An essential component of all collections of plaster casts of ancient statues were portraits of figures, both mythical and real, who embodied various desirable qualities such as generosity, loyalty, honour, justice, bravery or the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the common good.
One such figure was the Athenian strategos or general Miltiades (554–489 BC), who was responsible for the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). The Persian army was very successful at besieging cities, so Miltiades, who had the most experience of fighting the Persians, proposed a plan of battle that would instead see the opposing armies engage each other outside the city, in open country. The numerically superior Persians were defeated for the first time in decades and the Greek victory took its place in world history.
This plaster cast is based on a Roman copy from the second century AD, which was itself based on a Greek original from the 5th–4th century BC. Several portraits of Miltiades from Roman times survive, all of them based on Greek originals. One of the best known originals was created by the sculptor Phidias (480–430 BC) as part of a group of thirteen sculptures which, between 465 and 460 BC, the citizens of Athens dedicated at Delphi in thanks for the victory over the Persians at Marathon. The group was one of Phidias’s earliest works. As well as Miltiades, whom Phidias placed between the deities Athena and Apollo, the protectors of Athens and Delphi respectively, the group included depictions of ten other Attic heroes.
The bronze group was an embodied hymn to the divine protectors, the city of Athens, fraternal heroism, victory, wisdom and prudence.
The decoration on Miltiades’s helmet is clearly visible in the plaster cast, with depictions of griffins on either side and a bull on the neck guard. Miltiades is said to have donated his helmet to the temple of Zeus in thanks for his victory. Today it is kept in the museum at Olympia.
Plaster cast; Roman copy