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The Roman bronze plaque measures only 26-28 mm in diameter. Source: Museum Vestsjaelland

Roman Era Bronze Plaque Showing Alexander the Great Found in Denmark


During explorations on the Danish Island of Zealand, a pair of amateur archaeologists unearthed a small but remarkable artifact. While using metal detectors to search for coins or other items at a site near the city of Ringsted, Finn Ibsen and Lars Danielsen recovered a tiny, corroded bronze plaque or fitting that depicted a human face. The fitting was eventually examined by experts from the Moesgaard Museum in Beder, Denmark, who identified the face as belonging to none other than Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon), the famed conqueror and empire builder who ruled over a huge swath of European territory in the fourth century BC (Alexander reigned from 333 until his death in 323 BC).

 “It’s fantastic,” exclaimed archaeologist Freerk Oldenburger from Museum Vestsjælland, the leading historical and cultural museum on the island of Zealand, in an interview with the Danish television station TV2. “Up here in Scandinavia, you don’t usually find anything about Alexander the Great, and when you stand with such a small portrait in your hands, you get excited.”

Celebrating the Legend of Alexander the Great in the Roman World

The tiny plaque dedicated to the ancient world´s most acclaimed emperor is only one inch (just under three centimeters) in diameter, and it features a relief-style, stylized portrait of Alexander with wavy hair and ram´s horns. The Moesgaard Museum experts say these additions were meant to associate him with the syncretic god Zeus-Ammon, a combination of the Greek god Zeus, the mighty ruler of the Olympian gods, and Amun (called Ammon in Greece), the creator-god who was the king of the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

Bust of Zeus Ammon (Staatliche Antikensammlungen/CC BY 2.0)

Bust of Zeus Ammon (Staatliche Antikensammlungen/CC BY 2.0)

The worship of Zeus-Ammon was widespread during Alexander´s time. Alexander himself was so captivated by this figure that he organized a desert expedition in Libya in 331 BC to search for an oracle (a fortune teller or psychic medium) associated with Zeus-Ammon, who was purported to reside in the Siwah Oasis in the northern Sahara Desert.

Given his fascination with this super-god, plus his astonishing exploits as an emperor, it is hardly surprising that Alexander the Great came to be associated with Zeus-Ammon in the popular and historical imagination in the ancient world. If there were anyone who could be said to be Zeus-Ammon´s representative on earth, it would have been Alexander III of Macedon.

Based on its characteristics and style, the experts were able to date the small plaque to the Roman era, which in Denmark lasted from the beginning of the first millennium to about 400 AD. Estimates are that the fitting with Alexander´s face was made around the year 200 AD, when Rome was ruled by the Emperor Caracalla (198 to 217 AD), a notoriously eccentric tyrant who apparently believed he was Alexander reincarnated.

His association in his own mind with Alexander is somewhat ironic, as one of Caracalla´s most well-known acts was ordering the massacre of thousands of people in city of Alexandria in Egypt, which was named after the legendary emperor, as punishment for what he perceived as a lack of respect from the city´s citizens. It seems that shortly before he arrived for his first visit a play was produced in Alexandria that mocked Caracalla´s pretensions of greatness, and his campaign of murder and pillaging and plundering was launched in response to this insult.

Since Caracalla´s obsession with Alexander the Great was widely known, it would be expected that iconography celebrating the ancient Greek emperor would appear in Roman-controlled territory during Caracalla´s reign. But just how the small plaque ended up on the island of Zealand remains a mystery.

Remnants of Ancient Battles in Remote Northern Lands

The experts believe the fitting with Alexander´s face was once attached to a warrior´s shield, although they cannot currently connect it to any ancient conflicts that might have occurred in the Ringsted area.

Nevertheless, the conclusion that this depiction of Alexander was an emblem that once adorned a shield is not based on speculation. The experts know this because the tiny bronze fitting matches one that was discovered a few years ago during excavations at a site known Illerup Ådal, which is in a river valley located near the city of Skanderborg on Denmark´s eastern Jutland peninsula.

This was the site of a fierce battle between two Germanic tribes, one invading and the other defending their territory. After the invading army was defeated, the locals collected all of their weapons and equipment and dumped them into a nearby lake. This incredible cache of artifacts included thousands of swords, lances, shields, bows, arrows, and assorted personal items, all of which were offered as gifts to the gods in gratitude for their support during the winning tribe´s successful defense of their homeland.

The newly discovered plaque bears striking resemblance to the one pictured here. It was found in the Illerup River Valley attached to a shield.  (Preben Dehlholm / Museo Moesgaard)

The newly discovered plaque bears striking resemblance to the one pictured here. It was found in the Illerup River Valley attached to a shield.  (Preben Dehlholm / Museo Moesgaard)

Notably, much of the equipment carried by the invaders was Roman in origin, suggesting they had some type of connection to the Roman Empire. This could have been a military alliance, or it could have been a relationship forged through trade. Regardless, the Roman equipment they carried included a small bronze plaque with Alexander´s face on it, identical to the one just found in Ringsted. The only difference in this case is that the fitting was still attached to a shield, and this discovery makes it highly likely that the newly discovered plaque once decorated a Roman shield as well.

There is no way to know if the individual who lost the plaque on the island of Zealand came from the same invading army that experienced catastrophic defeat in the battle of Illerup Ådal. But it seems a reasonable conclusion to draw, and perhaps future excavations in the Ringsted area will produce other artifacts that reveal exactly what that individual and his army were doing on the island of Zealand 1,800 years ago.

Top image: The Roman bronze plaque measures only 26-28 mm in diameter. Source: Museum Vestsjaelland                    

By Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde's picture


Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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