Depictions of slaves are relatively common in funerary art. They appear in reliefs, attending to their master or mistress, and from the fourth century BC they also feature as statues flanking the grave marker. Their physical appearance conforms to a formulaic, repeated iconography which includes the short chiton and short haircut seen on this statue.
But beyond such simple details, Hellenistic sculptures in this genre also manage to express physical and psychological complexity. This boy’s thin body and large head are an example: he has a gaunt skull covered by short hair; large ears; a jutting jawbone; a short, wide, pudgy nose; and protruding lips, noticeable especially in profile view. The features are unmistakably meant to highlight that he is not Greek. While depictions of foreigners or exotic persons appear as early as the fifth century BC, they lack such a psychological valence as seen in this statue. The boy cranes his neck forward slightly and turns his head up and to the right. With such large eyes he looks fearful as well as devoted to his deceased master – who, like the slave, would have been represented in a separately worked naiskos (an architectural frame resembling a temple). A larger scale for the statue of the master would underscore the difference in social status between the two figures. Such statue groups and the nearly freestanding reliefs that also decorated family graves can be seen in the Berlin Antikensammlung. That the slave statue belonged to such a group is also suggested by the handling of the back side, which is only roughly carved.