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A ROMAN CARNELIAN RING STONE PORTRAIT OF PITTAKOS
A ROMAN CARNELIAN RING STONE PORTRAIT OF PITTAKOS

CIRCA LATE 1ST CENTURY B.C.-EARLY 1ST CENTURY A.D.

Details
A ROMAN CARNELIAN RING STONE PORTRAIT OF PITTAKOS
CIRCA LATE 1ST CENTURY B.C.-EARLY 1ST CENTURY A.D.
The thin flat oval stone engraved with a portrait head of the statesman and sage in profile to the left, with a ridged brow, large eye and prominent nose, his hair and beard a mass of short curly locks, an identifying inscription along the lower edge in Greek: \KPITTAKO\kC
11/16 in. (1.8 cm.) long
Provenance
Taraffe Collection, County Donegol, Ireland, 1930s.
Rik Mitchell, Brovington Jewellers, London, 1960s.

Lot Essay

Pittakos of Mytilene lived from circa 650-570 B.C. He was the strategos (commander) in the war against Athens for Sigeum. Around 611 B.C. he assisted in the overthrow Melanchrus, tyrant of Lesbos, and later succeeded in overthrowing other powerful aristocrats. Around 598 B.C. he was appointed aesymnetes (supreme ruler) of Lesbos for 10 years. At the end of his term he laid down his office and, like Solon, refused to become tyrant.

Pittakos was one of the "Seven Wise Men" of ancient Greece, first described as such by Plato (Protagoras, 343A). His best remembered law doubled the fines for any crime committed under the influence of alcohol. Wise sayings attributed to him include: "Forgiveness is better than vengeance;" and "Office shows the man." When he was asked what is best, he replied "to do well the work in hand."

Very few portraits survive of Pittakos, all of Roman date. As he lived long before the tradition of portraiture began, none of the surviving images accurately reflect his physiognomy, however, an inscribed herm in the Louvre and a terracotta statuette from Pompeii concur with this gem in terms of the style of the face and treatment of the hair and beard. See Richter, The Portraits of the Greeks, pp. 180-181.
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