The Artistic and Cultural Context

The Nike Monument consists of three elements: a rectangular socle (height 0.36 m, length 4.69 m, width 1.80 m), which supports the base (height 2.01 m, length 4.30 m, width 2.45 m) in the form of a prow, since 19381 considered to be the prow of a triemiolia2, where the statue of Nike (height 2,38 m. -body, 3,28 m along with the wings) stands. The statue is made of three different types of Parian3 marble for its separate parts, which were carved independently and then assembled: The right arm and the block of the upper body (that originally included the upper torso and head) was made of Lychnites coming from the quarries of the Nymphs and Pan. The large block forming the lower part of the body is a variety of marble from different areas in the same quarries (the same marble was used for the rear part of the himation and for the lower part of the right wing). The left wing, the upper part of the right one, and the intermediary fold between the body and the rear part of the himation are in Parian marble from the quarries at the Choridháki-Lákkoi localities4. In conclusion, the artist used the best Parian marble only for the flesh of the Nike on the upper torso, head and right arm, while different varieties of Parian marble were used for the garments. The wings are mainly in marble from the quarry at the locality Lákkoi.

The prow and the socle are made of light gray Rhodian marble from Lartos5. Today there is a general agreement that the ship is not a triemiolia6, but probably a quadrireme or “four” (tetreres)7, a ship which at the time of the construction of the monument was replaced elsewhere by the quinquereme, or “five” (penteres); the Rhodians, however, continued to prefer the tetreres. The prow is in fairly good overall condition, but the truncation of the front section, with the absence of both rams, the upper ram (proembolon) and the main ram (embolon), and stem ornament (akrostolion)8, strongly differentiate the outline of the monument. The oar boxes (parexeiresiae)9 which are protruding from the sides are very well preserved and we can still see the oval openings of the oar ports (thalamiai). The prow-base with its socle consists of twenty-three marble blocks; the seventeen blocks of the prow-base form three horizontal courses. The upper one, which consists of six blocks, the middle one with eight, and the lower one with three. The rectangular socle consists of six slabs. A block – which remained in Samothrace because of its weight and size and consists of two adjoining parts (today exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Samothrace) – corresponds to the empty space of the upper layer of the prow in the Louvre. By its weight, this stone held the projecting oar boxes (parexeiresiae) in their horizontal position. Also, the same block retains on its surface a large part of the socket, within which the plinth of the statue was fixed; the statue was installed directly on the ship10.

The Nike alights on the prow, with her left foot in the air and the ball of her right one touching the deck, not striding forward but at the end of her flight. The rigid vertical line of the right leg anchors the composition as a whole, forming a right-angled triangle with the left leg and the ship's deck. A split second later, her flight would have ended with her left leg planted firmly on the ship as she began to come to a stop11. The goddess wears a chiton belted under the breasts revealing the right shoulder and falling to her feet. The tight fabric on the stomach and left thigh are dominated by wavy bands that appear to barely touch the skin, whereas on the left thigh and right side the garment forms narrow furrows of tight folds. On the right breast the garment is almost transparent and is held on the shoulder by a thin strap. The thick fabric of the himation, which only the force of the wind seems to hold attached to the right hip and leg, covers part of the chiton and descends from the right thigh in deeply carved folds between the legs. One end trails down to the ground near the right leg, the other waves freely behind12. Elsewhere the himation’s fabric becomes as transparent as a second skin, elsewhere it billows upwards and flies freely backwards. The way the sculptor managed to render the effect of the wind as it presses the himation against the body of the Nike is both daring and spectacular, as was the choice of marble in order to capture the fleeting moment when the cloth begins to loosen and slip down13.

It is the left of the statue that makes the most spectacular impression when viewed from a three-quarter angle. From this point of view, the structural lines of the figure’s composition are clearly visible: one vertical line along the right leg to the top of the torso and one oblique line along the left leg and thigh up to the torso, with both lines converging at the neck. Some flurry of feathers close to the body and the long wings stretching back add to the dynamism of the figure. In frontal view, the right leg is strengthened at the base by the concave folds framing the two sides of the calf; the left leg is almost completely hidden behind the oblique movement of the himation. On the right side, the upward movement of the shoulder and right breast was in phase with the movement of the arm. The oblique line of the upper torso is a natural consequence of the position of the arms – the right arm raised, the left probably lowered. On the right side, the body is structured less by the volume of the flesh and more by the arrangement of the garments. The sculptor did not consider it necessary to insist on this side, which would have been practically invisible, like the back of the statue14.

The body of the statue was made of two pieces15: first a large block from the plinth to the upper part of the stomach, and a smaller block that included the upper torso and head. The arms and wings were fixed to these blocks, making a total of six pieces. The part of the garment that billows behind, being a very thin slab of marble, was fixed behind the left thigh with a larger intermediate piece. Instead of placing the wings vertically, the sculptor arranged them in an oblique line stretching backwards, and to ensure that they would stay in place without any external support, each wing had a sloping form and was slotted into a kind of console decorated with feathers; this console was sculpted on the main block of the body, in the continuation of its assemblage surface with the block of the upper torso. Each wing is kept in place by two metal dowels, one at the back of the upper torso and the other at the back of the body.

It is not strange that a marble statue of Hellenistic times is made in parts. This is a technique with proven wide application. But, whereas previously only the elements projecting outside the main volume of the body could be worked separately and then added to it, now even the latter could be made from superimposed parts, usually two. It is more common for the statue to be cut at the level of the bust, waist or hips, more rarely at mid-thigh or slightly lower. This practice of the "cut bodies", so widespread for the Hellenistic statues found in Asia Minor, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades, where we could speak of a "koine" technique, does not seem to have been in use in the rest of the Greek world of the same era16. The sculptor of the Nike of Samothrace invented a new system in the sculpture of winged figures: the gradual application of the wing to the back of the body by calculating the limit of its tolerable slope and compensating the force of gravity with the slope of the bust. The same daring technique is detected in the placement of the right arm, or that of the part of the himation that blows back.

There is no inscription or literary mention related to the Nike of Samothrace. In 1931, G. Thiersch, arguing that the fragment of a small, inscribed base of Lartos marble found by Champoiseau in 1891 near the monument and taken to the Louvre (Ma 4194) actually formed part of the prow of the Nike statue, restored the inscription as the signature of the sculptor Pythokritos of Rhodes17. However, today there is a general consensus that this fragment cannot have belonged to the monument, as well as that the restoration of the sculptor's name is also excluded18. Ma 4194 supported a small voting gift by an annamed Rhodian, which was located at or nearby the Nike Monument. In the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, several large-scale bases of monuments made of Lartos marble are also documented, apart from the prow of the Nike. The strong Rhodian interest in the Sanctuary is also attested by the Rhodians who frequently visited it either as official theoroi (= sacred envoys–observers)19 – proxenoi (= sacred envoys who were also honorary representatives of Samothrace in Rhodes), or only as theoroi, or Rhodian hieropoioi (= officials with specific religious duties corresponding to those of the theoroi), mystai and epoptai, as well as by the epigraphic evidence, which mentions a sanctuary dedicated to the gods of Samothrace in the city of Rhodes20 and Samothrakiastai (= apparently members of private clubs in the Aegean islands and along the coast of Asia Minor, honoring the gods of Samothrace) from Rhodes and the Rhodian Peraia21.

It seems that bronze would technically be a better suited material than marble for the rendering of the wings, the fluttering folds of the drapery, and the outstretched without support arm. Could we look for a bronze prototype for the Nike of Samothrace, which the sculptor would have faithfully transferred to marble? Only the silver tetradrachms22 with the representation of a Nike in motion placed on the prow of a ship, offer a clear testimony to an earlier model of Samothrace's Nike23. The statue depicted on the tetradrachm has a significant difference from the statue of the Nike of Samothrace, that of the absence of the himation. Therefore, the sculptor of the Nike of Samothrace did not rely on this statuary type to render the himation, which plays such an important role in the composition. From this point of view, the association of the Nike of Samothrace with Athena Nike from Cyrene is particularly strengthened. The two figures in motion on the prow of a ship, wear a chiton with a similar belt at the waist, and a himation, a part of which falls folded, in front, between the legs. The other part of the himation on the statue of Cyrene is held wrapped around the left arm, while in the Nike of Samothrace it flaps freely back. So, the wingless statue type, with the himation falling on one side and held up over the arm on the other, preexisted the Nike of Samothrace. The statue of Cyrene too, indicates the same earlier model. Its dating by its Italian excavators in the middle of the 3rd century BC24, which is strongly disputed, does not allow the certainty that this statuary type was associated with a prow from this era. We can thus say that the sculptor of the Nike designed based on at least two pre-existing statues: a winged figure in bronze clad only in a chiton, and a wingless marble figure wearing a himation over her chiton.

For the dating of the monument, until recently was generally accepted, the historical significance of the Rhodian connection25 with the victory, thanks to the speed and maneuverability of the Rhodian warships, of the allied fleet against the Seleucid navy of Antiochus III in the naval battles off Side and Myonessos26 in 190 BC. Already at this time, Rhodes had extended its sphere of influence in the Northern Aegean27. Although monuments with ships in this form are not exclusive to Rhodes, they are attested by particularly remarkable monuments there, such as the inscribed prow of a warship on the Akropolis of Lindos (265–260 BC) and the relief stern of a warship that formed the base of the bronze statue of Hagesandros, son of Mikion (the construction of not only the statue but also the relief of the ship was undertaken by the sculptor Pythokritos during the first decades of the 2nd century BC), likewise on the Akropolis of Lindos28. The Rhodian origin29 of the stone of Nike's prow most likely leads us to a Rhodian sculptor and, despite the contrary views30 recently expressed, perhaps also indicates the Rhodian origin of the dedication. The Rhodian sculptors in the Hellenistic period traveled a lot and they do not seem to have been associated with a specific style nor did they constitute a "School" in sculpture31. The sculptures of the Rhodian workshops, although generally of good quality, cannot compete with the statue of Samothrace, and the large marble statues that have survived are all very different from each other. Moreover, it seems strange that marble was preferred to bronze at Rhodes. Apart from the fact that bronze was a much more suitable material for such a large and complex statue as the Nike, Rhodes was the home of bronze sculptures’ workshops32.

Unfortunately, no statue or fragment of a statue that can reasonably be compared stylistically to Nike, has reached us from any region of the Greek world in the Hellenistic period. The inspiration of the sculptor of the Nike of Samothrace comes from some other source, perhaps from the Attic sculpture of the Classical period, with the drapery of the goddesses on the pediments of the Parthenon resembling the combination of subtlety and strength of the drapery of the Nike. References to the art of Pheidias and his pupils were not uncommon in Asia Minor during the Hellenistic period, particularly in Pergamon sculpture, as seen in the frieze of the Great Altar depicting the Gigantomachy, a work often associated with the Nike of Samothrace. Apart from the similarities of form, of the rendering of the drapery, or the design of the feathers of the wings, it is the vigor of the bodies, the emphatic postures and gestures, and the extraordinary passion of the action that brings up the comparison of the frieze of the Great Altar with the Nike33. However, there are notable differences, which can be found between the two works: the "closed" style of composition in the Great Frieze – "open" in the Nike, the form of the drapery in the Gigantomachy with the contrast between the depth and the strong edges, forming long continuous lines of calligraphic quality, whereas in the Nike statue the fabric clings to the body with raised linear edges, while in other parts it possesses its own independent mass34. The evolution of the drapery folding is evident in four sculptures: The Nike of Paionios (around 420 BC) at Olympia offers a comparison from the 5th century BC. Dionysοs (early 3rd century BC) from a choregic monument on Thasos35 documents the survival of a classical tradition in the deep narrow furrows of the himation with greater plasticity. The life-size Nike from the precinct of Athena Nikephoros at Pergamon (period of the Gigantomachy frieze;) is characterized by the muscularity and the strong contrapposto movement of its time, but the clinging drapery with raised linear folds is reminiscent of the 5th century BC. Finally, The statue of Tragedy from the akropolis of Pergamon (period of the Gigantomachy frieze; ) displays a different drapery folding from that on the Great Frieze; however, it is distinguished by a plasticity which approaches the Nike of Samothrace, especially in the deep shading of the folds falling at the legs36. A greater affinity with the Nike of Samothrace, rather than that to the Altar of Pergamon, presents the so-called "Terme Ruler" in Rome37 who is identified with Attalos II (158–138 BC) and is attributed to a Pergamene workshop very close to the Great Altar. The "Ruler" is characterized by the same posture with the arrested centrifugal motion, his weight rests on the right leg, his left foot back, his head turned right.

Naval monuments, such as the Nike of Samothrace, could be connected with personalities or refer to important naval events. Based on its chronological correlation with the Great Altar of Pergamon and the new dating of the latter (despite its uncertainty)38, the period when the sculptor of the Nike was active in Samothrace, perhaps before his possible participation in the Great Altar, could be placed between 220 BC, and at the very latest, shortly after the naval battles of 190 BC. The fluctuations in the dating of when work first began on the Altar (estimated to be between 190 and 159 BC), are an obstacle to confirming this hypothesis, which is based on historical facts39. The suggestion that the dedication was made in 197 BC at the end of the Second Macedonian War in commemoration of the defeat of Philip V by the allied fleet of the three strongest naval powers in the Aegean (Rhodes, Pergamon and Byzantium) at the naval battle of Chios in 201 BC is considered to be more concrete chronologically40. Another viewpoint considers that the dedication of Nike to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods took place either in the last years of Perseus’s – the son and successor of Philip V of Macedonia – control of Samothrace, before the battle of Pydna41 in 168 BC, or immediately afterwards. In the first case, perhaps the dedication was made by Perseus himself, on the occasion of his rapprochement with the Rhodians before the outbreak of war with Rome in 172 BC42. In the second, after the collapse of the Macedonian kingdom in 168 BC, the Romans gained control over Samothrace. Their interest in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods was manifest already since the 3rd century BC43, a period, which coincides with the increasing emphasis of Roman writers on the Trojan origin of the Roman people and on the role of Aeneas as the founder of Rome. With this Trojan ancestry came Samothracian connections, since the founder of Troy, Dardanus, as well as his siblings Iasion and Harmonia, were born on the island from the union of Zeus and Elektra44. The capture45 of Perseus on Samothrace by the Romans formally marked the end of the Macedonian kingdom, and the Romans would have every reason to thank the Great Gods through their fleet commander Gnaeus Octavius with the probable dedication of the Nike46. This hypothesis found further support later47, but it was recently considered to be unsubstantiated48. However, the temporal approximation of the Nike and the Gigantomachia of the Great Altar of Pergamon, and the dating of the former in the middle of the 2nd century BC, could still keep alive the Rhodian or (less likely) Rhodian-Pergamene connection of the dedication of the Nike Monument to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. After the happy outcome of the war for the Pergamon king Attalus II against the king of Bithynia, Prusias II, during the so-called Bithynian war (156–154 BC)49, with the assistance, among others, of five Rhodian quadriremes50, the destruction of Prusias’s fleet during a storm was attributed to the divine intervention of the Great Gods of Samothrace51. The circumstances of Nike’s alighting on the prow, as emphasized by the movement of the garments, point to this specific historical moment52. In the same light, regarding the dedication of the monument to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, the Lartian marble of the ship and the socle, which has not been used before outside the Dodecanese, is considered a very powerful Rhodian element.

The difficulty of dating the monument and identifying its dedicator becomes clear from all the above. In addition to the views expressed, it is worth mentioning two more opinions on the upper and lower time frame of its construction and dedication: According to a 19th century view53, which has recently found support54, the statue is associated with the coins that were issued (early 3rd century BC) commemorating the victory of the Macedonian king (301–285 BC) Demetrios Poliorketes against Ptolemy I off the Cyprus coast in 306 BC. At the other time edge, the monument was considered to be a votive gift by Octavian for his victory at Actium in 31 BC against the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra55.



1 : See BLINKENBERG 1938.

2 : Rhodian type light warship with 2½ rows of oars. Cf. HAMIAUX 1998, 27. See. GIANFROTTA et al. 1997, 73 for a drawn frontal restoration with transverse sections of the prow of the ship of the Nike; MARK 1998, 157–158 and 163, note 4. Stewart (2016, 407–408) explains why the ship of the Nike was not a triemiolia.

3 : See MANIATIS et al. 2012, 275; PAGÈS-CAMAGNA and LAUGIER 2015, 101.

4 : See KORRES 2010; LEIVADAROS and TSAÏMOU 2010; HERZ 2010.

5 : See MANIATIS et al. 2012, 270.

6 : The triemiolia had no deck and its oarsmen were not protected above and at the sides.

7 : See HAMIAUX 2015a, 156; STEWART 2016, 404 and footnote 23; CLINTON et al. 2020, 565–568.

8 : The ship's terminal ornament crowning either the stern-post or, more commonly, the stem-post.

9 : See CASSON 1995, 84, footnote 34.

10 : IBLED et al. 2015, 123–124.

11 : CLINTON et al. 2020, 568–569.

12 : HAMIAUX 1998, 27.

13 : HAMIAUX 2015a, 148.

14 : HAMIAUX 2015a, 152.

15 : HAMIAUX 2015a, 158.

16 : HAMIAUX 2004, 122 ff

17 : THIERSCH 1931.

18 : CLINTON et al. 2020, 552–556.

19 : The traditional hypothesis is that the theoroi were visiting Samothrace to attend a particular festival, perhaps the Mysteries (although this was not their only duty in Samothrace); the city of Samothrace, at least in the 2nd and perhaps also in the 1st century BC, made them proxenoi, awarding them other honors as well; perhaps the theoroi were initiated into the mysteries of the Great Gods, while some of them also made dedications to the Sanctuary of Samothrace; in any case, theoroi must have visited the island for other reasons as well.

20 : FILIMONOS-TSOPOTOU 2013, 280 and footnote 77.

21 : See DIMITROVA 2008, 12, 18, 28–31 (s/n 5, around 150 BC for example or shortly afterwards), 59–60 (s/n 23; 2nd–1st century BC?), 72, 74, 126–129 (s/n 50; Side A: beginning of 1st century BC., side B: around 137–134 BC?, s/n 51), 137–140 (a/a 57; 2nd–1st century BC?), 246, 257 (Appendix II, 1); COLE 1984, 84–86: eight inscriptions mentioning Samothrakiastai come from an area centering around the island of Rhodes: six from the city of Rhodes itself, one from the island of Syme and one from the Rhodian peraia on the opposite mainland coast; six can be dated around the 1st century BC and one in the 1st century AD, while there are also 3rd century BC inscriptions from Lindos mentioning priests of the Samothracian Gods.

22 : HAMIAUX 2007, 9: fig. 6. They were issued by Demetrius Poliorketes after the Battle of Ipsos in Phrygia in 301 BC to remind his army of the victorious naval battle near Salamis in Cyprus in 306 BC.

23 : The general resemblance to the Nike of Samothrace was a reason to associate the statue with Demetrius and to date it at the beginning of the 3rd century BC (SMITH 1991, 77–77.

24 : ERMETI 1981, 78–80, 132–134. The style of the garments as well as the posture of the statue resemble a late Hellenistic period Artemis from Delos (1st century BC), and if such a dating is correct, then it may constitute a dedication by a general of the Roman Republic, perhaps Pompeius, as a memorial of his victory against the pirates in 67 BC.

25 : Despite the absence of official relations between Rhodes and Samothrace (RIDGWAY 2000, 150–155). See MATSAS 2010, 39–40.

26 : ERRINGTON 1989, 286; SHIPLEY 2012, 580. For a brief historiographical analysis, see HAMIAUX 2015b, 166–166. For the data fragility see RIDGWAY 2000, 150–160. A Rhodian victory around 190 BC is supported by Knell (1995, 27–28, 82–83) and Mark (1998, 157–158).

27 : However, at this time, and especially after the peace Treaty of Apamea in 188 BC, Samothrace was under the control of the Macedonian king Philip V, whose fleet Rome had voted to destroy in 196 BC. After the battle of Pydna, the Rhodians were expelled from Asia Minor and lost their hegemony over the islands and only in 164 BC their relations with Rome were restored, but not as before on the basis of equal cooperation. See HABICHT 1989, 338.

28 : See MARK 1998, 157–158. Cf. RIDGWAY 2000, 150ff. and 175, note. 17.

29 : See MANIATIS et al. 2012, 270.

30 : HAMIAUX 2006, 56; 2007, 39–40. See PALAGIA 2010, 156.

31 : MATTUSCH 1998, 156; cf. HAMIAUX 2006, 57, footnote 151.

32 : HAMIAUX 2015b, 168.

33 : MARK 1998, 157· RIDGWAY 2000, 151· HAMIAUX 2007, 43–44. On the Altar, see QUEYREL 2005 AND MASSA-PAIRAULT 2007.

34 : MARK 1998, 159–160.

35 : See MARK 1998, 165, note 21.

36 : MARK 1998, 160–163..

37 : See QUEYREL 2003, 200–234.

38 : RADT and DE LUCA 1999, 120–125. Queyrel (2005, 123–125) dates the Altar to the reign of Attalus II (158–138 BC), while Massa-Pairault (2007, 24–28) places it in the reign of Eumenes II (197–158 BC).

39 : See HAMIAUX 2015b, 172. According to Hamiaux's view, after Philip V ascended to the Macedonian throne, the number of naval battles in the eastern Mediterranean increased, until his defeat by the Romans in 197 BC and the defeat of Antiochus III at Magnesia by the Romans and their allies Pergamon and Rhodes in 189 BC, while for a very long time afterwards, there were no further occasions for dedicating a naval monument to a sanctuary.

40 : BADOUD 2018, 296. See ERRINGTON 1989, 252–253 and SHIPLEY 2012, 576.

41 : DEROW 1989, 316.

42 : QUEYREL 2016, 187–192.

43 : COLE 1984, 87· WESCOAT 2013, 51. Of the 171 inscriptions published by Dimitrova (2008), 70 refer to records of Roman initiates: 3 date back to the 2nd century BC, 7 to the 2nd–1st centuries BC, 18 to the 1st century BC, 14 to the 1st century AD, 1 to the middle of the 2nd century BC – 1st century AD, 3 to the 1st century BC – 1st century AD, 8 to the 2nd century AD, 1 in the 1st – 2nd century AD, 1 to the 1st century BC – 2nd century AD, 2 to the 2nd – 3rd century AD, 4 to the Imperial period, 2 to the Roman period in general, and 6 have no dating.

44 : Samothrace 1, 25–28: s/n 55a–63; JACKSON KNIGHT 1958, 181. Cf. LAWALL 2003, 979.

45 : Samothrace 1, 45–55: s/n 106–127. See WESCOAT 2013, 49–51.

46 : See PALAGIA 2010, 161.

47 : LA ROCCA 2018, 40–57.

48 : See CORSO 2019.

49 : See HABICHT 1989, 359–360.

50 : STEWART 2016.

51 : In spite of the opposite view expressed (BADOUD 2018, 289–290). Cf. CLINTON et al. 2020, 568: footnote 91.

52 : STEWART 2016, 403· CLINTON et al. 2020, 568.

53 : CONZE et al. 1880, 84 ff

54 : BERNHARDT 2014· βλ. STEWART 2015.

55 : KNELL 1995, 89.