Friday, August 31, 2012

More finds from the necropolis of ancient Apollonia Pontica, Bulgaria

The long and rich history of Bulgaria’s Apollonia continues to be revealed under the direction of Dimitar Nedev.  Excavations in and under the ‘St. Nikolai’ monastery illustrate the continuity of occupation of the city, and are bringing to light part of the ancient necropolis.
A complex series of church buildings overlay the area of the burials, which were found under the northern part of the narthex of a three-naved basilica.  The oldest church seem to date back to the 6th century AD, though there are other phases of construction in the 7th and 10th centuries, and some use of the building until the 17th century.
The northern part of the narthex overlies an archaeological context dating back to the 6th century BC, so a very early phase of the history of ancient Apollonia (modern Sozopol on the Black Sea).   One of the burials was of a young woman, whose grave goods consisted of vessel for perfume. Another was of a small child, perhaps three years old, according to the excavators. The child was buried in an amphora from Samos – a common method of burial for infants – and the amphora provides a date of the beginning of the third quarter of the 6th century BC.
This date is similar to that given to some fragments of a vase painted with erotic scenes also found at the site. The scenes consist of male and female figures indulging in various sexual activities, and the quality of the painting is very fine. This is the first time that a vase with such scenes has been found in Bulgaria. The quality of this vase, and the imported amphora from Samos, both dating to the early period of the city, shows the wealth of the city even in its initial phase and are testament to the richness of Greek colony sites.

  Picture: Огнян Лулев

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ancient settlement discovered at Tsarevo, Bulgaria.

Exciting news from Bulgaria and the first excavation in the seaside town of Tsarevo.

The town, on the southern Black Sea coast, was known to have had an ancient past since underwater archaeological surveys have discovered amphorae from the 4th to 6th centuries AD and imported Roman red glazed wares from north Africa and the Levant.  Furthermore in 2008 an arched tomb of the mid 4th century BC was discovered in the vicinity, and the city's southern peninsula has remains of a medieval fortress.

Photo: BGNES
It seemed likely, therefore, that the modern town overlay an ancient settlement, and the archaeologists’ suppositions have been proven correct. The excavations, under the leadership of Milen Nikolov of the Regional History Museum of Burgas, have so far revealed remains from the 5th or 4th century BC down to the 1st century AD and include such small finds as lamps, grave goods and plenty of ceramic vessels. No doubt there will be further discoveries as excavations progress.

The tomb discovered in 2008 by Daniela Agre and her team in the municipality of Tsarevo showed the importance of the area and the presence of a local elite marking their wealth and place in society. The tomb was of soft limestone and dated to around 370-360 BCE. Although the tomb had been robbed and partially destroyed by treasure hunters, it may be possible to restore it to it original form and repair the barrel-vaulted ceiling. Any precious grave goods had been robbed but amphorae, local ceramics and a limestone chest for the body of the deceased still remained.

Built tombs of this type are common in Thrace and Macedonia from the mid 4th century and are most often known as Macedonian tombs. Interestingly, in his Laws (947D), Plato describes the ideal tomb for a Custodian of the Laws:

“Their tomb shall be constructed underground in the form of an oblong vault of spongy stone, as long lasting as possible, and fitted with couches of stone set side by side; in this when they have laid him who is gone to his rest, they shall make a mound in a circle round it and plant thereon a grove of trees, save only at one extremity”

This is could be a description of a Macedonian type tomb - for example the tomb of Philip II at Vergina.   The tombs are built chambers with a barrel-vaulted roof, often of limestone. They are sometimes built partially underground and subsequently covered by artificial earth tumulus. Although they may to a certain extent be indebted to Near Eastern prototypes, for example in Lycia and Caria, the final product is the creation of Macedonian architects. 

Such tombs must have been reserved for only the wealthiest of the aristocracy and the discovery of this tomb in Tsarevo is testament to the richness and importance of the area, perhaps due to trade but certainly also due to the mineral wealth of the area.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A nymph or a matron? Townley's 'Clytie'

On Saturday I’ll be talking about Roman sculptures in the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. One of the sculptures on which I'll be focusing is the marble bust known as 'Clytie' that came into the museum as part of the collection of Charles Townley (1737-1805). Townley was born into a Catholic family near Burnley in Lancashire and in 1767 left England for the first of his visits to Italy on what is known as a 'Grand Tour', a popular activity for gentleman at that time, who travelled to Italy and later Greece and Turkey to visit places seen as romantic and exotic in order to experience the the cultural legacy of classical antiquity. With the help of various dealers he amassed a collection of antiquities and exhibited them in his house in London, where they made quite an impact.  In fact he was made a trustee of the British Museum in 1791.
Townley originally intended to bequeath his collection to the British Museum, but changed his mind shortly before he died and instead left it to his family on the condition that they opened a museum in Burnley to show the antiquities to the public. The family could not meet the condition, and so sold the collection to the British Museum for £20,000, a figure much less than the original cost to Townley.
The bust known as ‘Clytie’ is a beautiful sculpture and also a very interesting object in terms of the history of the museum’s collections and the acquisition of antiquities during the ‘Grand Tour’.
The sculpture shows a woman emerging from leaves or petals, and was the subject of much discussion amongst Townley’s circle of antiquaries and dilettanti. Townley himself changed his mind about the identity of the woman several times.
In his account book the woman is listed as Agrippina, and the bust was shipped to London under that name. But she was soon identified with Clytie, a figure from Greek mythology who pined away for love of the sun-god Helios or Apollo and was changed into a flower ‘like a violet’ that turned its face towards the sun as it passed by (Ovid, Metamorphoses iv 256-70). Townley called the flower a ‘sunflower’ since it turns to face the sun, but the petals do not look much like those of a sunflower and furthermore Helianthus is an American species. In his notebooks Townley also refers to the sculpture as ‘A female Bust like an Agrippina ending in a Sun flower….representing Clytie’, but yet again as ‘the Libera or female Bacchus’. Later he catalogues the bust as ‘Isis in the flower of the Lotus’.
What is not in doubt is Townley’s love of the sculpture, and also its popularity. Clytie was one of three of his ancient sculptures Townley had printed on his visiting card. The sculptor Nollekens, who also produced a portrait bust of Townley 'herm style', kept marble copies of the bust in stock to sell. As subject matter the nymph Clytie, normally depicted as the head of a woman emerging from a sunflower, was generally popular with neo-classical sculptors and artists. This particular Clytie was copied in various media: for example gems, some engraved before 1774 while the portrait was still in Italy, cameos and porcelain.
From 1855 the Staffordshire company W.T. Copeland & Sons (now Spode) made copies of Clytie in Parian, a new type of white unglazed porcelain which resembled marble from Paros. Minton also produced a version.
Townley's library by Johan Zoffany
A painting by Johan Zoffany shows Townley in the library of his London home surrounded by part of his collection (not arranged as they would have been in the house) and some of his antiquary friends. Clytie is given pride of place on a small table next to Townley.
It was even reported that during the anti-Catholic Gordon riots in 1780 the bust was carried from the house in flight by Townley himself and though some scholars doubt that the rather slender Townley could have managed this feat the story confirms that this was his favourite sculpture. It was even rumoured that he referred to it as his ‘wife’.
Townley acquired the sculpture from the family of Principe Laurenzano in 1772 in Naples. He paid 500 Ducats for it, which he reckoned to be £98, and shipped it home to England on the ‘Lovely Betsy’. On arrival in the UK it was valued by Customs at £3 and incurred a duty of 19s. 6d.
So ‘Clytie’ caused a stir in the 18th century (Townley was not the only British collector who wanted to buy her) and she has since caused debate about her age and her identity.
Some modern scholars have claimed that the bust was made as recently as the 18th century and presented to collectors and potential buyers as an antiquity. This was not uncommon at that time: many unknowing gentlemen with spare cash were duped by the canny dealers of Naples, being sold forgeries or ensemble pieces.
However, work at the British Museum has shown that the piece in all probability dates from the mid 1st century BC and is certainly ancient. Experts consider the marble to be Parian, and therefore it must have been quarried in antiquity, since the underground quarries on Paros were not worked in the 18th century. A close look at the underside of the leaves or petals reveals traces of incrustation, especially at the back of the sculpture where the restorer did not pay so much attention. The sculpture was certainly subject to restoration at some point, most likely in the 18th century.
It seems that the sculpture was enthusiastically cleaned and even reworked in order to make it more appealing to the Grand Tour trade. Clytie, it seems, may have originally been a portrait reworked to make it more erotic and therefore more appealing to the gentlemen collectors.
This was not an uncommon occurrence. The most famous example is the 'Flora Farnese', a colossal statue restored and reworked sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries to look more erotic. The Farnese Flora is a reworked Roman copy of a Greek original statue of the second half of the 5th century BC. The original, of which various versions are extant, wears a long chiton and himation, however the Farnese statue has one side of the chiton removed by restorers sometime after the 16th century to reveal most of  her right breast. The statue became very famous, eventually going into the collection of the Farnese family.
Flora type with chiton intact
The Farnese Flora - with remodelled chiton

So our Clytie, though now showing a great deal of decolletage and most of one breast, was probably not originally meant to look so provocative. Her stola has been resculpted to be more revealing, and thus more marketable to the Grand Tourists. The overall effect is sensual, which is at odds with with what we know of the person currently identified as the subject of the portrait: Antonia Minor, who died in AD38.
Antonia Minor, also known as Antonia the Younger, was the younger of two daughters of Mark Antony and Octavia. She was the niece of Augustus, sister-in-law of Tiberius, grandmother of Caligula and Agrippina, mother of the Emperor Claudius, and both great-grandmother and great-aunt of the Emperor Nero.
As an historical figure, Antonia was celebrated for her virtue and beauty. She married the consul Drusus, stepson of her uncle Augustus, and brother of future Emperor Tiberius. Of their many children, only three survived to adulthood including the beloved Germanicus. Widowed in 9BC, she never remarried. She was offered the title of Augusta by Caligula, but rejected it, and became so upset by the excesses of her grandson’s reign that she committed suicide. She was renowned for her virtue in antiquity, so it seems particularly ironic that her portrait is later identified with the somewhat flighty Clytie.
The Baiae Antonia
The portrait can be compared with other known portraits of Antonia, such as the Antonia of Baiae, and the likeness is clear. The modestly tilted head and the shape of the lips are very alike. The hairstyle, low on the brow and centrally parted, became a fashion during Antonia’s lifetime as her beauty and restrained style was much admired.
Her portrait is still admired today, though not as its original sculptor intended, and Clytie/Antonia remains popular, copies of the bust being sold in the British Museum shop and elsewhere. Like many of the objects chosen for display in the Enlightenment Gallery, it has a truly fascinating story.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Sabaean Temple of Almaqah in Addi Akaweh (Tigray), Ethiopia

Dr Pawel Wolf gave the MBI Al Jaber Public Lecture at the British Museum this year as part of the annual Seminar for Arabia Studies. The lecture was entitled 'Colonisation or Culture Transfer? The Almaqah temple of Wuqro (Tigray) sheds new light on Ethio-Sabaean culture contacts in the Northern Horn of Africa' and gave an insight into the fascinating work of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) over the past few seasons.

Addi Akaweh, 2000 m above sea level, is in a region of Tigray which has not yet been explored for archaeological material.  In the north of the Abyssinian highlands, the region is about 50 km north of the provincial capital of Mekelle, and seems to have been of importance due to its proximity to the ancient trade routes southeast of the main ancient centres of Axum and Yeha.

The temple of the Sabaean God Almaqah  is one of the main archaeological discoveries of the area, though there are signs of an ancient settlement nearby and some building believed to have a sacred use at nearby Ziban Adi. They belong to a settlement area of the 1st millennium BC, a period of crucial social development in the Abyssinian highlands.

Since the Neolithic period, the Abyssinian highlands were part of a far-flung network of exchange relationships between North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and both African and South Arabian cultural components can be seen in its development. South Arabian inscriptions, temples and sculptures from the early 1st millennium BC, have been found at Yeha and Hawlti.

Various models of social development have been applied to explain the strong South Arabian presence such as colonization or economic and cultural relations. More research and work needs to be carried out before the contacts can be properly understood.  

The primary objective of the work of the DAI in Addi Akaweh is to comprehensively record and explore the archaeological material to shed light on the local cultural transformation in the context of regional contacts. Intercultural contacts and external relations with neighbouring cultural areas such as South Arabia, the Nile Valley and the south are still unexplored, and need to be investigated cross-regionally.

The Almaqah temple offers the ideal opportunity for the study of specific religious cultural components. The reconstruction of spatial concepts, ritual procedures and votive practices sheds light on the sacral-political space of the regional elite.  The temple was built in the 8th to 6th centuries BC on the ruins of an earlier building and continued in use with several modifications to probably the 3rd century BC.  It resembles the early South Arabian religious buildings in form and is built from local stone. Some of its most important features are a betyl made from naturally rounded boulders and perfectly preserved and libation altar donated by a hitherto unknown king named W'RN. His dedicatory inscription proves the ancient name of Yeha for the first time and demonstrates its importance as a national religious and political centre.  It also shows that elements of royal elite cultural and ideological traditions of South Arabia and the African region are used together. C14 dating confirmed the Ethiopian Sabaean inscriptions to date to the 7th century BC.
Photo: DAI, Pawel Wolf 
Votive offerings such as incense burners and the statue of a seated woman shed light on the cult practices of the elite and the "non-elite" are represented by various votive offerings. Archaeometry studies show that some of the come from other geographic areas of the Abyssinian highlands. Ceramics and miniature vessels have parallels in northern Tigray and Eritrea (for example the Ancient Ona culture). Individual vessel shapes and objects are also known from the elite tombs at Yeha and South Arabia.

So the contacts and cultural interchange are well-evidenced, but the social model to explain the contact is still unclear. Masons’ marks on the beautiful and well preserved libation altar show the local stone to have been worked by a South Arabian craftsman. What role did the Sabaeans play in the Abyssinian highlands at the beginning of the first millennium BC?  Surely this was connected to the incense trade and the all-important trade routes across the desert. It is to be hoped that new research and the continuing efforts of the joint Ethiopian-German team will shed light on this fascinating ‘cultural transfer’.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New research on the Hellenistic Theatre in Apollonia

The German Archaeological Institute is working at Apollonia in Albania to try and understand the original form of the theatre there and to attempt at least a partial reconstruction. Their goal is to reconstruct the theatre in a basic form and record changes over time, dating individual phases and fitting them into the history of the city.

The theatre at Apollonia poses several important questions including about local variations in theatre plans (in terms of Greek theatres it is an unusual plan, but it may have counterparts in other Illyrian cities) and the date of the introduction of formal theatres (a sequence of phases under the stage and orchestra may suggest that there was some kind of theatre in the pre-Hellenistic period).

At work on the orchestra area 
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut 
Apollonia’s theatre is located in the centre of the town on the western slope of the hill and provides a connection between the upper and lower town. Theatres are a key element of cities in the Hellenistic period. Archaic and classical period towns had buildings and facilities used for the staging of performances and the Assembly of citizens, and also a central area for gatherings and speeches, but the conventional form of theatre construction, being a monumental structure with a large area for spectators including places for notables and a structured stage dates mainly to the second half of the 4th and the 3rd centuries BC. Since then, all cities possessed some type of theatre.

In the Hellenistic period in addition to the traditional function, theatres were used for the performance of games, a place where citizens were honoured by their polis, and were sometimes the physical manifestation of benefaction by wealthy citizens who wished to conspicuously display their wealth. They may also have been used for cultic practices.  Thus, the theatre was an important place for the cultural tradition and social hierarchy of a town.

Since the 3rd century BC monumental theatres were a key part of towns situated at the edge of the Greek world, for example in Babylon (Mesopotamia) and Ai Khanoum (Bactria).  The theatre may have held the role of a signifier of Hellenistic culture. However, in the Greek cities of the Hellenistic period, there is a huge variety of size, type, features and location of the theatre on the Greek mainland and in Asia Minor and in some cities of central importance theatres have not yet been discovered (for example Alexandria, Antioch, Pella).

The Germans are examining several theatres in Albania in order to shed light on the questions posed above.  The theatres are all currently dated to the second half of the 3rd century BC and are in three cities with very different characteristics.

Excavations in the theatre of Apollonia started in the seventies (1971) and in the orchestra, the stage and at the bottom of the cavea.  The orchestra was circa. 18 m in diameter and individual sectors of the cavea were marked with letters that have been associated with individual tribes on the front of the lowest level. It is calculated that the capacity of the theatre was between 6,000 - 8,000. The stage had a proscenium with the Ionic order and places for paintings. Less certain is that there may have been a second Ionic order with a scroll and a richly decorated Doric frieze. The decoration may give some clue to dating, though of course there may have been alterations over time. In Late Antiquity a basilica was built, with the apse covering part of the original backstage buildings.

Drainage under the orchestra 
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut 
A programme of documentation and stone removal is now underway. A donor’s inscription has been discovered (YΛOY YIOΣ TAPANTINOΣ ANA), and a graphic reconstruction made of the parodos. This investigation has shown that the parodos of the theatre at Byllis has been wrongly reconstructed. The orchestra channel has been exposed and documented and a greater understanding reached of the transformations in Roman times. It will at some point be possible to know when the orchestra was remodelled for gladiatorial shows with the front seats being removed for the construction of a parapet.
The foundations of the Hellenistic proscenium have been uncovered and traces of wooden fixtures in the orchestra found which may have either been to do with the original construction or wooden structures in their own right.

A great number of the stones are no longer in position, having been robbed or moved to other structures.  However, the north wall of the Hellenistic building can now be assigned and geomagnetic surveys showed that 3rd century BC residential buildings close to the top of the cavea were removed to create an open space at a time when the theatre was expanded. The main entrance was probably in the centre of the auditorium, and there were probably superstructures which gave more seating. The space to the west was fairly open and designed to be highly visible from afar, similar to the situation of the theatre at Byllis.

Work on the project continues, but it is clear that a huge amount of new information is being revealed that will shed light not only on the theatres in Albania but on the development of theatres throughout the Greek world.

Image from geophysical survey  Deutsches Archäologisches Institut 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monumental Roman road discovered in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki's metro system is four years behind schedule, but that is not really surprising given that each stage of excavation for the metro has revealed more of the ancient town that lies beneath Greece's second city.
Founded by Alexander the Great's general and successor Kassander in 315BC on the Thermaic Gulf, the city has enjoyed continuous occupation, testament to the importance of its strategic position in terms of access to the hinterland and trade.
The city was named for Thessalonike, Alexander's half sister who was born following a famous victory in Thessaly. Alexander's father Philip liked to name or even rename his wives and daughters after events.
The city has been continuously occupied since the fourth century BC and so any kind of excavation for new buildings or works in its historic centre are likely to encounter layer upon layer of evidence of the city's fortunes over the centuries.
Of the ancient city, it is possible to see parts of the city walls built by Kassander, the Forum with its Hellenistic baths, the remains of the palace complex of the Emperor Galerius and the currently under threat temple of Aphrodite. The artefacts in the museum bear witness to the importance and wealth of the city in Hellenistic and Roman times, and rescue excavations continue to reveal important public buildings.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis
This time it is a monumental Roman road that has been discovered: archaeologists have uncovered more than 80 metres of an ancient road built by the Romans in the third century AD. The ancient road is only a few meters away from the modern street known as the Via Egnatia and was found when the workers were excavating the metro station 'Aghia Sophia'.
The marble paved street was laid around the third century AD and maintained for at least three centuries. Games and other graffiti, indicating some of the activities of the people who passed along the road, have been uncovered scratched into the surface and ruts from horse-drawn cart of chariot wheels also mark the road. Viki Tzanakouli, an archaeologist working on the project, told The Associated Press the marble surfaced road was about 1,800 years old, but remains of an older road built by the ancient Greeks 500 years earlier were found underneath it.
"We have found roads on top of each other, revealing the city's history over the centuries," Tzanakouli said. "The ancient road, and side roads perpendicular to it appear to closely follow modern roads in the city today."
The monumental Roman road seems to be the Decumanus Maximus of the city. The Decumanus was the main road of a Roman town, oriented east to west and crossing the most important part of the city. At the points where the Decumanus entered and left the Fora or main squares of the town they were paved with marble, just as in this case.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis
The excavated stretch of road is 82.5 metres long and 10 meters wide. On the south side of the road the base of a huge colonnade can be seen, and this seems to suggest that this might have been a section of a 'via colonnata' or colonnaded street of the type so famous in some of Rome's eastern cities such as Palmyra and Apamea. Seven column bases are still preserved in situ in Thessaloniki, giving an idea of the grandeur of the original structure.
The south side of the road was connected to a series of public buildings that seem to be of mixed use, but indicating commercial and manufacturing activity.  The ancient road climbed gradually uphill towards the east and passed beneath the Arch of Galerius and the related palatial buildings which in themselves are an illustration of the importance and wealth of the city.
The excavation has also revealed a huge number of small finds, including jewellery, sacred utensils, and tools, and hundreds of gold and bronze coins in addition to a large amount of pottery.
The intention is that the marble paved road will be raised so that it is on permanent display for passengers when the metro opens.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New discovery in Messenia - a temple to a god of war?

Greek archaeologists have revealed the existence of a new temple in Messenia, dating back to the late 6th/early 5th century BC.  Between Elis and Messene, on the opposite side of the valley to the famous temple of Apollo, the remains have been found at an altitude of 1000 metres. The temple is reached by travelling along seven kilometres of dirt track above the village of Upper Melpeias to the site of the chapel of Prophet Elias, and has been identified by Dr. Xeni Arapogianni, former head of the 38th Ephorate of Antiquities.
Photo showing two phases of the temple from To Vima
The temple, which now exists only at foundation level, was discovered through the identification of a number of architectural fragments visible on the surface. It is thought by Dr Arapogianni that the fragments were scattered when the temple was demolished to build a later version.
The fragments were first discovered in 1995 but excavations began only in 2010, and revealed not only the existence of the temple but a number of exceptional finds including pottery, bronze objects and a large number of iron weapons (particularly spearheads). It is thought that the weapons had been dedicated at the temple.  One significant find is a bronze statuette of a naked male, possibly a warrior as he holds a spear in one hand.
Photo To Vima.
Dr Arapogianni considers that this is evidence for the temple being dedicated to a deity of war. However, the fact that the temple is visible from the temple of Apollo on the opposite hillside and the similarity of the offerings found there gives rise to a range of possible attributions, including a war god, but possibly Artemis or Athena.
A terrace on the top of the hill was leveled to accommodate the structure, which is estimated to be around 23 meters long. The maximum extant dimensions are 20.65 × 10.75 meters and the thickness of the walls ranges from 0.80 to 0.90m. A portion of the east wall has been completely destroyed because it served as the foundation of the Christian church.
The interior of the main structure revealed a smaller building of 15.60 × 2.18 metres constructed from stones without any mortar, the east side of which was also damaged. The floor of the temple consisted of small blocks with mortar.
Arapogianni thinks that this small structure was the first, archaic, temple dated to the end of the 6th century and the one that was later dismantled, resulting in the outlying scattered architectural fragments.  She thinks that it was probably built by the Spartans, the conquerors of Messenia, and perhaps the locals were responsible for the building of the larger, later temple once they had thrown off the Spartan yoke.
Finds include copper bracelets ending in a snake's head, a bronze bowl embossed with a representation of a woman holding a branch, iron studs and utensils and what appears to be a bronze handle ending in a lion's head. There were also iron weapons and at least 20 spearheads. A dedicatory inscription on a clay vase reveals ‘ANETHEKEN’.
However, a puzzling fact is that although stone metopes, triglyphs and cornices have been found, the site is so far lacking columns or capitals.  One possible solution would be that wooden columns were used, but this would make the temple very rare at this date.  It is hoped that further research will shed light on this mystery.
Architectural fragments showing triglyphs, To Vima.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Latest finds from Sozopol in Bulgaria, ancient Apollonia Pontica.

I previously reported on the excavations taking place at ancient Apollonia Pontica, modern Sozopol in Bulgaria. Recent developments include the arrival of a French team (in particular ceramics specialists) to work alongside the locals on excavations in the city, including contexts from the founding of Apollonia in the 7th century, through its development as a city important for maritime trade, to a Christian centre. 
Teams at work by ancient city walls. Photo by
On 2nd April Dimitar Nedev, Director of the National History Museum announced some interesting finds from the excavation at the ancient fortress gate of Sozopol (see my post of 29 December 2011). The finds include a gold ring with a semi precious stone, and a gold leaf from a wreath.
The ring is thought to date from the Roman era (1st – 4th century AD) according to Professor Dimitrov. Evidence for the dating has not yet been announced, but the stone may give a clue. The Romans liked to include gem stones or even coloured glass in their jewellery, introducing decoration via the gems, whereas in previous periods it was the workmanship of the gold itself that was important, with methods such as the use of granulation and filigree, and the occasional use of enamel to provide colour. The Hellenistic period sees the use of some gem stones, but they become the staple decorative element of Roman jewellery.
Typical Roman ring with coloured glass
 The gold leaf, from a crown or wreath, is dated to the 4th – 3rd century BC. During the late classical and Hellenistic period, gold wreaths of varying size and splendour were made for both funerary and celebratory use.  The most famous such wreath is the one that was discovered in the tomb of Philip II, a beautiful rendering of oak leaves, acorns and even insects so delicate that it quivers as one passes it in its display case at the wonderful museum. It seems to have graced the head of the deceased king Philip as he was cremated, and was placed in the gold larnax with his burnt bones. 
Gold wreath from Tomb II at Vergina
Other, more robust and less intricate, were clearly made to be worn during the life time of the owners, but as a prized possession found their way into the tomb of their owners. The presence of the wreath in the royal tombs at Vergina shows that they were, on occasions, worn as the modern equivalent of crowns, but we know from both archaeological and literary sources that ownership of such ‘crowns’ were not restricted to royalty. They may, for example, have been awarded for services to the city.
One of the most famous speeches of the Athenian orator Demosthenes, known as ‘The Crown’ was a result of a proposal, in 336BC, that the city of Athens honour him for his services to the city by presenting him, according to custom, with a golden crown, and an ensuing political wrangle.
We may never know to whom the fragment of the gold wreath belonged, but it is at least an indicator of the wealth and sophistication of Apollonia Pontica in the late Classical/Hellenistic period.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A sanctuary of Asklepios discovered at Daphnous

Archaeologist Maria-Fotini Papaconstantinou recently revealed details of a sanctuary of Asklepios discovered in the 2005-2007 construction of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzonoi Highway in the area of the Malian Gulf.
Aerial view of site and road construction
Unfortunately, the site was discovered at a very late stage during the construction of the road and Papaconstantinou’s team had to “race against time” to excavate, record and relocate the finds before the bulldozers moved in. “It was just before the deadline for excavation when we would have had to hand over the site to construction,” she said.  The excavations were carried out at speed, with the work being completed in six months. The remains of the sanctuary were transported stone by stone to an adjacent site and a restoration and presentation project followed.
The sanctuary was part of the ancient city of Daphnous that was located at  "Isiomata" in hills to the south of Aghios Konstantinos in Phthiotida. The modern town is identified with the ancient city’s harbour and is on the Euboean sea some 200 kilometres north of Athens, near the city of Lamia. The city of Daphnous was possibly occupied in Archaic times, with occupation continuing into Classical times. By the time of Strabo, who suggests it was founded by the Phocians (9.3.17), the city was in ruins. In fact, not a great deal is so far known about Daphnous, whether it was a originally Phocian or Lokrian city, but certainly it came to be known as a city of the Opuntian Lokrians.
The excavation brought to light parts of the ancient city and the cemeteries, with the most important discovery being the Sanctuary of Asklepios, which is among the earliest Asklepieia in the Greek mainland. The sanctuary was previously unknown and dates to the fifth century BCE.  It is very well preserved, though quite small. Its modest size, 30 by 15 metres, suggests that the town it served was quite small. The identity of the sanctuary as an Asklepeion was confirmed by the discovery of snake-shaped offerings and shards of pottery bearing the healing god’s name. Asklepios was the son of Apollo, and the god of medicine and healing. His sanctuaries typically include an area for patients to stay for their cure, and are often adjacent to a theatre as the Greeks took a holistic view of medicine, believing in treatment for the mind as well as for the body. When the excavation reports are published it will be interesting to know more about the constituent parts of the Sanctuary.