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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Classical Masterpieces : Roman Glass Cameo Pendant (Priam and Achilles)
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Roman Glass Cameo Pendant (Priam and Achilles) - OS.025 (FFF.1)
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 100 BC to 100 AD
Dimensions: 1.69" (4.3cm) high
Collection: Classical
Style: Roman
Medium: Glass, Gold

Additional Information: f

Location: Great Britain
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The following analysis was kindly provided by Gertrud Seidmann, FSA, Research Associate of the University of Oxford, Institute of Archaeology:

‘The object under discussion is a roundel consisting of a two-layer glass cameo, white over black, imitating onyx; it is backed in gold, which forms a flat surround framing it. It has been fractured in several places, but although none of the image is lost; a small part of the dark background has been restored. The mount is supplied with three holes, one at the top and two centrally on either side, which would have enabled the roundel to be suspended as a pendant.

The device of the cameo depicts the well- known scene from Homer’s Iliad, Book XXIV, in which Priam begs Achilles for the body of Hector. This scene was a favourite subject in Roman art-its prototype was probably the Sarcophagus Borghese (Louvre, S.Rogge, Die Attischen Sarkophage, I, 1995); and another well-known Roman work is the Hoby Cup in Copenhagen. A sardonyx cameo of the subject, depicting the same figures with the addition of a sphinx in the field, is in St Petersburg, Hermitage Museum (O. Neverov, Antichyne Kamei, 1988, no.140).

Priam was the aged king of Troy during the Trojan War, which had originated in the abduction of Helen from her husband, King Menelaos, by Paris, one of the fifty sons of Priam, and the subsequent expedition of the Greeks to recover her and revenge the abduction. The leader of the Greeks during the siege was King Agamenon, the brother of Menelaos, but their foremost warrior was Achilles. His counterpart on the Trojan side was Hektor, Priam’s favourite son by his wife Hekuba. The tragic preliminary to the scene depicted on the cameo was the killing by Hektor of Achilles’ comrade Patroclus, the sheer inconsolable grief of Achilles mourning him, and the revenge slaying of Hektor by Achilles before the walls of Troy by a spear-thrust through his throat. Achilles, instead of handing over Hector’s body for burial, dragged the corpse behind his chariot three times around the walls of Troy. When Priam learnt the fate of his favourite son, he determined to recover his body in order to carry out the proper funeral rites. Thus we come to the scene in which Priam confronts the slayer of his son. There are two principal versions of the scene in art: one, in which Achilles turns his head away from Priam who sits or kneels abjectly before him: the other, as here, in which Achilles looks at the petitioner.

There are three participants in the scene, as depicted on the roundel it takes place on a platform in Achilles’ tent among the Greek lines on the sea-shore (indicated by the sea shells below). On the right Achilles, a muscular hero, is shown without his armour seated on a chair, his upper body bare, his left holding the drapery which covers his legs. In his right hand he holds the upper end of a rugged staff. The bearded Priam, dressed in oriental costume with a Phrygian cap on his head, sits on the floor before him in an attitude of total submission. His position as a petitioner is further accented by his bowed head. He holds a bow in his right hand, while his right is grasped firmly by the female attendant, probably Achilles’ favourite slave, Briseis. She is showing compassion to the old man by trying to raise him.

Roman, Augustan Period, 1st Century BC-1st Century AD. ‘ - (OS.025 (FFF.1))


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