The main treasures exhibited at the Museum of Morgantina are, strangely enough, the result of illegal diggings that found their way via clandestine channels to museums in the United States. The Ladies of Morgantina which I discussed earlier were eventually located by experts at the University of Virginia Art Museum.
Yet, that is not all for through the same channels a 15-piece silver hoard was smuggled from the so-called House of Eupolemos on the site of Morgantina in Sicily to show up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Evidence for the looting goes back to the 1980’s but discussions back and forth with the Italian authorities dragged on for years. Finally in 2006 an agreement was reached between the Metropolitan Museum, the Italian government and the regional government of Sicily to restitute the treasure under condition to return it to New-York Metropolitan this year for a period of four years. Since it was beyond doubt that the vessels came from the site of Morgantina, the treasure arrived back where it belongs in 2010.
Of course, considering the American point of view, the above deal makes some sense. The Met put down nearly three million dollars during the years 1981-1982 for this Hellenistic silver believed to come from Turkey and wants to cash in on the money spent. But then the Sicilians rightfully say that these unique vessels belong to the place where they were found and should be exhibited at the Museo Regionale di Aidone next to the site of Morgantina. Since November last year, difficult negotiations are taking place to keep this hoard of Eupolemos where it is now in exchange for a possible loan of other artifacts to the Metropolitan. The Met is not commenting on this suggestion although they are at least open for further discussions. Diplomatic responses are being expressed but nothing conclusive so far (See this article in The Art Newspaper).
Thanks to a coin found at the House of Eupolemos, the silverware can be dated to 214-212 BC. These were turbulent years when Carthage and Rome fought each other in the Second Punic War over the supremacy of Sicily. According to Livy, Morgantina was attacked in 211 BC and conquered by the Romans, events that coincides with the time the hoard was hidden. An inscription on a lead-tablet reveals the name of Eupolemos, who is either a high-priest, or the owner or keeper of this precious silverware. It is probable that when the Roman army entered Morgantina, the silver was buried in the basement of Eupolemos’ house.
The most striking piece may well be an 11 cm-high miniature silver altar weighing as much as 370 grams and decorated with an Ionic dentil and a Doric frieze of metopes and triglyphs; four ox-heads crowned with a gold star hold the surrounding gilded garland. This altar probably was used for offerings at home, but that is not certain. (More details in this interesting article: “Another thing: Recovered loss – altar from the Morgantina Treasure”).
Beside this special altar, we can admire two large oval bowls for mixing wine; three drinking cups with in their bottom a relief of flowers and leaves; a small cup with fishnet motive (looks like a modern football); a pitcher; a kylix (wide drinking cup with two handles); a phiale (offering-dish) with sunrays; a ladle; two pyxides (round box) one showing a cupid carrying a torch on its lid and the other a lady holding a child on her lap; a magnificent medallion with a picture of Scylla; and two slender horns that probably were part of a leather priest-mask. Several of these objects have inscriptions with dedications to the gods, leading to believe that they were used for libations.
A closer examination of this silverware has revealed that the vessels were made by artists from Syracuse, making them the only examples of the fine silversmith’s art during the second half third century BC when the city was at the top of its power and prosperity.
Can you imagine the craftsmanship that existed already in Alexander’s days? Hard to fathom.
[Click here to see all the pictures from the Morgantina Museum]