Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rare Discovery: Engraved Gemstone Carrying A Portrait Of Alexander The Great

Date:
September 22, 2009
Source:
University of Haifa
Summary:
A gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great was uncovered during excavations by an archaeological team in Israel.

This is an engraved gemstone carrying a portrait of Alexander the Great. The gemstone was found in the course of recent excavations at Tel Dor.
Credit: No'a Raban-Gerstel, University of Haifa

A rare and surprising archaeological discovery at Tel Dor: A gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great was uncovered during excavations by an archaeological team directed by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Related Articles


"Despite its miniature dimensions – the stone is less than a centimeter high and its width is less than half a centimeter – the engraver was able to depict the bust of Alexander on the gem without omitting any of the ruler's characteristics," notes Dr. Gilboa, Chair of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. "The emperor is portrayed as young and forceful, with a strong chin, straight nose and long curly hair held in place by a diadem."

The Tel Dor researchers have noted that it is surprising that a work of art such as this would be found in Israel, on the periphery of the Hellenistic world. "It is generally assumed that the master artists – such as the one who engraved the image of Alexander on this particular gemstone – were mainly employed by the leading Hellenistic courts in the capital cities, such as those in Alexandria in Egypt and Seleucia in Syria. This new discovery is evidence that local elites in secondary centers, such as Tel Dor, appreciated superior objects of art and could afford ownership of such items," the researchers stated.

The significance of the discovery at Tel Dor is in the gemstone being uncovered in an orderly excavation, in a proper context of the Hellenistic period. The origins of most Alexander portraits, scattered across numerous museums around the world, are unknown. Some belonged to collections that existed even prior to the advent of scientific archaeology, others were acquired on the black market, and it is likely that some are even forgeries.

This tiny gem was unearthed by a volunteer during excavation of a public structure from the Hellenistic period in the south of Tel Dor, excavated by a team from the University of Washington at Seattle headed by Prof. Sarah Stroup. Dr. Jessica Nitschke, professor of classical archaeology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, identified the engraved motif as a bust of Alexander the Great. This has been confirmed by Prof. Andrew Stewart of the University of California at Berkeley, an expert on images of Alexander and author of a book on this topic.

Alexander was probably the first Greek to commission artists to depict his image – as part of a personality cult that was transformed into a propaganda tool. Rulers and dictators have implemented this form of propaganda ever since. The artists cleverly combined realistic elements of the ruler's image along with the classical ideal of beauty as determined by Hellenistic art, royal attributes (the diadem in this case), and divine elements originating in Hellenistic and Eastern art. These attributes legitimized Alexander's kingship in the eyes of his subjects in all the domains he conquered. These portraits were distributed throughout the empire, were featured on statues and mosaics in public places and were engraved on small items such as coins and seals. The image of Alexander remained a popular motif in the generations that followed his death – both as an independent theme and as a subject of emulation. The conqueror's youthful image became a symbol of masculinity, heroism and divine kingship. Later Hellenist rulers adopted these characteristics and commissioned self-portraits in the image of Alexander.

Dor was a major port city on the Mediterranean shore from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.E) until the establishment of Caesarea during the Roman period. Alexander the Great passed through Dor in 332 B.C.E., following the occupation of Tyre and on his way to Egypt. It seems that the city submitted to Alexander without resistance. Dor then remained a center of Hellenization in the land of Israel until it was conquered by Alexander Janneus, Hasmonean king of Judah (c. 100 B.C.E.).

The team of archaeologists has been excavating at Tel Dor for close to thirty years and recently completed the 2009 excavation season. A number of academic institutions in Israel and abroad participate in the excavations, directed by Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa and Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The project is supported by these two institutions along with the Israel Exploration Society, the Berman foundation for Biblical Archaeology, the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the Wendy Goldhirsh Foundation, USA, and individual donors. The gemstone will be on public display at the Dor museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Haifa. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Haifa. "Rare Discovery: Engraved Gemstone Carrying A Portrait Of Alexander The Great." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915101147.htm>.
University of Haifa. (2009, September 22). Rare Discovery: Engraved Gemstone Carrying A Portrait Of Alexander The Great. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915101147.htm
University of Haifa. "Rare Discovery: Engraved Gemstone Carrying A Portrait Of Alexander The Great." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915101147.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) Stanford University wants to unlock the secrets of the player piano. Researchers are restoring and studying self-playing pianos and the music rolls that recorded major composers performing their own work. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Newsy (Dec. 16, 2014) A group of scientists looked at the genetics behind the domestication of the horse and showed how human manipulation changed horses' DNA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) A collection of rare manuscripts by composers Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet are due to go on sale at auction on December 17. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 15, 2014) Researchers are looking to the past to gain a clearer picture of what the future holds for ice in the Arctic. A project to analyse and digitize ship logs dating back to the 1850's aims to lengthen the timeline of recorded ice data. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins