The Siege Scene on the Gold Amphora of the Panagjurischte Treasure
Found on the 8thDecember 1941, this beautiful piece of ancient craftsmanship has been of great interest to both the general public and to historians. For the general public, it is a remarkable piece of ancient treasure and for historians, it is a beautiful object that can tell us more about the people who commissioned it, created it and what it represents to that culture.
Archaeologists discovered the Panagjurischte Treasure about 40 km north-west of Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and date it to around the 4thcentury BCE. Northwest Asia Minor has generally been accepted as the place of origin. The treasure consisted of nine pieces, weighing 6.172 kg of high-quality gold. The amphora weighs 1.695 kg, and has letters scholars believe to be Sigma and Psi or Sigma and Omega written on it. These are weight signs, pointing to a creation date within the Hellenistic period.
The gold amphora is the showpiece of the collection, 24.5cm high and holds 1.5 litres. “On the underside are two holes, concealed as the mouths of two negroes: the liquid from one would seem to pour into a cantharus held by a recumbent satyr, opposite whom is a representation of the infant Herakles strangling a pair of snakes, a subject self-evident without help from inscriptions. Because of these decorations the amphora cannot rest on its bottom unsupported. The sides are elaborately decorated, and the focus of attention of the main scene is a door immediately below one of the handles, the right-hand panel of which is held ajar from inside by a bearded dwarf-like figure. He is visibly alarmed by the threatened assault of a posse of four swordsman and a trumpeter. Their leader is a bearded, muscular individual, haked like the others, save for a chlamys or mantle thrown over his left shoulder. He advances purposefully with sword raised aloft in his right hand, his left rests on the panel of the half-open door. Another figure follows, with arm above the shoulder but sword pointing downwards, as if to deliver a devastating slashing stroke. Close behind comes a third man, whose lack of beard makes him look younger than the others; his sword is held at waist-height. Another agitated figure, gazing outwards like the leader of the party, but with sword held vertical”.
Some scholars have suggested that it is Odysseus who is portrayed on the siege scene but this cannot be the case. He is depicted everywhere on ancient objects by wearing a pilleus or conical brimless cap. Not only this, but he is depicted either alone or with one or two companions; in this scene the man is accompanied by Diomedes or by Nestor (whose presence suggests diplomacy rather than force) and Phoenix.
In 1958, a scholar suggested that this was a scene from a previously unknown scene from the Hercules (Herakles) myth. However, scholars have refuted this idea as Hercules is generally shown wearing his lion-skin over head and shoulders unless he is wrestling with the Nemean Lion.
Another scholar has suggested it is a scene from the legend, Seven Against Thebes, “regarding the single door as a ‘concentrated’ representation of the seven gates of that city”.
To this day, we still do not known if the siege scene is a representation of an ancient Hellenistic myth or whether it is a scene from a real siege that occurred in the ancient world.
Griffith, John G. (1974) The Siege Scene on the Gold Amphora of the Panagjurischte Treasure, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies.