Face of the Greek God Pan

Pan mask uncovered at Hippos, Israel

pan-mask

GREEK GOD PAN. The Pan mask unearthed at Hippos, Israel, depicts a youth with horns, pointed ears and strands of a goat beard. Photo: M. Eisenberg

In November 2014, the team at Antiochia Hippos, Israel, uncovered an extraordinary artifact—a large bronze mask of the Greek god Pan (or Faunus in the Roman pantheon). The mask depicts a young man with small horns on his head, a forelock, long pointed ears and strands of a goat beard. With glazed, furious eyes and a gaping mouth, the Pan mask appears to watch the passing world.

Michael Eisenberg, Director of the Hippos-Sussita Excavations, details this new discovery in
“Pan at Hippos—Face of Greek God Unearthed,” published in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Weighing more than 11 pounds and measuring nearly 12 inches tall, the Pan mask is made of well-cast bronze. It was discovered outside the walled city of Hippos, Israel—in a basalt tower with 6.5-foot-wide exterior walls.

Dr. Alexander Iermolin, the head conservator at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University, uncovered the Pan mask above a first-century C.E. floor while operating a metal detector in the basalt tower. Although the mask was not found in situ on the floor, it should also be dated to the first–second centuries C.E.

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pan-mask-2

GREEK GOD PAN PARTIALLY CLEANED. Here the Pan mask from Hippos, Israel, is shown after its left half has been cleaned. After checking the results, the conservators cleaned and stabilized the rest of the mask. Photo: M. Eisenberg

The Pan mask at Hippos, Israel, is an extraordinary and unique find, but Eisenberg explains that some parallels exist in the archaeological record:

Similar masks—perhaps influenced by the style of theater masks—are known from the Hellenistic and Roman world, but all of these are made of stone and were never indented to be worn as actual masks … Several sculptures depicting a similar portraiture as our mask, dated to the first–second centuries C.E., are made of marble and bronze. They are generally referred to as satyri and sometimes as Pans/Fauns. Their common characteristic is the young face, sometimes furious and sometimes mischievous; they often bear two small horns on their foreheads and long pointed ears.

Because of the mask’s size and weight, as well as lack of eyeholes, it was immediately clear to the excavators that the Pan mask would not have been worn as a theater mask. What, then, was its function, and why was it outside the city’s walls?

In his BAR article, Eisenberg lists four hypotheses for the mask’s purpose, the first of which is that the mask might have been part of a shrine for the Greek god Pan—or the Roman god Faunus. Next to the main road leading to the city, the shrine would have been a logical location for Pan worship. Eisenberg explains, “The worship of rustic gods like Pan or Dionysus was often ecstatic in nature, involving occasional sacrifices, drinking, nudity and orgies. It was only natural that the city preferred such rituals to be performed outside its walls.”

There are other sites of worship dedicated to the Greek god Pan in the surrounding area, most notably the cave complex for Pan worship at Paneas (Caesarea Philippi).

To see the rest of Eisenberg’s hypotheses, as well as a full analysis of the Pan mask uncovered at Hippos, Israel, and a description of its conservation treatment, read his article “Pan at Hippos—Face of Greek God Unearthed” in the November/December 2015 issue of BAR.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Pan at Hippos—Face of Greek God Unearthed” by Michael Eisenberg in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Learn more about the site of Hippos-Sussita and the Greek god Pan in the BAS Library:

Michael Eisenberg and Arthur Segal, “The Spade Hits Sussita,” BAR, May/June 2006.

Vassillios Tzaferis, “Sussita Awaits the Spade,” BAR, September/October 1990.

Hershel Shanks, “Archaeological High Horse,” BAR, November/December 2014.

Michael Eisenberg and Arthur Segal, “Hercules in Galilee,” BAR, November/December 2011.

Vassilios Tzaferis and John F. Wilson, “Banias Dig Reveals King’s Palace,” BAR, January/February 1998.

Andrea M. Berlin, William W. Hallo, Michael Nelson, Jack Olive and Andrew J. Overman, “Debate: Where Was Herod’s Temple to Augustus?” BAR, September/October 2003.

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