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The Dancing Attis: A Bronze Statue from the Macellum / Agora of Perge
İnci Delemen – Emine Koçak
During the 1971 excavation of the macellum / agora the fragments of a bronze statue were recovered from its eastern colonnade and associated with Attis at once. Besides the head and ca. 60 body fragments, the finds comprised a damaged branch of the same material and a large lump of lead. Finds were turned over to the Antalya Museum and in 2011, Istanbul University Perge team decided on the conservation and the re-erection of the statue. The outcome of this decision and of the work henceforth carried out by E. Koçak in 2012 with the sponsorship of TURSAB, was foreseen as a reversible process. Starting with the initial observations, every application in the 2012 conservation and restoration of the bronze fragments from the macellum was carefully documented. The extent of loss and deformation on the fragments, particularly at the zone between the torso and legs, did not permit the statue to be reassembled in a way to stand on its own. The solution was to re-erect the statue in two parts so as to be seen as a whole.

The work has not only provided a new item for display at the Museum, or conservation-restoration processes but also allowed us to acquire new archaeological evidence: 1. The results of the XRF and XRD analyses show that in most bronze samples taken from the statue, the bronze alloy is low in copper (29.86-47.74%); low in tin and high in lead; the alloy of the lips, understood to be different from the rest even with naked eye, is high in copper content. Signs of gilding or intentional patination have not been detected. 2. Additional material is encountered on the lips and the gold-inlaid pupil. 3. After the cleaning, signs of ancient repair on the statue have also become clearly visible. Patches that apparently served to hide the flaws in the casting are quite extensive both on the statue and on its base. Numerous small patches in rectangular shape have survived intact, but some are missing from their undercut cavities. It was understood that the right arm was damaged in Antiquity and had to be repaired. However, the substitute arm changed the center of gravity; therefore, a moulded piece of lead was added inside the right shoulder in order to maintain the balance of the statue. The left foot, which was broken off at the ankle, was fixed with a new plaque on the inside. 4. The top of the bronze base shows the footprints of the statue while its garment displays some ornaments revealing his divine quality. On the other hand, interventions before 2012 caused some details to disappear. Apart from the facts that the indirect casting procedure was employed and that the statue was cast in several pieces, there is not much to be said. The cap was cast separately; in order to receive the cap the cranium was cast open. The soles of the shoes were likewise cast open with a narrow cast edge on the bottom. However, it is not possible to ascertain in how many pieces the statue was originally cast and the assembled.

The result of 2012 work was a slightly smaller than life-size bronze statue of a boy at puberty standing on an Attic-Ionic base. The base must have been placed on top of a stone postament, which would either incorporate the round top of the pedestal or be set inside a deep circular groove that was cut in its upper surface. The footsteps do not only manifest that the feet were soldered onto the base but clarify their position with supports getting higher towards the heels, i.e. the figure rises on the fore part of both his feet. The body makes a turn towards the right. The head is tilted to the same direction, while the left arm is trailing behind. From the position of the feet to the fingers, all details point to dancing. The right arm does not exist, but what remains of the shoulder suggests that it was upraised. Most probably the figure held high a stylized branch, spotted next to the statue, in his missing right hand.

The boy is clad in a one-piece garment with a top and leggings. A narrow belt divided into squares that are alternately filled with incised swastikas and star-like rosettes restricts the chest. The leggings cover the buttocks and are attached by small fibulae along the front, forming five oval loops on the legs. The fibulae, a few of which have survived, were modelled separately and attached to their places. The shoes, fastened at the ankles, have three loops similar to those on the trousers, but their joints are concealed under a band. In overall, the drapes are not frequent, but shallow and linear. This economic workmanship brings the statue to nudity on one side while it also covers anatomic details to some extent.

The iconography that comprises youth, dance, Phrygian cap, and looped leggings with bare abdomen and genitals leads us to Kybele’s self-mutilating devotee Attis confidently. Ancient sources tell about the March ceremonies consecrating Attis. After days of penitence, mutilation, and mourning, which re-enacted his story, it was on 25 March that Attis’s resurrection was celebrated. On this day called “Hilaria”, mourning altered into the joy of rebirth. The bronze statue from Perge materializes this sentiment of hilaritas. Significantly it is conveyed by Attis himself.

The one-piece clothing on the statue that leaves the abdomen and genitals visible also alludes to emasculation as a means to regeneration. The styling of the belt on the Perge find, in fact, recalls a somewhat similar yet distinct type of costume widely attested on the depictions of Attis, also from the late fourth century B.C. onward. This type features anaxyrides and a separate knee-length tunica manicata generally girt on the chest. It could be concluded that the garment on the bronze treated here blends Attis’s two main types of clothing in an unfamiliar fashion.

The Phrygian cap is a standart attribute but seldom embellished with stars. In this respect Julian the Apostate’s mention of Attis’s “starry cap” assumes special significance. When the search is not restricted to the star-studded cap and note is taken also of the star-like rosettes on the belt, testimonia increase. Literary, epigraphic, and numismatic data verify that Attis had a celestial character, which gained strength in the latter half of the second century A.D. Arising from his mythical rebirth / resurrection, the celestial aspect soared even higher in the Late Roman period and Attis evolved into a guarantor of immortality and afterlife.

Based solely on the iconography with components standart from the Hellenistic period onward, it is not possible to arrive at a fine dating for the bronze statue of Attis from Perge. There is only a weak implication of a date in the second half of the second century A.D. or later on account of the stars embellishing the cap and belt. The eyeballs that are cast together with the face are crucial, because they point to a t.p.q. in the late Hadrianic era. Such workmanship ordinarily includes more heavily incised irises and semicircular depressions on the pupils, which are not seen on the Perge Attis. This directs us to a late Hadrianic – early Antonine date when the standart workmanship on the eyes was not yet fully established, particularly, it would seem, in a modest workshop.

The installation of two older statues in the new macellum implies that they entailed significance for this building. Özdizbay has already commented on the statue of the priest of the imperial cult and identified him as Ti. Cl. Vibianus Tertullus, consul and senator, who was responsible for the construction of the stoa diple on the west of the macellum. The provenance of the Attis statue in the eastern colonnade and its round base suggest that the dancing Attis was displayed in the macellum to be seen from all sides. As for his inclusion in the marketplace, the joyful hope of regeneration, hence of abundance that was communicated by this very image must have played a major part.

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