The modern Greek state began its tumultuous life with a false start. In the aftermath of the Battle of Navarino (October 1827), Ioannis Kapodistrias, an astute politician with an illustrious European career, was entrusted with the difficult task of organizing Greece as a European state. It was a precarious and difficult experiment that failed because Kapodistrias’s vision and practices clashed with the interests and power of the old landed aristocracy who had fought in the Greek war of independence. Kapodistrias’s assassination in September 1831 marked the inglorious end of the first systematic attempt to bring law, order, and a semblance of structure and normality in the minuscule state. After a period of chaos and uncertainty, the arrival of young prince Otto of Bavaria and his powerful regents ushered in a new attempt that managed to jumpstart the making of Greece again. The experiment still continues and Petrakos takes his cue from what he perceives as the dissolution of modern Greece in the early 21st century to look for the aitia of current problems in pathologies deeply rooted in Greek society and its leaders since Kapodistrias’s time. He does so by focusing on the handling of antiquities by the incipient Archaeological Service between January 12, 1828 (the arrival of Kapodistrias to Aegina, the seat of the provisional government), to the aftermath of September 27, 1831 (the date of Kapodistrias’ assassination).
This publication is the third installment of a wider project that comprises two more contributions, equally important for weaving together a history of the Greek Archaeological Service. In 2009 Petrakos published numerous primary documents and a chronicle of the Greek Archaeological Service from 1833 to 1863, a book that anticipates in method, aims, and organization the title under review here. 1 Moreover, in 2013 Petrakos put forward one more scholarly work on the same topic but without a compendium of primary documents. This is a handbook of sorts that takes the form of a more comprehensive synthesis-cum-reference book and partly overlaps with the book under review here and with his 2009 publication.2 It starts in 1828 but its narrative of the Greek Archaeological Service extends to 2012 (see review by Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood, BMCR 2015.02.34). Petrakos’s numerous references to his earlier publications make them indispensable tools for those scholars who wish to delve into the systematic study of the many problems he deals with in all three volumes.
Writing from the vantage point of his double role as a former employee of the Archaeological Service and as a scholar, Petrakos is aptly suited for the project behind this book. I should stress, however, that his unique perspective is not as regular a blessing as one might anticipate. On the one hand, his insights are indeed keenly informed by the insider’s knowledge and by the archaeologist’s inherent penchant for looking deep beneath the surface for the internal dynamic of situations. Petrakos has thought deeply about the political status, the legal frameworks, the internal organization and the policies of the Greek Archaeological Service from the beginning to today. On the other hand, sometimes Petrakos has a hard time hiding his emotions. One often suspects that his indignation and disappointment over current affairs may have taken over his pen when he turns his analytical focus to the second quarter of the nineteenth century. This criticism aside, however, this reviewer cannot emphasize enough that his work is as clear in its views as it is engaging and at times trail-blazing in the light it sheds on individuals and phenomena. It offers a solid basis for further research on the history of the formal archaeological enterprise in Greece and its formative role for the wider culture of the modern state.
The book comprises three volumes. Volume I contains Petrakos’s narrative in the form of a month-by-month chronicle of operations and events during Kapodistrias’s governorship. Volumes II and III assemble most valuable primary sources (official documents, correspondence between authorities, letters, accounts, receipts) but also excerpts from contemporary publications (e.g. scholarly articles in the Greek press), on which Petrakos bases his synthesis. A large number of these documents derive from the Greek State Archives and are published here for the first time. In the remainder of this review I will focus first on the documentary evidence, then on Petrakos’s synthesis.
The two volumes of primary sources bring together 735 documents—a boon for historians and archaeologists alike—arranged in chronological order. These include official intra-governmental communications, formal reports, and fiscal accounts of logistical expenses for the running of day-to-day operations (e.g. salaries of personnel or expenses for the transference of antiquities appropriated by the state). The list also includes a variety of other texts: private letters of individuals who were key players in the nascent Archaeological Service of Kapodistrias’s time; copious excerpts from official publications (e.g. the Genike Ephemeris, a publication created to announce the government’s executive decisions and orders and to relate its policy and its daily business); and lists of discovered antiquities reported to the central authorities, and often “accessioned” by the first Archaeological Museum at Aegina. These lists often contain the earliest descriptions, often vague or awkwardly phrased, of well-known archaeological artifacts (most often sculptures and inscriptions, which Petrakos often identifies by referring the reader to formal inventory numbers of epigraphic publications and museum collections). As Petrakos often remarks, these descriptions index the evolution of the undeveloped Greek vocabulary for the developing discourse of archaeological analysis.
These two volumes contain a veritable treasure of information but have been conceived as ancillary to Petrakos’s narrative. The documents lack an appended apparatus to facilitate their usage independently from Petrakos’s narrative text in volume I. Petrakos has embedded his commentary in his narrative, with supporting information, pragmatic or other, often relegated to the copious footnotes. He diligently references his documentary sources throughout his text, thus allowing the reader to check the basis of his insights. However, users wishing to dive straight into the sources, as the present reviewer attempted to do, will find themselves unaided because the only way these documents can be contextualized is by referring them back to Petrakos’s text. Cross-referencing the primary documents back to the pages in volume I where Petrakos discusses them in detail would have been of great value for those who want to use them independently from Petrakos’s narrative.
The criticism expressed above is only a minor quibble, and should not distract from Petrakos’s major contribution in volume I. His narrative sheds valuable light on the rugged relief of a messy convoluted era, the study of which is still dominated by misunderstandings, misconceptions, and the perceptual filters of later ideological constructs, such as the cult of classical antiquity as a paragon of modern Greek identity. Petrakos’s chronicle weaves together numerous strands around his main thread of following the works and days of the earliest period of the Greek Archaeological Service: he compellingly argues that Kapodistrias was genuinely interested in antiquities and their formal handling was substantially accommodated in his organizational project; he delineates, albeit in very loose brushstrokes, the coming together of the first National Archaeological Museum at Aegina, housed in the State Orphanage Building founded by Kapodistrias himself; he follows the life and work of Andreas Moustoxydes, a multi-tasking scholar who also served as director of the first museum, and his heroic efforts to rescue antiquities that formed the core of the first ever state archaeological collection of Greece; he follows the gradual formation of a proto-legal framework for the definition, rescue, protection, and curation of antiquities; he discusses at length documents that vividly show that Greeks and foreigners alike were complicit in the illegal digging, trade, and exportation of antiquities from Greece; he explicitly denounces fundamental impediments in the work of the Archaeological Service, such as the lack of financial resources, educated personnel, operational know-how, and, much more detrimental in the long term, the toxicity of short-sighted individuals who hindered progress in archaeological matters in order to promote stupid political agendas and their petty interests. These political interests brought about Kapodistrias’s demise and sabotaged everything accomplished in the period of his tenure. Shortly after his assassination, the National Museum at Aegina was dissolved, Moustoxydes left Greece, and the Greek Archaeological Service had to start all over again.
Valuable as it may be, Petrakos’s work is pervaded by pessimism and a bitter sense of loss. These sentiments derive from Petrakos’s conviction that the pathologies he detects in that distant era are still at work today, undermining the State itself and the difficult work of its Archaeological Service. This may be partly true. Nevertheless, I would contend that the ongoing work of the Greek Archaeological Service continues with success on many fronts. In recent months, to give one example only, fabulous new museums have opened their doors to the public (e.g. Thebes, Eleutherna, Kythera, Thermon) while others have been spruced up with state-of-the-art installations (e.g. Corinth)—all projects funded by European development funds but made possible through the expertise, the hard work, and the zeal of the current generation of archaeologists working for the Service. They are all insufficiently paid (like everybody in Greece employed in the humanities) but somehow they manage to juggle with ease administrative duties, curatorial work, rescue excavations and impressive publication records. My impression is that Greece’s archaeological heritage is in worthy hands despite the odds and the chronic problems of the Archaeological Service that Petrakos explores in his publications. Readers of his work will have to decide for themselves whether Kapodistrias’s era is good to think with or not for reflecting on the current state and future of archaeology in Greece.
1. Vasileios Ch. Petrakos, Η ελληνική αυταπάτη του Λουδοβίκου Ross [Ludwig Ross’s Greek self-deception], Βιβλιοθήκη της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας (Athens 2009).
2. Vasileios Ch. Petrakos, Πρόχειρον Αρχαιολογικόν 1828 – 2012 2 vols. Βιβλιοθήκη της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας (Athens 2013).