Symbolic figures

Figures of Victory (Nike), often set on columns or pillars, from the archaic period on, celebrate successes, generally in war. See the classical Nike by Paionios at Olympia, and the Victory of Samothrace, Hellenistic, in other chapters here. Mythological scenes commonly appear as the sculptural decoration on temples and they generally reflect, in the Greek manner, on the career of the the deity involved, or the occasion for the dedication of the building. In the same spirit, some sculptural dedications in sanctuaries, depicting mythological events, reflect on mortal occasions. Thus, at Pergamon and Athens, scenes of the gods defeating giants reflect successes in Anatolia against the Gauls.

Action groups

These are a speciality of the Hellenistic period and were much copied for the Romans. We seldom know their original setting and purpose but many were probably commemorative or votive, although some may simply have been designed for palatial decoration.

Photo of restored group - Achilles & Penthesilia
  • Restored group, copy of an original of about 250-200 BC,
    showing Achilles lifting the dying Amazon Queen Penthesilea, at Troy.


See the section on portraits. It was a Hellenistic trait to dedicate family groups of portrait figures, imaginative for ancestors, realistic for the living or recently dead. Equestrian portraits set on pillars were the model for several of Roman emperors in later years.

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