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Archeological Object

Alexander the Great fighting at the battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia

Alexander the Great fighting at the battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia

The mosaic, made using about one million tesserae, probably depicts the battle of Issus fought between Alexander the great and Darius III in 333 BC; it marked the end of the centuries-old Persian empire, with the dethronement of the last “king of kings”, and marked one of the fundamental steps along the long march of conquest which saw the Macedonian army expand until the boundaries of modern China. The composition, crammed with characters, is set against a neutral background in which the spears restore the spatial dimension. The large gap on the left side does not include the figure of Alexander who, astride his horse Bucephalus, leads his men to the decisive moment of the battle against the fleeing Persians. Opposite Alexander towers the figure of Darius, the tallest figure amongst the visible characters, on his retreating war chariot. Between the two is a Persian prince who displays his loyalty by using his body to shield his king while a soldier offers him his own horse, thus condemning himself to certain death. The whole scene is framed by a series of dentils along the edge with a boss in each of the four corners, almost an imitation of the wooden frame used for canvas-painted pictures which may refer to the original from which the mosaic derives, a painting by the painter Philoxenus of Eretria who is mentioned by Pliny. The use of opus vermiculatum enabled the craftsman to render all the effects of luminosity and changes in colour, the details of the armour, the faces, and even the expressions: for example, the technique of showing the reflection on the shield of the terrified face of the fallen soldier, shown from behind, who is about to be crushed by Darius’ chariot. The absence of almost any sort of landscape feature and the sole presence of a tree on the left presumably provide a clue to the identification of the battle, as emerges from Arab sources who refer to the battle of Issus as the "battle of the dead tree".

Further information
Codici (Label is not translated)
  Ente_competente: Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici delle Province di Napoli e Caserta
  Definizione: Flooring material
  Class and ware: Mosaics
Localizzazione_geografico-amministrativa (Label is not translated)
  PVCS: Italia
  regione: CAMPANIA
  provincia: Napoli
  comune: Napoli
  Name: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
  Indirizzo: Piazza Museo, 19
  Location: Room LXI
Dati_patrimoniali (Label is not translated)
  Inventory number: 10020
Dati_tecnici (Label is not translated)
  Height: 317
  Length: 555
Dati_analitici (Label is not translated)
  Inscriptions - text:

Condizione_giuridica_e_vincoli (Label is not translated)
  CDGG: proprietà Stato
Fonti_e_documenti_di_riferimento (Label is not translated)

Andreae 1977; Brilliant 1979, pp. 113-115; Nylander 1982; Briant 1983; Giuliani 1984; Collezioni Museo 1989, I, 1, n. 12, p. 116; Hölscher 1989; Alexander the Great 1993; Hölscher 1993, pp. 21-24, figg. 27-31; Zanker 1993, pp. 49-50, fig. 11; De Caro 1994, pp. 144-145; PPM IV, parte seconda, 1994, n. 51, p. 123; Zevi 1999, pp. 59-85, tav. a p. 57; Barbet 1999, pp. 126-127; De Caro 1999, pp. 68-69; Dunbabin 1999, pp. 40-43, figg. 41-42; Quante Pompei 1999, p. 72; Zevi 2000; De Caro 2001b, pp. 58-59, fig. a pp. 56-57; Mazzoleni 2004, pp. 54-57.