Around 435 B.C., the Greek sculptor Phidias enriched the front of the shield at the side of his gold-and-ivory statue of Athena in the Parthenon with scenes of Greeks and Amazons battling in the Trojan War. In Roman times, certain figures from this complex struggle were lifted out of their original context and enlarged to become decorative reliefs for the walls of a colonnade or courtyard.
A wounded Greek warrior collapses to the ground after being struck a mortal blow from behind. The dying warrior’s noble countenance; the fillet, or ribbon, tied around his forehead; and his powerful, athletic body epitomize what Phidias and his pupils sought to project as the ideal of mature male dignity in the decade in which Athens was at the height of its power in the eastern Mediterranean world. Some five centuries later, collectors such as the Roman emperor Hadrian sought this Phidian style, translated from a circular golden shield to a rectangular marble relief, to decorate their palaces and villas. Athenian sculptors of the Roman Empire made a good living creating and exporting such memories of past glories. This relief and a number of others were found near Athens in the harbor of Piraeus, where they had been lost in a disaster, likely while awaiting shipment.