Nike Monument

First half of the 2nd century B.C.
Parian marble for the statue; Lartos from Rhodes for the base

The most famous monument of Samothrace—and one of the earliest discoveries--is the great marble Winged Victory (Nike in Greek) lighting on the prow of a ship that appears to move swiftly forward.  She touches down lightly on her slightly bent right leg while her left leg trails behind. Her torso twists, leaning to her right as her shoulders incline slightly towards her left. Her wings are blown back behind her, the right, as we now know, rising higher and more windswept than the left. Her dress billows over her thigh, chest, and stomach, clinging to her body while it gathers between her striding legs and around her hips, creating a contrast between smooth skin and textured cloth.  The ship’s prow, set at angle to the rectangular precinct, emerged from the monument as though it were actually sailing through water, with the statue turned slightly inward toward the Sanctuary.  The statue exemplifies the movement, gesture, and rich texturing of the finest Hellenistic sculpture. The Nike is carved from creamy colored Parian marble, while the ship is made of dark blue Rhodian marble from Lartos.

            Originally, the Nike stood in an architectural niche above the theater and to the south of the stoa.  Rising a towering 5.57 m. into the air, the great ensemble of ship and Victory were visible from many vantages within the Sanctuary.  However, it is possible that the precinct walls, which are constructed of ashlar masonry, originally supported a roofed enclosure for the statue, which would have protected the statue but considerably reduced her visibility.   The boulder retaining wall now visible at the site was later placed around the precinct to protect the monument.  At one time it was thought that the monument formed a fountain, but that reconstruction now seems unlikely.

            The Nike must commemorate a great victory; the prominence of the ship suggests that the victory was connected with a naval engagement or with the achievement of naval supremacy. However, just when the Nike was commissioned and what she commemorates remains deeply  contested. For many years, the style, material, and subject suggested to scholars that the Nike was dedicated by the Rhodians, whose navy was particularly accomplished and powerful at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd centuries B.C.  The dark stone of the base has been associated with the quarries at Lartos on the island of Rhodes, and the ship has been identified as a trihemiolia.  While the trihemiolia was common in many Hellenistic navies, it was especially prized by the Rhodians.   Recently, however, the Rhodian naval connection has come under sharp scrutiny, and a range of dates, both earlier and later, have been proposed.

            The Nike was found in April of 1863 by a French expedition led by the amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, vice-consul to Adrianople (modern Edirne).  Most of the remains were sent to Paris, where the reconstructed statue was installed in the Louvre in 1884 on the landing of the great Daru Stairway.  She continues to command this dramatic position today.  In 1950, part of her right hand was discovered and joined with a thumb and ring finger that had been discovered by Austrian archaeoloists.  Today, a plaster cast of the statue, along with a very few recently discovered fragments, are in the Samothrace Archaeological Museum.


Selected Bibliography:

Hamiaux, M. 1998. “La Victoire de Samothrace. Mode d'assemblage de la statue,” CRAI pp.        365-376.

Hamiaux, M. 2001. “La Victoire de Samothrace. Découverte et restauration,” JSav pp. 152-223.

Hamiaux, M.  2006. “La victoire de Samothrace. Construction de la base e reconstitution,”           MonPiot 85, pp. 5-60.

Hamiaux, M.  2007. La Victoire de Samothrace. Paris.

Knell, H. 1995. Die Nike von Samothrake. Typus, Form, Bedeutung und Wirkungsgeschichte         eines rhodischen Sieges-Anathems im Kabirenheiligtum von Samothrake. Darmstadt.

Lehmann, K. 1952. “Samothrace: Fifth Preliminary Report,” Hesperia 21, pp. 19-43.

Louvre website.  “A Closer Look at the Winged Victory of Samothrace,”

Mark, I. 1998. “The Victory of Samothrace,” in Regional Schools in Hellenistic Sculpture, ed.             O. Palagia and W. Coulson, Oxford, pp. 157-165.

Ridgway, B. S. 2000. Hellenistic Sculpture II, Madison, Wisc.