September 2019

Marble head of the god Helios (Sun)

Μαρμάρινη κεφαλή του θεού Ήλιου, Σάνη, τέλη 4ου - αρχές 3ου αι. π.Χ. © ΥΠΠΟΑ ΕΦΑ Χαλκιδικής & Αγίου Όρους

The marble head of the god Helios (Polygyros Archaeological Museum, inv. no. ΜΠ 1965) was found in the sanctuary of Apollo Helios in Sani, in the region of modern-day Trypiti.

The image has all the features that refer to portraits of Alexander the Great. The young beardless man tilts his head backwards and slightly to the right. His hair is short and unruly with the characteristic "anastole" on the forehead, his eyes are gazing upwards.

The head of the god comes from the sanctuary-telesterion of Helios or Apollo-Helios in ancient Sani, on the Akte (the peninsula of Mount Athos), outside the city walls, albeit within city boundaries. It has been excavated by I. Vokotopoulou and E.-B. Tsigarida. The telesterion was founded in the early Hellenistic period next to a small temple of the late 6th century BC dedicated to Apollo. During this period the sanctuary was probably annexed to the Οὐρανιδῶν πόλιν (City of Ouranides) founded by Alexarchos, brother of Cassander. The cult of the god Helios reached Macedonia from the East, after the Asian Campaign of Alexander the Great, and the new god was usually identified with Apollo.

The marble head probably bore a radial shaped decorative element, characteristic of Helios, a fact that led to its identification with the god. This is testified by 13 holes for the insertion of metal rays on his hair band. Similar depictions of the god Helios with rays and short hair are known in the Hellenistic era.

The god is presented here with a new trait: a pyramid-shaped decorative element is placed on top of Helios' head. This geometric feature reproduced on the god's head has been connected with the octahedral ritual vessels consisting of two joined pyramids that were found in the same sanctuary, as well as with the pyramid and the star that crown the head of the figure depicted on the coins of Ouranoupolis during the late 4th century BC. According to the excavator E.-B. Tsigarida, the choice of the pyramid may not be accidental, since it has the form of baetylys, the sacred rocks that were often used in sanctuaries to worship the god, probably in Sani too.

Date: Late 4th – early 3rd c. BC

Dimensions: Height 19.5 cm Width 11 cm

The exhibit is located at the temporary exhibition entitled "From the South to the North: Colonies of the Cyclades in the northern Aegean"

More details and bibliography about this exhibit, in the exhibition Catalog (in print): E. Stefani, E. Tsangaraki & A. Arvanitaki (eds), From the South to the North. Colonies of the Cyclades in the northern Aegean, cat. no. 164 (E.-B. Tsigarida).