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Heraclius, the Boar Hunter: Notes on the Hermitage Meleager and Atalanta Silver Plate

Abstract : The Hermitage silver plate Inv. no. ω 1 represents Meleager and Atalanta, accompanied by two servants at the beginning of their successful hunt of Calydon. The plate can be compared with the famous David plates discovered in Cyprus, for some decoration details but also for their aim in political communication. Heraclius, the basileus who claimed Cappadocian and maybe even Arsacid roots, was hunter of lions and wild boars (Fredegar, Chronicle 4.65 630). He probably used the royal symbolism of the boar hunting imitating the emperors Diocletian, Constantine, Constance II as well as Gregory the Illuminator, the convertor of the Armenians. Through the epic myth of Meleager, Heraclius could have express his ambition or pride at defeating the most terrible boar ravaging his empire and killing the innocent lamb, symbol of the Holy Cross and of his Christian subjects: this “Boar of the Empire” was Šahrwarāz, general of the Sassanian king Chosroes II and king himself in 630 AD. The tragic myth of Meleager, who sacrificed himself for his love towards Atalanta, was also a good answer to those who criticized Heraclius’ incestuous marriage with Martina, his companion in the Persian campaigns. Even if we lack literary sources confirming it, we must assume that representations of Meleager and Atalanta, common in the Roman art of the 2nd-5th/6th centuries AD, were still well known at the beginning of the 7th century. More precisely than the stamps who suggest a date before 630 AD, this show-plate fits the context of 622/624 AD, when Heraclius and Martina (alias Meleager and Atalanta) get married and obtained their first important victories against the Sassanians in Asia Minor.
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Contributor : Anca Dan <>
Submitted on : Friday, January 10, 2020 - 7:07:15 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 4:10:53 AM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-02435492, version 1

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Anca Dan. Heraclius, the Boar Hunter: Notes on the Hermitage Meleager and Atalanta Silver Plate. Bulletin of the Asia institute / Asia institute (Detroit, Mich.), 2019, 2015-2019, 29, pp.137-174. ⟨halshs-02435492⟩

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