Terracotta Figurines Depicting ‘Drunk Hercules’ from Northern Black Sea Region

  • Kateryna Savelieva Department of the Crimea and the North-Western Black Sea Region, Institute of Archaeology National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1899-3923
Keywords: terracotta figurines, Velyka Blyznytsia, Koshary ancient settlement, Northern Black Sea region, Hercules, Silenus


Three terracotta figurines depicting a bearded man sitting on a pile of stones were found in the Northern Black Sea region. The first came from the burial in Velyka Blyznytsia Barrow (the Taman Peninsula), the second was found in a pit in the residential part of Koshary ancient settlement (Olbia chora). The third was purchased from a collector as a find in Kerch or on the Taman Peninsula.

According to the visual analysis of the color and structure of the clay, it is believed that terracotta is of Attic origin. The most probable date of their creation was the last third of the 4th century BCE.

Different views were expressed on the interpretation of these figurines. The depicted man was defined as a drunken Hercules, an actor in the role of Hercules or Silenus. Iconographic analysis of the figurines allows to state that they represent the actor of the Ancient or Middle Attic comedy. Typical elements of the actors' costumes were tight-leg trousers, a thickening on the abdomen, and an artificial phallus. Just in such clothes, the actors are represented on black-figured vases from the south of Italy and on numerous terracotta items of the 4th century BCE. Among them, there are figurines depicting actors in the role of mythical characters. Certain markers were used to indicate a character. The figurines we are considering do not have any of the attributes of Hercules. Lowered oblong object that the man holds in his left hand is a torch. The presence of a torch, in this case, can have different interpretations: either it is associated with a certain ritual, or shows that the action takes place in the dark. Tympana were used during orgiastic dances and religious festivals in honor of Dionysus and Cybele. They are often depicted in the hands of maenads. Ivy wreaths with corymbs are the usual peculiar features of the image of Dionysus and his companions – satyrs, silens, Pan, and maenads. An important detail is the presence of two pairs of ears: animal pointed ears, which are the element of the mask and the actor's ears. Such pointed ears are a sign of Satyr or Silenus.

In general, these details confidently allow us to define the figurine as the image of the actor in the role of Silenus. Unfortunately, it is hardly possible to find out a specific literary work that could be illustrated by these figurines. We can only assume, taking into account the plot of the third figurine, that this character is associated with the myth of the birth of Dionysus, and his tutor Silenus. The link of these terracotta figurines with the cult of Dionysus, which has been emphasized by many researchers, is quite obvious.


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How to Cite
SavelievaK. (2021). Terracotta Figurines Depicting ‘Drunk Hercules’ from Northern Black Sea Region. Eminak: Scientific Quarterly Journal, (1(33), 230-243. https://doi.org/10.33782/eminak2021.1(33).504
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