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  • Writer's pictureGiorgia Capra, MA

A Brief History of the Monument of Philopappos in Athens

What is the Monument of Philopappos?

The Monument of Philopappos is a monumental tomb erected during the 2nd century AD on the Hill of the Muses in honour of Philopappos, esteemed benefactor of Athens.

Monument of Philopappos in Athens

Monument of Philopappos History

This large marble mausoleum was built on top of the Hill of the Muses between AD 114 and 116 to honour a Syrian prince. The location of the monument, now known as Filopappou Hill, was originally the site of a sanctuary dedicated to the Muses. It offers an incredible view of Athens, overlooking the Acropolis and a large part of the city, including the port of Piraeus.

The prominent position of the tomb speaks volumes about the impressive reputation of the man for whom it was built. The huge grave monument contained the burial chamber of Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, descendant of the king of Commagene, and was erected by his sister Julia Balbilla and the citizens of Athens after his death. When the small Kingdom of Commagene, located in Asia Minor, became part of the Roman province of Syria, Philopappos and his family lived in exile in Rome and then moved to Athens. Here the Syrian prince became a distinguished Athenian citizen and benefactor, serving as archon, the most important magistrate of the city, and assuming various other civic offices and prestigious religious roles. Philopappos also held Roman citizenship and served as consul and praetor. He became a good friend of the historian Plutarch, who praised Philopappos’ virtues in one of his works.

Monument of Philopappos sculpture details

The monument was richly decorated, with a marble frieze on the lower side of the façade facing the city depicting Philopappos as a Roman consul, riding a horse chariot and surrounded by servants. The frieze shows similarities with the reliefs of the Arch of Titus in Rome, depicting the military deeds of the Roman emperor. On the upper level of Philopappos’ mausoleum there were three statues (with inscriptions below), depicting the deceased and two of his ancestors. Only the central statue and the one on the left, representing Philopappos and his grandfather King Antiochus IV, the last king of Commagene, survive nowadays. The Syrian prince had a special relationship with Antiochus: not by chance, the nickname Philopappos can be translated as ‘the one who loves his grandfather’.

The right side of the monument, where the third statue was located, depicting King Seleucus Nicator (from whom the Commagene kings claimed descent), is now destroyed. It must have been visible at least until the 15th century, when the traveller Cyriacus of Ancona copied all the inscriptions describing the personages represented. Two pilasters (or rectangular columns) flanking Philopappos’ statue also carried inscriptions in Greek and Latin reporting his names, honours and titles (his cursus honorum), but only the Latin inscription on the left pilaster is visible today. The bilingualism in the inscriptions suggests that both languages were equally understood and important at the time.

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