Roman Marble Janiform Herm of Zeus Ammon and a Satyr

Roman · 1st – 2nd century A.D.




H: 26.6 cm





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Originally representing the Greek god Hermes, herms functioned as road or boundary-markers and were viewed by the Greeks as protectors of cities as well as houses. These sculptures consisted of a single bust of the god or other mythological being – or two busts placed back to back in the case of janiform herms – surmounting a pillar-like shaft set into the ground or fitted into a square base. The Athenians claimed credit for this sculptural type (Pausanias 1.24.3) and herms were common in Athens at crossroads, in the Agora, in sanctuaries, at the entrance to the Acropolis, and the doorways of private homes. By the Roman period herms had developed into a form of sculpture for placement in villa gardens.

For this janiform herm the heads of Zeus Ammon and a satyr are sculpted from a single block of marble, and are attached to each other from the top of the head down to the neck and shoulders. The face of Zeus has a heavy beard comprised of rows of deeply carved curls, and his pointed ears and large curving goat horns are the attributes of Zeus Ammon. With a heavily furrowed brow, deeply cut eyes, and full, slightly parted lips, the figure projects a strong image of an all-powerful god. The figure on the opposite side of the herm is a satyr, identifiable from the remains of the horns protruding from top of his head. His scruffy facial hair and furrowed brow contribute to the wild looking appearance appropriate for a follower of the wine-god Dionysos.

Already widespread in the Hellenistic period, the janiform herm with a Dionysiac subject is especially frequent at the beginning of the Imperial period, and in the first century A.D. herms depicting Zeus Ammon are often associated with Dionysos and Dionysiac themes. Ammon, the Hellenized name for Amun, is the great god of Egyptian Thebes and chief divinity of the Egyptian pantheon, and so was logically associated by the Greeks with Zeus. It was Alexander the Great’s visit to the oracular cult of Zeus Ammon at the Siwa Oasis that popularized the god in the Greek world and gave rise to the myth of Alexander as the son of Zeus Ammon. With subsequent coinage of Alexander representing his head with the horns of Zeus Ammon, the standing of this Egyptian god was forever solidified in the realm of Greek myth, religion, and art, and, as in this example, continued to inspire classicizing images produced in the Roman period.

Many combinations of heads for janiform herms are well attested and numerous deities were represented in that form. Herms similar to this example were found at Pompeii in the House of the Golden Cupid, the House of Marcus Lecretius, and the House of the Vettii, where they were mounted on slender columns and decorated the gardens of these villas. Such specialized works of art were even more popular at Herculaneum, where herms surmounted by double heads lined garden paths and were placed in the center of gardens or near fountains or pools. The reflection of these sculptures in garden waters increased the visual enjoyment of them and created a spacial effect similar to the illusion of space seen in Roman paintings that decorated the walls of these villas. Within a natural garden environment provided by plantings of boxwood, laurel, ivy, rosemary and evergreens, as cited by ancient literary sources, such herms added an element of man-made beauty and contributed to the fine sense of aesthetics for which the horticultural designs of Hellenistic and Roman gardens are known.


Good condition.


Art market, prior to 1965;

Ex-Switzerland Private Collection, 1965;

G. Réal Collection, Ancona, Switzerland.


FARRAR L., Ancient Roman Gardens, Stroud, 1998, pp. 100-101 (Janiform herms and garden plans from the House of the Golden Cupids and the House of Marcus Lucretius, Pompeii); pp. 122-125 (Janiform herms).

For comparable Janiform herms: Rediscovering Pompeii, Rome, 1992, pp. 259-263, nos. 181-182, in Italian and English, and the German translation, Pompeji wiederentdeckt, Rome, 1993, pp. 260-261, nos. 181-182.

BURKERT W., Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, Berkeley, 1979, pp. 39-41.

WREDE H., Die antike Herme, Mayence, 1985, pp. 29-30 (Zeus), pp. 52-54 (double herms).

For herms with Zeus Ammon and Dionysos:

BRIZZOLARA A., Le sculture del Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna: le collezione Marsili, Bologna, 1986, p. 97, figs. 90-91; Museo Nazionale Romano: Le sculture 1 1, Roma, 1979, p. 31, no. 30.

Museum Parallels

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, USA

The Museum of Fine Arts

Boston, USA

The British Museum

London, United Kingdom