Pergamon Altar

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Partial reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar in the Pergamon Museum
Detail of the east side of the giant relief

The Pergamon Altar is a monumental altar that was built under King Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BC. BC on the castle hill of the Asian Minor city ​​of Pergamon and its reconstruction with the original friezes can be seen today in the Berlin Pergamon Museum .

The altar was 35.64 meters wide and 33.40 meters deep. The outside staircase leading to the altar from the west was almost 20 meters wide. The base was adorned with a high relief depicting the battle of the giants against the Greek gods. A second frieze on the courtyard walls of the Pergamon Altar tells the legend of Telephos in a cycle of successive relief images . Telephos, a son of the hero Herakles and the Tegeatic king's daughter Auge , was considered the mythical founder of Pergamon.

In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann began official excavations on Pergamon Castle Hill, which came to a preliminary conclusion in 1886. The main aim of the excavations was to reclaim the altar friezes and expose the foundation of the altar. Further building complexes of the Pergamene Acropolis were uncovered later. In negotiations with the Turkish government involved, it was agreed that all fragments of the altar friezes found at the time would be awarded to the Berlin museums.

In Berlin, Italian restorers reassembled the panels of the friezes from thousands of fragments. In order to be able to exhibit the friezes together, a museum was set up on Museum Island . The first building from 1901 was demolished in 1909 in favor of a larger new building completed in 1930. After the friezes exhibited there and a reconstruction of the western front of the Pergamon Altar, this new museum building was named the Pergamon Museum by the Berliners. The Pergamon Altar is today the most famous exhibit in the collection of antiquities on Museum Island.

The room with the Pergamon Altar is expected to be closed until 2023 due to extensive renovation work.

The altar in ancient times

Larger-than-life portrait, probably Attalus I, from the early reign of Eumenes II.

Historical background

That of Philetairos at the beginning of the 3rd century BC The Pergamene Empire, founded in BC, was initially part of the Seleucid Empire . Only Attalus I , successor and nephew of Eumenes, took the step of complete independence and proclaimed himself after the victory over the Celtic Galatians in 238 BC. To the king. The victory over the Galatians, who threatened the Pergamene Empire, consolidated his power, which he was now trying to consolidate. Through conquests in Asia Minor at the expense of the weakened Seleucids, he was able to briefly enlarge his empire. Also a counterstrike by the Seleucids under Antiochus III. , which led to the gates of Pergamon, could not end the Pergamene independence. As the Seleucids regained strength in the east, Attalos turned to the west, to Greece, and was able to take almost all of Evia . His son Eumenes II pushed the influence of the Galatians back further. He ruled together with his brother and co-regent Attalus II , who was to succeed him on the throne. 188 BC Through an alliance with Rome , Eumenes II was able to conclude the peace of Apamea and thus reduce the influence of the Seleucids in Asia Minor. The Attalids were a rising power who wanted to show their importance to the outside world through the construction of representative buildings.

Foundation, dating and function of the altar

Like most of the young dynasties, the Attalids also sought to legitimize themselves through foundations and monumental buildings. The foundation and construction of the altar thus also have a political dimension.

In some research it was assumed that the altar was in 184 BC until the second half of the 20th century. Was founded by Eumenes II after a victory over the Celtic Tolistoagians under their leader Ortiagon . In the meantime, later time approaches are being discussed in combination with archaeological findings and historical events. The connection of the altar foundation with concrete military events, such as the victories of the Romans in alliance with Eumenes II over Antiochus III, is not necessarily mandatory. in 188 BC Or Eumenes' II. On his own initiative over the Galatians in 166 BC. Investigations of the altar structure and its friezes have shown that it was not designed as a victory monument. The design of the victory monuments of the Pergamener can be understood in literary terms and in monumental remains. The most famous are the bronze statues of the "Great Gauls" handed down in Roman copies, depictions of the defeated Celts after the victory of Attalus I over the Tolistoagians, or the reliefs with looted weapons from the halls of the Pergamene sanctuary of Athena, a dedication of Eumenes II to the victorious Goddess after the victory of 188 BC About the Seleucids and their allies.

The so-called giant frieze of the Pergamon Altar largely avoids allusions to current military campaigns - apart from the “Star of the Macedonians” on the round shield of a giant, which can be seen on the frieze on the east side, or a Celtic long shield in the hand of a god in the north frieze. The struggle of the Olympian gods, supported by Heracles , but also the celestial and day gods from the ancient race of the Titans , powers of war and destiny, sea creatures and Dionysus with his entourage appear rather as a cosmological event of general moral importance. Perhaps it can be explored in the sense of stoic philosophy and certainly not conceived without political calculation, like all artistic metaphors, the fight of the good and just principle - the Olympic gods and their assistants - against evil - the chaotic forces of nature in the form of the earth-born giants - have on the subject. The scanty remains of the dedicatory inscription also seem to indicate that the altar was donated to the gods for “beneficiaries”. The god father Zeus and his daughter Athene should be considered as divine addressees , as they are depicted in a prominent place in the giant frieze. An important criterion for dating is the integration of the altar into the urban context. Because as the most important marble building of the Hellenistic residence, also built in a prominent position, it was certainly not tackled at the end of the numerous measures to upgrade the mountain town of Pergamon under Eumenes II.

The fact that concrete events from the last years of Eumenes II's reign, the growing distance to the Romans and the victory over the Celts of 166 BC. At Sardis in the two friezes of the Pergamon Altar, is an assumption that can hardly be proven and does not offer sufficient reason for a late dating of the altar. The inner frieze, the Telephosfrieze , shows the legend of Telephos and should symbolize Pergamon's superiority over the Romans. The founder of Rome, Romulus , was only breastfed by a she-wolf, Telephos, to whom the Attalids traced back, but by a lioness. The construction time of the frieze can be traced back to 170 BC. And at least the death of Eumenes II (159 BC).

One of the last suggestions for dating the altar was made by Bernard Andreae . According to his findings, the altar was built between 166 and 156 BC. As a general victory mark of the Pergamener and especially of Eumenes II. Over the Macedonians, the Gauls and the Seleucids and designed by Phyromachus , the seventh and last of the seven greatest Greek sculptors next to Myron , Phidias , Polyklet , Skopas , Praxiteles and Lysippus . In the foundation of the altar a was built in 172/71 BC. Dated pottery shards found, the building must have been built after this point in time. Since until 166 BC A lot of money had to be raised for the wars, the altar was probably not erected until after the war, i.e. from 166 BC. BC, possible.

Older plan of the Pergamene upper town (1882)

Contrary to popular belief, the great altar is not a temple , but probably the altar for a temple. It is believed that the Temple of Athena was its cultic reference point. Possibly it only served as a place of sacrifice. This is supported by some statue bases and dedicatory inscriptions in the altar area, whose donors named Athena. Another possibility is that Zeus and Athena were equally worshiped here. It is also possible that the altar had an independent function. Unlike temples, which always include an altar, an altar does not necessarily include a temple. Altars could, for example, stand in small form in houses or - in rarer cases - have gigantic dimensions like the Pergamon Altar. Altars were generally in the open air in front of the temples. From the few remains of the dedicatory inscription it can no longer be reconstructed for which deity the altar was donated.

To date, none of the theories has been able to gain acceptance. This led to a longtime leader of the excavations in Pergamon coming to the conclusion:

"Nothing is undisputed in research about this most famous masterpiece of art from Pergamon, neither the client, nor the date, nor the occasion, nor the purpose of the building."

- Wolfgang Radt

The form of the sacrifices made here is just as unclear. From the remains of the actual smaller sacrificial altar inside the large altar structure, it can at least be concluded that it had a horseshoe-like shape. Apparently it was a cheek altar with one or more steps. It is possible that the thighs of sacrificial animals were burned here. It is also possible that the altar was only used for libation - that is, the offering of offerings in the form of incense, wine and fruits. Probably only priests, members of the royal family and important foreign guests were allowed to enter the altar.

Attalus I began to redesign the Acropolis of Pergamon. In the course of time, a Dionysus temple and a theater named after Dionysus, a Heroon , the upper agora of the city and the Great Altar known today as the Pergamon Altar were built next to the original castle on the hilltop . There were also several palaces and a library in the Athena sanctuary .

The altar to the end of antiquity

A section of the Revelation of John is sometimes referred to the Pergamon Altar. There is talk of a "throne of Satan" standing in Pergamon:

“Write to the angel of the community in Pergamon: This is what He says, who bears the sharp, two-edged sword: I know where you live; it is where Satan's throne is. And yet you hold fast to my name and have not denied your belief in me, not even in the days when Antipas , my faithful witness , was killed with you, where Satan lives. "

- Revelation 2.12-13

The shape of the altar with its risalits can in fact suggest a throne with its armrests. However, one has also considered recognizing a monument of the imperial cult in the 'Throne of Satan' , which often sparked early persecution of Christians , but no certainty can be obtained about this, especially since the Pergamon Altar could also have been integrated into the imperial cult in Roman times.

The mention of the altar by a less prominent Roman writer, Lucius Ampelius , who probably in the 2nd century (but perhaps also not until late antiquity ) in his liber memorialis (“Merkbüchlein”) in the section on the wonders of the world , is clear in relation to this miracula mundi , notes:

“There is a large marble altar in Pergamon, 40 feet high, with very large sculptures. It also contains a gigantomachy . "

In addition to a remark by Pausanias , who compares the sacrificial habits in Olympia with those in Pergamon in a subordinate clause , these are the only written mentions of the altar in all of antiquity. This is all the more surprising as the writers of antiquity wrote a lot about such works of art and Ampelius at least counts the altar among the wonders of the world. The lack of written sources on the altar from ancient times is interpreted differently. One possible explanation is that the Hellenistic altar seemed unimportant to the Romans, as it was not created in the classical epoch of Greek, especially Attic, art. Only this art and the later return to these values ​​were considered significant and worth mentioning. From the 18th century, especially since the work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann , this point of view was espoused by German researchers. The only pictorial representation of the altar comes from coins from the Roman Empire. They represent the altar in a stylized form.

Since a rethinking of the perception and interpretation of ancient works of art outside of the “classic” periods began in the course of the 20th century, it has been undisputed that the Great Altar of Pergamon is one of the most important works, if not the climax of Hellenistic art. The ignoring disdain for the altar seems strange from today's point of view, as the Laocoon group also comes from - one of the sculptures that today, along with a few other works of art, is named as a particularly outstanding testimony to ancient art and was already regarded as a "masterpiece of all art" in ancient times - from a Pergamene workshop, where it must have been made around the time the altar was built. It is noticeable that the gigantic opponent of the goddess Athena, Alkyoneus , is very similar in posture and representation to the Laocoon. When he was found, an exclamation “Now we have a Laocoon too!” Was said to have been heard.

Rediscovery until the presentation in Berlin

Antiquity to the excavations in the 19th century

At the latest when Christianity replaced and supplanted the pagan religions in late antiquity , the altar lost its function. In the seventh century, the Pergamons Acropolis was heavily fortified to protect it from the Arabs. Among other things, the Pergamon Altar was partially destroyed in order to extract material from it. Nevertheless, the city fell temporarily to the Arabs in 716 and was then given up as meaningless; it was not settled again until the 12th century. In the 13th century Pergamon fell to the Turks.

Between 1431 and 1444 the Italian humanist Cyriacus of Ancona visited Pergamon and reported about it in his commentarii (diaries). In 1625 William Petty, the chaplain of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel , toured Asia Minor. He also visited Pergamon and brought two relief panels from the altar with him to England. The pieces fell into oblivion after the Earl's collection was dissolved and were not rediscovered until the 1960s. One of the two fragments, the rear view of a giant, they found a residential building in English, 1962 to the outer wall Worksop , the second plate, showing a dead giants (Fawley Court giant) , was in a neo-Gothic ruin in Fawley Court installed and was Discovered in 1968. Casts of both fragments are now part of the Berlin reconstruction. Other travelers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of whom visits to Pergamon are known, were, for example, the French diplomat and archaeologist Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier , the English architect Charles Robert Cockerell and the two Germans Otto Magnus von Stackelberg and Otto Friedrich von Richter . Choiseul-Gouffier was the first to suggest excavations in Pergamon, and the other three travelers made drawings of the city's acropolis.

Carl Humann's sketch drawings of several panels of the Telephos frieze, according to the excavation diary shortly after the discovery and cleaning; Made around May to October 1878 (plates 11, 12, 38 and 42)
Christian Wilberg : excavations on the Byzantine wall ; Pencil drawing, heightened with white; 29.8 x 46.7 cm; Caption: “Byzantine Wall. 5-6 meters wide. The first pieces of the reliefs were found here. Pergamon 79 "
Christian Wilberg: excavation site of the Pergamon Altar ; Pencil drawing, heightened with white; 29.9 x 46.6 cm; Caption: “View of the macaw shortly before the excavation there. Pergamon 79 (May) "

Carl Humann came to Pergamon for the first time in 1864/65. The German engineer was entrusted with geographic investigations and visited the city repeatedly in the following years. He campaigned for the preservation of the antiquities on the castle hill and tried to find partners for an excavation, since as a private citizen he would not have been up to such a company. There was a lack of financial and logistical resources. The rapid start of the excavation work was also important because the residents of Bergama, as Pergamon was now called, used the altar and the other aboveground ruins as a quarry, plundered the remains of the ancient buildings in order to erect new buildings, and partly to the marble Lime burned. In 1871 the Berlin classical philologist and archaeologist Ernst Curtius and several other German researchers came to Pergamon at Humann's invitation. He arranged for some of the finds, including two fragments of the altar, to be sent to Berlin. He described the altar reliefs as a "battle with men, horses, wild animals". Initially, the pieces were exhibited, but received little attention. It was not until 1877 that Alexander Conze , appointed director of the Sculpture Collection of the Royal Museums in Berlin , brought the pieces together with the tradition at Ampelius and recognized their importance. It was a good thing that after the establishment of the Empire in 1871 the German government endeavored to keep up with the other great powers culturally:

"It is of particular importance that the collections of the museums, which were previously very poor in Greek original works [...] now come into possession of a work of Greek art of the extent that only in the series of Attic and Asia Minor sculptures of the British." Museum equal or close. "

Foundation of the Pergamon Altar after the uncovering, around 1880

Conze immediately got in touch with Humann, who was working for a road construction company in Turkey at the time. Everything went quickly now. The German government obtained an excavation license in Turkey, and in September 1878 the excavations, led by Humann and Conze, began. Large parts of the Acropolis were examined up to 1886 and also scientifically processed and published in the following years. As a result of an agreement between the Ottoman and German governments, the relief panels of the Pergamon Altar and a few other pieces came to Berlin from 1879 and became the property of the Antikensammlung. The German side was well aware that a work of art was being removed from its original place, and was not completely happy with this situation:

“We have not been insensitive to what it means to wrest the remains of a great monument from its mother-soil to us, where we can never again offer them the light and the environment in which they were created and in which they once were fully worked. But we have wrested it from ever more complete destruction. At that time there was still no Hamdy Bey in sight, who soon became a warm friendship with Humann, and we could not think back then what has become possible with his help, that the ruins remaining in the place would be before the stone robbers of the modern city [...] can be protected [...]. "

The Pergamon Altar in Berlin

Carl Humann's first sketch for the reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar, around 1879
Reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar in "interim construction"; West side, before 1908

At first, the pieces could not be presented in an appropriate exhibition setting; they were shown in the overcrowded Altes Museum, whereby the Telephos frieze in particular could not be adequately displayed (the individual panels were only leaned against the wall opposite the altar). Therefore a new museum was built. A first “Pergamon Museum” was built by Fritz Wolff from 1897 to 1899 and opened in 1901 with the unveiling of a portrait of Carl Humann by Adolf Brütt . It was in use until 1908, but was only viewed as an interim solution and therefore only called "interim construction". Originally four archaeological museums, including its own Pergamon Museum, were planned. But the first museum had to be demolished because of the foundation damage. It was originally only intended for the finds that could not be presented in the other three archaeological museums, and thus too small for the altar from the start. After the museum was demolished, the Telephos frieze was walled in with other antiques in the colonnades on the east side of the Neues Museum, but windows were left open to view the works of art.

Alfred Messel's new building was erected by 1930. This new Pergamon Museum presented the altar much as it is still on display today. A partial reconstruction was carried out in the central hall of the museum and the remaining frieze was attached to the surrounding walls. As in the original building, the Telephos frieze can be reached via the outside staircase, but it is reproduced in a shortened form. It is still unclear why it was not completely reconstructed during the construction and reconstruction of the altar. Theodor Wiegand , museum director at the time, based his exhibition concept on the ideas of Wilhelm von Bode , who had a large “German Museum” in mind in the style of the British Museum . Apparently there was no overall concept and the presentation of the altar had to take a back seat in the concept of a large architecture museum, which gathered examples of all ancient oriental and Mediterranean cultures. Until the end of the war, only the eastern part of the museum with the three large architectural halls was called the “Pergamon Museum”.

Floor plan of the presentation in the Pergamon Museum

In 1939 the museum was closed due to the war, two years later the reliefs were removed and relocated. At the end of the war, the altar parts that were stored in the bunker at Berlin Zoo came into the hands of the Red Army and were brought to the Soviet Union as looted art . There they were stored in the stacks of the Hermitage in Leningrad until 1958 . In 1959, a large part of the collection was returned to the GDR, including the remains of the altar. Under the direction of the museum director Carl Blümel , only the altar was presented again as it was before the war. The other antiquities were rearranged, not least because the Altes Museum was destroyed. The museum reopened in October of the same year. In 1982 a new entrance area was created, which now started a visit to the museum with the Pergamon Altar. Previously, the entrance was in the west wing of the building, so that visitors could get to the Pergamon Altar through the Vorderasiatisches Museum. In 1990 nine heads of the Telephos frieze came back to the Pergamon Museum, which had been brought to the western part of Berlin during the war.

These war-related events had anything but positive effects on the remains of the altar and frieze. It also turned out that the earlier restorations themselves had caused problems: brackets and brackets that connected individual fragments and also served as anchors for the friezes and sculptural parts in the wall were made of iron that had started to rust. The rust spread and threatened to blow up the marble from the inside. A restoration became inevitable after 1990. From 1994 to 1996 the Telephos frieze was refurbished, some of which was not accessible in the 1980s. This was followed by the restoration of the Gigantomachy under the direction of Silvano Bertolin . First the western section, then the north and south sections and finally the east frieze were restored. The restoration cost more than three million euros . The completely restored frieze was opened to the public on June 10, 2004. Thus the Pergamon Altar is currently presented in a form designed according to current scientific knowledge.

The altar base in Pergamon, 2005

In 1998 and again in 2001, the Turkish Minister of Culture İstemihan Talay demanded the return of the altar and other artifacts . However, the demand had no official character and would not be enforceable from today's perspective. In general, the Staatliche Museen Berlin, like other museums in Europe and America, rule out the possibility of returning ancient works of art, with a few exceptions. Most of the foundation and some other remains such as masonry can still be found at the original site. There are also some smaller friezes in Turkey that were only found later.

Construction and assembly of the altar

Propylon for the Pergamene sanctuary of Athena, reconstruction in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

For the erection of the Great Altar, the space provided was leveled after the older buildings were demolished and the terrace intended for the altar was expanded. Several terraces were created for better usability. As is customary for a Greek sanctuary, a self-contained area was created. The route from the Pergamene lower town to the upper town led directly past the sacred altar area, to which there was access on the east side. In ancient times, when a visitor entered the district, the first thing they saw was the east side of the great altar, on which the main Greek gods were depicted, and here first the right side of the east frieze, where the gods Hera , Heracles, Zeus, Athena and Ares fought. But the visitor's gaze also extended beyond that. In the background there was not only the wall of another terrace, which presumably had many statues; the viewer also looked at the simple Doric Athena temple, which was built 150 years earlier and which stood one terrace higher. Despite the difference in height, the west side of the altar with its flight of steps was in the same line as the Temple of Athena. When the Acropolis was redesigned, the layout of the altar was aligned directly with that of the Temple of Athena. It was probably the case that the altar was created in direct connection with the redesign of the temple as the main new installation and main dedication to the gods. In its free area, the altar was designed so that visitors could walk around it. This undoubtedly resulted in further conceptual lines of sight.

Reconstructed floor plan of the Pergamon Altar
View into the reconstructed pillared hall between the outside staircase and the interior

The altar is almost square in shape. He is based on Ionic models. For this it was planned that a wall enclosed the actual sacrificial altar in a rectangular shape on three sides. The altar was accessible by stairs on the open side. For cult reasons, such altars were mostly oriented to the east, so that the victim entered the altar from the west. The Pergamene altar follows this tradition, but elevates it to the monumental. The mighty substructure is 35.64 meters wide and 33.40 meters deep and extends over five steps. The outside staircase is almost 20 meters wide and cuts into an almost six meter high substructure. The foundation core consists of intersecting tuff walls , which are arranged like a grating and thus increase earthquake security. The foundation is still preserved today and can be viewed in Pergamon.

The upper visible structure consists of a base zone, a 2.30 meter high frieze with high relief panels and a powerful, protruding cornice . A gray-veined marble from the island of Marmara, typical of Pergamon, was used here . In addition to this proconnesian marble , which was used in the large frieze, the Telephos frieze and the base, dark marble with still recognizable fossil inclusions ( megalodonts ) from Lesbos - Moria was also used in the base.

The frieze is a total of 113 meters long, making it the longest preserved frieze of ancient Greece after the Parthenon frieze. On the west side, it is interrupted by a 20 meter wide staircase that cuts through the substructure and leads to a superstructure surrounded by columns. On both sides of the staircase there are projections ( risalites ) that are constructed and decorated in the same way as the rest of the surrounding frieze. The superstructure is relatively shallow. The surrounding columns have profiled bases and Ionic capitals . There were many statues on the roof: horses in the form of a four-in-hand, gripping lions , centaurs and figures of gods, and unfinished gargoyles. The upper hall looked lighter because the pillars were at a further distance. Another columned hall was originally planned for the inner altar courtyard, but this was not done. At eye level there was a frieze that showed the life of the mythical city founder Telephos. Although no paint remains have been found so far, it can be assumed that the altar was brightly painted in ancient times.

Giant frieze

The gigantomachy represents the battle of the gods against the children of the primordial goddess Gaia , the snake-footed giants. After the new gods, under the leadership of Zeus and with the help of Gaia , had overthrown the old gods around Kronos , Zeus turned against several of his promises Children of Gaia. Therefore she instigated several of her children - the giants and the Hekatoncheirs  - to overthrow the gods. The gods were prophesied that only with the help of mortals could they conquer. Therefore, Heracles and Dionysus took part in the battle, both of whom were born to mortal mothers.

The gods are represented according to their divine nature and with their mythical attributes. Gods distinguished by strength and dynamism, such as Zeus , the father of the gods , are represented in such a powerful way. In contrast, Artemis, who lives from skill, is shown as an archer. The description of the individual pages is always from left to right.

East frieze

Almost all the important Olympic gods were gathered on the east side, which is the first to appear when the viewer enters. The depiction begins on the left with the three-figure goddess Hecate . In her three incarnations she fights with a torch, a sword and a lance against the giant Klytios . Artemis acts closest to her . According to her function, the goddess of the hunt fights with a bow and arrow against a giant who is supposed to be Otos . Your hunting dog kills another giant with a bite on the neck. Artemis on the side fights her mother Leto with a torch against an animal giant, on Leto's other side her son and twin brother of Artemis, Apollon fights . Like his sister, he is also armed with a bow and arrow and shot the Ephialtes lying at his feet .

From the next relief plate only a fragment of the wing of a giant is preserved, one suspects Demeter to be his opponent . She follows Hera , who goes into battle on a four-horse chariot. The four winged horses are identified as the personifications of the four winds Notos , Boreas , Zephyros and Euros . Heracles fights between Hera and his father Zeus, who can only be identified by means of a fragment with a paw of his lion skin . Zeus is particularly physically present and agile. He hurls lightning and fights sending rain and gathering clouds not only against two young giants, but also against the leader of the giants, Porphyrion . The following fighting couple also shows a particularly important scene of the fight. Athena , the Pergamene city goddess, separates the giant Alkyoneus from the ground, from which the mother of the giants, Gaia, emerges. According to legend, Alkyoneus was immortal as long as he remained connected to the ground, where his mother's power flowed through him. The end of the east side is formed by the god of war Ares , who drives into battle with a pair of horses. His horses rear up in front of a winged giant.

South frieze

Here begins the representation of the fight with the great mother goddess of Asia Minor Rhea / Cybele . She rides a lion into battle with a bow and arrow. The eagle of Zeus can be seen at the top left with a bundle of lightning in its claws. In addition, three gods fight against a mighty, bull-necked giant. The first goddess cannot be identified, followed by Hephaestus , who lifts a double hammer over his head, and another, unidentifiable, kneeling god who sticks a spear into the giant's body.

The deities of heaven join them. Eos , goddess of the dawn , rides into battle. She pulls her horse back and is armed with a torch that she thrusts forward. Next, Helios emerges from the sea in his four-horse chariot and drives into battle armed with a torch. His target is a giant standing in his way, he has run over another. Theia , the mother of the day and night stars , follows in the midst of her children . Next to her mother, the moon goddess Selene rides her mule over a giant with her back to the viewer .

In the last third of the south side, a youthful god who cannot be clearly identified and who is possibly supposed to represent Aither , is fighting . He is holding a giant - possibly Leon  - with snake legs, human bodies, lion paws and a lion's head in a stranglehold. The next god has visible age features. It is believed that it is Uranos . To his left is his daughter Themis , the goddess of justice. At the end - or the beginning, depending on your point of view - there is the titan Phoibe with a torch and her daughter Asteria with a sword. Both are accompanied by a dog.

North elevation on the west side

The sea deities are gathered at the north risalit of the altar. At the head end, Triton , depicted with a human torso, wings, fish body and horse forelegs, and his mother Amphitrite fight against several giants. At the entrance to the altar, bounded by the stairway tracks, the couples Nereus and Doris as well as Okeanos and the almost no longer existing Tethys are depicted fighting.

South elevation on the west side

Several natural deities and mythological beings are gathered on the southern elevation. At the front, Dionysus , accompanied by two juvenile satyrs , intervenes in the fight. At his side is his mother Semele , who leads a lion into battle. Three nymphs are depicted on the stairs . The only known artist's inscription THEORRETOS was found here on the cornice .

North frieze

At the point where the north frieze joins the east frieze , Aphrodite begins the dance of the gods on this side and, since one must see the frieze without edges, is on the side of her lover Ares. The goddess of love pulls a lance from a killed giant. Her mother, the titan Dione , and her son Eros fight next to her . The next two figures are not entirely sure of their interpretation. The twins Castor and Polydeukes are probably represented here . Castor is grabbed from behind by a giant and bitten in the arm, whereupon his brother rushes to help him. In these two figures, the sons of Ares Phobos ("fear") and Deimos ("horror") can also be seen.

The following group of three fighting couples is assigned to the retinue of the god of war Ares. It is unclear who is depicted. First a god reaches out with a tree trunk, in the middle a winged goddess thrusts her sword into an opponent and finally a god fights an armored giant. The deity that followed was identified as Nyx for a long time , but it is now believed to be one of the Erinyen , the goddesses of revenge. Other researchers tend to recognize Klotho or Persephone in her. She is holding a vessel in her hand ready to be hurled by snakes. Next, more personifications fight. The three Moiren (goddesses of fate) slay the giants Agrios and Thoas with bronze clubs .

The penultimate combat group shows a "lion goddess", which is interpreted as keto . This group does not directly follow the Moiren, there is a loophole that suggests another fighting couple. This is where the Graien , children of keto, are suspected. Keto was the mother of several monsters, including a whale (Greek: " Ketos ") that appears on the left at her feet. The end of the page is the sea god Poseidon , who emerges from the sea with a team of sea horses. The north elevation with the sea deities joins here.

Telephos frieze

Since there was only limited space available in the interior of the altar, a less deep relief was chosen for the Telephos frieze than for the giant frieze. The frieze was also less than 1.58 meters high and its layout was more fragmented. No significant remains of the original painting of the frieze have survived. Technically, it had some innovations to offer from the time of its creation. The figures have been staggered in depth, architectural elements indicate actions in closed rooms and the landscapes appear idyllic . This new way of representing spatial relationships was to be formative for late Hellenism and the Roman period.

After the restoration in the mid-1990s, it was found that the previously assumed chronological list was not correct in all cases. Therefore the plates were rearranged. The numbering of the 51 relief panels in the Pergamon Museum was retained according to the old pattern. The re-sorting showed, for example, that the previously assumed first plate was now arranged behind plate 31. Not all panels have survived, so there are some gaps in the presentation of the story.

The frieze tells in chronological order the story of Telephos , a hero of Greek mythology, which has also been handed down from written sources .


Three figures from the altar area that cannot be identified, today in the Pergamon Museum

On the roof of the altar stood an unknown number of smaller statues of gods, horse and carts, centaurs and lion griffins, the function and arrangement of which could not be clearly clarified by archaeologists until today. There was also a 64-meter-long pedestal on the north wall of the altar area , richly decorated with statues. It is still unclear to this day how extensive the decoration of bronze and marble statues in the altar area was. But it was extraordinarily rich and testified to the great effort made by the donors. On the second floor, which also housed the Telephos frieze, was a columned hall above the giant frieze. Other statues may have stood between the pillars, which suggests the discovery of around 30 women sculptures. Maybe they personified the cities of the Pergamene Empire. No statues or other decorations are suspected on the actual sacrificial hearth, but a canopy may have been erected in Roman times.

Relationships with other works of art

In many places you can see models of other Greek works of art on the altar frieze. In his idealized posture and beauty, Apollon is reminiscent of a classical statue by the sculptor Leochares , which was famous in antiquity and was made about 150 years before the frieze , which may have been handed down in a copy from Roman times, the Apollo of Belvedere . The main group of Zeus and Athena reminds in their representation of the diverging fighters of the representation of the fight between Athena and Poseidon on the west gable of the Parthenon . These recourse are not accidental, since Pergamon saw itself as a kind of new Athens.

The frieze itself also had an impact on subsequent ancient art. The best-known example is the already mentioned Laocoon group, which, as Bernard Andreae believed he could prove, was created around twenty years after the relief in Pergamon. According to Andreae, the artists of the statue group were still in the direct tradition of the creators of the relief or were possibly even involved in the frieze creation.


It is a much discussed, but so far unresolved question how many artists contributed to the creation of the giant frieze. It is also controversial to what extent the personality of individual artists can be found in the artwork. It is undisputed that at least the design of the frieze was made by a single artist. This draft must have been meticulously worked out, considering the work, which was consistent down to the last detail; nothing is left to chance. Already in the layout of the combat groups it is noticeable that not two of these groups are identical and, for example, the hairstyles and shoes of the goddesses vary in all cases. All combat pairs are put together individually. Thus, an independent character is more likely to emerge from the characters themselves than from the personal styles of the artist.

In research so far, differences that can be traced back to different artists have been found, but with the coherence of the entire work it is remarkable that these differences are almost negligible when viewed as a whole. Artists from many parts of Greece have therefore submitted to the design of a single leading artist. This is proven, for example, by inscriptions by artists from Athens and Rhodes . The sculptors were allowed to sign the section of the frieze they designed on the lower baseboard, but only a few of these inscriptions have survived. Thus, no conclusions can be drawn about the number of participating artists. Only one inscription from the southern risalit has survived in such a way that it can be assigned. Since there was no baseboard here, the name, Theorretos ( ΘΕΌΡΡΗΤΟΣ ), was carved near the deity depicted. When looking at the inscriptions, it was found on the basis of the typeface that there was an older and a younger generation of sculptors, which is why the coherence of the entire work is to be assessed even more highly.

Based on the distance of 2.7 meters from the existing signature and the corresponding [ἐπό] ησεν inscription ( ἐπόησεν - “did it”) it is assumed that there was possibly another sculptor's signature here. If so, one can count on at least 40 participating sculptors when extrapolating. The longer front of the risalit was signed by two sculptors, but their names have not survived.


Athena relief based on the well-known depiction on the Pergamon Altar, supplemented copy from 1895 by Wilhelm Wandschneider , of the former Vienna Bridge in Berlin, now the Berlin-Heiligensee cemetery .

The German Empire, which sponsored the excavations not least for reasons of prestige, quickly began to collect the altar and other archaeological evidence. The “Anniversary Exhibition of the Berlin Academy of the Arts” in May and June 1886 was dedicated to the archaeological achievements of the latest excavations in Olympia and Pergamon on a 13,000 square meter site. Since the Greek state had not given a permit to export the art treasures, no finds from Greece could be shown. A replica of a "Temple of Pergamon" was created for this. On a dimensionally accurate replica of the western front of the altar pedestal with selected copies of the friezes - including the Zeus and Athena groups - an entrance area for a building based on the Temple of Zeus at Olympia was built. The exhibition included a model of the city of Pergamon in the 2nd century AD, made according to the state of knowledge at the time.

Probably the most striking example of the reception of the altar is the museum itself, in which the altar is located today. The layout of the Pergamon Museum, built from 1912 to 1930 according to plans by Alfred Messel, is based on the gigantic form of the front of the altar.

The reconstruction in the Pergamon Museum became important for further consideration, indeed for dealing with the work of art itself. Here, the ancient main side in the east was not used for the partial reconstruction of the building, but the opposite west side with the stairs. This reconstruction, including the installation of the remaining friezes on the other walls of the central exhibition room, was not viewed uncritically. Critics spoke of an "upturned sleeve" and of "theatricality".

In National Socialist Germany, this form of architecture later served as a model. Wilhelm Kreis chose a design for his soldiers' hall at the High Command of the Army in Berlin (1937/38) and a war memorial at the foot of Mount Olympus in Greece that was very similar to the Pergamon Altar - both were never realized. In the soldiers' hall, however, the frieze should be restricted to the front of the risalit. The friezes by the sculptor Arno Breker , however, were never executed. The recourse to this form of architecture had to do not least with the ideological ideas of the National Socialists. An altar commemorated willingness to make sacrifices and heroic death. Both the Pergamon Altar and these two testimonies of National Socialist architecture, which did not go beyond the design, were “cult buildings”. The National Socialists also tried to make the message of the altar frieze of the victory of good over evil their own.

The Pergamon Altar also served as a model for the Zeppelin main grandstand with a length of 360 meters and a height of 20 meters, which was built from 1935 to 1937 based on a design by Albert Speer in Nuremberg on the Nazi party rally grounds on the northeast side of the Zeppelin field .

Peter Weiss begins his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance with an impressive description of the relief. It is the most important expression of the altar in fiction .

“All around us, the bodies rose from the stone, huddled in groups, intertwined or broken into fragments, with a torso, a propped arm, a broken hip, a scabbed chunk indicating their shape, always evading in the gestures of battle , bouncing back, attacking, covering one another, stretched up or crooked, obliterated here and there, but still with a free-standing, pretended foot, a twisted back, the contour of a calf clamped in a single joint movement. A huge wrestling, emerging from the gray wall, remembering its completion, sinking back to formlessness. "

- Peter Weiss : The Aesthetics of Resistance, Frankfurt am Main 1982, narrative entry

Weiss not only tries to interpret the frieze in its actual meaning, but lets his protagonists explore their own points of view from the resistance against the National Socialists with the help of works of art. The fictional characters Heilmann and Coppi , who are both young opponents of the Nazi regime, are oriented towards real people . In 1937 the battle of the gods against the giants appears as a hidden representation of the struggles of the Pergamon Empire. You ask yourself what feelings the subjugated and subjects had when they passed this defeat that has become a stone myth. "The subjugation of the Gallic peoples invading from the north had turned into a triumph of noble purity over desolate and inferior forces, and the chisels and hammers of the stonemasons and their journeymen had brought the image of an irrevocable order before the subjects to bow in awe." Where the rulers and those who knew saw the work of art, had the oppressed seen the image of their own injuries and defeats, "felt the blow of their paws into their own flesh". The war, stylized into a myth, was the battle of kings for rule. The resistance fighters identify with the beaten sons of the earth, unmask divinity as the mask of the rulers.

"On the way to the narrow, low exit of the hall, the red armbands of the black and brown uniforms shone towards us from the circling shifts in the crowd of visitors, and whenever I saw the emblem appear in the white round field, rotating and chopping, it became a poison spider, ruggedly hairy ... "

- Peter Weiss : The Aesthetics of Resistance, Frankfurt am Main 1982, p. 11

In recourse, the consideration is also extended to the creation, the history up to the recovery and the reconstruction in the museum.

The use of the Pergamon Altar as a backdrop for the city of Berlin's bid for the 2000 Summer Olympics caused some dissatisfaction in the press and parts of the population . The Senate of Berlin had invited the members of the IOC Executive Committee to a meal in front of the altar. That brought back memories of Berlin's application for the 1936 Games . At that time, too, the National Socialist Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick invited the members of the IOC to a meal in front of the altar.

In April 2013, the 30 × 4 meter photo installation Pergamon 2nd Life (“The Second Life of the Pergamon Altar”), a fictional, artistically inspired reconstruction of the missing parts of the giant frieze, was exhibited for the first time in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.


Web links

Commons : Pergamon Altar  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Pergamon Altar  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Pergamon Museum will not be finished until 2023 . ( [accessed October 29, 2016]).
  2. Bernard Andreae : Dating and meaning of the Telephosfrieze in connection with the other foundations of the Atalids of Pergamon . In: Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer (Ed.): The Pergamon Altar. The new presentation after the restoration of the Telephosfrieze , Wasmuth, Tübingen 1997, p. 67 ( cited as Andreae: Telephosfries ).
  3. a b Andreae: Telephosfries , p. 68.
  4. ^ Sculpture of Hellenism . Hirmer, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-7774-9200-0 , pp. 132-147.
  5. ^ The Berlin Collection of Antiquities . Mainz 1992, p. 25.
  6. ^ Wolfgang Radt : Pergamon. History and buildings of an ancient metropolis . Primus, Darmstadt 1999, p. 169.
  7. For the use of the altar and the possible way of sacrifice see Kunze: The Pergamon Altar . P. 19.
  8. ^ Discussion with François Queyrel: L'Autel de Pergame. Images et pouvoir en Grèce d'Asie . Editions Picard, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-7084-0734-1 , pp. 115-116.
  9. 8, 14 (ed. E. Woelfflin 1873): Pergamo ara marmorea magna, alta pedes quadraginta cum maximis sculpturis; continet autem gigantomachiam .
  10. ^ Pausanias 5:13 , 8.
  11. Die Antikensammlung Berlin , p. 23.
  12. Pliny the Elder , naturalis historia 36, 37: opus omnibus et picturae et statuariae artis praeferendum .
  13. ^ Bernard Andreae: Laocoon or the founding of Rome . von Zabern, Mainz 1988 ( cultural history of the ancient world , vol. 39).
  14. Quoted from Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 33.
  15. On Pergamon in the Byzantine period see Wolfgang Radt and Albrecht Berger in Der Neue Pauly , Vol. 9 (2000), Col. 551 and 561.
  16. Denys Haynes : The Worksop Relief. In: Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 5, 1963, pp. 1–13.
  17. Michael J. Vickers : The Thunderbolt of Zeus: Yet More Fragments of the Pergamon Altar in the Arundel Collection . In American Journal of Archeology , Vol. 89, 1985, pp. 516-519.
  18. Quoted from Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 27.
  19. The Prussian minister of culture in a letter to the king, quoted from Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 30.
  20. The Ottoman government initially wanted to divide the finds (2/3 to 1/3 in favor of Germany), but in the negotiations in 1878/79, on which even Bismarck had influence, a contract was negotiated for the payment of 20,000  gold marks who left the finds to the German Reich alone. The current domestic political weakness of the Ottoman Empire and thanks for the mediating role that Bismarck had played at the Berlin Congress came to the rescue . See Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 30; Schaller: Pergamon Altar , Col. 211.
  21. Alexander Conze, quoted from Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 30.
  22. ^ Heilmeyer: History of installation in the 20th century. The lists from 1901, 1030 and 1955 . In: The same: The Pergamon Altar. The new presentation after the restoration of the Telephos frieze , p. 17.
  23. Described in detail in: Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer: The Pergamon Altar. The new presentation after the restoration of the Telephos frieze
  24. 5000 year guarantee . In: Berliner Zeitung , January 25, 2003. With Zeus and Athene, what body splendor! In: Berliner Zeitung , June 10, 2004.
  25. Pergamon Altar should shine in new splendor . In: The world
  27. ^ Radt: Pergamon , p. 170.
  28. For the concept, see Max Kunze : Der Pergamon Altar , p. 19.
  29. Dimensions according to Radt: Pergamon , p. 171; Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 47 names 36.44 meters wide and 34.20 deep.
  30. On the types of marble used on the altar: Thomas Cramer: The marbles of the Telephosfrieses on the Pergamon Altar . In: Berlin contributions to archaeometry. Vol. 15, 1998, ISSN  0344-5089 , pp. 95-198; Thomas Cramer: Multivariate origin analysis of marble on a petrographic and geochemical basis. The example of archaic, Hellenistic and Roman marble objects from Asia Minor from the Berlin Collection of Antiquities and their assignment to Mediterranean and Anatolian marble deposits. Dissertation TU Berlin 2004 ( ); Thomas Cramer, Klaus Germann, Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer : Marble objects from Asia Minor in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities: stone characteristics and provenance. In: Yannis Maniatis (Ed.): ASMOSIA VII. The Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity (= Bulletin de correspondance hellénique . Supplèment 51). Athens 2009, ISBN 978-2-86958-207-1 , pp. 371-383.
  31. after Radt: Pergamon , p. 173; Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 47: 120 meters
  32. For structure and dimensions, see Radt: Pergamon , pp. 171–174; Kunze, Kästner: Antikensammlung II , p. 47.
  33. The battle of the gods against rust . In: Die Zeit , No. 12/2003
  34. Max Kunze: The great marble altar of Pergamon . Berlin 1988, p. 24.
  35. ^ Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault: La gigantomachie de Pergame ou l'image du monde (=  Bulletin de correspondance hellénique Suppl. 50 ). École Française d'Athènes, Athens 2007, ISBN 2-86958-201-3 .
  36. Huberta Heres, Volker Kästner: The Pergamon Altar. Mainz on the Rhine 2004.
  37. Michael Pfanner: Comments on the composition and interpretation of the Great Frieze by Pergamon. In: Archäologischer Anzeiger. 1979, pp. 46-57 and Françoise-Hélène Massa-Pairault: La gigantomachie de Pergame ou l'image du monde (=  Bulletin de correspondance hellénique Suppl. 50 ). École Française d'Athènes, Athens 2007, ISBN 2-86958-201-3 .
  38. Max Kunze: The Pergamon Altar. Its history, discovery and reconstruction . von Zabern, Mainz 1995, pp. 45-47; detailed representations in: Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer (Ed.): The Pergamon Altar. The new presentation after the restoration of the Telephos frieze . Wasmuth, Tübingen 1997.
  39. On the statues, see Kunze: Pergamon Altar , p. 21.
  40. ^ The antique collection in the Pergamon Museum and in Charlottenburg . von Zabern, Mainz 1992, pp. 35-36.
  41. ^ Bernard Andreae: Laocoon or the founding of Rome
  42. ^ A b c Max Kunze: The collection of antiques in the Pergamon Museum and in Charlottenburg . von Zabern, Mainz 1992, p. 36.
  43. Diether Thimme : The Masters of the Pergamon Gigantomachy. In: American Journal of Archeology . Volume 50, 1946, p. 348.
  44. Max Kunze: Theorretos . In: Rainer Vollkommer (Hrsg.): Künstlerlexikon der Antike . Over 3800 artists from three millennia. Nikol, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-937872-53-7 , p. 897.
  45. Schalles: Pergamon Altar , Sp. 212-214.
  46. Schalles: Pergamon Altar , Sp. 211–212.
  47. Schalles: Pergamon Altar , Col. 214.
  48. ^ Sabine Schäbitz: Symbols of power in the work of Wilhelm Kreis. In: Scientific journal of the University of Architecture and Construction. Vol. 39, 1993, No. 1/2, pp. 73–79, here p. 77 and Fig. 10 on p. 78 (PDF) .
  49. Schalles: Pergamon Altar , Sp. 214–215.
  50. a b Peter Weiss: The Aesthetics of Resistance . Frankfurt am Main 1982, p. 9.
  51. Schalles: Pergamon Altar , Col. 215.
  52. Mention of the conflict at witnesses create new confusion . In: Berliner Zeitung , May 19, 1995; Mention of the food
  53. Exhibitions and Events. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, accessed February 21, 2015 .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on February 17, 2008 in this version .

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