- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
- Head of a Parthian Ruler
- Work Type
- head, sculpture
- 2nd century BCE
- Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Parthia
- Parthian period
- Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3440, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Middle Eastern Art in the Service of Kings
View this object's location on our interactive map
- Physical Descriptions
- Dark green stone (metabasalt)
- actual: 8.7 cm (3 7/16 in.)
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- Asian and Mediterranean Art
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- This sculpture, originally part of a larger statue, represents the head of a bearded man wearing a diadem. His face is ringed by curly hair and prominent ears on either side. The eyes, once inlaid, are now missing. The brow ridge is angular and has incised furrows. The nose is lightly crooked and features broad nostrils. The mouth is small but with full lips. The beard is square, and composed of thick, vertical zigzags. The hair beneath the diadem is rendered in two rows of thick curls; above the diadem it is rendered in the same manner as the beard. The diadem is thick and rounded, with a knot at the back. On the top of the head there is evidence of some protruding feature having been broken off. The head is broken off diagonally at the neck. A thin crack encircles the head at the back.
The features of this head, especially the diadem, the shape of the nose, and the shape and length of the beard, are close matches to the images of the Parthian kings Mithradates I (r. 173-139/8 BCE), Artabanos I (r. 128-124/3 BCE), and Mithradates II (r. 124/3-88/7 BCE) on coins minted at Seleucia-on-the-Tigris and Ecbatana (1). These similarities suggest this head was made at one of these two imperial centers. It also bears some resemblance to a fragment of terracotta sculpture discovered at Old Nisa in Turkmenistan, another major Parthian site (2).
1. See examples in G. M. A. Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks (Ithaca, 1984) 245-6.
2. A. Invernizzi, "Parthian Art - Arsacid Art," Topoi Orient-Occident 17.2 (2011) 197, fig. 8.
Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990
Diademed, Bearded Head
Identified as Parthian and said to represent King Mithradates I (171-138 B.C).
The head is broken, irregularly, through the neck. The eyes were probably inlaid, as they remain hollow. The top of the head is made separately, a tight join.
The diadem is similar to that worn by Alexander the Great in the marble head from Egypt in Boston. The hair is in two rows of curls around the forehead. Hair and beard are cut in rough curls, round and irregular. The ears are large and pulled slightly forward. The face has a high polish.
Mithridates I is a celebrated Philhellene known from his coins. This head from a small statue, a bust, or even the top of a scepter-staff, seems to have been carved at Babylonia where the pertinent coins, as well as those issued under Mithridates II about 122-121 B.C., were struck. The stone was used in these regions in neo-Sumerian times, c. 2100 B.C., for heads and statues of rulers and officials in the time of Judea and others (Terrace, 1962, no. 9). D. M. Robinson suggested that the eyes were made of ivory, with asphalt lining, as in the case of other statuettes from this part of the world in Parthian times.
While the details of hair, face, and beard identify this head as that of a famous, early Parthian king, and while the material is peculiar to lower Mesopotamia or Iran, coins show us that Mithridates I and others issued silver tetradrachms and drachms that placed them firmly in the traditions of Alexander the Great and their Seleucid predecessors and contemporaries. A series of tetradrachm struck at Seleucia on the Tigris River combines the king's diademed, draped bust in profile to the right on the obverse with a typical standing Hellenistic Herakles holding cup (skyphos) and club on the reverse (The Garrett Collection, Part II, Bank Leu AG, Zurich, October 16-18, 1984, p. 68, no. 313, pl. 20; Wroth, 1903, pp. 12-15, pl. iii; Sellwood, 1971, pp. 25, 38, etc.; Richter, 1984, p. 247). Mithridates II of Parthia struck tetradrachms, with a portrait very much like this small head in profile to the left on the obverse, also at Seleucia on the Tigris from 123 to 91 BC. Here Herakles on the reverse has been replaced by what had been introduced earlier and would become the standard type for the series, a Parthian archer seated (on an omphalos?, later a throne) testing his bow (Jenkins, 1972, pp. 272, 274, 276, fig. 667; Garrett Collection, loc. cit. no. 314; Wroth, 1903, p. 24, pl. vi. Mithridates II also puts on an elaborated, high "helmet").
Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer
- Publication History
David Moore Robinson, "A Graeco-Parthian Portrait Head of Mithradates I", American Journal of Archaeology (1927), 31, pp. 338-344, figs. 2-4
Cambridge Ancient History: Volume of Plate I-V, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England, 1927), IV, no. 24
Fogg Art Museum, The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities, A Special Exhibition, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 27, no. 213
Gisela M.A. Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks I, II, III, Phaidon Press (London, England, 1965), III, p. 277
Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p.60, no. 43
- Exhibition History
The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961
32Q: 3440 Middle East, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2016 - 11/30/2022
This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at firstname.lastname@example.org