I’m writing this from Athens, where we are currently sitting on the rooftop of our hotel, in full view of a lit up Acropolis (with Parthenon!) while drinking white wine. We spent the day in Delphi, climbing the mountainside to the ruins of the original temple where the Priestess of Apollo delivered her history-changing oracles to pretty much every major leader in the ancient world.
It was incredible traveling to Delphi, seeing the votive offerings and the “treasuries” from each Greek polis to the god, but that wasn’t my primary reason for going. I wanted to see the famous Aemilius Paulus monument, originally adorning a pillar just outside the entrance of the original temple of Apollo about halfway up the mountainside. If you haven’t read my post on the Battle of Pydna on this blog, go take a look at it now.
The Antigonid King Perseus had this pillar erected to host a bust of himself, as a means to establish the Antigonid presence close to the most important structure on Delphi (the Temple of Apollo). As we consider the various votive “treasuries” that dot the path on the way to the temple, they are grander and represent more important cities the closer you get, with (of course) the Athenian treasury being the closest.
After defeating Perseus at Pydna, Paulus laid claim to the Antigonid King’s pillar and made it his own. He established a series of four panels toward the top of the pillar which depicted the battle, and included the inscription: “L. AIMILIUS L.F. INPERATOR DE REGE PERSE MACEDONIBUSQUE CEPET” this translates roughly to “Lucius Aemilius, Imperator, took this from Perseus, King of the Macedonians.”
The monument is an incredible source for the battle, giving us valuable clues into arms and armor, tactics and representation of groups (Gauls, Attalids) in the respective armies. Writing in Hisperia, historian Michael J. Taylor has a great article that deep-dives into the monument, reconstructing it in detail. I highly recommend that interested folks read Taylor’s article (though, of course, we disagree with some of this interpretations and hope to raise these questions in a later article).
The Paulus monument is that rarest of things, a material source for a specific battle that can be considered alongside the literary sources, to gain a better understanding of the subject. And that the fact that it’s in the middle of the incredible archaeological site at Delphi is just icing on the cake.
When we talk about “sources” for a topic in history, it’s critical that we are considering all of them, literary, material and also geological, the ground itself. On this trip, we’ve been fortunate enough, for Pydna at least, to tackle all three.
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Entry #3: A Day in Pydna with Myke Cole