Weekly Journal #5
Spirits in the Material World~
When it comes to studying ancient leadership, ancient texts are not the only resources historians have available to them. “Material culture” or artifacts and ecofacts left behind from ancient leaders and their followers, often gives an alternative view on the leader than the texts would.
The Alexander Mosaic is an excellent example of an ancient artifact depicting an ancient leader. Even though the artist lived almost 200 years after Alexander the Great’s death, this piece does a great job of capturing the greatness he is so named for. The mosaic, though damaged, conveys the image of Alexander the Great and his army charging through King Darius III’s army during the Battle of Issus to victory. The expression of worry on the faces of all of Darius III’s troops sums up the feeling of artwork. The scene is the moment that Alexander the Great overcomes the prolific Persian conquerors. Even though this a scene of great chaos, it is extremely intricate. The majority of the mosaic focuses on the defeat and the surrender of the Persians. The biggest image in the piece is that of the Persian king Darius in a chariot running from the lost battle. The Persians are trampling each other, dropping their weapons and turning tail. It is unfortunate that the majority of the damage to this mosaic is over Alexander the Great and his troops, but with a small amount of imagination it is clear to see the ancient leader who conquered all of Europe and Central Asia.
This mosaic is interesting to me because whilst it is called the Alexander Mosaic, Alexander is not really the focus of it. Alexander the Great and his men are depicted in brown, black and grays whereas King Darius III and his forces are illustrated in warm tones of gold, red and orange. Alexander and his forces also barely cover a third of this over 15-foot-long mosaic, extending from the left border until the barren tree behind Alexander. Alexander himself is shown leading his troops, striking down a Persian with a spear, who’s horse has been slain. One can tell Alexander is the figure killing the Persian soldier, because of his youth, depicted through a clean face. He’s also identifiable through his Greek ties, shown on the Gorgon head on his armor and his warrior general status from his positioning in the chariot, spear in hand and through an opponent. The way Alexander’s hair is depicted in the mosaic is a part of his signature brand. This key detail or anastole is a part of the brand Alexander worked hard to promote across the Asian continent as he conquered.
Alexander wasn’t the first one to have his image reproduced and adapted artistically as a part of his official brand, but he certainly was the best at it. With the help of his royal sculptor, Lysippos of Sikyon, his official painter Apelles of Kos and the renowned jewel and coin engraver Pyrgoteles, Alexander was able to deliver his official image across his vast and varied empire. Lysippos was so gifted in his portrayal of Alexander, that Alexander himself decreed that only Lysippos was permitted to create his image. The Lysippan image of Alexander created the model for the Hellenistic ruler portrait. Rulers millennia after Alexander the Great’s time try to emulate his style to lesser degrees in the modeling of their statues and busts. This is because the Lysippan portrait represented Alexander in such a perfect light that, later on in his rule, his abilities became mythologized in many ways. No original Lysippan works have been found, but the positioning of various recreations of the original, complete with the anastole of the hair above his forehead sticking up, gives us context as to what the original may have looked like.
Lysippos set the archetype of Alexander’s appearance, but his influence extended across more than just sculpting. Apelles of Kos had a personal and warm relationship with Alexander, and thus was able to depict depth of emotion and created images of a near superhuman Alexander. The theory persisting is that Apelles was drafted later on in Alexander’s career, when mythologizing Alexander was of surmounting importance. Apelles’ most famous Alexander piece is that of Alexander sitting on a throne in a pose that is reminiscent of Zeus holding a lightning bolt. This image was circulated throughout the Greek kingdom during and After Alexander’s reign but helped to establish the awesome powers bestowed upon Alexander the great. Apelles help to further the brand Lysippos created of the “hero king”, promoted Alexander as having ability to overcome a task that others could not.
Alexander’ s final court artist, Pyrgoteles, was in charge of the creation of engraved jewels and coins. This is arguably, the most important job of the court artists because the goal of these adrtists is to creat the most favorable and long-lasting view of the king as possible. Coins are propaganda that directly effects the lives of the people the leader is appealing to. Subtle messaging and imagery is snuck into the hands of the everyday user and the leader is able to quietly convey one unified message to all his subjects. Alexander did not invent coinage, but the type and style of coinage he introduced revolutionized not only Greece, but the entire world. Alexander the Great’s new silver coins showed Zeus’ face on one side and Herakles’ face on the other. Zeus was a connection with ultimate power, as king of the gods, thusly associating Alexander with ultimate power and divine connection. Using Herakles’ face was a Macedonian tradition. The Macedonians believed that they descended from Herakles, the ultimate symbol of strength and leadership. Alexander himself was not the first to put Herakles on a coin, and Phillip II the used Zeus’s head on coinage. As Alexander’s career progressed and he amassed more and more success, his ideals began to change. The coins originally displaying Alexander’s idol (Herakles and Zeus) over time transformed into displays of Alexander himself joining the ranks of Herakles and Zeus as a god. These ideas were heavily pushed in Alexander’s home city Alexandria and eventually he reached such a status amongst his followers.
Betsey DeVos visited Howard last Thursday. She was photographed with President Frederick and some Howard students. I think that President Frederick is caught between a rock and a hard place. One one hand, Betsey DeVos is the new embodiment of the white man’s money, and I don’t think that Frederick is any stranger to taking white people’s money. Especially when it’s the only money on the table. But taking the money is not just that simple. If this event is even remotely similar to the deals this administration is known for then it’s not going to work out in our favor. I certainly feel like Frederick is in a difficult position because the reality of the situation is that the funding for our school does come in part from the government. Just because we’re entering into a dangerously fascist next stage of government doesn’t mean that we just give up on the money that was always promised to us. Howard can’t afford to close; That’s how the institution makes any money. There needs to be some galvanization on the behalf of the black community so that there’s no need to rely on the enemy’s money.
Alexander wasn’t the only one to dedicate material culture in legacy of his deeds and morals as a leader. The first Roman emperor Octavian (Augustus) has the Ara Pacis (Alter of Peace) constructed to convey not only his morals and ideologies, but as a representation of authority. The Ara Pacis was essentially an elaborate sacrificial altar. Placed amongst other Augustan monuments in the Campus Martius, the Ara Pacis was a central hub for Roman religious ceremonies, which called for the regular blood sacrifice of animals in appeasement of the gods. The location of the Ara Pacis was not coincidental. The Campus Martius was a symbol to the Roman people that the emperor had put extensive labor into transforming the landscape into a developed area. The Ara Pacis is named as a statement, signifying the beginning of peace after long periods of unrest, both domestically and abroad.
Emperor Augustus’ live and cabinet are depicted in sculpture along the border of the altar itself to immortalize the achievements of Augustus and his administration. On the sides, figures in a sacrificial procession are shown dutifully committing to their religious duties. The north side of the altar depicts the officiants of the services of the sacrifice, i.e the priests and religious students. The south illustrates the participants of the sacrifice, i.e women, children and members of the Imperial house, including Augustus himself. The figures proceed towards to the mouth of the altar as a symbol of their participation in the ceremony and their journey. The figures also represent the diversity of the Roman empire, all brought together in observance of their religious respect.
There are 4 mythological panels of sculpture that accompany the altar as well: One showing a bearded man making a sacrifice; one showing a goddess amongst a bountiful land and animals; one showing Romulus and Remus; one showing the personification of Rome as Roma the goddess. Whilst the panel of the man is damaged rather extensively, scholars still make inferences about who the subject is. There is debate as to whether the figure is the Trojan hero Aeneas or the second Roman king Numa Poplius. Author Paul Nehak makes the argument hat while the generally accepted idea is that the figure is Aeneas, Aeneas is not generally described as this figure is depicted. The Romans typically enumerated Aeneas as specifically young, beardless and in armor. The opposite of the frieze’s main character. Also, the surrounding characters, while in poor condition are not depicted in the way they had been in previous texts. Nehak notices a motif of a Roman tradition practiced in the panels as well. He makes the argument that the man sculpted on this face of the altar is in fact King Numa, the second king of Rome. Instead of Aeneas sacrificing a sow to Juno, Nehak makes the claim that the sow is being sacrificed by King Numa in the attempts to finalize a treaty between Rome and Galli. This makes sense not only because Augustus was trying to convey a message of over arching peacekeeping, but also because Augustus and Numa were related.
The goddess depicted in the next panel is similarly unidentified , but whether she is Pax (Peace), Tellus (Earth/Gaia), Italia (the embodiment of Italy)or Venus, the main idea of this frieze is to illustrate the abundance of the land, the peace and the harmony of the unified Roman state.
The Ara Pacis, whilst a beautiful and important piece of antiquity, it cannot be studied without the incorporation of the rest of the Campus Martius. The entire landscape is a testament of Augustus’ mission and his and his family’s determination to the succession of their legacy: a peaceful Rome in the place of a war torn collection of city states. Augustus sought to be the sole authoritarian leader of Rome, but didn’t want to be called king, fearing it would turn people against him. To abate this, he carefully constructed an image of the responsible republic ruler. The creation of this art and architectural project helps to actualize his platform and get his followers face-to-face with a persuasion tactic without the complication of the written word. This technique was adopted by Benito Mussolini who expedited the reassembly of the altar in the hopes that he could adopt Augustus’ practices with his own.
Finally we come upon Trajan’s column. This architectural feat was constructed after the Roman Emperor Trajan’s 2 victories agains the Dacians. The Dacians were a vast army that had amassed across the area of modern day Romania. They were historically referred to as untrustworthy and had through their own misdealing fouled their relationship with the Romans. During the first war the Dacian king negotiated terms of treaty and they promptly broke the treaty. This initiated the second war between the Romans and the Dacians, resulting in the near extermination of the Dacians. Stretching over 12 stories and (now) topped by a statue of St. Peter, this tower has outlasted all the other monuments in vicinity and commemorates the Roman win through the extremely detailed depiction of the war through sculpture. The work is drawn in connection to a modern day comic strip as the war is told up the column between 122 different scenes and 2,662 different individual figures. Scholars argue over the validity of the story told on this work as there was no real way for the sculptors to get the actual historical account. The sculptors got their stories from Trajan or from hearsay about the war, so they took the information they had and set to work. Only 4% of the events carved up the facade of this structure have been catalogued by historians and the monument is often referred to as Trajan’s war diary because there are no fact to check the story against. The Dacian culture was basically wiped out alongside them, so their side of the war never got told. Some scholars have declared it unknowable considering the lack of outside proof and more so leave the monument as something to speculate about, given your sentiments on Rome.
In conclusion, material culture add a different layer of depth to analytical study of ancient leadership. Different leaders’ material culture gives an insight to the value of the leader and the values they wan they society to imbibe. Without these artifacts, modern day humanity would not be able to have the type of window into the past like we do because of the Alexander Mosaic, the Ara Pacis and Trajan’s tower.