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Room 69: Greek and Roman life 

Object details

Height: 2.3 cm
Width: 1.6 cm
Depth: 5 mm
Weight: 1 g
Museum number: GR 1874,0710.347

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Sealstone with the goddess Nike crowning an athlete

Greek, 4th century BC, found at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, modern Turkey

This small engraved sealstone, perhaps originally from a finger ring, shows the winged goddess Nike placing a crown of leaves on the head of a winning athlete.

In Greek mythology, the goddess Nike was a messenger of the gods and, more generally, the personification of victory. She was also closely associated with Zeus, god of the Olympic Games, and is often shown in flight, bearing a wreath or a victory ribbon, to crown victorious athletes.

Statues of Nike featured prominently at Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, in connection with both sporting and military victories. The victors wreaths associated with Nike were usually made of foliage that could be dried and kept for a long time to preserve the memory of a victory. At Olympia they were made of twigs of olive, sacred to Zeus.

Winning athletes were showered with flowers and leaves. This mark of celebration is called phyllobolia and is echoed today in the throwing of confetti and ‘ticker tape’.

In this sealstone, the athlete holds a small branch, also symbolic of victory. Whether this sealstone belonged to an athlete or simply a sports enthusiast we shall probably never know.

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J Swaddling, The Ancient Olympic Games (London, The British Museum Press, 2011)