“Metropolitan Transportation”: Sardis, Colophon, and the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922Posted: July 3, 2021
BY JACK L. DAVIS
Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here writes about the politics behind two American excavations in Asia Minor during the tumultuous years of the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-1922, and their connection to the acquisition of Greek antiquities by American museums.
For the paltry sum of $125, anyone can buy a pair of graceful bookends modeled on a column of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis from the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum (Met) of New York. The Met describes them as follows:
An eye-catching pair for home or office, our bookends celebrate the magnificent Sardis column in The Met. The capital, base, and portions of the shaft of this great Ionic column come from a monumental temple constructed at Sardis (in today’s Turkey) and dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon. Shortened from its original height of 56 feet, The Met’s massive column on display in the Greek and Roman galleries lets viewers admire the fine carving of the foliate ornaments on the capital and the fish-scale pattern on the molding at its base. These same decorative details appear on our handsome bookends.
The story of how this column ended up in the Met (and why it is shortened!) is more interesting than the bookends themselves, however worthy of admiration they may be. And it will cost you nothing to learn it here. Hint: the column was not shortened so that visitors could view its fine carving. (It is also important to note immediately that the Temple of Artemis is not only in “today’s Turkey,” but was already in Turkey when the Met’s column left Sardis.)
Digging in Turkey Under Greek Jurisdiction
The journey of the Sardis column to New York City is intertwined with the fate of a zone in western Turkey administered by Greece following the First World War.
Between 1919 and 1922 the Greek state realized what former British Ambassador to Greece Michael Llewellyn Smith has called Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos’s “Ionian Vision.” Following the surrender of Ottoman Turkey in October 1918, Istanbul was occupied by the Allies, with Admiral Mark Bristol, American High Commissioner protecting U.S. interests. The Allies had divided coastal Anatolia into mandates with Greece installed in the vilayet (district) of Aydın (Smyrna, modern Izmir). In accord with this agreement, on May 14, 1919, Allied troops moved into the fort at Smyrna and rumors circulated that the city was to be handed over to Greece. The following day an Hellenic army arrived, blessed on its landing by Chrysostomos, the Greek Metropolitan bishop.
Venizelos purposely chose a civilian governor for the district, Aristeidis Stergiadis (1861-1949), a fellow Cretan, previously the Governor General of Greek Epirus. Stergiadis, an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, had won a good reputation for his even-handed administration there. Chief among his goals in Smyrna was the restoration of order and the establishment of an efficient and impartial local government. The Greek administration was in principle not intended to replace Turkish sovereignty; both Greek and Turkish law was to be recognized.
Two American digs operated in Turkey under the Greek mandate, one at Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia, the other at Colophon, one of the cities of the Greek Ionian league. At Sardis an expedition excavated under the direction of Howard Crosby Butler until WW I and then resumed its work in the spring of 1922. Butler, a Princeton professor, was supported in his efforts by the American Society for the Excavation of Sardis, an organization consisting of prominent industrialists, art collectors, and philanthropists, including members of the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sardis lay 70 km inland to the east of Smyrna, and the eastern border of the Greek mandate passed along its acropolis—placing it in a particularly vulnerable position in case of armed conflict.
The concerns of Harvard University were the driving force in promoting the organization of a newly launched program of fieldwork at Colophon, aiming to enrich the collections of the Fogg Museum. In collaboration with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), a dig of some sort had been discussed at least since 1915, when Paul Sachs, Assistant Director of the Museum, wrote to his cousin Hetty Goldman that there “is no reason whatsoever why you should not head a Harvard expedition to excavate in Greece at the proper time.” Plans began to be formalized, even before a site was selected. Goldman would direct; ASCSA would apply for the permit; Harvard would provide the finances (FMA: Chase to Hill, 2 March 1916).
But momentum was broken by World War I, and there is no mention of an expedition again until late 1920. The panhellenic sanctuary of Dodona was then Harvard’s first choice. Goldman, however, introduced Harvard to T. Leslie Shear, acting director of the Sardis excavations, who could speak to possibilities of excavating in areas of Anatolia that had just come under Greek jurisdiction. By April of 1921 some sort of consensus in favor of Anatolia seems to have been formed in Boston. Goldman wrote Sachs that “I will not give up Asia Minor without a struggle” (FMA: Goldman to Sachs, 23 April 1921); and Sachs wrote Edward D. Perry, acting chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, that:
“… we want, if possible, to get a site in Asia Minor, since we all feel that that is where important discoveries may be expected.”(FMA: Sachs to Perry, 14 April 1921)
For the Harvard-ASCSA expedition Bert Hodge Hill, director of the ASCSA, and Goldman visited two old friends in Smyrna, Konstantinos Kourouniotis, the Greek Superintendent of Antiquities in the vilayet, and the American Consul, George Horton (Blegen Box 16, folder 2, 14 June 1921). [Nearly two decades later, Kourouniotis and Carl Blegen would together uncover the Palace of Nestor at Pylos.] Kourouniotis, Hill, and Goldman spent two weeks together, traveling. Stergiadis was approached regarding Erythrae, Kyme, and Colophon (Hill Box 1, folder 5, Hill to Capps, 1 November 1921), and the matter was settled in early 1922 in favor of Colophon (FMA: Goldman to Chase, 17 January 1922).
Sachs’s “important discoveries” was obvious code. Harvard’s decision to excavate in Anatolia rather than Greece was ultimately influenced by the desire to add antiquities to the collections of the Fogg Museum. This is clear from correspondence between Sachs and Goldman. Goldman wrote to Sachs in November that “Greek sites will not yield the opportunities for exportation of finds that sites in Asia Minor might”(FMA: Goldman to Sachs, 17 November 1921).
A desire to acquire new antiquities was also a goal for the Princeton excavations at Sardis. In the spring of 1922, members of the Sardis Expedition saw their opportunity, and moved architectural members and other finds to Smyrna, including parts of an Ionic column. All expected the Greek administration in Smyrna to hold firm. Major William R. Berry, a member of the Sardis team, wrote: “I have deemed it wise to go on to Constantinople for the purpose of attempting to enlist Admiral Bristol’s sympathies in transportation—if you understand what I mean— i.e. to say, ‘Metropolitan’ transportation.”
Horton in Smyrna did his utmost to ensure that antiquities would leave Turkey for America under the Greek administration, as described in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes on May 15, 1922. Shear, representing Butler, had asked for help in arranging export of finds. Cyrus McCormick, Chicago industrialist and son of the founder of the International Harvester Company, had tried in person to negotiate terms with Stergiadis, but unsuccessfully. Shear was “truculent,” according to Horton, and disputed any Greek claim on the antiquities. He demanded an audience with Stergiadis, accompanied by Horton.
Wisely Horton went alone. He convinced Stergiadis of the wisdom of allowing the export of antiquities on the grounds that the finds might otherwise be destroyed—implying also that Greeks would in that case be blamed. He argued with some sophistry that the U.S. deserved these finds since, unlike European countries, its museums had not been able to be filled with finds from Greece itself. Greek culture would in this way be better known in the U.S. and that will be good for Greece.
Two weeks later, on May 30, 1922, Butler wrote to Edward Capps, fellow Princeton professor and now once again chairman of the Managing Committee of the ASCSA, that Stergiadis had agreed to allow almost an entire list of antiquities presented to him to be exported, after a discussion with Kourouniotis. Capps then wrote immediately to Robert Woods Bliss, Third Assistant Secretary of State, on May 31, 1922, noting that excavations at Sardis were in progress, operating under an old Ottoman firman—but that Stergiadis has promised that objects that could not be safeguarded could be exported to New York, “chiefly for the Metropolitan Museum.” If Smyrna were evacuated, any finds from Colophon could be exported too. The Greek government was being very helpful.
From Princeton Capps had been pushing hard for permission while Horton was at work in Smyrna. As the former U.S. Ambassador to Athens under President Wilson, his network of connections to influential Greek politicians and to members of the Greek royal family was extensive. Capps, like Shear, was clear in his mind that the antiquities of Sardis did not belong to Greece. Greek law was thus not applicable, and consequently the removal of artifacts from the site should not be impeded by Stergiadis. In March 1922 he had cabled Hill:
Would appreciate your cooperation in securing promptly from Premier issue of executive order to Governor Smyrna permitting export through Smyrna whatever results of Sardis excavations are thought worth saving, including those now stored at Smyrna. By firman objects belong to Turkey or excavators, so that request involves only courtesy to influential body American philhellenes who desiring, forestall further destruction have contributed funds for removal. This action has already been recommended by Minister Papafrango [the Greek Minister to the U.S.], who regards as important international reason, with which I concur. If necessary use influence higher up…Hill Box 1, folder 5, Capps to Hill, 7 March 1922
Hill had taken the matter to the highest levels of government in Athens. He claimed not to have conducted negotiations in his capacity as director of the ASCSA: “the School as such has not been in the conversations at all” (Hill Box 1, folder 5, Hill to Capps, 28 April 1922). By using Capps’s name freely, he managed to obtain an audience with King Constantine on April 18 and a meeting with George Baltazzi (1868-1922), the Greek foreign minister, on April 22. Both the King and the Foreign Minister promised to advise Stergiadis to exercise “the utmost possible generosity” in dealing with the matter, and, while visiting Athens on April 24, Stergiadis had himself come to the ASCSA to meet with Hill. He was, as might have been anticipated, firm with regards to the law:
Within his jurisdiction either Turkish law runs, or Greek. As concerning antiquities these laws are practically alike. But in the interpretation and application of the law there will be the greatest generosity possible in the present case, in an attempt at compensation for the losses the excavations have suffered, and as a matter of wise policy and of good will. The High Commissioner will recommend to Mr. Kourouniotis that he add to the list of antiquities subject to export from Sardis—the list already made, that is—other things that Mr. Shear would like, if at all possible… In case of a final decision that the Greek army is to withdraw… the High Commissioner will oppose no objection to the American excavators transferring to Smyrna and exporting what they think wise and right. He could not issue a formal permit for their export; but would either just allow them to go, or—more probably—turn them over officially to the care and disposal of the American Consul.Hill Box 1, folder 5, Hill to Capps, 28 April 1922
Hill reported that he had been considered as Capps’s “representative and as an old friend of Greece, sympathizing—as I in fact do—with the Greek point of view as to the disposition of antiquities.” The results of these protracted negotiations were welcomed in Harvard, as well as in Princeton and New York. Goldman’s fears must have been allayed by the following news: “In case of evacuation of Deirmendere [Colophon] by Greece we are to be free to carry off everything our conscience permits to America or where we like. So Stergiades told me. This is private to you and Miss G.” (Blegen Box 16, folder 2, Hill to Blegen, 2 May 1922).
The collections of the Fogg Museum would indeed be enriched.
Not everyone was so complacent, and some predicted trouble ahead. Allen Welsh Dulles, of the State Department, Division of Near Eastern Affairs (and later the first director of the CIA), wrote on June 7, 1922 to Edgar Turlington, assistant solicitor in the State Department, that a letter received from Capps on May 30 raised problematic issues: the Turkish firman under which Sardis operated does not contemplate export of antiquities. The Turkish authorities may have a claim on them if Smyrna were to be evacuated. Turlington replied the following day that the Turks might well press a claim. Ottoman law forbade export of antiquities and the Hague Convention of 1907 contained prohibitions against the seizure of “historic monuments and works of science and art.” On August 29, 1922, Turlington wrote that whether or not the State Department should approve Horton’s “complicity in this classical looting” is a “matter of policy.”
But by then, operations in Smyrna were already in motion. On August 17, 1922, Horton had written to the Secretary of State that Butler tried to arrange the dispatch of antiquities to New York from Sardis on a ship of the Standard Oil company, but Standard Oil had gotten cold feet. Horton had instead put the loot on the S.S. Ossa, bound for New York, Stergiadis assisting in loading it. All 58 cases left Smyrna when conditions in the district were still settled, and on arrival in New York were stored at the Met. Some had been labelled “For Princeton.” (See Van der Zee, “Smyrna to Loading of 58 Packages Antique Marbles on Board S.S. Ossa, July 27, 1922,” Metropolitan Museum Archives [after Cobb, p. 207, n. 419].)
By autumn, New York newspapers were crowing over such spectacular additions to the Met’s collections. Horton would later write that ‘I took keener satisfaction in bringing these remarkable antiquities to the United States than in any other single act of my entire consular career’ (Horton 1926: 107-108). He had been promised that his bust would be installed in a new Lydian gallery at the Met.
The Collapse of the Greek Administration
The hammer fell, however, on the Greek administration unexpectedly on September 8, 1922, and its headquarters in Smyrna were evacuated. Turkish cavalry entered the city the next day. On September 11, Smyrna was set on fire. This reversal of fortunes stalled any immediate plans to continue excavations at Colophon. The suddenness of these events also disappointed plans to evacuate more antiquities. Goldman anguished:
Would that we had left Colophon tranquilly slumbering beneath the soil! That is my sentiment at present. I take a kind of lugubrious comfort in the thought that our finds were not of a kind to tempt the covetous, though, I suppose, we must reconcile ourselves to the thought of losing everything we so laboriously carted down to the police station. The coins at least are safe.Blegen Box 11, folder 1, Goldman to Blegen, 27 September 1922
The Colophon coins had been carried to Athens.
Years later Leicester Holland, a member of the Colophon excavation team, and eventually Goldman’s successor as director, claimed a hasty departure from the site at the end of the field season (1944: 94): “The unsettled state of the country preceding the hurried expulsion of the Greek forces from Anatolia in the summer of 1922 brought the campaign to a hurried close: and subsequent conditions prevented continuation of the full excavations which had been planned for succeeding years. The coins in transit to the Istanbul Museum, where they now are, were taken to Athens and studied there, but all the pottery and other finds left in Değirmendere, unphotographed in the hasty departure, were lost.”
Holland’s account conflicts with the picture conveyed by Goldman’s letters and may have been intended as a post hoc justification for the removal of coins from Colophon or for a long delay in publication of the expedition’s results, since in reality the field season ended amidst relative calm. After the end of excavations in August, Goldman wrote to Sachs on August 12, 1922 to propose a campaign of three months the following spring (FMA: Goldman to Sachs), and the Greek front line did not break until late August. The expedition suffered no political difficulties and the zone of Colophon was militarily secure. It was, in fact, the very abruptness of the collapse of the Greek administration that baffled the civilian population and archaeologists alike. Blegen had arrived at Corinth on August 21 and was digging at the prehistoric site of Zygouries when Smyrna fell. He wrote Hill from there on September 10:
“What is the inside story of the disaster in Anatolia? I don’t understand it. All speed records seem to have been broken.”Hill Box 1, folder 2
Scrambling to Pick Up the Pieces
Members of the two Asia Minor excavations and officials of the ASCSA focused immediately on “damage control,” since the rules of the game had changed overnight. Turkish, rather than Greek, authorities needed to be courted and their pique assuaged. The idea of returning to Colophon remained very much alive, nonetheless. In February 1923, Blegen departed for Smyrna and Istanbul in the interests of the project (Blegen Box 11, folder 1, Blegen to Goldman, 5 March 1923). Although he found general good will toward Americans, he concluded that any resumption of excavations in 1923 was out of the question. Blegen wrote that in Istanbul. “I saw Dr. Halil Bey, Director General of the Museum… He said frankly that he felt hurt… when he learned that the dig at Sardis had been resumed…” under the Greek administration (Blegen: Blegen to Goldman, 5 March 1923).
A year after Smyrna fell, in September 1923 it was agreed that Goldman should herself travel to Turkey to negotiate (FMA: Goldman to Sachs, 11 August 1923; Sachs to Goldman, August 25, 1923; Goldman to Sachs, 16 September 1923; Sachs to Goldman, 24 October 1923). Late in the year she wrote to Sachs that she did not anticipate difficulties in acquiring permission, but it was clear that the situation had become very complicated. Halil Bey considered the past work at Colophon to be illegal. He professed to be deeply offended that the Americans had recognized the authority of the Greeks since they were “invaders who came to rob and pillage the country.”
At the heart of the matter lay the 58 cases of antiquities taken to New York City by the Sardis Exploration Society—in clear violation of Turkish law. The Turks were quite aware that antiquities were taken, aided by the many boasting articles in American newspapers.
In addition to the crates of antiquities shipped to New York, there remained the matter of 30 gold Lydian staters that surfaced in Athens, after being given to Horton for safekeeping in Smyrna. Capps repeatedly asked the State Department to transport them to America in a diplomatic pouch, but his request was refused. In the end Horton himself carried the coins to New York.
The first steps toward a formal resolution of the dispute between the American excavators and the Turkish authorities were finally taken in 1924, with Admiral Bristol mediating. David M. Robinson, a member of the Sardis Expedition, was given permission to reopen the Sardis excavations as soon as Turkey was officially informed that the Metropolitan Museum had shipped back the finds in its possession. Bristol wrote to Hughes on May 14, 1924 that a proposed settlement was accepted by Halil Bey. The antiquities would be returned to Turkey at the expense of the Turkish government, except for the capital and other column parts from the Temple of Artemis.
The resumption of excavations at Colophon then also required diplomatic intervention, since its antiquities became an issue too. In April of 1925, Sachs wrote to G. Howland Shaw, United States Ambassador to Turkey, to inform him that coins from Colophon were being returned to Turkey from Athens (FMA: Sachs to Shaw, 21 April 1925). Eventually a permit was issued for a final season of excavation at Colophon in the fall of 1925.
In the end most Sardis finds were sent back to Turkey, and Turkey returned a selection of them to New York. But even so the Metropolitan Museum and the members of Society were unhappy with the arrangement. Edward Robinson, director of the Met wrote to Bristol on January 11, 1926 that the Society was deeply disappointed at what it had received. “A large proportion of the objects now in its possession could find no place in the exhibition rooms of any first-rate museum, and have little or no educational value as illustrating the art of Lydian civilization.” Members of the Society had not gotten their money’s worth and that would discourage future attempts to raise funds in support of American excavations.
The leaders of the ASCSA (as opposed to the administrators of the Fogg Museum and the Met) could hardly have been so cynical in their motivations for supporting the removal of artifacts from Anatolia. They, and others in the network of philhellenes who lobbied for permission to remove antiquities and who assisted in the exportation of artifacts from Sardis and Colophon, must have had a genuine fear that the excavated finds would not otherwise be preserved. This was a concern no doubt exaggerated by a more general anti-Turkish sentiment that the Ottomans had not been responsible guardians of a European cultural patrimony.
The ASCSA would never again organize an excavation in Turkey.
And so it is that Ionic column stands in the Greek and Roman galleries of the Met today, described as follows, with no reference to its chequered past:
“The section of a fluted Ionic column in the center of this room stood over fifty-eight feet high in its original location at the Temple of Artemis… displayed here with most of the shaft omitted. Parts of the fluted shaft are restored, and the profiled base below the torus is a copy of the original.”
The column was accessioned in 1926 by Gisela Richter as a “gift” of the Society for the Excavation of Sardis (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, April, 1926, Vol. 21, No. 4, Part 2: “The Southern Extension of the Building, Wing K,” pp. 7-11).
Blegen: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives, Carl William Blegen Papers.
FMA: Fogg Museum Archives, GOLDMAN, DR. HETTY 1915–1923 SCH, Harvard University.
Hill: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives, Bert Hodge Hill Papers.
A version of this paper was published as “A Foreign School of Archaeology and the Politics of Archaeological Practice: Anatolia, 1922,” Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 16 (2003) 145-172. Since I published it, others have written about these episodes of “classical looting,” and have been able to avail themselves of archives that were not open to me or that I did not explore. These included those at Princeton University, at the Met, and the Istanbul Museum.
- James F. Goode, Negotiating for the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941, Austin 2007.
- Fikret Yegül, “From the Lofty Halls of Academia to the Dusty Hills of Anatolia: Howard Crosby Butler and the First Sardis Expedition Through Peace and War, 1909-1926,” in Scott Redford and Nina Ergin, eds., Perceptions of the Past in the Turkish Republic: Classical and Byzantine Periods (Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Supplement 31), Leuven 2010. See also Yegül’s lecture, titled “Our Complicity in this Classical Looting”: Triangulating the Past at Sardis, 1922-1925,” at the American School, May 29, 2012.
- Elvan Cobb, “Railway Crossings: Encounters in Ottoman Lands” (diss. Cornell University, 2018).
- Christina Luke, A Pearl in Pearl: Heritage and Diplomacy in Turkey, Oxford 2019.
- Fikret Yegül, The Temple of Artemis at Sardis (Archaeological Exploration of Sardis 7), Cambridge 2020. (Yegül’s monumental publication has on paper at last restored the column to its context at Sardis, pp. 121–22, 126, figs. 2.247, 2.256.)