03 Jul 2011

Nike of Varna

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Gold earrings depicting the goddess Nike [Victory]. Hellenistic (Late 4th Century B.C), Varna Archaeological Museum, Varna, Bulgaria

Yesterday, a Facebook friend Ekaterina Ilieva Ilieva posted a photograph of these extraordinary Hellenistic portraits of the Greek goddess Nike in the form of earrings.

(The earrings can be seen worn today in a 0:26 video here.)

I wanted to quote a favorite passage of mine from Xenophon illustrating the importance of Nike to Greek soldiers in the same period, but Facebook’s programmed formatting truncated the quotation, so I’m making my intended comment into a blog post.

Xenophon’s Anabasis is an account of the Middle Eastern campaign of ten thousand Greek mercenaries employed by Cyrus the Younger in an attempt to wrest the throne of Persia from his brother Artaxerxes II in 401 B.C.

Xenophon’s account of the Battle of Cunaxa, which took place 70 km. north of Baghdad on the left bank of the Euphrates, contains reference to the Greeks invoking Nike in the watchwords selected before the battle.

Anabasis, A, 8.6-8.17.:

Κῦρος δὲ καὶ ἱππεῖς τούτου ὅσον ἑξακόσιοι, ὡπλισμένοι θώραξι μὲν αὐτοὶ καὶ παραμηριδίοις καὶ κράνεσι πάντες πλὴν Κύρου: Κῦρος δὲ ψιλὴν ἔχων τὴν κεφαλὴν εἰς τὴν μάχην καθίστατο. …

καὶ ἐν τούτῳ τῷ καιρῷ τὸ μὲν βαρβαρικὸν στράτευμα ὁμαλῶς προῄει, τὸ δὲ Ἑλληνικὸν ἔτι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ μένον συνετάττετο ἐκ τῶν ἔτι προσιόντων. καὶ ὁ Κῦρος παρελαύνων οὐ πάνυ πρὸς αὐτῷ στρατεύματι κατεθεᾶτο ἑκατέρωσε ἀποβλέπων εἴς τε τοὺς πολεμίους καὶ τοὺς φίλους.

ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ Ξενοφῶν Ἀθηναῖος, πελάσας ὡς συναντῆσαι ἤρετο εἴ τι παραγγέλλοι: ὁ δ᾽ ἐπιστήσας εἶπε καὶ λέγειν ἐκέλευε πᾶσιν ὅτι καὶ τὰ ἱερὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ σφάγια καλά.

ταῦτα δὲ λέγων θορύβου ἤκουσε διὰ τῶν τάξεων ἰόντος, καὶ ἤρετο τίς ὁ θόρυβος εἴη. ὁ δὲ [Κλέαρχος] εἶπεν ὅτι σύνθημα παρέρχεται δεύτερον ἤδη. καὶ ὃς ἐθαύμασε τίς παραγγέλλει καὶ ἤρετο ὅ τι εἴη τὸ σύνθημα. ὁ δ᾽ ἀπεκρίνατο: Ζεὺς σωτὴρ καὶ νίκη.

ὁ δὲ Κῦρος ἀκούσας, –ἀλλὰ δέχομαί τε, ἔφη, καὶ τοῦτο ἔστω. ταῦτα δ᾽ εἰπὼν εἰς τὴν αὑτοῦ χώραν ἀπήλαυνε. καὶ οὐκέτι τρία á¼¢ τέτταρα στάδια διειχέτην Ï„á½¼ φάλαγγε ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἡνίκα ἐπαιάνιζόν τε οἱ Ἕλληνες καὶ ἤρχοντο ἀντίοι ἰέναι τοῖς πολεμίοις.

Cyrus was with his bodyguard of cavalry about six hundred strong, all armed with corselets like Cyrus, and cuirasses and helmets; but not so Cyrus: he went into battle with head unhelmeted. …

At this time the barbarian army was evenly advancing, and the Hellenic division was still riveted to the spot, completing its formation as the various contingents came up. Cyrus, riding past at some distance from the lines, glanced his eye first in one direction and then in the other, so as to take a complete survey of friends and foes;

when Xenophon the Athenian, seeing him, rode up from the Hellenic quarter to meet him, asking him whether he had any orders to give. Cyrus, pulling up his horse, begged him to make the announcement generally known that the omens from the victims, internal and external alike, were good.

While he was still speaking, he heard a confused murmur passing through the ranks, and asked what it meant. The other replied that it was the watchword being passed down for the second time. Cyrus wondered who had given the order, and asked what the watchword was. On being told it was “Zeus the Saviour and Victory,” he replied,

“I accept it; so let it be,” and with that remark rode away to his own position. And now the two battle lines were no more than three or four furlongs apart, when the Hellenes began chanting the paean, and at the same time advanced against the enemy.


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