Hellenistic gem: Dionysos and his circle

Representations of Dionysos, satyrs and maenads, are particularly popular in all the arts of this period, and some rulers identified themselves with the god. The cult of Dionysos was under royal patronage at many Hellenistic courts and gained particular importance in Egypt when Ptolemy XII pronounced himself the 'New Dionysos'. It is not always clear if a complete identification or merely an association is intended. Ptolemaic kings and queens were recognized as living gods, as were their Pharaonic predecessors, and assimilated to various gods and goddesses during their lifetimes.

Gem image

Paris, Cabinet des Medailles (Plantzos 26) Onyx 36x28mm, flat face.

The features of the Dionysos on a gem in Paris, seen as bust in profile, wearing a chlamys, with long hair and ivy wreath, resemble a member of the Ptolemaic family.

Gem image Gem image

Oxford 295 (1892.1497) Olivine 18x16x5mm, convex face and back.

The head of the maenad on the gem in Oxford is one of the numerous members of the circle of Dionysos popularly depicted on gems of the whole period. The head is shown in profile, the hair loosely gathered to a small knot low on her neck and held in place by a wreath of ivy and topped by a small bunch of grapes.

2 Gem images

Oxford 315 (1892.1562) (Plantzos 603) Rock crystal (15)x15x5.5mm, convex on both sides.

The bust of Silenos in three-quarter view is probably a forerunner of the frontal head of Dionysos, a popular type of the first century BC. He is shown with a wreath of ivy and grapes crowning his bald head and the fillets tying it are visible above each shoulder. A mantle loosely covers his shoulders, leaving his chest bare.