl 2001, 131, citing Polybius 5.83.3, 5.84.1, 5.87.6; and 5.85.8 for the Egyptian model of a pharaoh doing battle against an Asian enemy for the last time.
  39. Budge [1929] 1989, 296. Budge identifies the material of the Pithom Stele as sandstone and gives the number 47806 in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. See Ashton 2001, 15, fig. 4.
  40. Hölbl 2001, 163–64; Ashton 2001, 16.
  41. Hölbl 2001, 164. Compare, however, Ashton (2001, 16), who describes the Pithom Stele lunette as follows: “At the top of the text is a traditional scene showing Ptolemy IV on horseback, accompanied by his wife Arsinoe, standing before the Egyptian gods.”
  42. Demotic section of the Pithom Stele, ll. 35–36, cited by Hölbl (2001, 174, n. 27) as the Raphia Decree.
  43. Demotic section of the Pithom Stele, ll. 32–33, cited by Hölbl (2001, 174, n. 27) as the Raphia Decree.
  44. See Butz, forthcoming. The inscription of Archepolis, son of Kosmos, deme Leonnateus (one of the oldest and most venerable demes in Alexandria) reflects the same Alexandrine sophistication discussed here but on a nonroyal and more modest level.


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