Greek Gold Olive Wreath, 4th Century BC
A wreath made from wild olive branches, also known as kotinos, was the prize for the winner at the ancient Olympic Games. According to Pausanias, the sacred olive tree at Olympia, from which the champion’s wreaths were made, came from the land of the Hyporboreans. It was brought to Olympia by Herakles and planted near the temple dedicated to his father, Zeus, in his honor. Legend says that it was Iphitos who first used a crown of wild olive leaves from sacred tree, called the kallistephanos, to crown victors at the Olympic games.
Olive wreaths were also made for the champions of the Panathenaic Games in Athens. Mythology says that these wreaths were made from the sacred olive tree that grew from where Athena struck her spear on the ground at the Acropolis. For the ancient Greeks, the olive tree was a symbol of peace, wisdom and triumph.
Gold wreaths were made imitating their natural counterparts in various forms, including oak, olive, ivy, vine, laurel and myrtle. Most of these trees or plants have associations with various deities. Because of their fragility, gold wreaths were probably not meant to be worn very often, only during special functions. They were also dedicated to the gods in sanctuaries and placed in graves as funerary offerings for wealthy or important people. Though they were known in earlier periods, gold wreaths became much more popular in the Hellenistic age, probably due to the greatly increased availability of gold in the Greek world following the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Herodotus describes the following story which is relevant to the olive wreath. Xerxes was interrogating some Arcadians after the Battle of Thermopylae. He inquired why there were so few Greek men defending the Thermopylae. The answer was “All other men are participating in the Olympic Games”. And when asked “What is the prize for the winner?”, “An olive-wreath” came the answer. Then Tigranes, one of his generals uttered: “Good heavens! Mardonius, what kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions, but for virtue.”
The Chigi vase, found in an Etrsucan tomb, is the earliest representation of the Hoplite phalanx formation. Dated 650 B.C.
The hoplite phalanx operated as follows: They would be in a tightly-packed formation, with each soldier’s shield protecting his left side and the right side of his soldier on his left.
On the vase we see a musician boy playing the double flute behind the Spartans, which set their slow pace towards the enemy.
When the two opposing armies met each other, the front rows would slam into the enemy in front of them as they tried to push through the wall of shields, as depicted in the vase. The rows towards the back would push their shields into the backs of the soldiers in front to drive their men further into battle. It would be comparable to rugby scrums we see today.
Silver coin of Augustus circa 19-18 BC, in celebration of the victory over Armenia. On the right ARMENIA CAPTA, Armenian Tiara and bow case with quiver.
The Kilamuwa Stela, ca. 830 BCE
Found at Zincirli, an ancient Hittite and Aramean archaeological site in modern day Turkey, this Phoenician inscription touts the victories and accomplishments of King Kilamuwa of Sam’al. It names four of his predecessors and their failures at deeds at which Kilamuwa himself succeeded, no doubt in a political ploy to cement himself as a strong king.
The Phoenician language at this time was a lingua franca in the Aramean kingdom which saw Aramaic-speaking nobility ruling over a mostly Luwian population. It is of note that later royal inscriptions from Sam’al were written in either Aramaic or a blended Aramaic-Phonecian dialect, a sign of effective Aramean rule resulting in language shift.
Gold and Lapis Lazuli earring
19th Dynasty, New Kingdom
(Source: The Metropolitan Museum)
Portrait Bust of a Roman Woman140-150 CE marble
Apollo Pursuing Daphne by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
oil on canvas
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.