Metal Detectorists Unearth Tiny Bronze Portrait of Alexander the Great in Denmark

Researchers think the 1,800-year-old artifact could be linked to a Roman emperor who was “obsessed” with the Macedonian conqueror

Alexander disc
The newly discovered bronze disc depicts Alexander the Great with wavy hair and ram horns. M. Petersen, Museum Vestsjælland

A one-inch bronze portrait of Alexander the Great dating to around 200 C.E. has been unearthed on an island in Denmark.

Two metal detectorists, Finn Ibsen and Lars Danielsen, were searching a field outside of Ringsted, a city on the island of Zealand, when Ibsen came across the unusual object.

“I stand and jump on the spot and … wave Lars over,” Ibsen recalls to Kristoffer Koch of the Danish news outlet TV2 Øst, per Google Translate. “He comes running, and we can see that it is unique. It is a face.”

The friends handed the portrait over to Denmark’s Museum West Zealand. Archaeologists aren’t certain about the small disc’s function, but they say it could have been a decoration attached to a shield or sword belt.

Freerk Oldenburger, an archaeologist at the museum, tells Live Science’s Jennifer Nalewicki that the disc is “almost identical” to a silver artifact found several years ago in Jutland, Denmark.

“It’s quite a remarkable piece,” he says. “When it showed up on my desk, I nearly fell out of my chair because it’s almost the exact same portrait as the other, but this one is a little more coarse and is made of cast bronze and not gilded silver.”

Oldenburger called the metal detectorists and explained what he’d pieced together. Ibsen was thrilled to hear more about his discovery. As he tells TV2 Øst, “Being taken 2,000 years back in time gives a huge rush.”

Alexander the Great was an ancient Macedonian king who ruled in the fourth century B.C.E. His empire was one of the largest in the ancient world, spanning multiple continents and stretching from Greece and Egypt to India. According to a statement from Museum West Zealand, researchers recognized the ruler’s visage from the figure’s signature wavy hair and decorative crown of twisted ram horns.

The metal disc was made some 500 years after Alexander’s reign, and researchers speculate that it may be linked to the Roman Empire. According to the museum, Alexander was a “great role model” for Roman leaders—and a particularly influential figure for the emperor Caracalla, who reigned from 198 to 217 C.E.

The disc dates to “around the same time as Caracalla,” Oldenburger tells Live Science. “We know that he was completely obsessed with Alexander the Great and was interested and inspired by him, since he was the greatest conqueror of that time period.”

Caracalla was so consumed with him that he even “dressed with the same style and believed he was Alexander the Great reincarnated,” Oldenburger adds. “Caracalla is also the only emperor of his time to be depicted with a shield containing a portrait of Alexander the Great.”

If the disc is connected to ancient Rome, how did it travel all the way to Denmark? Researchers aren’t sure, but they note that trade routes likely connected the two societies.

“[The bronze disk] shows that even the smallest archaeological objects can hide absolutely incredible stories,” says Oldenburger in the statement. “This is a unique find in Scandinavia with connections to one of the most famous personalities in world history.”

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