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Ancient Marble Figurine of a Roman Boxer Found in City Of David

An 1,800-year-old marble figurine of a Roman boxer is the newest discovery at Jerusalem's City of David archaeological treasure trove.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 1/26/2009, 4:36 PM / Last Update: 1/27/2009, 4:36 PM

Israel News Photo: Clara Amit /IAA

Archaeologists have discovered an 1,800-year-old marble figurine of what is believed to be the head of a Roman boxer. The bust was found during excavations in the area of the Givati car park in the City of David, across the street from the Dung Gate leading to the Western Wall (Kotel).

The figurine, which depicts the head of a man with a short, curly beard, is carved from pale yellow marble and might indicate the raw material came from Asia Minor, according to excavation directors Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets.

"The high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary, while meticulously adhering to the tiniest of details," said the two archaeologists in a statement issued by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"Its short curly beard, as well as the position of its head, which is slightly inclined to the right, are indicative of an obviously Greek influence and show that it should be dated to the time of the Emperor Hadrian or shortly thereafter (2-3 CE). This is one of the periods when the art of Roman sculpture reached its zenith," they noted.

The stylistic motifs of the figurine, such as the short hair style, the prominent lobes and curves of the ears, as well as the almond-shaped eyes, suggest that the object most likely portrays an athlete, noted the archaeologists, probably a boxer. In fact, a bronze sculpture of a boxer currently on display in the Berlin State Museum ("The Boxer") strongly resembles the figurine found in Jerusalem, they said.

The two researchers added that two tiny holes drilled into the neck of the figurine, which contained the remnants of metal that was inserted in them, indicate that this had been a suspended weight which was used with hanging scales characteristic of the Roman period.

Miniature bronze images of athletes and philosophers as well as other figures were commonly used as suspended weights in regions under the control of the Roman Empire from Pompeii to Sepphoris.

The figurine, which is the only one of its kind ever seen in this region, apparently was brought into the region by traveling merchants, according to the archaeologists.

"We can assume that this marble weight belonged to a family of merchants who originally came from somewhere in the eastern part of the Roman Empire," they said.

"Being a precious object the weight was passed down from generation to generation in the family until sometime in the fourth-fifth century CE when an unidentified merchant was so unfortunate as to stay in the public building which is currently being uncovered," they conjectured. "A very severe tremor struck the building, and resulted in its complete destruction." 

Not long ago, one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever found in Jerusalem was discovered at the same site, consisting of 264 gold coins. It was found at about the same time that a gold earring, inlaid with expensive pearls and remarkably well preserved, was also uncovered at the site. 

(Photos: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)