Portrait of a philosopher

Early Byzantine Period
late 4th–5th century

Findspot: Anatolia (Turkey), Troad, Assos (Behramkale), Agora; Place of Manufacture: Greece or Turkey, Attica or Troad, Athens or Assos

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 373; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 115 (additional published references).


28.7 cm (11 5/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble from Mt. Pentelikon near Athens Crystalline Greek marble, from the northern Aegean islands (not Thasos) or western Asia Minor.

On View

Antioch Mosaic Gallery (Gallery 214A)


Europe, The Ancient World



The philosopher or magistrate, with his long, pointed beard and gaze turned heavenward, was shown standing, probably wearing the Greek pallium (a type of cloak or mantle) rather than the Roman toga. The sculptors who produced portraits of this type flourished along the Ionian coast in the period about AD 160 to 260.

The head is over life-size. The hair and beard are rendered with a combination of flat chisel and drill work.

The head is broken from the right cheek to the brow and then across the brow. The back of the head and neck have been deliberately taken off, perhaps when the piece was used as building material. The left eye and eye brow are chipped. The upper half of the left eye and the brow above it are visible in a photograph in “Investigations at Assos,” but this (then-detached) fragment apparently never reached Boston. The base of the neck is rounded for insertion in a draped statue. The underside and side of the throat have been worked over with a claw-chisel. There is a pin hole on the left side of the brow. What remains of the head is fresh, with a yellow patina.

Scientific Analysis:
Harvard Lab No. HI770: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.73 / delta18O -6.86, Attribution - Pentelikon, Justification - Micaceous, fine grained marble.

[Label text]:
The long beard recalls images of Greek philosophers of earlier times. Its elongation and its smoothly stylized wrinkles give the head the solemnity characteristic of early Byzantine portraiture.


From Assos (Behramkale, Turkey); Agora. 188?: excavated by the Archaeological Institute of America; gift of the Archaeological Institute of America to MFA, January 1884.

Credit Line

Gift of the Archaeological Institute of America