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

Date: ca. 1150

Geography: Made in Cologne, Germany

Culture: German

Medium: Elephant ivory

Dimensions: Overall: diam. 2 3/4 x 13/16 in. (diam. 7 x 2 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1916

Accession Number: 16.106


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.