Artemision Bronze
The Artemision Bronze c. 5th century BC (Credit: National Archaeological Museum of Athens, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Artemision Bronze a masterpiece of ancient Greece

A perfectly posed monumental statue of an Olympian god at war


Created in the early Greek Classical Period of 460 BC, discovered in 1926 and unearthed in 1928 from the bottom of the sea off the coast of the Cape of Artemision, in northern Euboea, Greece, the Artemision Bronze is the embodiment of beauty, control, and strength.

The grand bronze statue represents either Zeus, the mightiest of the Olympian gods, or possibly Poseidon, the god of the Sea, and would have held either a thunderbolt, if Zeus, or a trident (the three-pronged spear that fishermen used to catch huge tuna) if Poseidon. Although the exact identity of the sculptor is unknown, many attribute this work to Kalamis, thought to be an Athenian who worked principally in Asia Minor. The sculpture has also been associated with Onatas or Myron and also Kritios and Nesiotes but there is no way of knowing for certain who created the work.

It is also not known who commissioned the piece but it would have been an offering to whichever god, whether it be Zeus or Poseidon. Offerings would have been given for numerous reasons, whether it be for a blessing or a physical expression of thanks.

This bronze god, slightly over life-size at 2.09 meters, is in motion and you can see that from the stance he takes, one arm and leg outstretched towards an enemy and the other bent as if in movement to strike. “The figure has the potential for violence, is concentrating, poised to throw, but the action is just beginning, and we are left to contemplate the coming demonstration of strength” writes Carol C. Mattusch, the Mathay Professor of Art History at George Mason University and specialist in Greek, Roman and 18th century art.

The hair and the beard are very intricate. The empty eye-sockets were originally inset, probably with bone or ivory. His eyebrows were originally made of silver and his lips of copper. His expression is subtle, but it is clear that he is focused.

It is an original work of great strength in the so-called Severe style that preceded the fifth-century classical style, dated to c. 460 BC. Severe-style statues celebrate the nobility of the human form.

Artemision bronze detail (Credit: Benjamín Núñez González, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The statue sank to the bottom of the sea where he sat for millennia and was recovered from a shipwreck. Unfortunately, not much is known about the wreck, because exploration was halted for many years after a diver died at the site.

However, the discovery of the Artemision Bronze in the waters of Euboea encouraged the exploration of other shipwrecks in the Mediterranean and indirectly contributed to the development of marine archaeology. Many such shipwrecks are of Roman date and many scholars have speculated that the artwork was being transported to Rome.

If you want to see the Bronze in person, it is on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, where it is a highlight of the collections. A cast of it can also be found at the cast gallery of Cambridge University’s Museum of Classical Archaeology.