Recalling a Museum Theft

“Sadly, the best candidate for him, the beautifully carved [head] 3, facing right, was stolen from the Agora’s dig house in 1955, while the Stoa of Attalos was under construction.” This sentence caught my attention while reading “Classical Sculpture from the Athenian Agora, Part 2: The Friezes of the Temple of Ares (Temple of Athena Pallenis),” published in Hesperia 88 (2019) by Andrew Stewart and seven co-authors (E. Driscoll, S. Estrin, N. J. Gleason, E. Lawrence, R. Levitan, S. Lloyd-Knauf, and K. Turbeville). Further below in the catalog entry for the head, the exact date of the theft is also mentioned: August 22, 1955.

Stewart et al. refer to a fragmentary male head of high craftsmanship that was found in the Athenian Agora near the northeast corner of the Temple of Ares in 1933. Carved around 430-425 B.C. and identified as Hermes, the small head (H.: 0.147m) is one of forty-nine half-size marble fragments which once decorated the friezes of the Temple of Ares in the Agora (originally the Temple of Athena Pallenis at Pallene). A plan of the Agora with the findspots of the sculptures is included in the Hesperia article, and is also available at

Some of the marble heads that belong to one of the friezes of the Temple of Ares at the Athenian Agora. Source: Stewart et al. 2019.
Proposed reconstruction of one of the friezes of the Temple of Ares by the authors of Stewart et al. 2019.

Thefts occur in even the best guarded museums and libraries.  Every institution has its own story (or stories) to share or hide. And at least some thefts are committed by those who have “hands-on” access to the collections. A recent example was the return of two valuable journals of Charles Darwin, which were stolen two decades ago from the library of Cambridge University. Others remain lost–the paintings stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, or the Telephus head, an original by Skopas, removed from the Tegea Museum in 1992.

But back to the little head of Hermes that was inventoried as S 305. I was curious to discover more about its theft. A search in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) yielded considerable information about the event and its aftermath.

On September 6, 1955, the School’s Director, John L. Caskey, found himself in the unpleasant position of reporting to the Chair of the Managing Committee, Charles H. Morgan, that “one of the fine small marble heads from the Altar of Ares in the Agora was stolen recently. You will remember that a series of these heads was on a window sill in the inner courtyard. The head was twisted out of its plaster base. The loss was reported to the Ephor, the Symvoulion discussed it (not unsympathetically, according to George Mylonas), the police were notified, and small notices appeared in the papers. Modiano, who is very alert, picked it up immediately and put a bit in the Times of London. I wonder whether the story reached America. There’s nothing more we can do except, as Homer [Thompson] says, hurry up and move to the Stoa” (AdmRec Box 318/5, folder 8). [The photo on the left and its title are reproduced from Stewart et al. 2019.]

There was a delay of about two weeks between the theft (August 22) and Caskey’s report to Morgan because the School’s Director was not informed immediately. Apparently the staff members of the Agora were slow to convey the news either to the School’s Director or to the Ephor of the Acropolis, John Meliades. Eugene Vanderpool, who was in charge of the Agora Excavations when its Director Homer Thompson was in America, wrote to Thompson on August 29 (seven days after the theft). “Meliades came down this morning and I told him all the details. He was sympathetic and helpful. Later in the morning I took him a written account of the affair drawn up by Kyriakides [Aristeides Kyriakides was the School’s lawyer]… [and] I enclosed several pictures” (Homer A. Thompson Papers, box 68, folder 4).  

John (Jack) Caskey, Charles Morgan, Ward Canaday, Homer Thompson in the inner court of the Agora dig house ca. 1955. ASCSA Archives.

Since the head had never been published, Meliades urged Vanderpool “to publish it as soon as possible so as to make public the claim to it.” The next day Vanderpool supplied journalist Makis Lekkas of Vima (BHMA) and Nea (NEA) with a short text and a photo which gave the appearance that the Hermes’ head had just been found during cleaning operations in the area of the Temple of Ares. Vanderpool further suggested to Thompson that the theft should be included in the School’s Annual Report, “so that it will become known in the scholarly world. Then if an attempt is made to sell it to a museum it can be identified. Meliades tells me that if a foreign museum buys it, the Greek Gov[ernmen]t can reclaim it as stolen property under existing international agreements.” As planned, on August 31, a short piece appeared at NEA, titled “Σημαντικά ευρήματα εις την Αρχαίαν Αγοράν” (Important finds at the Ancient Agora).

Meliades immediately reported the theft to the Archaeological Council. An off-the-record note by Mylonas, who was present at the Council’s meeting, suggested that members were understanding and “that while it was too bad, such things do happen occasionally.” The Minister of Education, who presided over the Council, personally telephoned the police and reported the theft (Homer A. Thompson Papers, box 68, folder 4, Vanderpool to Thompson, Sept. 1, 1955).

The Cat’s Out of the Bag

Just as he was about to mail his letter, Vanderpool rushed to add a last-minute postscript: “It looks as though the cat were out of the bag. Today’s NEA reports the theft, having gotten it from police bulletin. Modiano [the Greek correspondent in London] called up at 12.10 for more details… and it will be in London Times.” On September 2, the London Times published a note together with a photo of the stolen head: “500 B.C. Bust Stolen from Museum.” By then the Director of the School must have also found out about the theft although there is no mention of Caskey in the dispatches that Vanderpool sent to Thompson or in all their dealings with the Archaeological service. 

After that initial interest, the press dropped the matter quickly, but not the Archaeological Service. On September 9, Spyridon Marinatos, Director of Antiquities, Christos Karouzos, Director of the National Archaeological Museum, and Ephor John Meliades visited the “scene of the crime” and met with Vanderpool. Three days later Caskey received an official reprimand signed by the Minister of Education, Achilleas Gerokostopoulos. In it, the School was accused of having inexcusably delayed, almost by a week, in informing the Service of the theft. As a result, the police had lost valuable time. The School was also reproached for not storing such a prime piece of sculpture in a safer location; instead it was in an exposed and unsecure location. Finally, by not publishing it for twenty-two years, the School had made repatriation more difficult in case it had already been smuggled outside Greece (Homer A. Thompson Papers, box 111 folder 1, enclosed in a letter from Caskey to Thompson, Sept. 16, 1955).

John Meliades (1895-1975). Source: Chatzi 2018, 56.

“The School gets a black eye out of this, which could have been avoided if we had reported the loss to Meliades at once. In the future I’d like to hear from the Agora staff immediately whenever anything happens that may affect our standing or relations with the officials and the local public,” Caskey rebuked Thompson. The rest of Caskey’s letter referred to the animosities between Greece and Turkey “over the Cyprus business,” and the progress that had been made concerning the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos: “The fluting of the eight columns is a fine sight.”

Morgan writing to Vanderpool from the other side of the Atlantic was more sympathetic about the theft. “It is a pity it has gone. I remember it well and believed it to be by one of the sculptors of the Parthenon frieze. Unfortunately this is the kind of thing that happens in the best of regulated museums, one of these things that no number of special guards or protective devices can entirely obviate… such as Princeton three years ago with three Rembrandt prints stolen during a commencement exhibition” (AdmRec 318/5 folder 8, September 13, 1955).

Eugene Vanderpool (1906-1989) lecturing at the Agora excavations, Dec. 1951. ASCSA Archives, Martha Heath Wiencke Papers

There is one last mention of the stolen head in the School’s records. On September 24, 1955, Vanderpool writing again to Thompson referred to some fake news about the missing head: “A clue which led to the Elsa Maxwell cruise proved false. Someone on the cruise had indeed bought a small head but it was not ours. It is a long and rather amusing story. Dick [Richard Hubbard] Howland knows it and would be glad to tell it if he sees you. I may write it someday.” Vanderpool also added that the Agora staff had “closed the courtyard to the general public: too bad, but really much better so” (Homer A. Thompson Papers, box 68, folder 4).

Maxwell (1883-1963) was a famous gossip columnist who was known for entertaining high-society guests at her parties and being friends with celebrities such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. In late August 1955 Maxwell together with actress Olivia de Havilland organized a 15-day cruise in the Aegean for 113 members of European royalty and other high-society types, aboard the luxury yacht Achilleus, lent by the Greek shipping magnate, Stavros Niarchos. Although Maxwell’s cruise was not connected to the theft, cruise boats or merchant ships were the main vehicles for smuggling antiquities out of Greece before and after WW II, including the famous New York kouros in the Metropolitan Museum.

Eight Months Later and a Riddle

In search of more information about the stolen marble head, I continued to read correspondence between Caskey and Morgan, whose main concern was the progress of work on the Stoa of Attalos and plans for its inauguration in the late summer of 1956. There I came across a letter titled “Confidential” that Morgan sent to Caskey on May 15, 1956 soon after the May Meeting of the School’s Managing Committee (AdmRec 318/5 folder 9). While in New York, Morgan paid a visit to Christine Alexander (1893-1975), Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum. Morgan was on a mission (sent by Caskey) to see Alexander about a delicate matter, the return to Greece of some object. “Not knowing exactly what approach to take I said ‘I am at your service if you need me’.” Morgan was surprised not so much by the position Alexander took but “from the indomitable conviction with which she spoke.” “Her opinion is that the Metropolitan bought the article in good faith, that the Metropolitan’s funds are charitable funds, invested for the benefit of the people of New York, that it would be improper to ask the citizens of New York to pay for the carelessness of a local museum.” For a moment I wondered if they were talking about the Agora marble head.

But then Alexander further pressed her arguments by pointing out “that the figure had not been published in anything that seems to have reached this country [America], that when the figure was stolen, though everyone knows that such material drifts to the New York market, no notification was received by the Metropolitan nor so far she [knew] by any other museum or private collector.” It was obvious that she was talking about something else, a figure, not a head, that had been stolen from a Greek museum.

Morgan tried to counteract her arguments by saying that if he were a Trustee of the Metropolitan faced with such a problem “I would immediately dig into my own pocket and the pockets of my fellow Trustees to reimburse the city for the cost of the figure and restore it to its original position.” He further added that “this was the time for American institutions to make such gestures and [he] would strongly advise that it be done with the greatest possible attendant publicity.

To which Alexander strongly disagreed believing that it would have had the opposite effect. “Well, we made the rascals give up the swag” Morgan quoted her saying. Morgan promised Caskey that he would continue to press the matter: “I will do everything I can to effect what seems to me a solution indicated morally if not legally.”

I found Caskey’s response in Morgan’s files. In a long letter written from Lerna on May 27, 1956, about a host of issues concerning the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, Caskey finally came to the matter of dispute with the Metropolitan Museum.

I consider it of the greatest importance that the piece be returned. I had not supposed for a minute that there could be any doubt about that. It was published in an extensive study with three clear photographs… And if the funds of the people of New York were misspent by accident –for goodness sake that is no reason for being righteous.

AdmRec 310/14, folder 10, Caskey to Morgan, May 27, 1956

The School’s good name was at risk: “… unless the bronze is returned promptly and gracefully, the good name of American archaeologists in Greece, and so of the School, is going to suffer a sharp blow. The French acted just right, asking no credit for returning the bronze that had been stolen (by others, of course) from Samos; and they received a lot of credit and good will from the Greek Ministry, and archaeologists. By contrast, we should look worse than Elgin,” concluded Caskey.

But what was the apple of discord? The only bronze figure that the Met acquired in 1955 was a small Hellenistic statuette of a rider wearing an elephant cap, and this seemed to have originated from Egypt. It does not seem that this was the figure that Greece wanted back and the Met refused to return. I have not been able to solve the riddle of the bronze figure. It also appears that the issue had not been resolved by April 1957, when Caskey, in another letter to Morgan, confessed that “just now I have had to report failure in my attempt to intercede in the matter of the missing work of art, about which you know, and this news of American irresponsibility [Caskey must be referring to the Met] made a really dismal impression on my Greek colleagues” (AdmRec 318/6, folder 2, April 18, 1957).

Bronze statuette of a rider wearing an elephant hide in the Metropolitan Museum. Source: Met Collection API.


Although seemingly unrelated, the two cases point to the widening gap between art historians staffing American museums and field archaeologists, such as Caskey and Morgan, working in Greece in the 1950s. The former still operated under 19th century colonial terms, while the latter, especially Caskey, understood that following WW II there was a new world order in Greece to be taken into account and respected, despite his father having been Curator of Classical Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Although even he occasionally found the situation frustrating, he observed that both leftist archaeologists such as Meliades and conservatives such as Marinatos were justified in their belief that the foreign schools continued to be unreasonably critical of the work of their Greek colleagues.

It is of course easy enough for the [foreign] schools to criticize the Greek service in turn and point out its weaknesses, as well as the good that the foreigners do for Greece. But ultimately the Greeks are right; this is their country and they must make their own decisions.

Caskey confided to Morgan in late 1956 (AdmRec 318/6, folder 1, December 29, 1956)

As for stolen antiquities, such as the Hermes head from the Agora, the more publicity they receive the better it is. It is unclear how widely news of this loss circulated in 1955. Besides the short note in the London Times, I could not find a single reference in the database. The first time that a photo of the Hermes’ head appeared in a scholarly publication was in 1986 (Harrison 1986). Even if some of the large American museums were aware of its theft in the late 1950s, it is almost certain that, as curatorial staff retired or died (and with them institutional memory), the Hermes head moved from the top of the museums’ “hot list” to the bottom, when its photo was transferred to some institutional archive as an inactive record. It is laudable that the authors of the recent Hesperia article flagged its lost status several times in their essay. It remains out there somewhere, waiting to be repatriated to Greece.


Chatzi, G. (ed.) 2018. Γιάννης Μηλιάδης. Γράμματα στην Έλλη. Αλληολγραφία με την Έλλη Λαμπρίδη 1915-1937, Athens.

Harrison, E.B. 1986. “The Classical High-Relief Frieze from the Athenian Agora,” in Archaische und klassische griechische Plastik. Akten des internationalen Kolloquiums vom 22.–25. April 1985 in Athen 2: Klassische griechische Plastik, ed. H. Kyrieleis, Mainz, pp. 109–117.

Stewart, A., E. Driscoll, S. Estrin, N.J. Gleason, E. Lawrence, R. Levitan, S. Lloyd-Knauf, K. Turbeville, 2019. “Classical Sculpture from the Athenian Agora, Part 2: The Friezes of the Temple of Ares (Temple of Athena Pallenis),” Hesperia 88:4, pp. 625-705.

The Charioteer of Delphi in the Clutches of WW II


Alexandra Kankeleit, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document activities of German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. Here she contributes an essay about the adventures of the Delphi Charioteer during the German Occupation in Greece.

The Charioteer of Delphi (Ο Ηνίοχος των Δελφών) is one of the best-preserved and most important bronze statues of ancient Greece. Since its discovery in 1896, it has been one of the main attractions of the Archaeological Museum in Delphi. As a symbol of ancient civilization and the eventful history of Greece, it is still a frequently recurring motif in the visual and performing arts (Figs. 1-2).

Fig. 1. Film still from “Ο Ηνίοχος” by Alexis Damianos (1996).
Fig. 2. Scene from a video game about the Oracle of Delphi.

During the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, the Charioteer was promoted together with the Discobolus of Myron and the Boxer of the Quirinal as the prototype of the Greek athlete in antiquity (see Olympia Zeitung 3, July 23, 1936, p. 46). Thus, his face adorned the covers of catalogs and propaganda material circulated in 1936 on the occasion of the Olympiad (Figs. 3-4).

Figs. 3-4. Publication “Sport der Hellenen” (Sport of the Hellenes) by Carl Blümel with a photograph by Hermann Wagner; and catalogue “Olympische Kunstausstellung Berlin, 15. Juli – 16. August 1936” (Olympic Art Exhibition Berlin, July 15 – August 16, 1936) with a graphic representation of the Charioteer by the Dresden artist, Willi Petzold in: “The XIth Olympic Games Berlin, 1936: Official Report, Vol. II

German scholars also increasingly turned their focus on the Early Classical masterpiece. In his Habilitation “Der Wagenlenker von Delphi” (The Charioteer of Delphi), the archaeologist Roland Hampe (1908-1981) pursued his goal of reducing the many “ambiguities, misunderstandings, differences of opinion” concerning the monumental bronze group. His manuscript was completed in August 1939 and published as a monograph in 1941 (Hampe 1941).

The Charioteer’s Odyssey

During the Second World War, the Delphi Charioteer suffered many trials and tribulations, as contemporary documents record. The investigation presented here was inspired by Kevin Andrews’s The Flight of Ikaros: Travels in Greece During a Civil War, published in 1959. This British-American archaeologist had visited the Athens National Museum only a few years after the liberation of Greece. In a touching report, he described the bleak situation in the empty museum rooms. In the office of the museum director he encountered, among other things, sherds and body parts of bronze statues that had been laid out there to dry:

In the director’s office, moist from long burial, the head, the shoulders and outstretched arm of the Charioteer of Delphi reposed in a single piece on a desk littered with potsherds awaiting classification; in a corner stood the green bronze legs up to the waist, straight and slender like a young tree sheared off below the branches.

Andrews 1959, 24; Andrews 2018, 5

These few sentences show the dramatic situation in which culture found itself in post-war Greece. The Charioteer, symbol of classical beauty and aloofness, lay wounded and helpless in an environment unworthy of him. Other great bronzes, such as the bronze statue of Poseidon, had suffered a similar fate due to the war. (For more on the bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon from the Artemision shipwreck, read: “The Artemision Shipwreck: Sinking into the ASCSA Archives.) I went in search of clues and wanted to find out how exactly the Delphi Charioteer had come to Athens.

World War II in Greece

The outbreak of World War II and the escalating conflict with the Italian government, which had been looming since 1939, had already led to a halt in excavations throughout Greece in June 1940 (Petrakos 1994, 73, 81-102). The Greco-Italian War broke out on October 28, 1940, and ended in 1941 with the defeat of the Italian aggressors. That event was followed, however, by an invasion by the German Wehrmacht (Defense Force) and the subsequent surrender of Greece in April 1941.

As early as October 1940, the Greek government was aware that the war with Italy would inevitably lead to a confrontation with Germany. Immediately after Metaxas’s famous “ΟΧΙ,” elaborate security measures were initiated and, in at least 18 museums, measures were taken to protect antiquities from bombing and looting (Petrakos 1994, 73).

In some cases, the protective measures were well documented through protocols and photographs. Especially in the center of Athens, every effort was made to bring the inventory of the museums to safety. The focus was on the National Archaeological Museum, the Acropolis Museum, the Numismatic Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the Kerameikos Museum.

In the exhibition rooms of the National Museum of Athens, museum employees created deep trenches in which the marble sculptures were lined up and then covered with sand (Fig. 5). Showcases and exhibition halls were completely emptied (Fig. 6).

Fig. 5: Security measures in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens after October 30, 1940. Source: National Archaeological Museum, photo archive.
Fig. 6: Security measures in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens after October 30, 1940. Source: National Archaeological Museum, photo archive.

Sensitive objects made of ceramics or bronze were packed in shockproof containers and then hidden (Fig. 7). The coin collections were locked in bank vaults. In addition, high protective walls made of sandbags secured the museums and other historic buildings from the expected bomb attacks. The great time pressure and the fear of the approaching catastrophe made the people inventive. In some places, wells, graves, caves, or crevices were used as hiding places for the ancient works of art.

Fig. 7: Security measures in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens after October 30, 1940, the bronze statue from Artemision wrapped in tar paper. Source: National Archaeological Museum, photo archive.

When the “Kunstschutz” (Art Protection Department) of the German Wehrmacht arrived in Greece in April 1941, it noted the high level of professionalism in the implementation of security measures. Thus, the Art Protection officer in Greece wrote:

Finally, now the gratifying announcement that I have so far found no damage either to collections or to ruined sites. Most museum objects are carefully packed, the μάρμαρα even buried.

University Archive Cologne, Estate of Andreas Rumpf, Signature Access 364 No. 052, Hans von Schoenebeck to Andreas Rumpf, 27.04.1941.

His colleague and later successor Wilhelm Kraiker expressed a similar opinion:

Already at the outbreak of the Italian-Greek War, extensive protection measures had been taken by the Greek government to protect against bomb damage. They had been properly carried out in the larger museums, as the spot checks ordered by the Art Protection Department showed.

BArch RW40-116a, final report by Wilhelm Kraiker “Der Kunstschutz in Griechenland,“ 13.02.1945

Protective Measures

A document in the historical archives of the Greek Archaeological Service provides information about the protective measures taken for the Delphi Charioteer. Written on November 7, 1940, by the museum employee (and self-appointed curator) Alexandros E. Kontoleon (1859-1943), it is addressed to the Greek Ministry of Culture (then “Ministry of Religion and Public Education”) at Athens (fig. 8).

I have the honor to inform you that Fragiskos D. Pamphilou, foreman of the Ministry of Education, has brought the Charioteer [of Delphi] to the Epigraphic Museum with great care and caution. The famous and unique bronze statue was well and safely placed in the west corner of the museum. To further protect and secure this masterpiece, several plaster panels were placed in front of the statue, covering it completely. This work was very delicate and lengthy and was done with great care so that no damage was done to this unique work of art.
The Curator of Antiquities at Delphi
A. E. Kontoleon

Ministry of Culture Greece, File 586A

Fig. 8. Letter from Alexandros E. Kontoleon dated November 7, 1940. Source: Ministry of Culture Greece, File 586A.

This document shows that in Delphi protective measures were already taken within the first week of the War. Nonetheless, there is one not insignificant question. Which “Epigraphic Museum” was Kontoleon referring to? As is known, there is only one Epigraphic Museum in the whole of Greece and that is in Athens. Would the Charioteer really have been transferred to the Epigraphic Museum of Athens in November 1940? This would have been a unique and perhaps very critical action given the size and fragility of the Charioteer.

Fortunately, Vasilis Petrakos, the Secretary General of the Athens Archaeological Society, was able to shed light on the situation: “Alexandros Kontoleon refers to a magazine of the then Museum of Delphi as the Epigraphic Museum. It was an extension of the original building of [Andreas] Syngros. The magazine where the inscriptions were kept was located under the hall with the Naxian Sphinx. In 1959 I saw it still completely unchanged“ (Petrakos in an email on 09.03.2019).

Only a few days after the Charioteer was transferred to the magazine under the hall of the Naxian Sphinx, all previous measures had to be revised. On November 11, 1940, the staff of the Greek Archaeological Service received a circular from the Ministry of Religion and Public Education in which the guidelines for securing bronze sculptures and other sensitive objects were clearly defined (Petrakos 2013, 305; Paschalidis 2013; Sykka 2016).

According to this, bronzes were to be wrapped in wax paper (λαδόχαρτο or κερόχαρτο) or tar paper (πισσόχαρτο) and then hidden in wooden boxes in shockproof and watertight containers. The Charioteer was then disassembled into its component parts (Demangel 1944, 1-4, fig. 1), divided between two crates, and placed in a grotto in the sacred precinct of Delphi (Petrakos 1994, 93-94 with fig.; Petrakos 2021, vol. I, 26, 97). In dismantling the statue, those responsible were guided by the cuts and fractures that the statue had when it was found in the 19th century (pers. comm. Georgianna Moraitou, Head of Conservation Department at the National Archaeological Museum).

Situation in Greece After April 1941

During the Occupation (23.04.1941 to 12.10.1944) Greece was divided into three zones by the Axis powers: the two largest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, several Aegean islands, and more than half of Crete remained in German hands. Bulgaria controlled northeastern Greece, eastern Macedonia, and northern Thrace. Italy was responsible for central Greece, the Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, and large parts of the Aegean until September 1943. Delphi was, therefore, in the Italian Zone of Occupation. Although Italy controlled most of Greece in terms of area, the influence and supremacy of the German Wehrmacht were clearly felt throughout the country.

Thus, Delphi was a popular destination for German soldiers during the Occupation, which is well documented by private photographs and the leaflets of the Kunstschutz in Greece (“Merkblätter für den deutschen Soldaten an den geschichtlichen Stätten Griechenlands”): German soldiers in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and in front of Athenian Treasury. Comparable evidence for Italian soldiers at Delphi is not known to date.


Despite the initial positive assessment of the security measures in the Greek museums, the Art Protection Commissioner Hans-Ulrich von Schoenebeck (1904-1944) expressed fundamental criticism as early as July 1941:

One of the most important tasks, of course, is to determine the damage. Some has occurred, of course, but, thank God, objects of real value are not destroyed. Much more serious is the damage caused by full-scale rescue efforts, which has been carried out with the same conscientiousness and comprehensive completeness as a total war, at least in theory. Even the most insignificant provincial Roman reliefs have been buried up to seven meters under the ground. In the process, of course, the misstep occurred that in the end the money was no longer enough and, for example, the god of the sea [the bronze statue from Artemision] was buried under a meager pile of sand. […] How the Greek state will ever compensate for the partly catastrophic damages of these large-scale rescue operations is unclear. Where the funds are to come from, which will run into millions of Reichsmarks, is unclear. Probably the Greeks presupposed their victory and, in the worst case, thought of the generous gifts of Americans, etc.

UAK, Andreas Rumpf Archive, Signatur Zugang 364 Nr. 052, Hans von Schoenebeck to Andreas Rumpf, 04.07.1941

The same opinion was expressed three years later by Wilhelm Kraiker (1899-1987): “Since the rescue operations had to be carried out in a very short time according to the order of the Greek Minister of Culture at the time and often lacked expert personnel, they were sometimes carried out improperly (Kerameikos in Athens, Olympia, Salonika), so that in some cases considerable and in some cases irreparable damage was caused. This damage caused by improper preservation efforts is in any case greater than the damage caused by combat operations” (Metternich Estate No. 102, “Report on Military Art Protection in Greece” by Military Administrative Councillor Kraiker, 20.07.1944).

Von Schoenebeck was subsequently to exert massive pressure on the Greek antiquities administration – both verbally and in writing. In doing so, he focused primarily on Athens and demanded that his Greek colleagues bring all antiquities out of their hiding places and put the museums back into operation.

Petrakos has thoroughly documented the exchange of blows between the Greek authorities and the German Kunstschutz in his publications (Petrakos 1994, 125-128; Petrakos 2013, 344-360; Petrakos 2021). In the documents he cites, von Schoenebeck together with the archaeologist and cultural attaché of the German Legation, Erich Boehringer, played a decisive role on the German side. On the Greek side, Minister of Education, Konstantinos Logothetopoulos (1878-1961), and Ministerial Director, archaeologist Antonios Keramopoulos (1870-1960), were responsible for the processes.

According to Petrakos, the decisive actions were as follows:

  • On July 22, 1941, the Minister of Economy, Sotirios Gotzamanis, rejected a request by Logothetopoulos to allocate 1,000,000 drachmas for the reopening of the museums. He considered it safer if the antiquities remained in their hiding places.
  • On August 5, 1941, a senior officer of the German military administration in Greece, Franz Alfred Medicus, asked the Greek Antiquities Authority to draw up a list of all hidden antiquities. The Athenian museums were to be made accessible, and the Art Protection Department, represented by von Schönebeck, was to receive increased support.
  • On August 27, 1941, Medicus received a reply in which he was informed in no uncertain terms of the dramatic situation in the country. The author, presumably Keramopoulos, made it clear that the Greek population was struggling with the consequences of the war, famine, and other survival problems. They simply lacked the means to recover the ancient art treasures. The museum pieces would not be in danger anyway. In fact, the mild winters and clement climatic conditions in Greece would have helped them survive thousands of years underground (Petrakos 2013, 334-336).
  • On September 29, 1941, Logothetopoulos announced to the directors of the National Archaeological Museum and the Akropolis Museum that von Schönebeck would visit them, “so that he could check whether the antiquities were suffering from damp or any other cause” (Ministry of Culture, Greece, File 586A).

The Germans continued to put pressure on the Greek authorities to bring out the buried antiquities but Logothetopoulos refused to oblige. The theft of an archaic clay tablet (“pinax”) from the reopened Kerameikos Museum (November 9, 1941), presumably by a member of the Wehrmacht, and some illegal excavations on Crete, in which employees of the Kunstschutz were involved, did nothing to strengthen the confidence of the Greek archaeologists in the German Kunstschutz.

In July 1942, von Schoenebeck left Greece. Kraiker, who had worked closely with him, continued his pursuit.

The Charioteer Goes to Athens

On August 31, 1942, Logothetopoulos asked Keramopoulos to go to Delphi as soon as possible, in order to supervise the exhumation (εκταφήν) of the Charioteer and its transportation to Athens so that all necessary conservation work could be carried out there (Ministry of Culture, Greece, File 568Δ).

The transportation of the Charioteer to Athens in September 1942 was followed by protests from the local population in the Delphi area (I owe this information to film director Vasilis Kosmopoulos, who evaluated newspapers and eyewitness accounts). Also, the “kidnapping” of the statue is said to have contributed to the premature death of the local curator Alexandros E. Kontoleon.

Shortly thereafter, the Ministry assigned a committee to examine the contents of the two crates that contained the pieces of the Charioteer. The members of the committee were: Athanasios Sophianopoulos, Professor at the Technical University, Christos Karouzos, Director of the National Archaeological Museum, Irini Varoucha-Christodoulopoulou, Ephor of Antiquities, and Phoebus Stavropoulos, also an Ephor of Antiquities. The Art Protection Department was not represented, according to the ensuing report (Ministry of Culture, Greece, File 568Δ). After the examination, the statue was neither reassembled nor exhibited.

Restoration and Return

Although never on display during WW II, the Delphi Charioteer was featured in the leaflets of the Kunstschutz, as well as in an elaborate commemorative book by Schoenebeck and Kraiker, titled Hellas (1943) [Figs. 9-10].

Figs. 9-10. Hellas, draft of the title page (Metternich estate) and the Charioteer photographed by Hermann Wagner.

After the War ended, a lack of communication led to numerous rumors about the whereabouts of the Charioteer. The communist newspaper Aπελευθερωτής (Liberator) held Keramopoulos responsible for its loss (Ministry of Culture, Greece, file 568Δ).

Fig. 10: Title page of newspaper ΑΠΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΩΤΗΣ, 09.11.1944.

It is not known how these rumors and accusations were debunked. In any case, the National Archaeological Museum was able to begin the restoration of its bronze statues in 1945 (Moraitou 2016, 242 fig. 4, 244 fig. 7, 245 fig. 8). As early as 1946, the Charioteer was presented in a provisional exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum. Unfortunately, there are no photos or more detailed reports from that time. All the more important is the eyewitness account of the then 14-year-old Vasilis Petrakos, who visited the museum after the war:

The Charioteer was transported to Athens for his own protection during the Occupation. After the war I saw him, I think in 1946, in a temporary exhibition of the National Museum, [then] with entrance from Tositsa Street. He was brought back to Delphi late because the region was not safe because of the civil war. It was provisionally exhibited until the completion of the [new] museum, 1959-1960. […]

Emails from Petrakos dated 30.10.2018 and 04.09.2019; and Petrakos 2011, XIII: there 1948; Petrakos 2021, vol. II 329.

Despite the civil war and unrest throughout the country, the reopening of the National Archaeological Museum was perceived by the people of Athens as a triumph and sign of a gradual return to normality. As a symbol of Greece’s ancient heritage and political independence, the Charioteer was even depicted on the Bank of Greece’s 10,000 Drachma notes in 1947 (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: 10,000 drachma notes with the Delphi Charioteer printed, 1947. Source: Bank of Greece, Center for Culture, Research & Documentation.

After the end of the civil war and the completion of its restoration, the famous statue returned to Delphi in 1951. Since then, it has been a prime attraction for researchers and tourists from all over the world.

Author’s Note

This text is an abridged and slightly revised version of an essay published in German and Greek in 2021. A detailed list of literary and other sources can be found here. Numerous individuals and institutions assisted me in my research. In particular, I would like to mention Vasilis Petrakos (Secretary General of the Athens Archaeological Society), Anastasia Pesmatzoglou (Bank of Greece, Athens), colleagues at the Historical Archives of the Greek Ministry of Culture, the National Museum of Athens, and the German Archaeological Institute of Athens. To all of them, I owe my gratitude for important advice and stimulating conversations! I am solely responsible for the translations as well as possible errors.


  • BArch: Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives) in Berlin
  • DAI Athen: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Department in Athens
  • Metternich Estate: Landschaftsverband Rheinland – Archivberatungs- und Fortbildungszentrum (LVR-AFZ), Archiv des Landschaftsverbandes Rheinland (ALVR), Pulheim LVR-Kulturzentrum Abtei Brauweiler, Nachlass Franziskus Wolff Metternich
  • Ministry of Culture Greece: Ministry of Culture and Sport (Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού), Historical Archive of Antiquities and Restorations (Ιστορικό Αρχείο Αρχαιοτήτων και Αναστηλώσεων), ΥΠΠΟΑ/ΔΔΕΑΜ/ΤΔΙΑΑΑ: Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού / Διεύθυνση Διαχείρισης Εθνικού Αρχείου Μνημείων / Τμήμα Διαχείρισης Ιστορικού Αρχείου Αρχαιοτήτων και Αναστηλώσεων
  • National Archaeological Museum: National Archaeological Museum in Athens (Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο της Αθήνας)
  • UAK: Universitätsarchiv Köln (University Archive Cologne)


Andrews, K. 1959. The Flight of Ikaros. A Journey into Greece, London.
——. 2018. Η πτήση του Ικάρου. Ταξιδεύοντας στην Ελλάδα του Εμφυλίου (trans. by D. Risaki), Athens.
Demangel, R. 1944. “Aspect de guerre du musée de Delphes,” BCH 68-69, 1944-1945, 1-4.
Hampe, R. 1941. Der Wagenlenker von Delphi, Munich.
Moraitou, G. 2016. “Η «Οδύσσεια» της συντήρησης και της φυσικοχημικής έρευνας των αρχαιοτήτων στο Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο,” in Οδύσσειες. Κατάλογος έκθεσης Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο, ed. M. Lagogianni-Georgakarakou, Athens, 237-260.
Paschalidis, K. 2013. Τα θαμμένα αγάλματα του πολέμου, LIFO, 28/3/2013.
Petrakos, V. 1977. Δελφοί, Athens.
——1994. “Tα αρχαία της Eλλάδος κατά τον πόλεμο 1940-1944,” Mentor 7:31, 69-185.
——1995. H περιπέτεια της ελληνικής αρχαιολογίας στο βίο του Xρήστου Kαρούζου, Athens.
——2011. Σέμνης Καρούζου, Ἀρχαιολογικὰ Θέματα ΙΙ, Athens.
——2013. Πρόχειρον Αρχαιολογικόν 1828-2012 (Athens 2013).
——2021. Το παρελθόν σε δεσμά. Vols. I-IV (Athens 2021).
Schoenebeck, H. and W. Kraiker (eds), 1943. Hellas: Bilder zur Kultur des Griechentums, Burg near Magdeburg.
Sykka, G. 2016. “Στιγμές από ένα τιτάνιο έργο σε καιρό πολέμου,” Kathimerini, 26/10/2016.

The Cretan Idyll of Harriet Boyd and Charles Henry Hawes


Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, and his wife Priscilla Murray, an anthropologist and Classical archaeologist, here contribute to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about their purchase of a sketchbook from the early 20th century with watercolors depicting places and people on Crete.

We visited an antiquarian bookfair in Concord, New Hampshire, about twelve years ago and a booth belonging to a dealer from Vermont, who specialized in original artwork, caught our eye.  Sorting through piles of miscellaneous materials, we found a few things relating to Greece, and a small (8 by 4 inches; 20 x 10 cm) artist’s sketchbook grabbed our attention.  It was displayed on a table opened to a watercolor view that seemed familiar.  Surely it was the entrance to the harbor at Herakleion on Crete!  And indeed, penciled in one corner was the inscription “Candia,” the older name for the city which both confirmed the identification and provided a clue that the sketchbook, as dealers in antiques like to say, “had some age.”  There were other artworks in the sketchbook that are dated to April 1905, and still others with various dates in 1915, and one dated to 1916.  The artwork from 1905 was the most interesting for us.  Turning the pages of the sketchbook we saw line drawings of dancers at Knossos and a man drawing water from a well in Siteia, pastels of houses labeled Knossos and “Sitia, as well as watercolors and line drawings of Mykonos, Ios, and other Cycladic islands, Sounion, and Athens.  The unknown artist was interested particularly in the new Minoan finds from Knossos as is evident from the line drawings of wall paintings and artifacts in the “Candia Museum.”

Although there is no artist’s signature, we guessed that the artist must be someone interesting, perhaps even someone we would recognize.  After all, how many Americans or British travelers (the fact that the titles are in English is the reason for assuming the nationality of the artist) were sufficiently interested in Knossos and the Minoans to visit Crete in 1905 at a time when there was much unrest on the island?  We bought the sketchbook and took it home to do more research. 

Watercolor of Candia

We were right in thinking that there were few Anglophone visitors to Crete in 1905.  The island was experiencing political unrest that year as the result of the Theriso Revolt by Eleutherios Venizelos against the government of Prince George, which led to the imposition of martial law in March and armed clashes with rebels in April.  It was not an inviting situation for casual visits by tourists.  There was one group of people, however, who had strong reasons to visit the island.  There was an International Congress of Archaeology being held in Athens in April of that year and at least one group of attendees, including the young American archaeologist Harriet Ann Boyd (1871-1945), was escorted to the island by Sir Arthur Evans to inspect the excavations at Knossos.  This fact suggests a hypothesis.  It is known that Harriet met her future husband Charles Henry Hawes on this trip and our sketchbook may possibly have belonged to him.  There are two reasons for thinking so: the dates written on the front cover, 1905 and 1915 (see below), and inside the front cover the initials “ChH.”  Other indicia of ownership are the penciled purchase price of “dr [drachmes] 3-25,” and the inscription “Crete, 1905.”

The initials “ChH” inside the front cover

Charles Henry Hawes (1867-1943), a well-known Cambridge anthropologist, met Harriet Boyd for the first time in 1904 when he visited Gournia on Crete where she was directing her excavations.  We do not know what happened in that first meeting, but in April 1905 Charles and Harriet found themselves on the steamer en route from Naples to Athens to attend the International Congress of Archaeology and we surmise that a romance bloomed as they renewed their acquaintance, for after the conference Charles (who was already on Crete measuring skulls for ethnological research) visited Harriet at Gournia for a second time.  Though Charles may have returned to Athens in April, he was back on Crete again at some point, because Harriet, who was in Herakleion studying the finds from Gournia, relates that she saw Henry, as she preferred to call him, “quite often.”  Whatever course their courtship took, things developed quickly because Henry (as we shall call him hereafter) proposed by letter (!) at the end of that summer, and soon after Harriet returned to the United States at the end of the year she announced her engagement.  Henry and Harriet were married in Washington D.C. in the spring of 1906.

The Boston Globe, December 31, 1905 – Harriet Ann Boyd, 1900s.

These facts are related in an informal biography by Harriet Boyd Hawes’s daughter, Mary Allsebrook, published 30 years ago (Allsebrook 1992), and now the sketchbook with its watercolors, pencil drawings, pastels, and a few line drawings may provide a glimpse of those idyllic days in Crete in April 1905 when Henry and Harriet were falling in love.  The locations and dates of the works in the sketchbook show that the artist was first in Candia and at Knossos about April 16 and made other sketches on Crete, the last in Sitia on April 18, whence we presume the artist sailed for Athens.  En route to Athens, drawings, sketches, and paintings were made of Thera, Ios, Mykonos, and Delos dated on the 19th and 20th and the final artworks in Greece (Sounion and Mt. Hymettus) dated April 20 when the artist arrived in Athens.  The chronology in Crete matches that of Harriet who reached Gournia on April 16 after her time in Knossos with Evans’ party.

Watercolor labeled “Knossos”
Watercolor from the “Candia Museum”

The clinching evidence in our view for the identity of the artist as Charles Henry Hawes comes from the other drawings and paintings in the sketchbook which were made in New England and are dated to 1915.  These include views of Manchester, New Hampshire (or possibly one of the other New England Manchesters in Vermont or Massachusetts), West Falmouth and Naushon Island in Massachusetts, and Mt. Desert in Maine.  We know that in 1915 Henry and Harriet were living in New Hampshire where Henry was teaching at Dartmouth College, and it is possible that these artworks were made during family trips to the coast.  We also think that it is highly improbable that there were two persons in Athens and Crete in April 1905 at the same time as Henry and Harriet who also ended up residing in New England in 1915.  Possible, but not plausible.  Henry and Harriet must be the strongest candidates.  Finally, we are confident the sketchbook was not Harriet’s but Henry’s because of the initials inside the front cover and from the dated artworks from April 18-20 reflecting a trip through the Aegean at a time when Harriet was still on Crete.

Sketch of “Cretan Dance at Knossos”

The draft images and finished watercolors and pastels are competent, if not inspired, and indicate that the artist had some training, otherwise the chief interest of the images is the depiction of the landscapes and people of Greece 117 years ago.  There is one other set of images that are perhaps of interest.  There are sketches and a pastel of two children (one dated 1916, the latest date in the sketchbook) as well as of a man and a woman.  It is these pastels that grabbed our attention.   One leaf in the sketchbook has two portraits of an adult woman.  Are they perhaps two views of the same woman?  And could this be Henry’s portrait of Harriet?


Mary Allsebrook (ed.), Born to Rebel: The Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes. Oxford 1992.

Editor’s Note

Looking for more information about Charles Henry Hawes, I found that in 1903 he published In the Uttermost East: Being An Account of Investigations Among The Natives And Russian Convicts of The Island of Sakhalin, a lengthy account of a trip he made to Russia in 1901. Tessa Morris-Suzuki discusses Hawe’s journey to Russia in an informative article, titled Indigenous People Between Empires: Sakhalin through the Eyes of Charles Henry Hawes; she also reproduces many photos from his book, including one of Hawes (there are very few photos of his) clad in a long fur coat as he was preparing for his travels to Siberia.

In her article, we also learn that Harriet was his second wife: “in 1889 he [Hawes] married Caroline Maitland Heath, a well-to-do school teacher who was 26 years his senior: he was 22 and she was 48 at the time. Despite the gap in their ages, the evidence suggests that this was a love match. When Caroline became terminally ill not long after their marriage, Henry ‘nursed her most tenderly through the dreadful, prolonged agony of cancer which ended her life’. On her death, Caroline left her young widower almost £5000 – worth over half a million pounds in today’s money – and Henry, then in his late twenties, chose to invest his new-found wealth in two things: education and travel.”

At Home with the Schliemanns: The “Iliou Melathron” as a Social Landmark

Heinrich Schliemann, the famous excavator of Troy, Mycenae, and other Homeric sites, was born in Germany on January 6, 1822–the Epiphany for western Europe and Christmas Day for other countries such as Imperial Russia and Greece which still used the Old (Julian) Calendar until the early 20th century. A compulsive traveler, Schliemann rarely returned to Athens before late December or early January, just in time to celebrate both his birthday and Christmas on January 6th.

From today and throughout 2022, many institutions in Europe, especially in Germany but also in Greece, will be commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of his birth. The Museum of Prehistory and Early History of the National Museums in Berlin is preparing a major exhibition titled Schliemann’s Worlds, which is scheduled to open in April 2022. Major German newspapers and TV channels are in the process of producing (or have already produced) lengthy articles and documentaries about Schliemann and his excavations at Troy in anticipation of the bicentennial anniversary, and Antike Welt has published a separate issue, edited by Leoni Hellmayr, with eleven essays about various aspects of Schliemann’s adventurous life.

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where Heinrich’s and Sophia’s papers have been housed since 1936, in addition to contributing to all the activities described above, will be launching an online exhibition, The Stuff of Legend: Heinrich Schliemann’s Life and Work, on February 3, 2022, showcasing material from the rich Schliemann archive.

According to Ernst Ziller, the architect of the Iliou Melathron, Heinrich Schliemann’s only request from him was that Ziller build him a large house within which to live and entertain. And indeed, Heinrich and Sophia’s spectacular balls were described in detail in the local newspapers. Heinrich, however, was a husband-in-absentia, spending not more than four or five months a year in town. During his absence, Sophia had to turn this museum-looking house into an agreeable and comfortable space for her and their two children.  Following Schliemann’s death in 1890, she continued to entertain lavishly, thus making an invitation to the Iliou Melathron a coveted item among the locals and foreigners who lived in late 19th/early 20th century Athens.

The Iliou Melathron soon after its completion in 1882. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

“Few people, save Greeks, know that modern Athens is in reality two cities, each differing from the other in climate, in traditions, and to a great extent, in character of population.” These are the opening lines in George Horton’s Modern Athens. He goes on to describe his favorite of the two cities: “Winter Athens, roughly speaking, is the resort of tourists, diplomats, and climate-seekers. It is a European city where one eats course dinners at the Angleterre Hotel, attends service at the English Church, dances the barn dance at Madame Schliemann’s and plays charades in the library of the American School.” Horton (1859-1945), a distinguished diplomat and a literary figure, published Modern Athens in 1902. In it he described his experiences in the city during the five years he served as US Consul (1893-1898). 

Balls and evenings at “Madame Schliemann’s” are also frequently described in letters and diaries of students and members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (American School or ASCSA hereafter). Ever since its first inaugural ball in January 1881, the Iliou Melathron had remained a prominent landmark in the social life of high-society Athens.  By then Heinrich was no longer an unknown wealthy merchant, who had landed in Athens eleven years earlier to marry a young Greek woman, Sophia Engastromenou, and start a new life in Greece. While the couple’s first house on Mousson Street (today Karagiorgi Servias – Καραγιώργη Σερβίας), near Constitution Square, might have sufficed for the early stages of their Athenian adventure, the arrival of children (Andromache and Agamemnon), an ever-increasing collection of books and antiquities, and, above all, his growing fame as the excavator of major archaeological sites, demanded an upgrade in the couple’s lifestyle.

George Korres and others, including more recently Umberto Pappalardo, have written extensively about the architecture and elaborate decoration of the Iliou Melathron. Here I am interested in the Iliou Melathron as a cultural object and a place “to express feelings, ways of thinking and social processes, and to provide arenas for culturally defined activity,” according to Robert M. Rakoff’s definition.

The Inaugural Ball

The inaugural ball given by the Schliemanns at their new house on January 30, 1881 was described in great detail in the social section of the Greek newspaper ΜΗ ΧΑΝΕΣΑΙ. The author of the essay (signing as Viriloque) was impressed by the harmonious balance in the choice of guests: members of the diplomatic corps, the Phanariots (prominent Greek families originally from Constantinople who played a leading role in the Greek War of Independence), the Greek diaspora (Greeks living abroad), and, naturally, those from the upper echelons of Athenian society.  And while at other Athenian soirées, there was a recognized hierarchy in the reception of these four groups, Sophia distinguished herself by entertaining her guests with equal grace. Dressed in black and wearing a necklace made from beads found in an ancient grave, Sophia offered tours to guests who were interested in the ancient vases, inscriptions, and statues that Schliemann had gathered on the second floor of the house. On the first floor, Schliemann conversed with diplomats, including the German ambassador Joseph von Radowitz (1839-1912), who was among the most knowledgeable Europeans on Balkan matters. And while in the past Schliemann ended his evening balls by midnight so that he would not miss his daily 5am swim at Phaleron, that night under Sophia’s influence he agreed to extend the party until 3am and thus miss his morning ritual. 

Sophia Schliemann in an evening gown, ca. 1880. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers

Lynn and Gray Poole in their book One Passion, Two Loves: The Schliemanns of Troy also described with poetic license the grand opening of the Iliou Melathron:

A great procession of carriages rolled up to Iliou Melathron, carrying the fashionable society of Athens and the Continent through the entrance gates, which were attended by the gateman Bellerophon, who was proud of the ancient name given him by Heinrich… From the entrance vestibule the guests stepped into the large vestibule, where they were welcomed by Heinrich and Sophia. Eagerly they entered the Great Hall and wandered through the house, admiring its splendours. Men who normally walked erect moved their heads down, marveling at the mosaics underfoot. Ladies who usually coquetted with eyes cast down gazed at the murals overhead. Even the most sophisticated inspected in wonderment the house that was indeed a palace.

Then the Pooles go on to describe at length an anecdotal event that supposedly happened that night. Since their book lacks footnotes, the source of their description is unclear. Were they drawing from a local newspaper, a document from the vast Schliemann archive, or were they simply recording the memoirs of Sophia’s only living grandchild, Alex Melas, who had invited them in 1963 to write a new book about his famous grandparents?

According to their narrative, the day after the inaugural ball, Schliemann received a document “bearing the official seal of the Council of Ministers” demanding that Schliemann remove or cover the naked statues on the rooftop balustrade of Iliou Melathron. It was Sophia who found the solution, hiring an army of seamstresses to make clothes for the statues. The next morning Athenians en route to work were stunned to see the statues “dressed in flowing garments of gaudy cloth, the most unattractive and garish that Heinrich and Sophia could find.” In addition, Schliemann was spreading rumors that the Greek State had ordered him to clothe the statues. “The Greek Ministers… dispatched a messenger to Schliemann shortly before noon” begging him “to remove the garments from the statues in order that business in Athens return to normal. With great glee, Heinrich mounted to the roof, and in full sight of the crowd below, ostentatiously and dramatically removed each garment, waving it triumphantly before going on the next statue.”

The twenty-three copies of famous Greek and Roman statues that once adorned the Iliou Melathron are now dispersed (according to Korres several of them are stored in the National Archaeological Museum). In the Heinrich Schliemann Papers at the ASCSA, there is correspondence between architect Ziller and the Viennese firm, Wienerberger Ziegefabriks- und Baugesellschaft, that made them, including a plate from their catalog.     

A plate from the catalogue of the “Wienerberger Ziegefabriks- und Baugesellschaft,” the firm from which Schliemann bought the clay statues that decorated the terrace of the Iliou Melathron. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

Dr. Schliemann at Home

Schliemann and the Iliou Melathron would be the subject of a long article in The New York Times of April 22, 1882, titled “Dr. Schliemann at Home. His Palatial House and the Manner of his Life in It” (Bradley 1882). The author of the essay was a young American from Harvard, Charles Wesley Bradley (1857-1884), who had participated the previous summer in the excavations of the Archaeological Institute of America at Assos in northwestern Turkey, near Troy. Bradley described in his journal, now at the Archives of the American School, how he met Schliemann at Assos when the latter came to see their excavation. (About Bradley and Schliemann, read “All Americans Must Be Trojans at Heart”: A Volunteer at Assos in 1881 Meets Heinrich Schliemann.) Schliemann must have extended an invitation to Bradley to visit him at home when he came to Athens. As with Horton, who included an evening at the Iliou Melathron as a “must” in the social life of an upper-class traveler in Athens, Bradley also underlined the importance of paying a visit to Schliemann’s house:

“The interest of most modern travelers who visit Athens is probably about equally divided between the Parthenon and Dr. Schliemann. Of these two attractions the latter is much the less accessible; for the discoverer of Troy is so overrun by visitors, that Bellerephontes, the porter, is instructed to say “not at home” to all who approach the gate.” Schliemann, however, was not inhospitable; “his elegant house was opened every other Thursday during the winter” by leaving a calling card at the house.

Bradley recounted a conversation Schliemann had had with Ernst Ziller (1837-1923), the architect of the Iliou Melathron: I have lived in a little house all my life. Now I want to spend the rest of my life in a large one. I want plenty of room. Make it in any style you choose. I will limit you only on two particulars. I must have a broad marble stairway leading up from the ground and a terrace on the top.” Of course, it is hard to imagine what Schliemann meant by small but we know what he meant by large. Surely his house in St. Petersburg or that on St. Michael Street in Paris must not have been small. The Pooles described elaborate premises on the occasion of the couple’s first ball in Paris at 6, Place St. Michel. Bradley’s impression of the reception rooms on the first floor of the Melathron was that “300 or 400 guests might move with ease.”

After an elaborate description of the public rooms of the house, including Schliemann’s study room, and an informal encounter with Madame Schliemann and their young children, Bradley went on to describe a formal evening at the Iliou Melathron:

The Doctor stands by the entrance receiving his guests, who pass from him to Mme Schliemann, at the door of the salon. Here are distinguished men of all nations and professions, Greek statesmen, professors of the University, Athenian journalists, archaeologists of the French and German school, as well as a few from England, America [the American School of Classical Studies did not begin to operate in Greece until 1882], and Russia, and members of the different legations. The majority of the ladies are of course Greek, though a number of English, Germans, and Americans are present. You will hear a variety of languages, but none in which Schliemann and his accomplished wife cannot converse fluently.

From Bradley’s comments, we understand that an invitation to spend an afternoon or evening with the Schliemann household was highly sought and treasured, especially by the foreign members of the Athenian society because of the social opportunities these invitations offered. Nevertheless, as Bradley admitted, their popularity also lay “in the curiosity to see the man who, through his energy or his extreme good fortune or both, has made some of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries that the world has known.”

A year later, in 1883, Bradley’s essay in The New York Times was translated into Greek and published in ESTIA (ΕΣΤΙΑ), a popular family magazine.  

Family Moments

The Iliou Melathron was a great showplace for Schliemann and one that fulfilled his wish to entertain large numbers of guests. But was it also agreeable for his family? Schliemann was famous for his long absences from home, sometimes away for more than half of the year. The fact that there is not a single-family photo in the Schliemann archive is telling. Instead, we find images of Schliemann by himself or Sophia with her children.

Sophia Schliemann with her children, Andromache and Agamemnon, ca. 1880. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

According to the Pooles, who based much of their book on Alex Melas’s memories of the place and through him those of his mother, Andromache, the Iliou Melathron was not a comfortable house to live in: “Heinrich had no use of curtains or draperies, for upholstered pieces that might be comfortable to relax in.”  Nevertheless, in Schliemann’s papers there is extensive correspondence with a Viennese cabinet maker in 1880, Johann Baar (“Möbel Fabrik”), as well as pages that illustrate comfortable chairs and couches from the firm’s catalogue. 

Johann Baar’s price list for Schliemann, December 3, 1880; and a plate from Baar’s furniture catalog. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

On November 18, 1880, an excited Sophia wrote to Heinrich that the furniture had just arrived and that “the chairs in the form of a harp were masterpieces.” In 1950 a doctor from Larissa, George Katsigras, bought Schliemann’s desk as well as some other furniture from his office, and these are now on display in the Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa. The rest of the furniture was probably dispersed among the children of Andromache Schliemann-Melas, after the house was sold in 1926. 

A plate from Johan Baar’s furniture catalog showing the chairs with the harp backs. ASCSA Archives, Heinrich Schliemann Papers.

It is said in the Poole book that, when Schliemann was away, Sophia would organize picnics for her children on the floors of various rooms and from there they would set out for imaginary destinations. “The Acropolis was the second-floor gallery; the Queen’s Garden was a back bedroom with windows overlooking the rear garden.”

Although furnished with a lush garden of trees and plants, the residents of the Iliou Melathron were not allowed to bring cut flowers into the house. One day when young Andromache tried to cut a flower, she was told by her father that the flowers experienced the same pain that humans felt when one of their fingers was cut off. While there was a profusion of flowers inside the house, “the blooms burst from the stems or the branches of flower bushes set in pots.”

Schliemann, however, was fond of animals and allowed his children to have pets at home. The cat, named Djindjinata, was rescued by Schliemann at Troy and after bringing her with him to Athens, it became Andromache’s pet. Soon after, the Schliemanns agreed to adopt a stray puppy that their little son Agamemnon (“Memeko”) had found outside their house: “Nero” lived there for many years, and was buried in the gardens of the Iliou Melathron.

At Madame Schliemann’s

In December of 1890, Sophia was anxiously awaiting Heinrich’s return from yet another long absence. She had also received a letter from him reminding her to send the invitations for their annual New Year’s ball. Alas, it did not happen because Schliemann died rather unexpectedly in Naples, en route to Greece, on December 26, 1890. Sophia was barely thirty-eight years at the time of his death, Andromache, nineteen, and Agamemnon, twelve. Two years later in October 1892, Andromache married the scion of a prominent Greek family, the lawyer Leon Melas (1872-1905).

Their wedding must have signaled the reopening of the Iliou Melathron, after a long period of mourning. Over the next three decades, Sophia, in the company of her daughter and son, would entertain frequently. Students and members of the American School of Classical Studies yearned for an invitation to spend an afternoon at Madame Schliemann’s or to be a guest at one of her grand balls.  On April 15th, 1896, the year of the first Olympics, there were two events that Nellie M. Reed, a student of the American School, was to attend. (About Nellie Reed, see also “On the Trail of the ‘German Model’: ASCSA and DAI, 1881-1918.”)The first was a large reception for the American athletes given by the Annual Professor at the American School, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, and his wife Amey Webb, at the Merlin House near the Royal Gardens. A little after 11pm, Nellie and her friends walked from the Merlin House to the Iliou Melathron.

It was a very large and brilliant company, lovely gowns, beautiful jewels, and handsome uniforms. I might have had a stupid time if I hadn’t known all the Americans there but as it was I enjoyed it. I was with Mr. Andrews [another student of the American School] a good deal and he showed me the Library and several of the lovely rooms in the house. It is called the “House of Troy” and is most interesting – Mycenaean decorations, archaic motifs in mosaics and wall paintings… It is one of the things to be seen in Athens and I was glad to have had the opportunity” wrote an impressed Nellie to her mother. A week later she was back to Madame Schliemann’s for an early evening “and though the room was crowded I had the rare good fortune to have a charming talk with her [Sophia Schliemann]. It shamed me to hear her conversing with almost equal ease in four or five languages, turning from one to another (April 23, 1896).

In 1902, Sophia’s son Agamemnon was the center of a major scandal in three cities, Athens, Paris, and New York, having eloped to New York with a 16-year-old French girl, Nadine de Bornemann. The New York Times of June 22, 1902, described the event with much detail, under the head title: Eloped from France, Made to Marry Here. Son of Ancient Troy’s Excavator Got His Parisienne. Agamemnon Schliemann and Nadine de Bornemann Induced to Undergo a Civil Ceremony by Family Lawyers. Upon their return to Athens, the new couple moved in with Sophia at the Iliou Melathron. Sophia, with Nadine by her side, continued to participate in the social life of Athens, but with less vigor, after the sudden death of her son-in-law, Andromache’s husband, in 1905. Andromache, a young widow like her mother, needed Sophia’s help to raise her three underage boys. In the Melas Photographic Collection, there are several shots of the young Melas boys, one of which was Alex Melas, either in the garden or on the street outside the Iliou Melathron.

Leon Melas with his oldest son, Michael, Andromache, and Sophia holding the newborn Alex Melas, 1897.
ASCSA Archives, Melas Family Photographic Collection
Sophia’s grandchildren, Michael and Alex, on a horse carriage outside the Iliou Melathron, 1900s.
ASCSA Archives, Melas Family Photographic Collection.

Zillah Dinsmoor, a young American bride in Athens in the early 1910s, married to architect William Bell Dinsmoor (who would later become a famous architectural historian), was secretly hoping to receive an invitation to one of Madame Schliemann’s teas, and when she did she happily wrote to her mother: “I am going to Madame Schliemann’s next week, Thursday… I was so surprised to receive her card with ‘at home’ on it. She receives very little and I was frightfully excited last night when I found the card. She is the widow of Dr. Schliemann who did the first excavating in Greece. She herself found the lovely cow’s head of silver with gold horns at Mycenae. She has piles of money and lives in a magnificent big house a few streets above here” (January 10, 1912). 

An early evening invitation to Madame Schliemann’s (5-9 pm) offered much more than a simple gathering:

The dancing was in a large room on the front of the house with a mosaic floor which was rather hard to dance on. Miss Negreponte introduced two men to me, otherwise I would not have danced at all. It is proper to take two or three turns about the room with one partner in the country… There were several French officers present in uniform with pretty red trousers and one Zouave with red trousers baggy to the ankles… Madame Schliemann stood in the hall by the door receiving… She is charming, very simple and quiet. I really do not remember what she wore but I think she was dressed in gray. She is the sort of person whose face and personality impress you much more that her clothes (January 23, 1912).

Zillah was equally impressed by Nadine Schliemann, Sophia’s daughter-in-law. “[She] is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is tall with a magnificent figure and the head of a Greek goddess… She has fair hair which was knotted low on the back of her head… and wore a deep reddish-pink gown almost violet.” (About Zillah Pearce Dinsmoor, see also “Letters from a New Home: Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor” and “Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars.”)

In 1917, another member of the American School, Carl W. Blegen, was invited to have tea at Madame Schliemann’s, where Andromache shared with him her fine collection of embroideries. Fifteen years later, in May 1932, Blegen, by then an established archaeologist, would visit the elderly Sophia one last time, not at the Iliou Melathron, which had been sold, but at her new house in Phaleron. Blegen was on his way to Troy to re-open Schliemann’s excavations. Sophia did not live to see the new discoveries. She died a few months later (October 27, 1932), her death marking the end of an era.

Author’s Note

This essay first appeared in German, under the title “Zu Gast bei Schliemanns: Das Iliou Melathron als gesellschaftlicher Fixpunkt,” in Heinrich Schliemann und die Archäologie, ed. by Leoni Hellmayr, Darmstadt 2021, pp. 102-112.


Primary Sources

American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives (ASCSA): Heinrich Schliemann Papers, Nellie M. Reed Papers, Zillah Dinsmoor Papers, Carl W. Blegen Papers and Bert H. Hill Papers.  

Secondary Sources

C. W. BRADLEY, Dr. Schliemann at Home. His Palatial House and the Manner of his Life in It, The New York Times, 22 April 1882.

G. HORTON, Modern Athens (1902).

G. S. KORRES, Το «Ιλίου Μέλαθρον» ως έκφρασις της προσωπικότητας και του έργου του Ερρίκου Σλήμαν, in Αναδρομαί εις τον Νεοκλασσικισμόν (1977).

U. PAPPALARDO, Das «ILÍOU MÉLATHRON». Heinrich Schliemanns Haus in Athen, Antike Welt (2021) 55-63.

L. & G. POOLE, One Passion, Two Loves: The Schliemanns of Troy (1967).

A. PORTELANOS, Ιλίου Μέλαθρον. Η Οικία του Ερρίκου Σλήμαν, ένα έργο του Ερνέστου Τσίλλερ, in Archaeology and Heinrich Schliemann: A Century After his Death. Assessments and Prospects. Myth, History, Science (2012) 449-465.

R.M. RAKOFF, Ideology in Everyday Life. The Meaning of the House, Politics and Society 7:1 (1977), 85-104.

Of American Expat Thanksgivings in Greece

I still remember my first Thanksgiving at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (the ASCSA or the School hereafter) in 1989. We had just returned from a ten-day trip through the Corinthia with Mr. Williams [Charles K. Williams, the Director of the Corinth Excavations], which also marked the end of the School’s fall program. We only had a few hours to rest and get ready for the big event: cocktails at 8 followed by dinner at 8.30. I had never seen Loring Hall so crowded and festive. Director William (Willy) Coulson and his wife Mary Lee were the hosts. Eight large tables filled the dining room; more were in the salonaki for families with young children. In later years as the numbers of guests increased, the party would take over the saloni for dinner and dancing afterwards.  

Thanksgiving 1989. From left to right: Ted Coulson, Willy and Mary Lee Coulson, Kevin Glowacki, and Nancy Klein. ASCSA Archives, Events Photographic Collection

I attended many of the School’s Thanksgivings, and these events were the source of many fond memories. When our son was born in 1999, we skipped the party but took him (then barely 6 months old) earlier in the day to see the roasted turkeys in Sakis’s kitchen. We eventually stopped going because of conflicts with our son’s schedule and our desire to start our own family tradition for the holiday.

One of our last Thanksgivings at the School with Nancy Winter and Liz Ward Papageorgiou, 2000 (Craig Mauzy with his son Carl at the back). ASCSA Archives, Events Photographic Collection.

At the time it was difficult to find a turkey out of season (because Greek butchers do not stock turkeys until a few days before Christmas). We usually had to approach the butchers weeks in advance to secure a bird for the table (often flown in frozen from Italy but more recently fresh from the American Farm School in Thessaloniki). The only place with cranberry sauce (or fresh cranberries) or Libby’s pumpkin puree was the original Alpha Beta on Stadiou Street (now closed). Soon I learned to make my own red currant sauce (it is still hard to find cranberries), and I have occasionally experimented with real pumpkins for the pie. This quest for ingredients made me wonder how the School celebrated Thanksgivings when imported goods were much more difficult to find, and the School’s cooks lacked experience with American holiday menus. 

Early Thanksgivings

In November of 1910, Zillah Pearce, who had recently moved to Athens with her husband architect William (Billy) Bell Dinsmoor, who would later become the most important architectural historian of Classical Greece, wrote to her mother about her first expat Thanksgiving at the School:

“The dinner was quite wonderful for Evangelos [the School’s cook] is a genius.  I don’t know that I can remember everything we had but there was fish soup, cold jellied pigeon, with little individual salads with whipped cream, turkey with chestnut dressing, another kind of salad, potato balls, quince jelly, & most remarkable ice in fancy shape, salted almonds, different nuts, four or five kinds of candies and fruit also…”.  Pleased with the dinner, Zillah, however, was not happy with her outfit for the occasion.  “Mr. Hill [the School’s Director] had said that the men were not to dress in evening clothes for this dinner, not even dinner coats, so I gave up my pink gown as inappropriate and wore my blue silk. I wish you could have seen the sight that greeted my eyes when I reached the head of the stairs.  With the exception of Miss [Alice Leslie] Walker and Miss Sheldon, the others had on the most elaborate ball gowns with long sweeping trains and very décolleté gowns.  However I am rather glad I did wear the blue for it is very pretty and I think it was more appropriate.  Of course if I had been in Athens I would have known what the others intended to wear…  Mr. Johnson [Allan Chester Johnson, later professor of Classics at Princeton University] on stepping from the library to the hall saw them and said in an undertone to Billy ‘My God.’  If you knew Mr. Johnson you would appreciate it.” Zillah was further delighted to find out that Mr. Hill had rented a piano. “Miss [Alice] Walton and I as it happened were the only ones who could play so we had to draw cards and it fell to my lot, so we spent the last of the evening in singing.  Although there are so many young people none of them sing much.  Mr. Blegen [Carl W. Blegen, student of the School that year, who would excavate the sites of Troy and Pylos later in his career] I suspect has the best voice.  I am enclosing our place cards.  Mine represents the animals at Corinth.”

Newlyweds Zillah and Bill Dinsmoor in the School’s garden, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

On another occasion Zillah noted how hard it was to find or get cranberries to Athens, despite the recipes she had received from her mother.

“Was glad to have the recipes, only the cranberry sauce is a joke for you cannot get cranberries here. Some years ago a minister here (U.S. Representative for there is no Ambassador from America) sent to America for some cranberries for the Thanksgiving dinner he was giving to Americans in Athens and when they arrived he had to pay so much duty that he refused to take them and threw them in the Piraeus harbor” (January 3, 1911).

The guest book for the 1910 Thanksgiving. ASCSA Archives. Administrative Records. Note M. Carey Thomas’s signature at the bottom of the list. You can read about her inClash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall.”

Mincemeat Pies

Finding the right ingredients for the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner continued to be a problem. In 1922, another member of the School, Natalie Gifford [the mother of William Wyatt, professor of Classics at Brown University and also one of the Whitehead Professors in 1989, my first year at the School], wrote to her family that she wanted to prepare mince pies for Thanksgiving. “I’m crazy to make some mince pies for the bunch. I think it would be lots of fun, but I’m afraid it would be difficult, particularly without a recipe and the Greek style of doing things. Maybe I could manage an apple pie. I’d love to surprise K.B. with one.” (K.B. standing for Carl Blegen, who by then had become the School’s Assistant Director.)

“We are going to have a big dinner here tonight. Mr. Hill said sixteen were coming,” she scribbled in the same letter.  Gifford had just come from the kitchen where she and the other women of the academic program were trying to make pies. “The awkward thing [is] that none of us knew how to make mince meat, and none of us had a cook book. Mr. Holland [Leicester B. Holland, architect and father of Marian McAllister who was the Editor of the School’s Publications for many decades] came to our rescue by telling us that Uncle Bert [she meant the Director of the School, Bert H. Hill] had some. In the papers of Bert H. Hill, there is a copy of the 1918 edition of Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School Cookbook: A History of Science, Gender, and Food, the one that young Gifford must have consulted for her pies.

Bert H. Hill’s own copy of Fannie Farmer. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

“We did find an English mince meat in Miss Farmer’s cookbook” but the real problem was finding the right ingredients. “They just haven’t cider or brown sugar or molasses as the recipe called for… We told poor John [the cook] to go get the various ingredients… He couldn’t get citron, so he bought candied fruits instead. It made the mince very sweet, but we added lemon juice… We had the whole establishment helping us pick over the raisins and blanching the almonds. The chauffeur even came in and lent us his countenance…” At the end their pies turned out well “and made a great hit. We certainly never expected it,” confided Gifford to her mother.

“They are still talking about our pies. I made some little jam tarts to use up the pie crust the way Mother does, and K. B. [Carl Blegen] nearly collapsed, he was so thrilled…” I suspect that Natalie was in love with Blegen, but little did she know that he had already set his eyes on one of her fellow students, Elizabeth (Libbie) Pierce (later Mrs. Blegen).

The guest book for the 1922 Thanksgiving. ASCSA Archives. Administrative Records.

Non-inclusive Thanksgivings

Who made the School’s Thanksgiving guest list was occasionally a sore point. An exchange of letters between Edward Capps, Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, and Rhys Carpenter, Director of the School (1927-1932), implied that George Kosmopoulos had not been included in the guest list for the School’s Thanksgiving party in 1930.

Now that the dinner is over, and I hope you had a jolly time, I do not mind telling you that she [Alice Leslie Walker Kosmopoulos] appealed to me on the subject… She may not understand, and probably never will, that while nobody objects to her George, who is a very fine chap, of course, the members of the School would have little pleasure in his society and George, himself, would be quite miserable. Her wish that he might be ‘recognized’ is quite understandable, though her density as regards the function shows how Greek she has become,” conveyed Capps to Carpenter.

ASCSA AdmRec 318/2, folder 2, December 17, 1930. (For more about this couple, see: “An Unconventional Union. Mr. and Mrs. George Kosmopoulos“)

The Glamorous 30’s

The after-dinner entertainment had improved considerably by the early 1930s. Richard (Dick) Howland, student of the School in 1933-1934 and later Chair of the Managing Committee, described an impressive evening with many guests that reflected the School’s growth during the years that Edward Capps chaired the School’s Managing Committee (1919-1939), but also the societal changes in Greece during the interwar period. (The best novel to understand the conflicts between the Greek bourgeoisie and working classes in the 1930s is Argo [Αργώ] by George Theotokas, whose archive was donated to the School in 2016.)

We had a regular luncheon at noon, and at 9:00 we had dinner, in the library, at a huge I-shaped table that accommodated 50 people. Everybody connected with the School was there, and everybody came formal with their best evening clothes. There were 6 waiters and 4 maids, recruited from the various households connected with the school, and everything was all very elegant. We had consommé, lobster with mayonnaise, turkey, potatoes, onions, roasted chestnuts, cranberry jelly, etc….chocolate ice cream, and fruit, nuts and raisins.  We had white wine and champagne with dinner, and afterwards Sterling Dow [an advanced graduate student and later Professor of Archaeology at Harvard] gave some of us liqueurs, up in his apartment over the library.
After dinner we had dancing until 2:00, with a fine 7-piece orchestra from the Grande Bretagne, which is the best hotel in Athens. I danced with a great many people, but nobody more than 2 or 3 times. It was a fine party… The best part about it is the fact that the School paid for the entire party” wrote a happy Dick to his parents in November 1933.

A year later, Howland attended his second Thanksgiving at the School: “I was invited to a cocktail party at the Dows’ before the Thanksgiving dinner. Connie [Constance Gavares] was there and Joe [Joseph Shelley, Fellow in Architecture], and Mary Elizabeth, and several others. Very nice, and then we went down to dinner about 9. Like last year, there was one huge table set in the library for 40-50 people. We had stuffed turkey, vegetables, etc….but no pie for dessert, only ice cream. After dinner there was an 8-piece orchestra and we danced until 3:30. It was a very nice party, and afterwards we went downtown to have some ham and eggs.”

Richard H. Howland all dressed up for Thanksgiving, 1934. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers.

From an Italian Perspective

Less than a month ago, the ASCSA Archives acquired a collection of 93 letters that Brunilde Sismondo (later Ridgway) wrote to her family when she was a student of the School in 1955-1957. Ridgway hardly needs any introduction to the archaeological community. But because this blog aims at making the history of the School accessible to a wider audience, I must say that young Sismondo, an Italian born in Chieti, went on to become a world expert in Greek and Roman sculpture. She taught for almost four decades at Bryn Mawr College and produced dozens of students, many of whom teach classics and archaeology in American and European universities. Bruni’s gift followed that of George Fletcher Bass (1932-2021), one of her fellow students and also a prominent archaeologist, who founded the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in 1972. 

Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway in her office, ca. 1985. Source: Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

Written in elegant Italian, Bruni’s letters are a trove of information about the micro-history of the School: its academic program and the scholarly trends of the period, the daily life of the students in a country that was recovering from WW II and the civil war that followed (the Greek Economic Miracle), and so many other things that are not included in the School’s official reports or in the administrative correspondence. For example, I read the correspondence between John L. Caskey and Charles H. Morgan, the Director of the School and the Chair of the Managing Committee respectively, throughout 1955-1956, and there is hardly any mention of the academic program or the students. To be fair, Caskey and Morgan worried about a host of other matters: whether there was enough money to finish the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, how to make the School’s work appealing to the Ford Foundation for funding, or how to secure the Greek King’s presence at the inauguration of the Stoa in August of 1956.  However, without access to personal letters or diaries, we miss important sources of information when trying to understand the history of a long-lived overseas institution such as the ASCSA.

Yet, as Bruni warned me, there is usually a limit as to what one confides to his or her family, especially when mail was slow and telephone communications were reserved only for extremely serious matters. Therefore, letters tended to be descriptive and quite cheerful, because the students did not want their families to worry about them.  

With her permission, I decided to probe those that described her first Thanksgiving experience at the School. Thanksgiving per se was not a novelty for the young Italian girl. As a graduate student at BMC she had already experienced the real thing. But this was an expat Thanksgiving.

“Ho ballato e ballato e ballato” (I danced and danced and danced): this is how she started the description of her evening to her sister Mitì. They all dressed up for the dinner that Jack Caskey and his wife Elizabeth had organized for the School community. Most of the women had spent a lot of time and money to have their hair done…but not Bruni, who decided to keep her natural thick, curly hair (she described it as “zazzera,” meaning mop). The hairdresser even showed up at the School before dinner to give the final touch to the girls’ coiffures! The dinner, as was the case for a long time, was held in the main library. That night the Pi-shaped arrangement of the library tables seated 72 people. The tables were decorated with baskets in the form of cornucopia full of fall fruits and vegetables, even cabbages and eggplants. (It is unfortunate that we do not have photographs from the early Thanksgivings. but, until in the 1980s, amateur photographers avoided taking indoor photos.)

The placements for the 1956 Thanksgiving (Bruni’s second year at the School). The forks and knives indicate the carvers. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

But what captured the guests’ attention were the exquisite place cards that another of Bruni’s fellow students Clairève Grandjouan (1929-1982) had drawn. The drawings on Bruni’s place card recalled her reports on the Throne at Amyclae, the Hermes of Olympia who identified himself as a Roman copy (“I am a copy”), and the “Marathon Ephebe”. Apparently, during her report in Olympia, following the theory of her professor Rhys Carpenter, Bruni had argued with passion that Hermes was not an original of the 4th century B.C.  Clairève had also added “blood stains” and the caption: “traces of the beaten adversaries” (orme degli avversari battuti). In addition to the scholarly debates about the Hermes of Olympia, the discussion of what the “Marathon Ephebe” held in his hands proved equally controversial among the archaeological community.  Clairève had reconstructed the Ephebe’s hands holding an egg on the left, and salt and pepper on the right, alluding to their breakfast exchanges: “pass me the salt.” 

Brunilde Sismondo (right) at a bal des têtes in February 1957. On her right, Doro Levi, Director of the Italian Archaeological School. ASCSA Archives, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway Papers.

Of the dinner itself Bruni does not say much to her sister, except that the turkeys were huge. Dancing followed dinner, with the Caskeys opening the dance floor, but most of the students did not follow until the “older crowd” had left the party. It was only then that the younger gaggle including Bruni, George Bass, and Lloyd Cotsen (who was in Athens with his wife JoAnne) took up dancing until one in the morning. (Bruni also told me that “the two people who went out of their way to make me feel welcome were Lloyd Cotsen and his wife JoAnne.” Lloyd, an architect and a businessman, would later become a trustee and generous benefactor of the American School.)

JoAnne and Lloyd Cotsen, ca. 1955. ASCSA Archives, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway.

Uncle Bert’s Last Thanksgiving

In November 1958, an aged Bert Hodge Hill was describing his Thanksgiving at the School to Carl and Elizabeth Blegen who were in America.  Hill’s wife Ida had already passed away in 1954.
“For the rest I have kept to the house except last evening when I went to the School’s Thanksgiving party. 69 sat down at table, Betty [Caskey] said. Lucy [Talcott] was absent, and [the Homer] Davises and others. Kevin Andrews. It was a pleasure to see him scarcely changed by the years – and John and Sue Young came after the dinner, having first had Thanksgiving with their daughter. Jack [Caskey] made his usual speech and [Aristides] Kyriakides his (read from notes and not quite up to his usual form).  Jack and Gorham [Phillips Stevens] and Gene [Vanderpool] and Henry [Immerwahr] and I don’t know who else carved turkeys. Grace was said by a cleric I don’t think I have met. I didn’t go the rounds in the saloni, but sat in a polythrona (armchair) mostly. However such so the party rather did me in, with bad dysphoria after it combined with the pain in the chest (high, both back and front) that you get when your stomach goes sour after a too hearty meal. As the thing lasted from about 11.30 until 6 the night was the worst I have had since Corinth Oct. 10 and 11.  But I have slept a lot today and have had no dysphoria. So I haven’t called Lorandos [the School’s doctor] and expect to sleep well tonight. I cut the Propeller [Club] lunch and the Thanksgiving show at Ath[ens] College at 3.45–substituting breakfast combined with lunch in bed for the former and sleep for the latter.” Sadly, Hill died the next day.

John L. Caskey and Bert H. Hill, 1956. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

In the Shadow of an Assassination

On Thanksgiving Day (November 28) 1963, the then Director of the American School, Henry S. Robinson, departed from the usual script in his speech to the guests.

“The emotions which are generally experienced and thankfully expressed on this particular American Holiday are today gravely diminished by the incredible tragedy which has so recently struck our nation. We cannot yet explain and can surely never comprehend the dreadful act of last Friday. We can only hope and pray that the criminal was unbalanced and was acting independently; that no organized group –political or social- was involved in so heinous a crime. Let us pray, too, that the peaceful ends for which Mr. Kennedy had striven may yet be achieved through the actions of other leaders of our own and foreign lands. May I ask you all to rise for a moment to pay silent homage to our late President.”

Henry S. Robinson, ca. 1960. Photo by Patricia Lawrence.

After a minute of silence, Robinson continued: “It has long been the custom for the Director to say a few words on this day. To express his thankfulness that the long trial of the fall trips is at an end; that the students have remained in good spirits (or, in years when that cannot honestly be said, that they have remained at least in good health); that the winter has been late in coming (or, in other years, that the bracing November weather has arrived early to drive away the humours of an Indian summer); that our travels have been marred by a minimum of inclement weather (or, in other years, that the constant rains did so little to dampen the enthusiasm of the group); that our physical plant is in good operating condition (or, as last year, that our cooks were able to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner in spite of six inches of water over the kitchen floor). In short, whatever the course of the School year may have been to date, it is expected that I –and you- will be duly thankful. I am; I hope that you are.”