Greece’s National Treasure

The National Archeological Museum in Athens is the largest archeological museum in Greece and is one of the most important museums in the world devoted to Ancient Greek art. It is not to be missed! So many of these artifacts date back many centuries before Christ. It is mind boggling!

I could never be an archeologist. The work is too slow and methodical for my temperament. But I have always loved reading about archeological digs and discoveries and I find the stories of those who decipher lost languages amazing. This also drives my interest to see archeological sites for myself.

The Artemision Bronze is one of the few original Greek statues and is notable for its exquisite rendering of motion and anatomy. Circa 460BC.

The Artemision Bronze (above) is so named because it was found amongst the remains of a shipwreck off Cape Artemision. Many call it Poseidon, god of the seas, but it may be a case of mistaken identity. Ancient Greek pottery portrays Poseidon wielding a trident in combat in a stabbing motion, whereas Zeus is usually depicted with his arm raised holding a thunderbolt overhead – in the same position as the Artemision Bronze.

Discovered in the same shipwreck was The Jockey of Artemision, an approximately life-size bronze statue of a young boy riding a horse, dated to around 150–140 BC. The first parts of the equestrian statue were recovered in 1928, with more pieces found in 1936 and/or 1937. The statue was reassembled, after restoration of the horse’s tail and body, and it went on display at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens in 1972.

I’m always interested in how they resolve mysteries. Archeologists digging in the Athens Greek Agora found windowless rooms leading off a long corredor that dead-ended at a large courtyard. Included in the discovery was a collection of small terra-cotta bottles. By deducing that these may have held hemlock, the poison used to execute prisoners condemned to death, they decided the rooms were probably prison cells – and the site was the ancient State Prison.

Greece, an antiquities-rich country, has a giant responsibility to protect their historical sites and make them available to visitors. This is extremely costly! Entrance fees to the sites help, but cannot cover all the expense.

Heinrich Schliemann 1822 – 1890) was a German businessman and a pioneer, albeit amateur, in the field of archaeology. He believed the places mentioned in the works of Homer were not fictional and excavated what is presumed to be the site of Troy (in Turkey) along with Mycenae and Tiryns in Greece. His work lent weight to the idea that Homer‘s Iliad reflects historical events.

I remember enjoying reading The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone of Heinrich Schliemann’s digs.

Upon discovering a human skull beneath a gold death mask in one of the tombs, he declared: “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon”.

Mycenae Archeological site. We drove by, but didn’t visit.

The Mycenaean civilization, both mainland Greece’s and Europe’s first major civilization, dominated the Peloponnese in the Bronze Age from its stronghold at Mycenae near Nafplio. The Mycenean civilization collapsed suddenly at the end of the 2nd millennium BC.

A fresco discovered at Mycenae.

Helmets using boar’s tusks were known in the Mycenaean world from the 17th century BC to the 10th century BC. A description of a boar’s tusk helmet appears in Homer’s Iliad, as Odysseus is armed for a night raid to be conducted against the Trojans.

This portion of a bronze statue of the Caesar Augustus (29 BC-AD 14) was found in the Aegean Sea. He would’ve been mounted on a horse.

The Antikythera Youth is a bronze statue of a young man of that was found in 1900 by sponge-divers in the area of a shipwreck dated about 70–60 BC, off the island of Antikythera. Circa 340-330 BC.

I was totally intrigued by the discovery of The Antikythera Mechanism among wreckage off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera. It is generally referred to as the first known analogue computer.

The Antikythera Mechanism: At least 82 fragments including 30 gears, disks, scales, axles and pointers, contained in a wooden case were discovered in a shipwreck. Greek inscriptions on the fragments refer to astronomical and calendar calculations and that it was clearly a device of great sophistication. After more than a century of research it has been established that it is the oldest known astronomical and calendrical calculating machine. Circa 150-100 BC.

A completed puzzle of Greek pottery.

I really enjoyed seeing Greece’s National Treasure at the National Archeological Museum in Athens as well as visiting the excellent museums displaying artifacts recovered at each of the archeological sites we visited: the Greek Agora Stoa in Athens, Ancient Corinth, and Ancient Olympia.

At the Corinth museum we learned that on the night of April 12, 1990, thieves broke into that museum, assaulted the guard, forced open display cases and made off with more than 270 ancient Greek and Roman artifacts. It had taken over 90 years of archeological work by the American School of Classical Studies in Athens to accumulate these artifacts.

I went online to learn more and discovered that several pieces were recovered from Christie’s New York auction house in the late 1990s. Most of the remaining pieces were discovered in a Miami residence. Some pieces were never recovered.

As I searched I learned of more robberies.

At Greece’s Ancient Olympia Museum in 2012, two armed robbers tied up the one female employee on duty and used hammers to smash display cases, taking away between 60 and 70 items.

Nine months later, the suspects were caught in a sting operation.

According to the Associated Press, “an undercover police officer posed as a collector and arranged a meeting with one of the men, who tried to sell him the oldest of the antiquities: a 3,200-year-old golden seal-ring, for which he wanted €1.5 million ($1.3 million).

The man then led police to two accomplices and told them where to find the rest of their hoard. All 76 stolen items were recovered, many of them found buried in a field just two miles from the museum.”

And just this year, January 2019, a Greek suspect was arrested in the southern town of Gytheio following a tip-off. Found in the 46-year-old’s car were over a hundred antiquities, some dating to around the 3rd century B.C. They probably came from an ancient cemetery. He was trying to sell them for 600,000 euros ($682,000).

A female griffin. This is the only preserved complete, massive, bronze relief in Ancient Greek art. From a Corinthian workshop, 630-620 BC.

Coming soon: How Meet You in the Morning became multi-millionaires!

4 responses to “Greece’s National Treasure

  1. Pingback: In the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul | Meet You In The Morning·

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