The Parthenon sculptures, £19.99
Length: 47.500 cm
Gift of H.M. Queen Victoria
GR 18126.96.36.199 (Bronze 830)
Greece and Rome
Bronze prow from a boat or small ship
Greek, 1st century BC
Dredged up from the outer bay at Actium, north-west Greece
It has always been assumed that this prow comes from a sunken ship that participated in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC when Mark Antony and Cleopatra were eventually defeated by Octavian (later Emperor Augustus).
Mark Antony led a force of 75,000 legionaries, 25,000 auxiliary troops, 12,000 cavalry and 500 warships (200 of which were Egyptian). Cleopatra led her personal squadron of 60 warships. Antony set up camp at Actium, on the west coast of Greece, on the southern side of a strait leading from the Ionian Sea into the Ambracian Gulf. Octavian, with 400 ships and 80,000 infantry, arrived from the north and, by occupying Patrae (modern Patras) and Corinth, cut Antony's southward communications with Egypt via the Peloponnese. Octavian's naval commander Marcus Agrippa also cut Antony's supply route by sea.
Antony and Cleopatra managed to escape from this trap and reached Alexandria, but Octavian pursued them, capturing the city in 30 BC.
The bust shows a figure wearing a helmet and an aegis strapped under the arms and over the shoulders. The figure probably represents the goddess Athena.
H.B. Walters, Catalogue of bronzes, Greek, R (London, 1899)
S. Walker and P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt: from histo (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)