Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
A magnificent miniature of Alexander the Great has been found during the excavation of Tel Dor, an ancient port city 30 miles south of Haifa, Israel.
It was engraved on a gemstone less than a centimeter long and less than half a centimeter wide. Despite the teeniness of the medium, the artist carved the youthful Alexander in exquisite detail.
Clearly this was a highly valuable piece even in its own day, something that is surprising given the location. You’d expect to find a treasure like this in the major centers of the Greek empire, not so much in Israel, although Alexander did take the ancient city (called just plain Dor back then) without encountering resistance on his way to Egypt in 332 BC.
“It has been accepted to assume that first-rate artists – and whoever carved the image of Alexander in this gemstone was certainly one of them – were primarily active under the patronage of the large royal courts in Greece itself or in major capitals,” the scientists explained. “It turns out that local elites in secondary centers such as Dor could allow themselves – and knew to appreciate – superior artwork.”
This is one of the reasons archaeological context is so important, btw. Not to flog my hobby horse or anything, but if this piece had been looted and turned up wherever without a record of where it was found, nobody would ever have thought it came from Israel.
Now not only do we have this extraordinary piece of art, but we know something we hadn’t even considered about the time and place in which it was made.