Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Colossal Statue Found in Turkey

If you walked through any city or town during the time of the Greeks or Romans, you would be confronted with statues of all shapes and sizes. Many statues have come down to us through the ages, but some archaeological sites offer better evidence than others as to what the ancient city looked like. When the Persians sacked Athens in the 5th century BCE, they sacked the acropolis, destroying temples and statuary. The ruins the Persians left behind were buried by the Athenians after the war and in more recent times archaeologists have uncovered these same statues, giving us an idea of just how crowded the acropolis once was with them. Other Greek sites such as Olympia and Delphi were congested with statuary, as is attested by literary sources and archaeological remains. Rome followed suit and crowded its forum and beyond with statues of famous men and gods. Statues ranged in size and material, but the most prominent were life size or larger, usually made of bronze or marble. Colossal statuary also existed and two famous examples come to mind that were both made of bronze. One was the Colossus of Rhodes, completed in 280 BCE and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The other is the Colossus of Nero. Less famous perhaps, this statue was the ultimate manifestation of Nero's arrogance and vanity and was converted to represent the sun god Helios after Nero's death. Most people aren't familiar with this statue but everyone knows of the building that stood next to it. The Flavian Amphitheater was nicknamed the "Colosseum" because of its proximity to the giant statue.

Recently, a colossal statue of the god Apollo was dug up in Hierapolis in modern day Turkey. The statue, made of marble, is now broken in half; the extant portions being the torso and legs. The statue is believed to be from the 1st century CE, placing it in the Roman period, and originally stood around 13 feet tall. Though statues were common in ancient times, a large statue like this would have been special. Perhaps this was a cult image or dedication by a wealthy patron? Apollo was a very ancient god; anyone familiar with the Iliad knows that Apollo played a large role in that book, helping Hector and the Trojans. He was associated with music, art, healing, prophecy and light, just to name a few of the roles he played. Popular during the Greek and Hellenistic periods, Apollo morphed into Roman religion, gaining particular attention during the reign of Augustus after his victories over Antony and Cleopatra were attributed to Apollo. Like all archaeological finds from the ancient world, this statue is just one more piece of the puzzle which will help us understand history that much better.