All photos with respective captions are Courtesy of the Museum of Cycladic Art.
See the same post in Greek Η Αθήνα φιλοξενεί “Πριγκίπισσες” της Μεσογείου στο Μουσείο Κυκλαδικής Τέχνης
At the Museum of Cycladic Art
Τhe exhibition ” ‘Princesses’ of Mediterranean in the dawn of History” took place in Athens, the Museum of Cycladic Art from 13 December 2012 until 8 May 2013 bringing together personal objects that were found buried in graves. Some of these treasures traveled from Cyprus, Southern Italy, Etruria to meet the ones from Greece: Attica, Euboea, Macedonia.
The day I visit it, it is Saturday, spring and it is particularly alive; children come out of their workshops here flagging colorful paintings; at the café there is not a free seat. I take the guided tour.
The graves of the Mediterranean women
Following the chronological order from 1000 B.C. in the first room to the newest graves of 500 B.C. in the last room, we travel in time and space. “From the years of Homer to Sappho, and then, from the democracy of Kleisthenis to the Persian wars”, I read at the 16-pages booklet of the Museum.
In the display cabinets we stare at the findings brought from the graves of these 24 women. They were ‘Princesses’ not in the modern, but in the etymological sense, from the latin ‘princeps‘: eminent personalities, distinguished by their wealth and prestige deriving from lineage, wedding, and/or their role in public life, Ladies, Priestesses.
The objects selected to be buried with them provide information about social order, personal taste, education, about their worship and religious practices, while the bones were analyzed for age, physical condition, well-being.
We can imagine each one of the 24 women in daily life, among their personal objects, in their activities. We have the opportunity to compare funerary customs, as well as different social organization, the interaction in arts and habits among people of Mediterranean.
We learn how the burning of dead men preceded that of women, as it was expensive. In the double grave of 950 B.C. where the LADY of LEFKANTI in Euboea was found, the man had been burned, not the woman. Her gold necklace comes from Syria, made in the 18th century BC. Found in the 10th century tomb, “this rare antique from abroad” refers to the wealth of the lady and to the commercial relations of the times. You will see them in the 1st room.
Also in the 1st room, with other early burial findings from the 10th to the mid of 8th century BC is the LADY–PREISTESS of AIGAI Macedonia, Vergina, where the tomb of king Filippos B’ was found. The burial of 850 B.C. includes a big selection of copper jewelry.
Two findings suggest that this Lady might have been a Priestess: the triple double ax, referring to religious sacrifices and the tiny rotating wheel, object of witchcraft for erotic purposes.
In Athens the tomb of the same era looks frugal, although at the funeral of this WEATHY ATHENIAN LADY from Aeropagus more than 200 people have attended. From her small clay box with 5 swellings, referring to barns, we assume that she belonged to the richest upper class of Athens, the aristocracy of Pentakosiomedimnoi. She died 30 years old, 9 months pregnant. She led a healthy life with no physical strain and good nutrition.
At the same time, in the LADIES of TARQUINIA in Etruria we find 5 clay bobbins for thread.
‘Copper covered’ like the Ladies of Macedonia are also the LADIES of BOLOGNA and of BASILICATA (ancient Oenotria in Southern Italy): metal caps, buckles, waistbands of copper, diadem with beads and the emergence of amber which had travelled from the Baltic Sea. On its own, or pinned in copper or gold, this petrified resin, the ‘stone of the sea’, was preferred by the Italian ladies for its magical and therapeutic properties.
Etrurian women seem to be the most emancipated. They participate in symposia of men, as they have been ‘photographed’ on the surface of clay vessels among the burial findings. The metal objects buried with them also refer to symposia: copper stands for the hanging of pots; barbecue brackets and skewers for the meat; knives for the cutting. These eating habits of the mixed grill meat were transferred from Cyprus and Greece, Crete (9th B.C.) to Etruria. A lot of these objects from symposia are symbolic rather than functional and rest side by side with the spindle. (Necropolis of Bologna, 8th / 7th c. B.C.)
In the 2nd room, women buried in the 8th c. B.C. highlight the closer relationships and exchange of the peoples of Mediterranean: the PREISTESS OF ISIS from ELEUSIS (ELEFSINA) indicates the early worship of the Egyptian gods in the Greek area; her skeleton found in sitting position refers to priesthood, a funerary custom followed until now.
In Piraeus street they found ivory idols, while at Salamina of Cyprus the BRIDE brought from Athens her dowry, including vessels which were found burned with her, as was the custom in Attica.
The 3rd room is devoted to ITALY, end of 8th and early 7th B.C. from Verucchio (Rimini) and Basilicata (Southern Italy): jewelry with the recurring use of amber brought from the Baltic Sea.
You cannot avoid emotion facing the wooden residues from a child’s little throne from Verucchio and its footrest, a wooden table, a jewelry case and a musical instrument, all out of wood. It is the first time they travel outside Italy!
In the 4th room we stand in front of findings from Crete, Greece, the tomb of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna, a recent excavation by Professor Nikolas Chr. Stampolidis, Prof. of Archaeology at the University of Crete and Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art. Four women were found buried in 700 BC, the oldest 70-years old had been a PRIESTESS as we derive from her sitting position. Her golden decorations refer to the adoration of young Zeus.
In the 4th room, we can also view findings testifying the weaving activity of women, regardless of their role or social status. Weaving defined the lives of the people to such a point that in mythology the THREE women ‘MOIRES’ are depicted to decide the fate for each person: KLOTHO, LAHESI, ATROPOS.
Objects linked to the weaving form the largest symbolic category, “symbols of a world in which the woman of aristocracy is a model of productive power at home or in society; later, in the 5th c. BC Goddess Athena becomes patron of labor/’ergo’, named Athena Ergani and is adored at the temple of KOLONO, today THESEIO” (p. 12, small catalogue)
In the 5th room, we are transferred back to Εtruria, today Tuscany, in graves of 7th B.C. Elaborate jewelry, libation bowls and parts of horse carriages, or traces of horses. They have accompanied the ladies from the home of their father to their husband’s, and finally to their burial.
Glass vials for perfumes were also found. Idols, miniature lions with hieroglyphs, vessels, all bear witness to faith in Egyptian gods, links to rituals connected to the underworld and sorcery.
The seals refer to bureaucratic and notary functions. The inscribed ink vase, pens and other writing implements indicate that they had been literate like their synchronous poetess Sappho from Lesvos ( 7th c. B.C.)
Brought from the Vatican, we host in Athens the burial ‘dowry’ of Larthia, the only woman here known by her name, engraved on silver vessels. Enviable jewelry, 12 golden pins ‘peroni’ like the one Oedipus used to blind himself; a golden bracelet that depicts princesses holding hands and dancing, as Homer describes. The grave was found at Regolini Galassi, Cerveteri, near Rome.
In the 6th room also, we see the QUEEN – PRIESTESS – SORCERESS of Sirolo Numana, near Ancona. Her multiple is assumed from the findings, while vessels from Attica indicate bonds with Greece and the goddess Artemi.
Macedonia is represented by the PRIESTESS from Sindos in Thessaloniki, 520 B.C. and the LADY of Pella, with gold masks and jewelry with exquisite artifice .
From Macedonia, again, another 9 graves were found, only one was intact. Golden foil was sewed on the garments of the LADY of Aigai, buried around 500 B.C. It is assumed that she has been a historical person. She was probably the Princess of Lydia princess sent by the Persians to be one of the brides of Amyntas I of Macedonia. Their daughter was Gygaia. This is the way the Persians made alliances preparing the ground for their expedition against the Greeks.
The guide tour reach its end. I am leaving the Museum with many questions, my curiosity inflamed. It has not been difficult for me to visualize the 24 ‘Princesses’. Now, as I bear farewell to each one of them, I have a feeling of continuity from this travel back in time. I am relieved because of ‘the search of time found, earned’. Nothing is really wasted, nothing is completely eliminated, even if it dies, or burns. Some traces will remain behind to restore a narrative and a memory.
At the Museum of Cycladic Art a Catalogue of the Exhibition ‘Princesses of the Mediterranean in the dawn of History’ is available in three languages: German, English and Italian.
All photos with respective captions are Courtesy of the Museum of Cycladic Art.