The Alexander Sarcophagus as a Phoenician Response to the Macedonian Conquest

Archaeology Center
Wednesday, March 4, 2020 12:00 PM
Archaeology Center

The so-called Alexander Sarcophagus from Sidon features dazzling sculpted reliefs of men and animals dramatically engaged in hunts and armed combat. Dominating one battle scene is a figure usually identified as Alexander the Great on the basis of his lion-skin helmet, an attribute of Herakles, whom the Greeks identified with the Tyrian hero-god Melqart. Dated to the end of the fourth century by most scholars, the monument is one of the few surviving sculpted representations of Alexander from that period. More importantly, it is also the closest thing we have to a contemporary Phoenician point of view regarding the Macedonian-Persian conflict. 

While the sarcophagus’ owner and the meaning of its reliefs have been the subject of considerable debate, most assume that the presentation of Alexander is meant to be a celebratory one. This talk offers an alternate point of view, reconsidering the meaning of the monument’s decorative program from the perspective of the traditions of Phoenician visual culture together with a more critical examination of the historical context. Especially, I will consider how the presentation of Alexander might have been intended in light of both the political instability at the end of the 4th century and the cultural memory of the siege of Tyre. Not only was the siege a devastating conflict that erupted because of Alexander’s insistence on connecting himself to Tyrian Melqart, it was one in which Sidon itself played a significant role. 

About the Speaker:

Jessica Nitschke is a Research Associate with the Department of Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She has a PhD from UC Berkeley in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology. Her research focuses on the art and archaeology of Phoenicia and Egypt, especially the interaction with Greco-Roman material culture, and has worked at sites such as Tell Timai (Egypt) and Tel Dor (Israel). Dr Nitschke is also currently part of the South Africa, Greece, Rome project undertaken by Stanford and Stellenbosch University, and she recently served as a guest curator for a new exhibit on ancient Egypt at the Iziko Museums of South Africa.