Marble portrait of Alexander the Great

Portrait: Alexander the Great

Height: 37.000 cm

GR 1872.5-15.1 (Sculpture 1857)

Forefather of the Ptolemaic dynasty

Cleopatra was the last sovereign of the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for around 300 years. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, Ptolemy, one of Alexander's Macedonian generals, was given Egypt in the division of his empire. From the time Ptolemy I Soter ('Saviour') declared himself king in 305/304 BC, Alexander was worshipped as a god and as the forefather of the Ptolemaic dynasty. This portrait of the great leader was acquired in Alexandria, the city that Alexander had founded after he conquered Egypt in 332 BC, and the eventual site of his (still undiscovered) tomb.

Alexander was always shown clean-shaven, whereas all previous portraits of Greek statesmen or rulers had beards. This royal fashion lasted for almost five hundred years and almost all of the Hellenistic Greek kings and Roman emperors until Hadrian (AD 117-38) were portrayed beardless. Alexander was the first king to wear the royal diadem, a band of cloth tied around the hair that was to become the symbol of Hellenistic Greek kingship.

Earlier portraits of Alexander, in heroic style, look more mature than the portraits made after his death, such as this example. These show a more youthful, though perhaps more god-like character. He has longer hair, a more dynamic tilt of the head and an upward gaze.

On display: Room 22: Alexander the Great