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Featured art object

Learn about a Greek ceremonial throne.

Elgin Throne

Date Created: 300–200 BCE
Place Created: Athens, Greece
Culture: Greek
Material: Marble
Maker: Unknown
Dimensions: 81.5 × 70 × 66 cm (32 1/16 × 27 9/16 × 26 in.)
Getty Museum
This rare example of a Greek ceremonial chair (“thronos” in ancient Greek) was found in Athens and likely once stood in a public place as a seat of honor. Such marble chairs often had ornamental armrests and animal legs in front, like this one. While we usually think of thrones being made for royalty, the Greek seats were intended for important officials and prominent members of the community. In theaters and crowded meeting places their high backs would have stood out from the bench seating provided for most people. Some ceremonial chairs were built into other nearby seats, but this one is freestanding, meant to be viewed from all sides.
On the back of this chair, just below the top, an
text names BOETHOS, but the text is too badly worn to tell us about him or whether he is the person the chair was originally meant to honor. The back and armrests are carved with symbolic imagery in
above a horizontal carved band running around the chair at the level of the seat. The raised decoration would once have been painted to stand out more clearly, but the paint and some of the stone have worn away. On the back, two olive wreaths, symbols of victory and honor, are carved below the inscription. On the outside of the armrests are two different
relief scenes of warriors, each symbolizing the Athenian rejection of
and outside control.

Details of the Reliefs

On the exterior of the right armrest, two armed men stride toward the front of the chair with their weapons raised dramatically. Although the heads of the men have been worn away, their poses suggest that they are two elite Athenians named Harmodios and Aristogeiton. They were called the Tyrannicides (tyrant-slayers) and were credited with introducing Athens to democracy by assassinating a tyrant (actually, the tyrant’s brother) in 514 BCE. Until that time, the word “tyrant” just meant a sole ruler, although it came to mean a lawless or cruel one. Despite the damage to both figures, we can see Harmodios at Aristogeiton’s left side with his arm uplifted, while the older, bearded Aristogeiton advances with his sword held out horizontally. Both are nude except for a cloak thrown over the older man’s left arm. Greeks represented athletes, gods, and heroes nude to signify their moral and physical excellence. The two men represent heroic resistance to oppression.
On the exterior of the left armrest, a Greek hero is about to kill an Amazon, one of a tribe of female warriors. He is probably Theseus, the founding hero of Athens, credited with unifying the area around Athens and later defeating the Amazons when they attacked the city. Theseus is nude like the Tyrannicides except for his armor (helmet, shield, and sword). He stands above the fallen Amazon in a dramatic pose, sword lifted high to strike as she struggles on her knees. It is hard to identify much more than her outline, the folds of her knee-length garment, and what may be leggings below. However, based on similar scenes from this time period, we can assume who these figures are. The depiction of a strong, heroic Theseus towering over the defeated Amazon made this scene a symbol of Athenian triumph over their enemies.

More on the Amazons: Fact or Fiction?

There are other stories of the Amazons, who lived in a female-only society, spurning men but fighting on equal terms with them. Although Amazons have long been thought to be a complete invention, they may have a historical basis. In recent decades, archaeologists have discovered burials of female warriors far to the northeast of Greece.


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