Look What They Dug Up in the Holy Land!

There has been a rare and surprising archaeological discovery dug up in Tel Dor, Israel: a gemstone engraved with the portrait of Alexander the Great.

It is a surprising discovery because it was found in Israel, an unlikely place to find a work of art depicting a Greek emperor. However, it is known that Alexander the Great passed through Dor in 332 B.C., while he was on his way to Egypt following the occupation of Tyre. It seems that the city submitted to Alexander without resistance.

The tiny stone--less than a centimeter high and less than half a centimeter wide--contains an intricate engraving of the bust of Alexander, complete with the ruler's classic characteristics. "The emperor is portrayed as young and forceful, with a strong chin, straight nose and long curly hair held in place by a diadem," said Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavation with Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Alexander was probably the first Greek to commission artists to depict his image as part of a personality cult that was transformed into a propaganda tool. Rulers and dictators have implemented this form of propaganda ever since.

The artists cleverly combined realistic elements of the ruler's image along with the classical ideal of beauty as determined by Hellenistic art, royal attributes (the diadem in this case) and divine elements originating in Hellenistic and Eastern art. These attributes legitimized Alexander's kingship in the eyes of his subjects in all the domains he conquered. Distributed throughout the empire, the portraits were featured on statues and mosaics in public places and were engraved on small items, such as coins and seals.

The image of Alexander remained a popular motif in the generations that followed his death, both as an independent theme and as a subject of emulation. The conqueror's youthful image became a symbol of masculinity, heroism and divine kingship. Later Hellenist rulers adopted these characteristics and commissioned self-portraits in the image of Alexander.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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