The Bronze Battle Scene from Pergamon
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The Bronze Battle Scene from Pergamon

In 1913 Alexander Conze published some of the antiquities found at Pergamon. One of these was a remarkable relief from the second century BCE showing a battle on land. While Greek artists usually portrayed battle as a fight between scattered individuals, this relief shows different types of soldiers crowded together and even a Macedonian phalanx with its battle standard. The University of Heidelberg has generously digitized their copy of Conze’s book as part of the Heidelberger historische Bestände- Digitaler:

A line drawing of a bronze plate with reliefs of infantry fighting and cavalry dashing back and forth
1. Beschlagstück, mit Eisen gesüttert, darüber in Bronzeblech getriebenes Relief, 0,24 m lang. Im Haputfelde Kampf von Reitern und Fußgängern ganz links scheint ein Feldzeichen zu stehen. Das Dreiecksfeld der einen seitlichen Spitz mit einem Ägismuster und Medusenhaupte geföüllt. Abbilding beistehend. (Caption from Alexander Conze, “Altertümer von Pergamon,” Bd. 1 Text 2 p. 250

Digital collections are fragile and tend to centralization with all its risks, so one very good solution is for large libraries in different countries to digitize and host their own collections while still preserving the originals on paper. The University of Toronto Robarts Library in Canada has also been generous in this way.

Many thoughtful people worry that the Internet has popularized research which has since been refuted; for all its rhetoric of being up-to-date, Wikipedia relies heavily on the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. On the other hand, the Internet has also made volumes which were once available only in a few references libraries available to the scholarly public. As the Pergamon bronze battle scene appears to have been lost, this sketch is as close as one can get to it.

Further Reading: Edition by the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

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2 thoughts on “The Bronze Battle Scene from Pergamon

  1. Michael J. Taylor says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out what this plaque is for several years. I’ve posted some tentative ideas here:

    I’d love feedback–this is one of a handful of depictions of pitched battle in the Hellenistic world, yet very little has been written on it.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Hi Michael, I have been traveling, but I will see if I can make time for a look this week. I think that I first heard of the piece from Ruben Post who seems to have lost interest in militaria since then.

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