Pergamon Altar Browser

go to the Pergamon Altar-Browser

Prof. Dr. Dietrich Boschung, Prof. Dr. Reinhard Förtsch, Prof. Dr. Andreas Scholl

After a three-million-Euro restoration, the Pergamon Altar is now in better condition than it has been since its discovery. Its appearance was impacted early on by modern additions, and obscured by decades of accumulating dust. Now, however, the surface can be seen afresh, impressive time and again to interested museum visitors and specialists alike. For this reason the frieze was documented photographically in multiple stages, first in overall views and again in detailed views of the heads. Priority was placed on making these images available for teaching and research, granting the monument an accessibility commensurate with its new condition: therefore an image browser was created with the support of the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, continuing the concept of the very popular Ara Pacis Browser in the ARACHNE database.


The Pergamon Altar belongs to a small group of outstanding monuments of classical archaeology which are of primary importance for understanding and studying the Hellenistic era. Through this building the Attalids demonstrated and justified their rule over western Asia Minor, purporting to introduce and protect culture as well as to keep peace – expressed through the representation in high relief of the Olympian gods defeating the Giants. Over 180 figures occupy the frieze: not only the Olympians, but also the most obscure and rarely depicted mythological characters are assembled with unusual completeness. Although many of these figures had no firm iconographical tradition, many of the rules of ancient iconography do not apply in any case. This leads to a semantic “grey area” surrounding the gods and Giants, raising hermeneutic difficulties in identifying quite which ones are portrayed. This contrast between comprehensiveness and ambiguity is framed by an overarching categorization according to both subject matter and cosmic order. By contrast, the smaller and more intimately situated Telephos Frieze takes a well-known starting point: the foundation myth of Greek Pergamon. Here the Pergamene rulers show their sovereign dealings with imported Greek culture in a variety of ways, including several early examples of classicism and musealization. The Pergamon Altar is also then a milestone in the history of ancient artistic styles, particularly considering the uneven preservation of Hellenistic monuments; among other things, it is essential to arguments ascribing certain aspects of late Republican and early Imperial art to Pergamene origins. Such a point of reference among the many expired centers of Hellenistic art, however, also harbors the very real danger of overemphasis – a discussion that occasionally continues in the form of the Pergamene sculptor Phyromachos.


These issues, central to research on the Pergamon Altar, must be evaluated from a functional, iconographical, and stylistic perspective, especially in relation to the new condition of the frieze after its comprehensive restoration (1994-2004). Equally important is to make these topics more widely known. To this end an updated image browser has been instated by the Archaeological Institute in Cologne (Prof. Dr. D. Boschung, Prof. Dr. R. Förtsch) and the Antiquities Collections of the State Museums of Berlin (Prof. Dr. Andreas Scholl) in connection with The Berlin Sculpture Network (Das Berliner Skulpturennetzwerk). This browser subsumes the photographs of the frieze in its new condition and combines them with textual annotations.