The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Dying Gaul

Dying gaul

The “Dying Gaul” portrays a Gallic warrior in his final moments, his face contorted in pain as he struggles from a fatal wound.

The Dying Gaul, is an Ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture, executed in bronze.  The original Greek statue is thought to have been commissioned some time between 230 and 220 BC by King Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Galatians in Anatolia, modern Turkey. In 278 BC several Celtic tribes crossed over into Asia Minor and were resisted by the Attalids of Pergamon, who fought in defense of the Greek cities in the region.

The Dying Gaul was part of a large sculptural grouping of an epic monument to commemorate the decisive Hellenistic victory over the invading Gauls from nearby Galatia. The lost, probably melted down bronze original was taken from the Pergamon site by the Emperor Nero to Rome where it was used to decorate his gigantic gold, jewel-encrusted Golden House.

The marble sculpture depicts a naked man with a celtic torc around his neck, on the ground atop his shield, wounded and supporting himself with one arm, the other resting weakly on his bent leg. The hand on the ground is next to a broken sword, his head is bent downward to the point where we can’t really see his face. He is bleeding from a chest wound on the left side of rib cage and he is slowly dying.

Greek and Roman historians recorded that the Celts of Asia Minor fought naked and their wounds became visible. According to the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

“Our enemies fight naked. What injury could their long hair, their fierce looks, their clashing arms do us? These are mere symbols of barbarian boastfulness.”

The “Dying Gaul” became a celebrated work and was engraved and copied by many artists, for whom it was the classic model for the depiction of emotion and pathos. It became greatly admired among the educated classes in the 17th and 18th centuries and was a “must-see” sight on the Grand Tour of Europe. Byron was one such visitor, commemorating the statue in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

“I see before me the gladiator lie
He leans upon his hand—his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low—
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one…”

It was widely copied, with many wealthy patrons commissioning their own reproductions of the Dying Gaul.

Dying Gaul-Ørstedsparken- Copenhagen

Dying Gaul at Ørstedsparken in Copenhagen

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Dying Gaul
  • Date:                     Original Greek ~ 230 and 220 BCE
  • Date:                     Roman Copy ~ 100 and 200 BCE
  • Material:             Bronze
  • Dimensions:       75 cm × 114 cm (30 in × 45 in)
  • Museums:           Capitoline Museums

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“Gaul is subdued.” Julius Caesar

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Photo Credit:1) By Copy after Epigonosantmoose ([1]) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons