After Alexander the Great’s conquests of the east, there came in the Hellenistic age a revitalized interest in representing victorious conflicts between the Greeks and their vanquished enemies. While the Greek warriors were often depicted wearing classical costume of the hoplite, or sometimes even appeared in heroic nudity, the barbarous adversary would be shown in the epitome of foreign costume. Most often, the foe depicted was either the oriental Persian or the barbaric Gaul, as here.
The Galatian army consisted of a federation of tribes, including the Gauls and Celts, many of whom served as mercenaries. Repeated victories over the Gauls were exploited by Hellenistic kings to attest to their sovereignty as they established themselves as the embodiment of Greek identity. Chief among those was Attalos I of Pergamon, whose defeat of the Galatian army became the centerpiece of the foundation myth of the Attalid Dynasty. Similarly, Callimachus’ Hymn to Delos celebrates Ptolemy II’s defeat of the Galatian federation at Delphi in 276 BC.
The Gauls were “the other”, the antithesis of the civilized Greek citizens. They were bearded and wore foreign attire. Like the Giants, Persians or Amazons before them on the friezes of the Parthenon, the Gauls became the quintessence of the barbarian in art as monuments abounded throughout the Hellenistic world to celebrate their defeat.
This sculpture of a Gallic warrior was likely part of one such monument. He is fully armed, with his sword at his side, and he was likely riding into battle mounted on a horse. His full beard, unruly hair and somber expression are a testament to his status as a foreigner. So, too, his Phrygian cap, which was a soft fox-skin or wool bonnet worn by Thracian mercenaries that came, in time, to be an indication of eastern origin for deities and mythological figures as they were portrayed in art. Like the other attributes, the head piece places this figure in physical opposition to the Hellenized Greek. This sculpture is carved with great sensitivity, capturing the realism of his portrait-like face and the movement of his pose, even in its petite scale. It vibrantly retains some of the original red pigment, indicating the great realism it would have imparted when in full effect. Even still, the preserved surface hues bring a dramatic dimensionality to this lively and powerful sculpture.
Private Collection, Germany, 1977.