Motya Charioteer

Heracles Melqart

As it is possible to notice by the Cypriot monetary issues, the syncretism between Heracles and Melqart testifies the presence of a beardless head, only covered by a lion skin, where Greek stylistic features seem to prevail over Phoenician ones. As regards the Heracles of Cyprus, Paolo Moreno was the only scholar who tried to describe a reconstruction of the missing parts, “this reconstruction was conducted taking into account not only the clamps and the signs of the bronze cover remained on the marble, but also the compositional, proportional and perspectival anomalies of the figure, in their complexity and unity”. It seems pertinent to integrally share the hypothesis of Moreno, which we already formulated independently a few years ago, after an autoptic reconnaissance of the statue. As a matter of fact, the interpretation of the character represented in the statue of Mothya has to be based only on the integration of the iconographic elements which have been lost.


All the signs on the statue are compatible with a lion skin which is typical of Heracles, it is realized in bronze and secured with some clamps. However, from our point of view, the two holes on the top of the chest, located at the level of the band which encircles the chiton, can only be justified by the attachment of the front paws of the lion skin, which are knotted, as usually, with the “herculean knot”, also called “square knot”. 


In the so-called Heracles of Cyprus, the god is shown on the front, the lion skin is knotted on the chest and falls on the back of the shoulders. The peculiar feature of this iconographic type is represented by the position of the right arm, which is uplifted in the act of striking a blow with a club, held above the head, in the position of the “god who strikes”, already known from the Egyptian world. The peculiarity of this representation makes us diverge from the reconstruction of Moreno, which believed that the statue had the arm extended, holding the bronze club in the posterior part of the head, just above the shoulders, not necessarily fixed with the same clamps which held the lion skin. 

Our reconstruction shows Heracles/Melqart, with the lion skin on the head, falling on the back and knotted on the upper part of the chest; the clothing consists in a long chiton, held by a band which intersects on the chest; the god appears in a chiasmus which is similar to the one that is found in the Riace Bronzes, but with a substantial difference: the right arm is uplifted and the left hand relies on the hip. From the iconographic point of view, it is necessary to integrate a lion skin and a bronze club, probably subject of depredation by Dionysius the Elder’s warriors, after the capture of Mothya in the 398/7 B.C. In this perspective, it would be possible to connect the cult statue of Heracles/Melqart with the nearby temple of Cappiddazzu. Based on which it has been argued: the hero of Greeks is charged with the symbolic values of the Milk-Qart “The King of the City” of Tyre, which can be easily distinguished from its Hellenic counterpart due to its beardless face; moreover, as it is known, the western part of Sicily, with the fortress of Lilybaeum, was under the protection of this god, which took the name of Ras Melqart

English translation by Corinna Castrizio.