Celts: Statues of dying Gauls / Galatians associated with Attalos I of Pergamon (late third century BCE / second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Statues of dying Gauls / Galatians associated with Attalos I of Pergamon (late third century BCE / second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 9, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=7482.

Information and descriptions: These statues of Docimian marble (from Phrygia) are known as the “Dying Gaul” or “Gallic Trumpeter,” now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome and the “Suicidal Gauls,” now in the Palazzo Altemps, Rome (both from the Ludovisi Collection, likely discovered in the 1620s in the “Gardens of Sallust” and restored as a group). These are usually considered Roman copies or replicas of the second century CE after third century BCE originals, but this is not certain. (On this, also see the smaller set of dead or dying “barbarians” – known as the “Lesser Attalid Dedication” or “Little Barbarians” – at this link).

In the “Dying Gaul,” a wounded nude man with limed hair, a moustache, and a torque on his neck is shown seated on the ground with a trumpet (broken in two) by his side. In the “Suicidal Gauls,” a nude man with limed hair and a cloak flowing from his neck is shown stabbing himself in the upper chest with a dagger while holding his dead or dying wife, who is wearing a tunic and shawl. Both the “Dying Gaul” and the “Suicidal Gauls” are at the same scale and appear to be of the same marble, which has led to the unconfirmable theory that they may have originally been part of a group sculpture together, perhaps in connection with a sculptural group dedicated by king Attalos I Pergamon to celebrate his victories of 233 and 228–223 BCE against the Galatians, who were allied with the Seleucids.

Comments: The visual depictions of northerners in the above sculptural pieces fit at least to some degree with the ethnographic stereotype of the high-spirited and therefore extremely brave and violent northerner that we witness in Greek and Roman ethnographic writing (on which see many examples under category 2). The message of the monuments seems to be extreme courage in the face of defeat with the implication of noble death. The limed hair and moustache in both and the torque in the first one are usually understood to indicate what a Greek or Roman would perceive as a Celt, Gaul or Galatian.

Although these pieces are most often identified as “Gauls” / Celts, Greek and Roman depictions of various northern peoples could sometimes be non-specific with regard to visualizing or distinguishing particular peoples. So, as Miranda Marvin (2002) argues, a general “northern barbarian” visual stereotype emerged in which Dacians, Germanic peoples, Celts / Gauls or others were most often depicted in somewhat similar ways. Marvin (2002, 212) explains that the most common bodily features of this type were broad cheekbones, coarse features, matted wavy hair, and usually a beard or shaggy moustache. Such northerners, including Celts, were sometimes depicted wearing some combination of a torque around the neck (as with the “Dying Gaul” above), soft laced shoes, baggy trousers (sometimes with a tunic over them), and a shawl (as with the dying wife above).

Whether or not the originals (which our main sculptural pieces followed) were dedicated by king Attalos, Pausanias does refer to some sculptural groups dedicated by a king Attalos (either Attalos I [ca. 269–197 BCE] or Attalos II [ca. 159–138 BCE]) that included depictions of Gauls and other “barbarians,” in this case at Athens: “By the south wall are represented the legendary war with the giants, who once dwelled around Thrace and on the isthmus of Pallene, the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons, the engagement with the Persians at Marathon, and the destruction of the Gauls in Mysia. Each is about two cubits, and all were dedicated by Attalos” (Description of Greece 1.25.2; trans. Jones LCL; cf. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 34.84). So it was common for imperial or royal powers to celebrate the defeat of specific peoples in artistic form. Our pieces were Roman copies likely meant to signal apparent successes of Roman emperors against northern peoples.

Works cited: D. Attanasio, M. Bruno, and W. Prochaska, “The Docimian Marble of the Ludovisi and Capitoline Gauls and Other Replicas of the Pergamene Dedications,” American Journal of Archaeology 115 (2011): 575–87 (link); L. Gale, “Hellenistic Galatians: Representation and Self-Presentation” (Ph.D., Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, 2018), 102-111 (link); M. Marvin, “The Ludovisi Barbarians: The Grand Manner,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes 1 (2002): 205–223 (link).

Source of images: Photos of the “Dying Gaul” by Allan T. Kohl (licensed under CC BY 2.0) and Jastrow (public domain from Wikimedia Commons). Photo of “Suicidal Gauls” by Jamie Heath (CC BY 2.0).

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