Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander III of Macedon, was one of the greatest military leaders in history. He ruled an empire that stretched from Greece to India during his lifetime, which was cut short when he died in Babylon at the young age of 32 in 323 BC.

Even centuries after his death, Alexander remained a legendary figure and an inspiring model for Roman emperors. One such emperor was the notorious Caracalla, who ruled from 198-217 AD and saw himself as a reincarnation of Alexander the Great.

During Caracalla’s reign, a significant battle took place in Illerup Ådal near Skanderborg, Denmark, where two Germanic armies clashed. Many lives were lost, and the swords, bows, arrows, spears, and shields left behind were offered to the gods and deposited in a nearby lake.

Excavations of this lake have uncovered decorated shields, including one with a small bronze disc bearing a portrait of Alexander the Great. This disc is identical to a newly discovered bronze plaque found near Ringsted, Denmark, that also depicts Alexander. The Illerup disc is now displayed at the Moesgård Museum.

The new plaque is very similar to this one found in the Illerup river valley, attached to a shield
The new plaque is very similar to this one found in the Illerup river valley, attached to a shield. Credit: Preben Dehlholm / Museo Moesgaard

The Ringsted plaque raises more questions than concrete answers. Measuring 26-28 mm in diameter, the bronze alloy plaque is clearly identifiable as Alexander the Great, with his distinctive wavy hair and ram’s horns. Archaeologists are unsure of its exact function – was it a decorative shield disc or a sword belt accessory? They also don’t know for certain whether it was cast by the Romans, who used similar bronze-lead alloys, or if it was recycled locally in Zealand.

If the plaque was indeed made by the Romans, how did it end up in a field near Ringsted? And what was the significance of the Alexander the Great portrait for the Germanic peoples living in Denmark around 200 AD? Did they believe the portrait would bring them luck in battle?

Archaeologist Freerk Oldenburger was deeply impressed by the small bronze disc, noting that even the most unassuming archaeological finds can hide incredible stories of power, intrigue, and history. He considers this a unique discovery in Scandinavia, with connections to one of the most famous figures in world history.


Museum Vestsjælland

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