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The 1,800-year-old face of Apollo uncovered at Philippi. Source: Greek Reporter / Ministry of Culture.

1,800 Year Old Marble Head of Apollo Unearthed in Ancient Philippi

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A new find amidst the ruins of the historic city of Philippi: a rare head of Apollo, carved in marble and crowned by a wreath of leaves, has been unearthed. dated to the 2nd or early 3rd century AD, it was likely part of a giant, grand, ancient fountain, and has been found in exquisite condition.

Archaeologists working at the site suspect the statue was repurposed as an adornment and built into the fountain several centuries later, around the 8th or 9th centuries. Clearly the statue was too beautiful and important to go to waste.

Onwards From Last Year’s Dig

Professor Natalia Poulos, specializing in Byzantine Archaeology, led the excavation, comprising fifteen students from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (including 11 undergraduates, 2 master’s, and 2 PhD candidates), Assistant Docent Anastasios Tantsis, and Professor Emeritus Aristotle Mendzo, according to a press release.

The exquisite detail on the face of Apollo at Philippi (Greek Reporter / Ministry of Culture)

“The moment of the discovery was thrilling,” Anastasios Tantsis, an associate professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a member of the excavation team, told All That’s Interesting in an email. “[The students] were really enthusiastic. We believe that even though these are moments of special importance for us too, sharing them with our students adds to the thrill.”

This year's excavation focused on the eastern extension of the southern main road (decumanus), intersecting with the city's northern axis (known as the "Egnatia"). Unveiling the continuation of a marble-paved road, archaeologists discovered a bronze phyllis coin from the reign of Emperor Leo VI (886-912), that aided in dating the road's usage. At the intersection of these thoroughfares lay a widened square, featuring a lavishly adorned structure.

According to archaeologists, evidence from last year's excavations suggests that the structure was likely a fountain. This year's findings further support this hypothesis, shedding light on its design and purpose. In 2022, researchers had uncovered a portion of the fountain's intricate decoration - a striking statue depicting Hercules as a youthful figure.

The recent excavation in 2023 unveiled the head of another statue, depicting a nobleman adorned with a lavish crown topped by a laurel leaf wreath. This exquisite head has now turned out to belong to a statue of the deity Apollo. Like the aforementioned Hercules statue, it dates back to the 2nd or early 3rd century AD and is presumed to have embellished the fountain, which reached its final form in the 8th to 9th centuries.

The ruins of ancient Philippi are the most important ancient archaeological site in the area (MrPanyGoff / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The ruins of ancient Philippi are the most important ancient archaeological site in the area (MrPanyGoff / CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Although there might be evidence for the inclusion of Hercules in a Christian context (he chose virtue) there is no such evidence for Apollo,” Tantsis explained to All That’s Interesting. “It is very early to determine the connotations of both figures in a medieval urban context. It is safe to assume that they were seen primarily as works of ancient (and certainly great) art attesting to historical and cultural continuity.”

The Strategic Roman Outpost of Philippi

Founded by Philip II of Macedon in 356 BC, the ancient city of Philippi stands on the former Thasian colony of Crenides, near the Aegean Sea. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, Philippi is celebrated for its remarkable Roman architecture, urban design reminiscent of Rome, and its significance in the early days of Christianity, reports Arkeonews.

Philippi rose to prominence during the Hellenistic period and became a significant center of trade, commerce, and military might in the region. It served as a crucial military outpost for the Macedonian kingdom and later became a Roman colony in 42 BC after the Battle of Philippi, a decisive conflict between the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian against those of Brutus and Cassius, leading to the end of the Roman Republic.

Under Roman rule, Philippi flourished as a cosmopolitan city with a diverse population, benefiting from its status as a Roman colony and its strategic position along the Via Egnatia, an important Roman road linking Rome to Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul). The city boasted impressive Roman architecture, including theaters, temples, basilicas, and an extensive network of roads and aqueducts.

Olympian Apollo, a God Amongst Gods

In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo holds a revered position among the Olympian gods, representing various domains including poetry, the Sun, healing, music, truth, and prophecy.

Apollo holds a revered place among the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and mythology, reports The Greek Reporter.

Renowned as the god of archery, music, dance, truth, prophecy, healing, the Sun, light, poetry, and beyond, Apollo's domains are vast and diverse. As one of the most significant and multifaceted Greek gods, he is the son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.

Revered for his exceptional beauty, Apollo is often depicted as the epitome of youthful masculinity, embodying the idealized form known as the kouros. This beauty can clearly be seen in the ancient statue, unveiled at Philippi.

Top image: The 1,800-year-old face of Apollo uncovered at Philippi. Source: Greek Reporter / Ministry of Culture.

By Sahir Pandey

References

Buyukyildirim, O. 2024. The marble head of God Apollo unearthed in an excavation at Philippi, Greece. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/the-marble-head-of-god-apollo-unearthed-in-an-excavation-at-philippi-greece/

Kokkinidis, T. 2024. Ancient Statue of the God Apollo Uncovered at Philippi, Greece. Available at: https://greekreporter.com/2024/03/28/ancient-statue-god-apollo-philippi-greece/

Radley, D. 2024. Ancient statue of mythical god Apollo uncovered at Philippi, Greece. Available at: https://archaeologymag.com/2024/03/statue-of-god-apollo-uncovered-at-philippi/

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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