018 - Fig1

PHRC018 : Dedication to Attalos I, Pergamon - Mysia (240-197 BC) Dedication

This finely inscribed and decorated altar is the only marble specimen from the Pergamon corpus of small altars of Attalos I Soter. Like the other small altars of the Attalid ruler cult from Pergamon, the rough back surface and its proportions suggest that it was meant to be placed against a wall or in a niche. This altar was found during the excavation of the theatre, a paramount location for the life of Pergamon since not only spectacles but also assemblies were held there. A dedication during the reign of Attalos I is plausible, in particular after the military successes by which he obtained the royal title and the epithet Soter.

Permanent ID  http://s.phrc.it/phrc018

Photo 1: Photo of the altar, from Bielfeldt 2010, p. 155, fig. 15
Photo 2: Drawing of the altar, from IvP I 44
Photo 3: Photo of the theatre of Pergamon; photo B. Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Current location

Archaeological Museum of Bergama


Object Type: Altar
Fragment of a rectangular altar. The lower part and the upper left corner are missing. The upper cornice has a decoration with rosettes and ‘Eierphiale’. The rough back surface suggests that the altar was meant to be placed against a wall or in a niche.
Material: Marble
Height: 50 cm
Width: 37,5 cm
Depth: 26 cm


Text elegantly written in three lines centred on the writing surface. Line 1 is slightly higher than the others.
Carefully engraved letters with slight thickening at the end of hastae. A with horizontal bar. Ω written slightly above the line and smaller than the rest of characters. The letter shape can point to the reign of Attalos I, but due to the conservative style of this type of elegant writing, a slightly later date cannot be ruled out. The stonecutter erroneously carved ΒΑΣΙΔΕΙ, which may be surprising in relation to the quality of the altar; yet cf. PHRC004 (thesauros in the sanctuary of the Egyptian gods in Thera) for a similar mistake (BΑΣΙΑΙΣΤΑΙ) on an otherwise carefully written dedication.
Letter of the same height in each line (2,5 cm for line 1; 2 cm for lines 2-3), with the exception of Ω at line 2, which is written slightly above the line and measures 1,5 cm.


Original Place: Pergamon, Theatre
Date: Probably between 240 and 197 BC
Justification: Formulary and lettering
Provenance: Found in the theatre of Pergamon, probably in its original location. A secondary hypothesis would be that the altar fell down from the upper terrace of Athena.


Text constituted from: IvP I 44.

Other editions:

See also: Bielfeldt 2010, p. 155, n. 110; Suk Fong Jim 2017; Caneva 2020.

Images: Bielfeldt 2010, p. 155, fig. 15 (erroneously referred to as IvP I 45); IvP I 44 (drawing).

Further bibliography: on the ritual function of small altars, Yavis 1949. On Attalos I against the Gauls and the epithet Soter, Hansen 1971, p. 28-38; Strootman 2005, p. 122-123; Muccioli 2013, p. 168. On the topography of Pergamon under Attalos I, see Bielfeldt 2010; Rheidt 2015; Pirson 2017.

Online record: PHI




Line 1: [ΒAΣ]IΔEI on the stone


To King Attalos Soter


Al re Attalos Soter


This finely executed altar is the only one made of marble from the dossier of dedications to Attalos I Soter in Pergamon. Small altars for Attalid kings (Attalos I and Eumenes II, at Pergamon and Herakleia near Latmos; see PHRC019-028) testify to the participation of non-institutional agents, such as associations and individuals, in the Attalid ruler cult. This specimen does not mention the donor, yet the choice of marble, an expensive material which was not quarried nearby Pergamon in Antiquity (Cramer 2004, p. 216-219), and the quality of the decoration and writing plausibly point to an agent belonging to the upper ranks of Pergamon society (Caneva 2020).

Like for the other preserved altars of Attalos I, the shape and measures of this specimen suggest that it was meant for libations and the burning of perfumes, not for animal sacrifices. This is the common use of small altars (such as those for Arsinoe Philadelphos), as already pointed out by Yavis 1949, p. 171-175.

Attalos deserved his epithet Soter together with the royal title in the years 230s, when he repeatedly defeated the army of the Seleucid rebel Antiochos Hierax and the troops of his Celtic allies, thus temporarily imposing Pergamon as a regional power in Western Asia Minor (Hansen 1971, p. 28-38; Strootman 2005, p. 122-123). On the ground of the letter shape, it is plausible that the altar belongs to this period, although the practice of dedicating altars to the cult of Attalos I may have survived at least down to the reign of Eumenes II, and perhaps even later (see commentary to PHRC021, 023, 024).

The archaeological context of discovery reveals that the Attalid altars were to a large extent dedicated in sanctuaries and other public spaces rather than in private houses (but see the exceptions of PHRC023 and PHRC024). This specimen was found during the excavation of the theatre, which probably is its original location. The new theatre of Pergamon was probably erected during the reign of Attalos I, replacing a previously existing structure. Since it also hosted the meetings of the people’s assembly (Bielfeldt 2010, p. 184; Rheidt 2015, p. 303), it constituted a perfect location to integrate the cult of Attalos I in the public life of the people of Pergamon.

Stefano Caneva, on 26.02.2019
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Travocial - Social Travel & Storytelling Practicalities of Hellenistic Ruler Cults
Marie Curie PISCOPIA project no. PISC14IGRU, University of Padova (2015-2017)
FNRS project no. 98368 (2017-2020)
Stefano Caneva
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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme, under Grant Agreement n° 600376 (2015-2017), and from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), Belgium (2017-2020).
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