BMCR 2007.12.17

Great Moments in Greek Archaeology. Translated by David Hardy

, , Great moments in Greek archaeology. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007. 379 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 33 cm. ISBN 9780892369102. $75.00.

Table of Contents

Great Moments in Greek Archaeology is a large and handsome book, a compendium of very well-illustrated chapters on the discovery and excavation of major Greek archaeological sites and on the discovery (through excavation or chance underwater find) of selected individual works of Greek art. The Greek edition, which I have not seen, is published by Kapon Editions. The authors are usually archaeologists with intimate knowledge of the sites, and their emphasis is on the excavation of each site rather than the site itself. This is not a book for scholarly research: each chapter has a brief bibliography but no notes. Several sites are both off the tourist track and not published in English. The main point of appeal of Great Moments is the many images, mostly large and excellent photographs, and, for many chapters, fascinating illustrations and archival photographs, especially for early excavations in Greece. There are no site plans, although many chapters include good aerial photographs. It is not, however, an entirely straightforward book to review: “Greek” has a variety of meanings, which sometimes slip into the uncomfortably political. Greek archaeology mostly means the excavated remains of prehistoric (i.e., Neolithic and later periods) through Classical Greece (Roman appears occasionally; pre-modern Greece barely at all).

Vasileios Petrakos’s introduction to the volume, “The Stages of Greek Archaeology,” a chronological overview of archaeology in Greece, presents one definition of “Greek archaeology.” To Petrakos, Greek means in and of the modern country of Greece, and therefore his discussion begins with the battle of Navarino in 1827. His essay is interestingly and informatively idiosyncratic and opinionated: he includes not only excavations and events like the foundation of the Archaeological Service, Archaeological Society, and the major foreign schools of Greece, but major publications (his first great moment of Greek archaeology is August Boeckh’s Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum). There are interesting details in the chapter (Kavvadias felt guilt years later for the trees he destroyed in excavating the theater at Epidauros). Although it is, in keeping with the essays in the rest of the book, fairly popular in voice, it is a chapter of more interest to readers already fairly knowledgeable of the sites, publications, and politics of archaeology in Greece (Petrakos alludes to modern political events that are recognizable to those who know of them but are tantalizingly unexplained to those who do not).

Fani Mallouchou-Tufano next considers the exploration of the Athenian Acropolis in the 19th century. She focuses on the process of archaeology on the Acropolis and not the finds: the sale of ancient blocks from the Acropolis for modern buildings; Kyriakos Pittakis, the head of the Archaeological Service from 1836, and his destruction of the post-classical remains on the Acropolis; the demolition of the Frankish tower in 1875; Panayiotis Kavvadias and the clearing of the Acropolis to prehistoric and classical levels. Archaeology on the Acropolis was, unlike the sites in the rest of the book, as much a story of removal of the “wrong” archaeology as it was the discovery of “Greek” archaeology.

The chapters on the foreign school excavations of the Kerameikos, Delos, Olympia, Mycenae, Delphi, Knossos, Poliochni, and the Athenian Agora are all replete with archival illustrations, excellent photographs, interesting accounts of early work at the sites, and very basic information about the archaeology, mostly by archaeologists who work at those sites (the chapter on the Agora, by Panos Valavanis, is an exception). Dominique Mulliez’s chapters on the French excavations are particularly interesting for their evocation of the early history of excavations at Delos and Delphi.

The later chapters on Greek excavations are written by the original excavators themselves: Vassos Karageorghis about Salamis on Cyprus, Christos Doumas on Akrotiri, who was an assistant to Spyridon Marinatos before becoming director of the excavations, Stella Drougou on Vergina, who worked with Manolis Andronikos. Drougou, who has worked at Vergina since 1976, presents in “Vergina: On the Tracks of the Macedonian Kings” a personal account of the discovery of the tombs in the Megali Toumba, replete with the personalities involved at all levels. Her chapter is about the excitement of the discovery and skirts discussion of the occupants and dating of the tombs. Disappointingly, she does not include (but perhaps was not able to include) photographs of the restored furniture from the tomb as it is displayed in the new museum at Vergina. Christos Doumas’s chapter on Akrotiri is impersonal, yet he effectively humanizes Akrotiri by discussing the site in terms of its inhabitants and their likely fate; along the way he explains Cycladic chronology and Phylakopi, the pottery, buildings, and frescoes of Akrotiri, and the conservation and preservation of the site.

Georgios Chourmouziadis presents, in two chapters (“Sesklo and Dimini: The Prehistoric Citadels” and (with Maria Sophronidou) “Dispilio near Kastoria: The Prehistoric Lake Settlement”), an overview of three sites which are not well known to non-Greek speakers, and situates them within the (modern) Greek desire to match prehistoric discoveries in the rest of Europe within Greece. Sesklo and Dimini were excavated in the early part of the twentieth century by Christos Tsountas, and were published in 1908. Chourmouziadis himself conducted excavations at Dimini 50 years after Tsountas; his understanding of the site is not the traditional one in that he sees the differences, particularly regarding pottery, as a result of deliberate human agency, not the passing of time or the introduction of new cultures. Chourmouziadis currently excavates Dispilio, a Neolithic through early Bronze Age lake site in northern Greece, first explored by Antonios Keramopoullos in the 1930s and 1940s. Chourmouziadis’s and Sophronidou’s brief but well-illustrated chapter provides a glimpse of the architectural remains, pottery and other finds, and of his “Excavation Park,” a reconstruction of several of the Neolithic huts built on pilings in the lake; the bibliography on this site is wholly in Greek. They argue for this site that it is a “great moment” of Greek archaeology because it provides “important information about a measured, tranquil culture” in contrast to Sesklo and Dimini, where the importance lies more in the richness of the finds (now in Volos, with beautiful photographs here).

The politics of Great Moments in Greek Archaeology are at times puzzling. Most chapters are on excavations in Greece and finds in Greece, but interspersed are chapters in which Greek means at best a sort of “Greekness.” Thus, Vassos Karageorghis presents the royal tombs at Salamis; Salamis, is, of course, in northern Cyprus. The three chapters in the second section of the book, “Great Moments in Marine Archaeology,” present the finds from the shipwrecks at Kyrenia and Uluburun; Kyrenia is in northern Cyprus, Uluburun is in Turkey. The chapter on Kyrenia is by Susan Womer Katzev, whose husband Michael Katzev, was the director of the excavation of this Hellenistic shipwreck, which had connections—based on the pottery on board—to Rhodes. George Bass, the first director of the Uluburun project, draws no connection between this Bronze Age wreck and Greece apart from the fact that there seem to have been Mycenaeans on board and the Near Eastern cargo was probably bound for Greece. One is left wondering why the editors of this volume went only so far as to claim finds in northern Cyprus and offshore Turkey as “Greek”—there are plenty of equally or more Greek sites all over the Mediterranean or even farther afield (and certainly more Greek than Salamis or Uluburun).

The section entitled “Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture See the Light of Day” includes accounts of the discovery of the Aphrodite of Melos and the Nike of Samothrace, now in the Louvre, followed by the cache of bronze statues in Piraeus, Phrasikleia and the kouros of Merenda, and the large kouros from Samos, all of which are in Greek museums. Georgios Steinhauer’s short chapter on the Piraeus finds (still largely unpublished) is as much about the context of the cache as the statues themselves. Evangelos Kakavoyiannis and Helmut Kyrieleis, the excavators of the Merenda and Samos statues, describe the circumstances of their discovery briefly. Harry Tzalas concludes the section with a chapter on Greek bronzes from shipwrecks. Some are finds from Greece and in Greece (Artemision, Marathon, Antikythera, Kalymnos, etc.), but Tzalas discusses as well both (ancient) Greek and Roman bronzes found or located in other countries, including the Getty “Victorious Youth.”

Although Petrakos condemns antiquities theft in his introduction, issues of cultural property are barely discussed, and the chronological emphasis on discoveries since the foundation of the modern state of Greece eliminates such controversial issues as the Elgin marbles, for example. Tzalas’s chapter, however, includes a “young male figure” discovered in Greek waters (perhaps the Bay of Preveza) that was returned to Greece from Germany in 2002 and is now in Athens. But in the same chapter, the Getty Museum’s “Victorious Youth” is presented as simply “Greek,” with no mention of Italy’s claim to ownership (in a book, of course, published in English by the Getty). This statue is among the objects in the US being sought by Italy, thus far unsuccessfully. It was found by fishermen off the coast of Italy in the 1960s; Italy claims the statue based on the years it spent in Italy before its eventual purchase by the Getty in 1977 (only after J. Paul Getty’s death—Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, claims that J. Paul Getty had refused to buy the statue without official sanction from the Italian government: see here). The Getty may be on stronger ground with this work than with the dozens they have returned and will return to Italy, but it is provocative to claim this work as “Greek” and not mention its modern Italian connections.

There is little that is new in this book, but despite the somewhat incoherent understanding of “Greek archaeology,” there is much that is interesting and useful, and the illustrations alone make the book a pleasure to read.

Table of Contents

Vasileios Petrakos, The Stages of Greek Archaeology

Great Moments in Greek Archaeology

Fani Mallouchou-Tufano, The Vicissitudes of the Athenian Acropolis in the 19th Century. From Castle to Monument

Jutta Stroszeck, Kerameikos I. The Discovery of the Ancient Cemetery (1863)

Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, Kerameikos II. The Archaic Sculptures of the Sacred Gate, Spring 2002

Dominique Mulliez, Delos. The Excavation of the Sacred Island of Apollo (1873)

Helmut Kyrieleis, Olympia. Excavations and Discoveries at the Great Sanctuary (1875)

Spyros Iakovidis, Schliemann and Homer’s “Mycenae Rich in Gold” (1876)

Dominique Mulliez, Delphi. The Excavation of the Great Oracular Centre (1892)

Colin F. Macdonald, Knossos. The Discovery of the Minoan Palace (1901)

George Ch. Choumouziadis, Sesklo and Dimini. The Prehistoric Citadels (1903)

Alberto G. Benvenuti, Poliochni on Lemnos. The Earliest City in Europe (1930)

Panos Valavanis, The Athenian Agora. Encounter with the First Democracy (1931)

Vassos Karageorghis, The “Royal” Tombs at Salamis in Cyprus (1957)

Christos Doumas, Akrotiri on Thera. The Excavation of a Buried City (1967)

Stella Drougou, Vergina. On the Tracks of the Macedonian Kings (1977)

George Ch. Chourmouziadis and Marina Sophronidou, Dispilio near Kastoria. The Prehistoric Lake Settlement (1992)

Great Moments in Marine Archaeology

Susan Womer Katzev, The Ancient Ship of Kyrenia, Beneath Cyprus Seas (1968)

Harry E. Tzalas, The Kyrenia II. An Attempt in Experimental Archaeology (1984)

George F. Bass, Uluburun. A Bronze Age Shipwreck (1984)

Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture See the Light of Day

Aliki Samara-Kauffmann, The Aphrodite of Melos (1822)

Aliki Samara-Kauffmann, The Victory of Samothrace (1863)

Georgios Steinhauer, The Piraeus Bronze Statues (1959)

Evangelos Ch. Kakavoyiannis, Memories of Phrasikleia (1972)

Helmut Kyrieleis, The Large Kouros of Samos (1980)

Harry E. Tzalas, Bronze Statues from the Depths of the Sea.