Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Game Piece with Hercules Throwing Diomedes to His Man-Eating Horses

ca. 1150
Made in Cologne, Germany
Elephant ivory
Overall: diam. 2 3/4 x 13/16 in. (diam. 7 x 2 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1916
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 304
This carved ivory disk is a tableman, a game piece used in tables, the medieval precursor of backgammon. Each player had fifteen pieces; traditionally one set depicted the labors of the classical hero Hercules and the other showed the feats of Samson, the Old Testament strongman. In this example, Hercules appears on the left, holding upside down Diomedes, king of Bistonia. According to the myth, Diomedes kept man-eating horses until Hercules fed them the king himself. Here the horses, who have doglike faces and lions' manes, tear into their former master.
[ Giorgio Sangiorgi, Rome (sold 1916)]
Goldschmidt, Adolph. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der romanischen Zeit, XI.-XIII. Jahrhundert. Vol. 3. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1923. no. 183, pp. 7, 9, 43, pl. LIII.

Beckwith, John. Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1972. no. 125, p. 147, fig. 228.

Mann, Vivian B. "Romanesque Ivory Tablemen." PhD diss., New York University, 1977. no. 181, p. 324.

Mann, Vivian B. "Samson vs. Hercules: A Carved Cycle of the Twelfth Century." ACTA 7 (1980 [1983]). p. 3, fig. 15.

Survival of the Gods: Classical Mythology in Medieval Art. Providence, R.I.: Brown University, 1987. no. 17, pp. 58–60.

Jordan, Annemarie. "The Quest for Immortality: The Metamorphoses of Hercules." In Survival of the Gods: Classical Mythology in Medieval Art. Providence, R.I.: Brown University, 1987. p. 15, (as cat. no. 17).

Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings: Early Christian to Romanesque. London: V & A Publications, 2010. p. 421.

Täube, Dagmar, and Miriam Verena Fleck, ed. Glanz und Größe des Mittelalters: Kölner Meisterwerke aus den großen Sammlungen der Welt. Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2011. no. 8, pp. 252–53.

Bardiès-Fronty, Isabelle, and Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, ed. Art du Jeu, Jeu dans l'Art: De Babylone à l’Occident Médiéval. Paris: Musée National du Moyen Âge - Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, 2012. no. 110, p.116.

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