Harmodius and Aristogeiton (sculpture)
A sculptural pairing of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton was well known in the ancient world in two major versions but survives only in Roman marble copies. The lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton
Harmodius and Aristogeiton
Harmodius and Aristogeiton were two men from ancient Athens...

 were Athenian heroes whose act of daring in 514 BC opened the way for Athenian democracy
Athenian democracy
Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around 508 BC. Athens is one of the first known democracies. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model,...


A first version that was commissioned from the sculptor Antenor
Antenor was an Athenian sculptor, of the latter part of the 6th century BC. He was named after the mythological figure also called Antenor. He was the creator of the joint statues of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton, set up by the Athenians on the expulsion of Hippias. These statues...

 after the establishment of Athenian democracy and erected in the Agora
The Agora was an open "place of assembly" in ancient Greek city-states. Early in Greek history , free-born male land-owners who were citizens would gather in the Agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council. Later, the Agora also served as a marketplace where...

 was stolen by the Persians
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 when they occupied Athens in 480 during the Persian Wars and removed to Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

. Though it was returned to Athens by Alexander the Great (according to Alexander's historian Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

) or by Seleucus I
Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus I was a Macedonian officer of Alexander the Great and one of the Diadochi. In the Wars of the Diadochi that took place after Alexander's death, Seleucus established the Seleucid dynasty and the Seleucid Empire...

 (according to the Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 writer Valerius Maximus
Valerius Maximus
Valerius Maximus was a Latin writer and author of a collection of historical anecdotes. He worked during the reign of Tiberius .-Biography:...

), or again by Antiochus according to Pausanias (1.8.5), it never attracted copyists and is now lost.

To replace the stolen first version, the Athenians commissioned Kritios
Kritios was an Athenian sculptor, probably a pupil of Antenor, working in the early 5th century BCE, whose manner is on the cusp of the Late Archaic and the Severe style of Early Classicism in Attica. He was the teacher of Myron...

 and Nesiotes to produce a new statue, which was set up in 477/76 BC, according to the inscribed Parian Chronicle
Parian Chronicle
The Parian Marble or Parian Chronicle is a Greek chronological table, covering the years from 1581 BC to 264 BC, inscribed on a stele...

. Both pairs stood side-by-side in the Agora as late as the 2nd century AD when Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 noted them there. The pair by Kritios and Nesiotes too are now lost, but unlike Antenor's they were was extensively copied in Hellenistic and Roman times. The best surviving of those copies may be seen in the National Archaeological Museum
Naples National Archaeological Museum
The Naples National Archaeological Museum is a museum in Naples, southern Italy, at the northwest corner of the original Greek wall of the city of Neapolis. The museum contains a large collection of Roman artifacts from Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum...

 in Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

. In the Neo-Attic
Neo-Attic or Atticizing is a sculptural style, beginning in Hellenistic sculpture and vase-painting of the 2nd century BCE and climaxing in Roman art of the 2nd century CE, copying, adapting or closely following the style shown in reliefs and statues of the Classical and Archaic periods...

 style that revived the Severe style
Severe style
The severe style, or Early Classic style, was the dominant idiom of Greek sculpture in the period ca. 490 to 450 BCE. It marks the breakdown of the canonical forms of archaic art and the transition to the greatly expanded vocabulary and expression of the classical moment of the late 5th century...

 of the original bronzes, it shows idealised portraits of the two heroes: a clean-shaven Harmodius, thrusting a sword forward in his upraised right hand, another sword in his left hand; and Aristogeiton, also brandishing two swords, a chlamys
The chlamys was an ancient Greek piece of clothing, a type of cloak....

, or cape, draped over his left shoulder. Of the four swords only the hilts are left. The original head of Aristogeiton having been lost, another has been set in its place and is only a poor fit - a better replacement head can be reconstructed from Roman plaster casts (found at Baiae
Baiae , a frazione of the comune of Bacoli) in the Campania region of Italy was a Roman seaside resort on the Bay of Naples. It was said to have been named after Baius, who was supposedly buried there. Baiae was for several hundred years a fashionable resort, especially towards the end of the Roman...

) of the head of the second version or of another copy of the second version, used in the "mass-production" of such copies.

A weathered marble head of the Harmodius, once of fine worksmanship, conserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

, with the remains of a strut support on the crown of the head, suggested to Gisela Richter
Gisela Richter
Gisela Marie Augusta Richter , was a classical archaeologist and art historian.Gisela Richter was born in London, England; the daughter of Jean Paul and Louise Richter. Both of her parents and her sister, Irma, were historians of Italian Renaissance art...

a restoration of the right arm of Harmodius (of which both are missing and restored in the Neapolitan sculpture), reaching backwards, ready for a downward-slashing stroke.

Further reading

  • Taylor, Michael W.. The Tyrant Slayers: The Heroic Image in Fifth Century B.C. Athenian Art and Politics 2nd ed. 1991.
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