The Statuary Group Liber Pater with Pan and Panther / History of Romania in One Object

Photo 1: The Statuary Group Liber Pater with Pan and Panther

The conquest of the Dacian Kingdom (nowadays Romania) by the armies of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) led, in 106 AD, to the creation of Roman Dacia, a new province on the Lower Danube.

Photo 2: Trajan’s Column scene (after Conrad Cichorius)

Apulum (nowadays Alba Iulia, in Transylvania, Romania) was the largest city of Roman Dacia and the seat of the Legio XIII Gemina and of the province’s governor (praetorium consularis).

Photo 3: The Roman Empire - Map made by the FRE Culture 2000 project (http://www.limesdacicus.ro)

The fortress existed actively until the army and the Roman administration left the province (271 – 275 A.D). It was a complex conurbation located on the middle Mureş River, which included the Roman fortress, its surrounding canabae (civilian settlement), which gained municipal status under Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) as the Municipium Septimium Apulense, and a port town that became municipium (Municipium Aurelium Apulensis) under Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) and was later promoted to colonia (Colonia Aurelia Apulensis) under Commodus (180-192 AD).

Apulum was a flourishing urban center in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Archaeological and epigraphical evidence underline the significant impact of the military presence on the social and economic development especially in the civilian settlement and the Severan municipium. At the same time, the proximity of the gold mines in the Apuseni Mountains, the port on the Mureş River, and its location at the crossroad of several major routes determined the prosperity of the two cities. In this complex conurbation was an increasing demand for manufactured goods, which was partially fulfilled by imports.


The votive statuary group of Liber Pater with Pan and Panther represents one of the most beautiful works of art found in Roman Dacia. Between 1989 and 1990, following the archaeological researches conducted by Prof. Dr. Alexandru Diaconescu from “Babeş-Bolyai” University in Cluj-Napoca, in Colonia Aurelia Apulensis were discovered several fragments of statuettes, reliefs and inscriptions related to the god of wine and vegetation, Liber Pater, among which there was also this piece, broken into 34

smaller fragments.

The sculpture was made of Aphion marble in a Greek workshop from Phrygia (Asia Minor) most likely during the time of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). The sculpture later was brought to Dacia and placed within the sanctuary of Liber Pater in Apulum. The statuary group represents Liber Pater, flanked by the god Pan and a panther. The god of vegetation is almost naked, wearing only his specific clothing, a goatskin called nebris, knotted on his right shoulder. On his head he has an ivy wreath with its fruits (korymboi). The god has a hairstyle with a bun at the back, from where two twisted and wavy strands of hair are drawn on the shoulders. His is delicate, of great serenity, with a dreamy gaze.

Photo 4: The Statuary Group Liber Pater with Pan and Panther, detail

The god rests with his left hand on a staff wrapped in ivy, called thyrsus. This is an important attribute of Dionysos, a symbol of power but also of prosperity and fecundity. It is usually decorated with vine leaves, ribbons, ivy and has a pinecone on top. These evergreen plants symbolize eternal life. Spreading the „craft” of winegrowing, the god holds the kantharos in his right hand, an ancient vessel for drinking wine. The kantharos becomes itself the symbol of drinking, always present in Dionysian representations. His position is particularly elegant, with the weight on the right leg, and the left lower limb is flexed with his heel raised off the ground as if the character was about to step forward. The central figure is the god, then we look to the right and to the left, to see the stories. We are, therefore, in front of an exceptional work of art. It is not a work of any craftsman, but a product of superior quality addressed to a knowledgeable public. The sculpture was made of a single block of marble, proof of the sculptor’s great skill. The characters are portrayed in a joyful and cheerful pose, the god has fun offering wine to his pet, the panther. He is followed by Pan, who leads the triumphal procession, thyassos.

Photo 5 and 6: The Statuary Group Liber Pater with Pan and Panther, details

The position of the body shows a dynamic balance, a concept introduced by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos in the second half of the 5th century BC. Instead, the modelling is inspired by the style of Praxiteles of Athens in the mid-4th century BC, with juvenile shapes and soft skin, specific to this teenage god.

Photo 7: Digital reconstruction based on the identified pigments (author Cristian Daniel Pintea after a concept by Alexandru Diaconescu)

Some parts of the sculpture were painted. Thus, immediately after the discovery and then in the lab, during microscopic analysis, traces of red pigment appeared on the god's lips, on the crown's corymbs and the pine at the top of the thyrsos (its leaves were painted bluish green), and brown-ochre pigment on the hair and possibly on the eyeballs.


Photo 8: Archaeological excavations at the sanctuary of Liber Pater from Apulum

(Apulum Project)

The archaeological research at the Sanctuary of the god of wine and vegetation, Liber Pater in Apulum were carried out in two stages: between 1989 and 1992, and between 1998 and 2003. In a first phase, under the coordination of Prof. Dr. Alexandru Diaconescu, the archaeological excavation led to discovery of the sanctuary.

The statuary group of Liber Pater, Pan and Panther, which was fastened in the masonry with three iron nails, was later pulled up by smashing the pedestal and crushed into 34 pieces.

Photo 9: Proposed reconstruction of the votive statuary group inside the shrine

(by Alexandru Diaconescu)

In 1991 and 1992 the excavation was extended, and a rectangular precinct in the form of a garden was identified. In 1998 the research was resumed within Apulum Project, under the coordination of Prof. Dr. Diaconescu, Dr. Ian Haynes of the Birkback College, University of London, and Dr. A. Schäfer from Winckelmann Institut, Humboldtuniversität zu Berlin. The “1 Decembrie 1918” University from Alba Iulia was also involved in the project and a successful collaboration with the National Museum of Unification was developed.

The sanctuary was built in Colonia Aurelia Apulensis. At the beginning, the walls were made of wood and adobe. Subsequently, along the same course, walls with gravel foundation and a stone plinth appeared, over which the adobe elevation followed. A second major restoration (dating to the end of the Severan dynasty) corresponds to an extension to the North. The walls from this phase are oriented after the new street plot, which corresponds to the town’s thriving period in the 3rd century AD.

Photo 10: Archaeological excavations at the Sanctuary of Liber Pater from Apulum

(Apulum Project)


Dionysos-Bacchus-Liber Pater embodies the myth of indestructible life - "The one Twice-Born." The divine child was snatched before birth from the womb of his burning mother, the goddess Semele, and hidden by Zeus in his own thigh from where he was born. According to the myth, the Titans devoured him after birth except for his heart, kept by Athena, so the god could be reincarnated. He is reborn every spring with the vegetation, teaching people agriculture and the cultivation of vines. It is represented either as a child or as a young man with effeminate features or as a gentle old man.

Dionysos - Bacchus was the gentle god who brought civilization to mankind, but he was also the disturbing deity of wine, who induced unique mystical experiences. Liber Pater was originally an ancient Italic god of the Republican Era later assimilated to Bacchus - Dionysos. This ancestral god was seen in Italy as a wild deity, associated with the vine and was worshiped with Ceres, the goddess of fields.

Photo 11: A sarcophagus with scenes from the Triumph of Dionysos and the Seasons

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Dionysos was accompanied by a procession of semi-human beings, Pan, Silenus, Satyrs and Maenads, and some sacred animals such as the serpent, the bull, the goat and the panther that formed the Bacchic procession (thiasos).

Photo 12: Satyr dancing with a Maenad - terracotta plate discovered in the sanctuary of Liber Pater from Apulum (3rd c. AD, National Museum of Unification Alba Iulia)

The Dionysian cult spread to Rome and Italy during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility, equivalent to the Greek god Dionysos.

The cult of Bacchus-Dionysos included two aspects: on the one hand, the state religion expressed through popular feasts related to wine production and vegetation cycles and on the other hand, the mysteries of the god, in which one had to be initiated.

Photo 13: Scene of Dionysian Mysteries from the Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

For men, initiation ultimately meant the complete merging with the god and therefore descending to the Underworld (katabasis) to be reborn a second time. For women, it meant becoming Ariadne, the mythical consort of Dionysos and the one who "woke up." During the initiation ritual, the consumption of alcohol and other euphoric substances and the rhythmic music and dance induced a state of trance. Dionysos was first and foremost seen as "Eleutheros" ("The Liberator"), for he unleashed long-repressed energies and impulses.

Under the influence of Orphism (a mystic religion of ancient Greece, originating in the 7th or 6th century BC and based on the now lost poems attributed to Orpheus), the Dionysian cult became more and more spiritualized, offering beyond the abominable orgies, a solution for the salvation of the human soul, similar to Christianity.

Bacchus [Dionysus], I call, loud-sounding and divine,

Fanatic God, a two-fold shape is thine.

Thy various names and attributes I sing,

O, First-born, thrice begotten, Bacchic king…

Orphic Hymn to Dionysos

(translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792)


Photo 14: The exhibition space presenting the 3D model and the 3D printer

Photo 15: Display of the Roman artworks related to the worship of Liber Pater at Apulum

Photo 16: 3D scanning (by Călin Șuteu)

DIONYSOS 3D. Feasting and eternal life at Apulum was a special event within the PANTHEON 3D cultural program, co-funded by Romania’s Administration of National Cultural Fund and implemented by the National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia in 2018 and 2019.

The exhibition presented Bacchus – Dionysos – Liber Pater as an exceptional deity of the ancient world. The public learned about the mythology, iconography, and worship of Dionysos - Liber Pater and about the various aspects regarding the ritual.

Exceptional sculptural artefacts found in the sanctuary, such as the votive marble statuary group representing Liber Pater with Pan and Panther, but also other Roman artworks related to the Dionysian cult at Apulum, were 3D digitized, the resulting models enriching the virtual collection of the National Museum of Unification from Alba Iulia.

The presentation was made with the aid of an interactive device with touch screen which allowed the online access and visualizing by the visiting public of the 3D collection of Roman sculptures available at https://sketchfab.com/MNUAI

Photo 17: The statuary group of Liber Pater with Pan and Panther (3D mesh model by Călin Șuteu)

For the 3D model of the statuary group click HERE.


Al. Diaconescu, "A Statue of Liber Pater from Apulum (Alba Iulia)", Acta Musei Napocensis 38/I, 2001, pp. 161-176.

Al. Diaconescu, „Un produs eclectic al atelierelor neo-attice din epocă augusteică sau hadrianică” Clasicismul în artele minore din Dacia romană, Cluj-Napoca, 2013, pp. 78-101.

A. Schäfer, Al. Diaconescu, „Das Liber Pater Heiligtum von Apulum”, H. Cancik, J. Rüpke Hrsgst (eds.), Reichsreligion und Provinzialreligion, Tübingen, 1997, pp. 195-218.

I. Haynes, A. Schäfer, Al. Diaconescu, „Alba Iulia, jud. Alba. (Apulum). Punct: cartier Partoș - sanctuarul lui Liber Pater”, în Cronica Cercetărilor Arheologice, campania 2004, București 2005, pp. 32-33.

C. Gaspari, s.v. "Dionysos/Bacchus", Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, III/1, 1986, p. 540 -566.

C. Isler-Kerény, „Il culto di Liber/Bacco nel mondo romano - The Cult of Liber/Bacchus in the Roman world”, E. La Rocca (ed.) Il sorriso di Dioniso. Ediz. italiana e inglese, 2010, pp. 27-44.

A. Veneri, „Dionysos”, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae III, 1, 1986, pp. 414 -420.

G. Sauron, La grande fresque de la Villa des Mystères à Pompeii. Mémoires d'une dévote de Dionsysos, Paris, 1998.

A. Timofan et alii, "PANTHEON 3D. An Initiative in the Three-Dimensional Digitization of Romanian Cultural Heritage", Studia UBB Digitalia, Volume 63 (LXIII) 2018, December, Issue 2, pp. 65-83.

Text and video presentation by archaeologist Anca Timofan. Film concept by Anca Timofan and Călin Șuteu. A project developed together with The National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia and Alba County Council.

Our online series THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, developed in partnership with some of the most important history museums in the country, evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from artifacts or vestiges with powerful symbolic, representative value.

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