Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Looting, not only a plague in war-torn countries

This time the news comes from Shumen, a city located some 88 km east of Varna in Bulgaria where four men have been arrested for trading and possessing archaeological artefacts. Nothing new, I would say, were it not that the police came into action and ceased 19 marble sculptures and plates as well as some 9,000 Roman coins together with moulds to produce imitations. More metal artefacts together with some 80 coins were retrieved from another house. Also found were a Greek altar, a lion’s head, a number of ancient figurines and the central part of a Greek sarcophagus showing the head of Medusa.

The three Bulgarians who were arrested face imprisonment of one to six years and fines ranging between BGN 1,000 and 20,000 if convicted. Why do I have the impression that they will not be convicted?

More alarming news comes from the Museum of Macedonia in Skopje, FYROM. Here six people, including two former officials from the museum, have been found guilty for stealing 160 artefacts from the museum between November 2011 and October 2013. The items, among which we count silver and gold jewelry all date from the fourth century AD and have been sold abroad through obscure channels making it impossible to be traced.

It takes more than sledgehammers to kill our culture and heritage, and for what? A quick buck or simple greed of our proud human race? Very sad …

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reconstructing ancient Greek music, an impossible task?

This is what I thought, it’s an impossible task. That is till lately I saw a replica of the Seikilos Epitaph from 200 BC/100 AD found in Aydin, Turkey (see: Revealing ancient Greek music, the Seikilos Epitaph). Since then, I have come across many articles treating and analyzing this unique subject.

Remains of ancient Greek music are very scant, leaving the impression that music was not popular in ancient Greece. Nothing is further from the truth since music then as now was all around, in theatres, athletics, education and in everyday’s life to express joy or sorrow. Ancient Greek music has been brought back to life thanks to, for instance, the achievements of the group LyrAvlos, a conjoinment of "lyra" (lyre) and "avlos" (flute). The group made several appearances, among which: The Athens Hall of Music and the Warsaw Opera shows, the Festival of Old Music in Stockholm and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, the co-operation with the National Orchestra of Athens in the First Greek Musical Celebrations, as well as at the 2004 Olympic Games.

Stefos, the leader of Lyravlos worked hard to construct precise replicas of the old instruments to play the music from eons past. So far, 61 ancient songs have been saved, some on papyrus, others on shards or stone like the abovementioned Seikilos Epitaph. Such stones and papyri from Egypt dating overall between 300 BC and 300 AD show a vocal notation consisting of letters and signs placed above the vowels of the words. On top of that the Greeks had worked out the mathematical rations of musical intervals, in which an octave is 2:1, a fifth 3:2 and a fourth 4:3.

On the other hand, a musician and tutor in classics at Oxford University, Armand D’Angour, reminds us that the epics of Homer, the love-poems of Sappho and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides originally were music. This means that pieces composed between 750 and 400 BC were to be sung partially or in their totality, accompanied by the lyre, reed-pipes, and some percussion instruments.

The oldest musical document discovered so far shows only a few bars from Orestes, probably written by Euripides himself in the 5th century BC. How Euripides exactly fits modern analysis is hard to figure out, but it is known that with the words “I lament” and “I beseech” he uses a falling, mournful cadence, while with the words “my heart leaps wildly” the melody is rising. It is astonishing to learn that Athenian soldiers earned their meals while singing Euripides during their captivity in the quarries of Syracuse in 413 BC - a moving detail reported by Plutarch. From Homer we know that in his days the bards used a four-stringed lyre, the “phormix” and we may assume that those strings were tuned to the four notes that survived in the later basic Greek scales.

Thorough analysis has proved that rhythms, for instance, are preserved through the words themselves, based on the short or long syllables of the words. The instruments are known from statues, paintings and literary descriptions, by which a musician amazingly is able to find the timbre and range of pitches they produced. It has been established that for instance, the letter A at the top of the scale represents a note that is a fifth higher than N halfway down the alphabet. Absolute pitch can then be figured out based on the vocal ranges required to sing the surviving tunes.

Yet this music is very far away from our Western conception and comes closer to the sounds produced in India or in the Middle East. It seems however that instrumental practice from the ancient Greeks still survives in some specific areas of Sardinia or Turkey. More technical details can be found in the article “How did ancient Greek music sound? by Armand D'Angour.

Another interesting story is about a bit of papyrus found in a forgotten corner of the Louvre’s basement in 2002. It turned out to be a  partition of Medea by Carcinos the Younger (approx. 360 BC) that was mentioned by Aristotle in his “Rhetoric’s” and in which the heroine, unlike in Euripides version, is innocent. So today we can listen to the bewitching aria sung in a deep voice as in antiquity the role of women was held by men. Annie Bélis, a world-renowned specialist in ancient music studied this papyrus and other bits and pieces; she now concentrates on performing both vocal and instrumental scores that have survived creating an ensemble called Kérylos. All the music partitions are authentic and the already known chorus score from Euripides Orestes, the Seikilos Song of the two Delphic Hymns to the Pythian Apollo, have been deciphered and reproduced in her musical works. Among them, there also is an excerpt from Aristophanes’ Birds (nothing to do with Hadjidakis’ interpretation), a paean by Mesomedes of Crete (favourite composer of Emperor Hadrian), a piece from Carcinos’ Medea mentioned above, and an anonymous paean to the stars to name just a few.

Annie Bélis is using carefully rebuilt lyres, kitharas, flutes and percussion instruments purely based on strict archaeological reference (statues, mostly of Apollo playing the lyre, and bits of instruments gleaned from different archaeological locations). So far she has performed with the Ensemble Kérylos in several countries, including Greece at the ancient theatre of Delphi. More recently there was a special concert in Paris organized in the frame of the exhibition “Au Royaume d’Alexandre le Grand. La Macédoine Antique” in 2011. Sorry to have missed it. More details can be found on the Kérylos site.

Based on all the above information and interpretation we can almost recreate the music that Alexander the Great listened to. Isn’t that wonderful?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another great bronze statue on display in Israel

Some rejoicing news for a change in these times of widespread destruction where so many artifacts disappear on clandestine markets.

Center piece of the news is a bronze statue which, together with many more artifacts has been recently donated to the Israel Museum by art-collectors Robert and Renee Belfer from New York. Just imagine having such a statue in your living room!

The nude Roman bronze from the first century BC is totally intact and still has his original inlaid glass eyes, which is rather rare. Starting this coming June (2015) it will go on public display for the first time under the title “A Roman Villa – The Belfer Collection”. How exciting!

Unfortunately we don’t know the identity of this young man and have no clue to what he is supposed to hold in his right hand. Speculations go towards Heracles who may have held his club, or Bacchus who could have held his kantharos, or again it might be an athlete carrying the palm branch of victory or a wreath. The provenance also remains obscure although the Belfer family acquired the statue as recently as 2004 through Christie’s.

The four foot tall bronze statue will not be lonely as about one hundred of the newly acquired pieces will also be on display, giving the visitor an idea of the luxury the Roman elite enjoyed at their homes. Most of the pieces are rare objects, including glass (the oldest piece being Egyptian from 1550-1330 BC), bronzes, ceramics and marble sculptures. There is, for instance a magnificent Roman head, a copy from an earlier Greek bronze that seems to point towards Polycleitus, a sculptor from the 5th century BC. The marble is probably from Rhodes and the wear and tear indicates that it was retrieved from the sea, meaning it possibly sank aboard a ship on her way to Rome. Other noteworthy objects are a Phrygian helmet made of bronze; a gilt glass tomb marker; and two high quality mosaics, one of a fish that seems inspired by a digital photograph and one showing a bird’s eye view of Rome.
Of particular interest is a pendant from Carthage with its typical Punic look of glass inlaid details.

Robert Belfer apparently donated many artifacts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before deciding to entrust his present collection to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In his eyes the objects represent an important chapter in the history of civilization in which Jerusalem played a central role.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Traces of Alexander in Israel

No, of course, Israel did not exist in Alexander’s days, but he did march through these lands on his way to Gaza after conquering Tyre although his exact route remains obscure.

In any case, it is quite rejoicing to hear that two coins minted during the reign of Alexander the Great have been recently found by members of the Israel Caving Club while investigating a large stalactite cave “somewhere” in northern Israel (the location is kept secret to avoid illegal looting).

Beside the coins, the team also discovered silver jewelry like rings, bracelets and earrings, probably hidden in a piece of cloth during Hellenistic times, most probably shortly after Alexander’s death when the Wars of the Diadochi were raging through his empire.

Researchers have labeled this find as one of the most important discoveries in recent years.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What tourists don’t know when stopping at Manavgat

The waterfalls of Manavgat are generally on every tourist’s program visiting western Turkey while nearby Side is often neglected. Yet Side has many remains from antiquity worth a visit (see: Side didn’t put up any resistance to Alexander), especially its superb white marble Temple of Apollo overlooking the dark blue water of the harbor where extensive restoration works have been carried out over the past few years (see: Restoration of the Temple of Apollo in Side, Turkey).

It has been revealed that an Omphalos stone was found in this very city in 2001 but details are only surfacing now – not surprising when you know that an Omphalos stone implies the presence of a prophecy center. The original Omphalos is made from a meteorite, which was copied in many marble versions, including this one found here at Side. This 40-centimeter high stone is decorated with a snake and other ornamentations and would have sat in the very center of a temple. Finding it here in Side, one of the main accesses to the Mediterranean ever since the 7th century BC turns this temple into a center of prophecy. 

This is quite amazing since Delphi was the best-known center of the world, the Omphalos of the Greeks, and that stone has been recuperated from the city’s ruins many years ago. Since then, other centers of prophecy with their own Omphalos have been established, like Didyma, Claros, and Patara in western Turkey.

The Omphalos goes back to very ancient times when people wondered about the shape of the world and its center. Early sources have defined the world as a flat pancake surrounded by the ocean; the navel or center of this world was the Omphalos. Legend has it that Zeus sent two eagles to the edge of this flat world and the place where they met was at the Omphalos stone. Ever since the area of this stone was considered as being the center of the world.

The newly discovered Omphalos of Side is now on display at the local Museum for us to admire.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The surprise of Butrint, ancient Buthrotum in Epirus

Under Roman rule, the Via Egnatia strategically connecting Byzantium via Thessaloniki to Rome thanks to the crossing of the Adriatic Sea between Dyrrhachium and Brundisium. But there was another lesser road that led south to the city of Buthrotum, modern Butrint right across from Saranda, one of the newest bay-resorts in Albania.

Yet Buthrotum was not born with the Romans but like most towns in the area it was founded by colonists from Corinth and Corfu at some time during the 7th or 6th century BC – although according to the legend its founder was a son of King Priam of Troy, which is a more noble ancestry, of course. To me, this is Epirus, the homeland of Queen Olympias, Alexander’s mother and it is not surprising that in her days the city was important enough to have a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius with its own theatre and agora; besides, it was protected by a city-wall with five entrance gates.

For some reason I always thought that all of Epirus was part of modern Greece, but it seems that this ancient country has been split up between Greece to the south and Albania to the north. All I knew about it was the oracle of Dodona, so it is a surprise to hear that Buthrotum was important before the arrival of the Romans. The main attraction may well have been the sanctuary of Asclepius which was built on a series of terraces rising from a paved area in front of the theatre. The reconstruction as shown on the billboard at the entrance of the site is very clear but it is much harder to find pre-Roman evidence on the site itself. The sanctuary included a temple, a stoa and a treasury, all modified by the 3rd century BC to include a theatre and a building that may have served as a hotel for the pilgrims.

As early as 228 BC, Buthrotum became a Roman protectorate and its influence spread steadily till the city was included in the province of Macedonia. Julius Caesar thought it was an appropriate place to settle his veterans after fighting Pompey in 44 BC, but a wealthy local landlord, Titus Pomponius Atticus, objected to these plans and went so far as to plead his case at the Roman Senate through his friend, the orator Cicero. He was successful and only a small number of settlers were relocated at Buthrotum. They blended in pretty easily with the locals and their presence left a definite Roman stamp on the city.

It seems appropriate to take a closer look at this Titus Pomponius Atticus, one of the richest men of his time. He lived in Athens for almost twenty years (hence the name Atticus) and showed great interest in Greek culture and philosophy. He bought an estate near Buthrotum and probably acquired more land in neighbouring Epirus and in Corfu. Although his villa is explicitly mentioned in his correspondence with Cicero, it has not yet been found but it is generally accepted so far that it was situated in the river valley, where cool breezes soften the heat of summer. Atticus’ wealth, which he acquired as financier and by managing his land-properties, gave him great influence in politics as we have seen above. He was a gifted politician who managed to remain on good terms with both parties involved, the Romans and the locals. He died in 32 BC, aged 78, shortly before the Battle of Actium. Five years earlier, he gave his daughter Caecilia in marriage to Agrippa, Augustus’ friend and general. Consequently, Atticus’ influence continued after his death through his son-in-law.

In 31 BC, Emperor Augustus conceived plans similar to those of Caesar for after his victory over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium (some 200 km south of Butrint) he considered Buthrotum to settle his veterans. Once again, the new arrivals though limited in number, blended in well and the city expanded rapidly, doubling in size even. At this stage Buthrotum required a major building plan, which was funded by Augustus in person as well as by his family or private parties. Main projects were the construction of a new aqueduct to feed the many fountains and bathhouses and a bridge across the Vivari Channel. At this stage the city appears as Colonia Augusta Buthrotum. Most of what we see today at Butrint may date from Augustus’ reign since statues of the emperor and of his wife Livia have been found – a sure sign of the city’s loyalty and support.

As in any excavation site, the theatre is what we see first. Although the earliest construction goes back to the 4th century BC when it was part of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, it was clearly rebuilt and enlarged during the 2nd century AD to become the Roman centrepiece of the city. Today the lower part of the theatre, mainly the stage, is flooded by groundwater, adding a romantic touch with its reflexion in the pool. Unique are the many manumission inscriptions that have survived on the outside walls of the theatre, dating from shortly after 232 BC. The freeing of slaves, which seems to have lasted for sixty years, was accomplished in the name of a god, generally Asclepius, hence the close link between the theatre and its inscribed walls with the treasury of which close to nothing remains.

Behind the cavea of the theatre are the remains of the Roman Baths, rather appropriated flooded also. Part of the hypocaust is being preserved exposing some of the fire-resistant bricks used in the floor heating – always an exciting element, I’d say.

The Forum is located next to the theatre and the Baths, and originally was located at the heart of the Hellenistic city. In those early days, i.e. late 2nd/1st century BC, it measured a modest 4.5x25 meters. Towards the 2nd century AD the area was enlarged to the size we see today, 52x20m, but most of it still remains buried.

Further down the island, around the corner of abovementioned buildings are the remains of a rather imposing Nympheion that must have lined up with the Roman aqueduct that ran across the Vivari Channel and the valley floor to the hills from where the water was transported. Thanks to one of the billboards, I am able to locate the header tank of this aqueduct on the other side of this channel. The spring itself has not been located with certainty but seems to be found near Çuka e Aitoit (Eagle Mountain), a rough 12 km away. This fountain, once enhanced with statues of Dionysus and Apollo, appears to lean against the city wall, basically built in the 6th century AD but mixed with remains of earlier Roman constructions. The access to the Vivari Channel however was preserved as there are several entrance gates in this wall, still easily recognizable. Today it is a very peaceful water channel where time seems to have come to a standstill. It is not certain, but this aqueduct may well have served as the first bridge across the channel, and as such adding to Buthrotum’s status since the city was now connected with the wider Roman world. Aqueducts were very costly enterprises and only rich cities or those sponsored by private patronage could afford them. Great cities like Athens or Corinth for instance didn’t have any aqueduct till the rule of Emperor Hadrian! That definitely proves how wealthy and how important Buthrotum was in its hey-days!

This is also the area once occupied by the Gymnasium but which in Byzantine times was filled by the Great Basilica and it dependences. It is here that we find a Baptistery from the 6th century AD with an exquisite mosaic floor, covered for its own protection which is unfortunate for us visitors. It consists of seven circulars bands around the baptismal font and thus creating the figure eight, the Christian number for salvation and eternity, I am told (although I have not encountered this explanation before). The mosaics show animals (representing land), birds (representing air) and fish (representing water), in accordance once again with early Christian symbols of salvation. The entrance is flanked by two mosaics of large peacocks (symbolizing paradise and immortality) with a vine growing out of a vase (symbols for the blood of Christ).  Apparently the roof of this Baptistery was supported by two circular rows of columns of which only the bases remain. It is worthwhile to mention that this is the second largest Baptistery in the Eastern Roman Empire after the Aya Sophia is Istanbul.

From the 3rd century onward, Buthrotum started to decline and a severe earthquake destroyed large parts of the city. It shrunk and a new smaller city wall was needed. The relief of the so-called Lion Gate on the road to Epirus which was added in the 5th century to reduce the size of the gate is a clear illustration. Even an untrained eye can see how this wall has been altered time and again, with steps leading nowhere and dead-end tunnels. When Buthrotum became the seat of a bishop in the 6th century, the Baptistery and Basilicas mentioned above were built and at the same time the city walls were reinforced.
But like its neighbours it was attacked and sacked by the Huns. Over the following centuries Butrint was occupied in turn by several foreign forces till it turned into a malaria infested swamp.

The very top of today’s Butrint is crowned by a castle that was reconstructed over the ancient acropolis and now serves as a museum that badly needs some improvement or modernisation – unfortunately. It houses finds from Butrint itself but also from other nearby sites, showing some piece from Hellenistic occupation but mostly from the prosperous Roman period.

Today a flat barge ferries men and cars across the Channel to the Vrina plain on the other side. In Roman times, that was the location of a thriving suburb of Buthrotum where the rich and famous had their vast residences. It is here that archaeologists are looking for the remains of Titus Pomponius Atticus’ estate. Work in progress …

[Click here to see all the pictures of Buthrotum/Butrint]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More misery of war: looted antiquity are funding IS wars.

This is not new; we know looting is happening in Syria and in Iraq but our daily news focuses primarily on the many innocent civilians which are being murdered instead. Well, it may be debatable what is most important but that is not the point. Depriving a country of its history and ancestry is a crime also and an irreversible one for that matter.

In any case, I find it heartwarming to read in The Independent Newspaper that Tory PM Robert Jenrick found this situation alarming enough to mention that the present looting is on the greatest scale since WW2. Yet nobody does anything about it or, let me rephrase, nobody can do anything about it.

The International Council of Museums has established a Red List of looted artefacts. That list is quite frightening as for Syria it includes cuneiform tablets from the early Bronze Age; 8,000 years old terracotta statuettes of women, apparently fertility goddesses; and more than 5,000 years-old bone and alabaster “eye idols”. As for Iraq, the list holds 4,000 years-old terracotta chariot models; gold bowls from the Royal Cemetery at Ur from 2,500 BC; and typical “scarlet ware” jars from around 3,000 BC.

The black market must be thriving and people with the money buy these ancient treasures as a “must-have” to be added to their collection. They don’t care that these artefacts are taken out of their context and that they never will be incorporated in their rightful historical location and function again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Priene, delightfully Greek

Unlike so many remains of Greek settlements, Priene has not been turned into a Roman city. What a delightful blessing!

Priene, like neighboring Miletus and Ephesos, was part of the Ionian League, regrouping twelve city-states that existed already before 1000 BC. Around 450 BC, the city was designed by the same architect as Miletus. His name was Hippodamus, after whom the well-known and most popular Hippodamian plan was named and used all over the Hellenistic world.

Priene was occupied in turns by Athens and Persia, but after the death of King Mausolus in 353 BC the city fell under Athenian rule. It is said that Alexander stayed here in 334 BC while besieging Miletus. It is in Priene that he received the embassy led by Glaucippus, a well-respected citizen of Miletus, who suggested leaving the harbor available to both Persians and Macedonians at will. This did not fit Alexander’s purpose; keeping an important port as Miletus open to the Persians was far too dangerous in his eyes. Alexander must have spent several months in Priene which had willingly surrendered to the Macedonian King for Miletus was a tough nut to crack (see: Miletus, Alexander’s first siege in Asia).

Priene occupies an impressive location and can be spotted from afar. It is nestled against the Mycale Mountain, and the location somehow reminds me of Delphi. A steep and stepped road runs upwards to the very city walls, two meters wide and six meters high. The spaced freestanding watchtowers are rather exceptional for this meant that they could easily be rebuilt in case of destruction. The rampart and the city gate is what the visitor sees first after a pretty strenuous climb – impressive!

The main road inevitably leads to the Hellenistic theater built at the same time as the city itself and seating 5,000 visitors spread over 50 rows and resting against the gentle mountain slope. Five marble VIP-seats around the orchestra are still in place and were not removed as usual during Roman modifications. Across from the theater lies the upper Gymnasium from the 4th century BC and several later Byzantine buildings.

Further down the street, one can hardly miss the Temple of Athena with its slender bluish-grey marble Ionian columns pointing to the sky that were reassembled thanks to the many drums lying around. Pytheos, who also was the architect of the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassos, had just started building this temple when Alexander arrived. As a matter of course, the King immediately financed its construction and a dedication to that effect, now at the British Museum in London, reads “King Alexander has dedicated this temple to Athena Polias. How unique that this testimony survived the centuries for it makes Alexander’s presence almost palpable. The temple measured 19.55x37.20m and had eleven columns lengthwise and six for its width. An altar of Athena Polias including the relief of a Muse from the 2nd century BC has been unearthed and is now on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.  Pytheos never finished the job and the temple was finally completed by Emperor Augustus who from then onward was worshiped here together with Athena.

In the next city block, we find the remains of an 116 meters-long Sacred Stoa, erected between 130-112 BC. The Stoa’s wooden roof was like so often, supported by two rows of columns, Doric on the outside and Ionic on the inside, splitting the more than twelve meters wide promenade in two. This Stoa, dating from the 3rd century BC ran parallel with the 75 meters-long Agora that was reached by six steps since the square laid about 1.5 meters lower. One end of the Agora was reserved for the fish and meat market and the other end was occupied by a temple dedicated to Asclepius.

Just behind the Sacred Stoa is the Bouleuterion, a square Council Hall seating 640 delegates and the best-preserved building in Priene. The auditorium is surrounded on three sides by rows of benches, 16 on the north side and 10 on either side. In the center of this Bouleuterion from the 2nd century BC stands an altar decorated with wreaths and bulls’ heads. The original columns supporting the protecting wooden roof are still in place also. The adjacent Prytaneum where daily administrative operations were carried out is more difficult to find. The only indication is a stray column with inscription since this was the Sacred Heart of the City that kept the eternal burning sacred fire.

The street running along the Agora ends at the western city gate and is lined with private houses. It is believed that Alexander lived in one of the houses on the left-hand side, probably because a statue of the conqueror was found here; yet there is no hard proof for this theory, however tempting it sounds! The statue moreover dates from the 2nd century BC and can be seen at the Altes Museum in Berlin. The house itself, nicely sign-posted, is not different from its neighbors in the street, except maybe for the sacrificial table found in one of the smaller rooms. Moreover, this street is surprisingly Greek with the gutter running on the side of the pavement, very much unlike Roman roads.

During my very first visit I had not looked into the geographical situation of Priene and standing here high above the vast flat plain below, it instantly occurred to me that this was an alluvial plain created by a river (in this case the Maeander). This means that in Alexander’s days all the land below was sea and that in order to reach Miletus he had to make quite a detour, skirting the eastern foothills. Priene itself never had a direct access to the sea, and its harbor was the nearby town of Naulochos. How strange to be reading history like this. The islands mentioned by ancient writers are now reduced to mere bumps in the landscape as pointed out by Peter Sommer during my next trip.

After Alexander’s victory over the Persians, Priene like all the other Ionian cities widely prospered. A small testimony of its wealth can be found at the Altes Museum in Berlin where we can admire some splendid statues of Dionysus, Aphrodite and of an unknown young man.

Of course, not much of the city dates from Alexander’s days but it definitely is Hellenistic and not “spoiled” by the Romans. This makes it quite a unique place to take in. So much history has been written in Priene and yet only a few tourists bother to stop here, while the city is so filled with past sounds of the Macedonian army and if you listen carefully, the soft breeze may still carry the name of Alexander.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Amphipolis’ Lion not Part of the Tomb

Right, now they tell us! According to the latest statement, the famous Lion of Amphipolis from the 4th century BC could never have been sitting on top of the tomb that was the center of so much attention and speculations these past months.

The lion is said to be too heavy to be supported by the naturally formed hill in which the widely discussed burial site was excavated. Another argument that is pushed forward is that the date of the burial does not match the construction date of the lion. Now, why could the archeological research team not have said so at the earliest stage of the excavations? I don’t understand this.

In fact, the researchers have calculated that the hill, consisting of quartzite sand, clay and sandstone is unable to support a weight of more than 500 tons, while the adjacent lion with its base is weighing over 1,500 tons.

Meanwhile it is being revealed that the burial chamber was a mess of many human interventions and burnt remains. The box-shaped grave uncovered in the last chamber dates from a different time than the monument itself and it does not fit in with the grandeur of the entire burial site. Well, we figured out that much didn’t we?

More specific information about the riddle of Amphipolis is not being disclosed at present.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Greek art at its best in two separate exhibitions

In my eyes, Greek art just like Greek temples is pure perfection. A matter of taste or a matter of judgment, no doubt, but no civilization has ever created anything better. The Romans loved it so much that they created their own imitations without which we would have missed a great deal of information, but they never matched up to the Greek perfection.

This being said, it is quite exciting to see that there currently are two separate exhibitions on Greek statues from Hellenistic times.

One is running at the British Museum in London under the title “Defining Beauty, the body in ancient Greek art”. It opened on March 26 and will end on July 5, 2015, so you better make your travel plans.

A friend of mine recently went to see these thrilling works of art and told me that the exhibition also includes a very interesting section explaining how the statues were painted in antiquity as shown through some superb examples from the German travelling museum pieces.

The other exhibition is in Florence, Italy, at the Palazzo Strozzi, running from March 14 till June 21, 2015. Under the label “Power and Pathos. Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” some of the most important bronze masterpieces have been brought together. Leading museums from around the world have contributed to this unique collection: The British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New-York, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Vatican Museums and several other Italian museums. It is a unique opportunity to admire this rich array of monumental statues of gods, athletes and heroes for most bronzes were destroyed over the centuries to recuperate the raw material for other purposes.

For both events, tickets can be purchased on-line, a safe way to make sure to obtain entrance to the museum at the time of your visit.