This particular figure, rather than wearing the civilised dress of the Greek hoplite, is depicted as a Gaul. In the Hellenistic age, we can detect a real trend in commemorating victorious battles between the civilised and uncivilised – this was a direct result of Alexander’s conquests, and crucially the Attalid victories over the Celts in the course of the third century BC. Testaments to this new interest in representing the defeated in contrast to the victors include the Pergamon Altar and the Attalid dedication to the Athenian Acropolis (often known as the Little and Great Gauls). The civilised nation’s fighters would be depicted wearing either the classical costume of the hoplite, or in heroic nudity, with rippling, exaggerated musculature – the ultimate image of order, accomplishment and prowess. In opposition would be the barbarian – unkempt, with unruly body hair, wearing foreign costume, usually depicted in physical postures of weakness: in the process of being defeated, begging for mercy, or lying prostrate.
This particular barbarian is wearing a Phrygian cap – a soft fox-skin or wool bonnet worn by Thracian mercenaries. In time, the cap became an indication of eastern origin for the portrayal of deities and mythological figures in art. Like the other attributes, the head piece places this figure in physical opposition to the Hellenised Greek. Unusually, and excitingly, traces of the original paint pigment can still be seen on the Gaul’s beard and hair.
To find out more about polychromy in ancient art, please refer to our relevant article: Polychromy in Ancient Greece.