Tiny, 1800-year-old portrait of Alexander the Great found in Denmark

“I nearly fell out of my chair,” says Danish archaeologist Freerk Oldenburger referring to the moment he realised he was looking at a small bronze portrait of Alexander the Great found in Denmark.

Oldenburger added in his comments to Live Science that the piece “has the typical attributes of Alexander the Great, such as his distinct wavy hair and ram horns.”

It was unearthed by metal detectors Finn Ibsen and Lars Danielsen who were conducting survey work in a field outside Ringsted, a city on the island of Zealand, 50km southwest of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen.

The bronze fitting, known as a bracket, was given to Museum West Zealand where Oldenburger works. It’s about 2.7 centimetres in diameter and made of a bronze alloy.

The mini portrait dates to about 200 CE. This places it at roughly the same time as the Roman emperor Caracalla who ruled from 198 to 217 CE.

“We know that he was completely obsessed with Alexander the Great and was interested and inspired by him, since he was the greatest conqueror of that time,” Oldenburger explains.

Caracalla often “dressed with the same style and believed he was Alexander the Great reincarnated,” Oldenburger adds. “Caracalla is also the only emperor of his time to be depicted with a shield containing a portrait of Alexander the Great.”

While the Roman empire at the time did not extend as far north as Denmark, trade and commerce between Romans and the north and east was common.

During Caracalla’s reign a large battle took place between Germanic armies on the Danish Jutland at Illerup Ådal. Excavations have revealed many of the shields used in the clash were adorned with portraits of warriors, according to a Museum West Zealand statement.

Despite being nearly 2,000km from his birthplace in Macedonia, one such portrait is of Alexander the Great. The newly discovered bracket is almost identical.

“But this one is a little more coarse and is made of cast bronze and not gilded silver,” Oldenburger says. “The bronze alloy also contains a high lead content and was made using an alloy often found in [Roman] bronze statuettes. It’s possible that a statuette was melted down to make this portrait.”

Alexander the Great is considered the ultimate military commander of antiquity. His empire stretched from Greece to India. He was born in 356 BCE and was assassinated in Babylon at the age of 32.

“This is a unique find in Scandinavia with connections to one of the most famous personalities in world history,” Oldenburger says.

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