Bronze Head of Seuthes III Noted in ‘Guardian’ Review of Hellenistic Sculpture Exhibit in J. Paul Getty Museum, No Mention of Ancient Thrace
The Guardian has noted the already internationally famous bronze head sculpture of Ancient Thracian King Seuthes III in a review of the current exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles – but has failed to make any mention of the civilization of Ancient Thrace.
Until recently, the bronze head of King Seuthes III (r. ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC), the ruler of the most powerful Ancient Thracian state, the Odrysian Kingdom, was the focal point of the Bulgarian exhibition on Ancient Thrace in the Louvre Museum in the French capital Paris, which was entitled “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” (also translated as “The Saga of the Thracian Kings”; in French: L’Épopée des rois thraces Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie).
As of July 28, 2015, the bronze head of King Seuthes III has been on display in Los Angeles as part of the ancient bronze sculpture exhibition in the J. Getty Museum.
The unique item was found in the Ancient Thracian tumulus (burial mound) Golyama Kosmatka in 2004 by late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov (1943-2008).
The review of the Guardian entitled “Power and Pathos Review – Once-in-a-Lifetime Look at Greek Bronze Sculptures” focuses on only a handful of the items on display in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the bronze head of Kings Seuthes III is one of them.
“Discovered in Bulgaria in 2004, the Portrait of Seuthes III is a pristine head of the Odrysian ruler, noteworthy for its lifelike, almost watery-looking eyes and intricately carved hair,” reads The Guardian review.
“The huge beard and very intense look, the technique is done in the Greek manner, no doubt an itinerant craftsman who is adapting his work to a local patron,” Kenneth Lapatin, associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is quoted as saying regarding the Ancient Thracian statue.
The review of The Guardian does state that Seuthes III was “Odrysian ruler”; but, oddly enough, it makes no mention of Ancient Thrace or the Thracians (the Odrysians were just one of the numerous Thracian tribes).
In the later period of its existence the Thracian civilization was part of the Hellenistic World and interacted profoundly with Ancient Greece (which influenced which more, especially in the earlier periods, is still a matter of the debate, in the very least, among some Bulgarian scholars).
However, The Guardian’s failure to make any mention of Ancient Thrace can easily be seen as being in line with the general lack of knowledge in the West about the Thracians dating back to the Cold War when Bulgaria, where the bulk of the Ancient Thracian sites are located, ended up (not by choice!) on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, in the Soviet Bloc. Isolated for decades by a murderous communist regime, its archaeological, cultural, and historical heritage still remains almost completely unknown today for the international public. (For example, even Thracian historical figures that are otherwise known in the West, such as Orpheus and Spartacus, are oftentimes mentioned in international media and pop culture as being Greek.)
To make matters worse, the caption of the photo of the bronze head of King Seuthes III on the website of the exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” of the J. Paul Getty Museum also does not mention Ancient Thrace. It does not even make it clear that the item comes from Bulgaria – unlike the captions of the photos of other sculptures originating from countries, such as Greece, Italy, or Croatia, which mention the respective country, or at least the city of the respective museum.
The caption reads as follows,
“Portrait of Seuthes III, about 310-300 B.C., bronze, copper, calcite, alabaster, and glass. National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, BAS. Photo: Krasimir Georgiev”.
The acronym “BAS” stands for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences but it is unclear how an international reader can make any sense of it without a proper mention of Bulgaria or at least Sofia.
To top it all up, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has issued a cheerful media release touting the mentioning of the bronze head of Seuthes III in The Guardian review, and the “effective” photo of the sculpture on the J. Paul Getty Museum website, while apparently taking no notice that none of those mention Ancient Thrace in any way, and that the caption of the latter does not even mention Bulgaria. This, of course, is against the backdrop of the Bulgarian government’s constant declarations of its focus on the promotion of cultural tourism.
The “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” exhibition is organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington with the participation of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana. It will be on display in Los Angeles until November 1, 2015.
If you are interested in learning more about Ancient Thrace, check out our stories about Bulgaria’s Ancient Thracian exhibit in the Louvre Museum in Paris:
The Ancient Thracians were an ethno-cultural group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting much of Southeast Europe from about the middle of the second millennium BC to about the 6th century AD on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia.
The Odrysian Kingdom is a union of Thracian tribes dominated by the tribe of the Odrysians (also known as Odrysea or Odrusai bearing the name of a mythical ruler, Odryses or Odrisis, (ca. 715 – ca. 650 AD), was the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. It existed from the unification of many Thracian tribes by a single ruler, King Teres, in the 5th century BC till its conquest by the Romans in 46 AD on the territory of most of modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Southeastern Romania, and Northwestern Turkey.
King Seuthes III was a king of the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace from ca. 331 BC to ca. 300 BC, at first tributary to Alexander the Great of Macedon. In 2004, as part an expedition dubbed TEMP, late Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov discovered Seuthes III’s tomb on the Golyama Kosmatka Mound near his capital Seuthopolis (close to today’s towns of Kazanlak and Shipka), part of the Valley of Thracian Kings. The impressive finds included the famous lifelike bronze head of Seuthes III, his golden laurel wreath, golden kylix (ancient drinking cup), among others.
In 2015, the bronze head of King Seuthess III was shown in the exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris entitled “Thracian Kings’ Epic. Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” (also translated as “The Saga of the Thracian Kings”; in French: L’Épopée des rois thraces Découvertes archéologiques en Bulgarie), and in the exhibition in J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles entitled exhibition “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World”.