Length: 2.800 cm
Width: 2.300 cm
GR 1872.6-4.1333 (Gems 1184)
Room 22: Alexander the Great
Chalcedony seal-stone with yellow jasper inclusions
Hellenistic, 3rd century BC
Probably made at Pergamon (Pergamum), modern Turkey
Head of Philetairos, ruler of Pergamon (about 343-263 BC)
This portrait is of a heavy-looking man, clean-shaven and with short, curling hair. Very similar portraits on coins indicate that the man is Philetairos, the eunuch ruler of Pergamon (Pergamum) and founder of the Attalid dynasty. Under Philetairos the city of Pergamon became a great cultural and political centre. The engraving may have been executed in Philetairos' own lifetime; however, as his portrait appears on the coins of several of his successors and his appearance is likely to have been well known in Pergamon, the seal-stone may date to the later third or early second century BC.
In the Hellenistic period, it became common for rulers of the separate Hellenistic kingdoms to have their own images, whether realistic or idealised, engraved on seal-stones. This fashion appears to have started with Alexander the Great, who is said to have granted the seal-engraver Pyrgoteles a monopoly in portraying the royal image in this medium.
Like earlier Archaic and Classical Greek seals, many Hellenistic examples would have been set into rings and used both as jewellery and as a mark of possession or identity. The fashion for wealthy individuals to form collections of fine examples of gems is first seen at this time.
D. Collon (ed.), 7000 years of seals-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)
G.M.A. Richter, Engraved gems of the Greeks, E (London, Phaidon, 1968)