The Artemision Shipwreck: Sinking Into the ASCSA Archives

In late 1928 the Greek and the international press published several articles and photos of a sensational archaeological discovery: a large bronze male statue found near Cape Artemision, in the north of Euboea. On central display at the Archaeological Museum in Athens since 1930, the statue is known to the public as the Aremision Zeus (or Poseidon).

The Artemision Zeus (or Poseidon) at the National Archaeological Museum, photographed by Alison Frantz in 1957. ASCSA Archives, Alison Frantz Photographic Collection.

Two years before, in the same area, fishermen had caught in their nets the left arm of a bronze statue that was also transferred to the National Museum in Athens. That discovery did not, however, provoke any further archaeological exploration in the area, most likely for fiscal reasons. But then in September 1928, the local authorities in Istiaia, a town in northern Euboea, were informed of illicit activity in the sea near Artemision. Acting fast, they sailed to the spot and caught a fisherman’s boat filled with diving equipment. Not only that, its crew had already pulled out the right arm of a bronze statue. A few days later the authorities were able to bring up from the bottom of the sea a nearly complete male, larger than life, statue. The first photos showed the armless statue laying on its back on a layer of hay (Note how the area of the genitals has been conveniently darkened in the newspaper photos so that the public would not be offended by the nudity of the statue.)

The San Francisco Examiner, December 23, 1928

It was obvious that there was here an ancient shipwreck at the bottom of the sea, and that the Greek Archaeological Service needed to act fast before there could occur any new illicit diving in the area. However, underwater excavations are notoriously expensive since they require special equipment and trained divers. Nevertheless, by November of 1928, having secured 180,000 drachmas from the Greek government, the Archaeological Service sent the steamship Pleias, archaeologist Nikos Bertos, and a crew of divers to locate the shipwreck. Descending to a depth of nearly 45-50 meters (ca. 120-150 feet) and under extremely bad weather conditions, Bertos was able to retrieve the forepart of the body of a horse with its head and the largest part of the statue of a young male rider, who has since been known as the Jockey of Artemision. 

The Guardian, October 23, 1929

In the early spring of 1929, Bertos, in another heroic effort, retrieved more parts of the horse and the rider, as well as some of the ancient ship’s ballast and pottery.  Bertos promptly published an excellent account of his discoveries in the Archaeologikon Deltion (Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον) of 1929. In 2004, based on Bertos’s account and press clippings, Sean Hemingway, now Curator of Greek Antiquities at the Metrοpolitan Museum of Art, has offered us a new account of the discovery of the Artemision shipwreck in his book, The Horse and Jockey from Artemision (Hemingway 2004, pp. 35-42).

Zeus or Poseidon

Of the three bronzes, the easiest to conserve and display immediately was the nude, oversized male. By 1930, the impressive striding god with his extended arms was on full display in the National Museum. That same year Dutch archaeologist Hendrick G. Beyen (1901-1965) published the first monograph recognizing the statue as Poseidon. Soon afterward archaeologist Christos Karouzos (1900-1967) published a long article supporting the Poseidon identification. In 1944, George Mylonas, professor of archaeology at Washington University in Saint Louis (WUSL), published the first account in English that accepted Georgios Oikonomos’s identification of the statue as Zeus. (Oikonomos was the first to report officially the discovery of the statue in the Proceedings of the Academy of Athens in 1928.) Since then the majority of scholars have accepted the Zeus identification, although Poseidon has not been completely abandoned.

The jockey on a stand, photographed by Alison Frantz in 1956. ASCSA Archives, Alison Frantz Photographic Collection.

The Jockey and the Horse

Unlike the male statue, the public display of the jockey and horse was delayed for decades by the challenges presented in conserving them. In photos taken by Alison Frantz in the 1950s, we see the jockey displayed alone, on a metal stand. In addition, not everybody agreed that the jockey and the horse were contemporary. Ernst Buschor dated both the god from Artemision and the horse to the early 5th century B.C. Others such as Walter-Herwig Schuchhardt and Margarete Bieber argued for a Hellenistic date. In 1972 the restoration of the horse was completed and for the first time, the jockey and the horse were united and displayed as a single composition at the National Archaeological Museum (NAM). After a careful study of their stylistic features, Vassilis Kallipolitis (1910-1983), then director of the NAM, identified the composition as classicizing with a date in the middle of the 2nd century B.C.

I borrow most of this information from Hemingway’s thorough study of the Jockey and Horse Group, where he reviews past scholarship and offers his own interpretation based on additional technical and chemical studies. But coincidentally, while Sean was preparing his publication, the ASCSA Archives acquired the personal papers of a Greek sculptor, George Kastriotis (1899-1969). The main motivation for acquiring Kastriotis’s archive was his connection with the Schliemann family. Kastriotis was the nephew of Sophia Schliemann, and his papers contained information about the Schliemann family.

A study of the horse fragments by sculptor and conservator George Kastriotis, 1936. ASCSA Archives, George Kastriotis Papers.

Archival collections intercommunicate like “communicating vessels.” While processing the Kastriotis papers, we came across two detailed drawings of the Artemision horse. Why? Kastriotis was working as a conservator at the National Archaeological Museum in 1936 when more pieces of the horse were caught in a fishing net. “It was only in 1936 that the hindquarters and part of the body of a bronze horse were discovered by fishermen dragging the seabed with nets off Cape Artemision. An archaeological report in the Bulletin de correspondence hellénique illustrates this large fragment…” (Hemingway 2004, 42). And Kastriotis was trying to see, at least on paper, whether the new fragments belonged to the horse fragments that had been retrieved in 1928.

Bulletin de correspondence hellénique 60, 1936, p. 452, pl. 49.

Hemingway, as did Kallipolitis, dates the group to the 2nd century B.C., further connecting the Artemision shipwreck with the sack of Corinth by general Mummius in 146 B.C. According to Pausanias, Mummius, after sacking Corinth, sent most of the city’s statues to Rome and some to Pergamon. The fact that some of the pottery retrieved from the shipwreck was of Pergamene origin has been used to suggest that the ship was sent from Pergamon to pick up booty from Corinth, unfortunately sinking off Cape Artemision on its way back (Hemingway 2004, 146-147). Other theories have speculated a different point of departure for the bronzes, including the sanctuaries at Dion, Delphi, Demetrias, and more recently the sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestus in Boeotia, where recent excavations by Ioannis Mylonopoulos, Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and Alexandra Charami, Ephor of Boeotia, have discovered remains of several sacred building as well as metallic parts of harnesses. (See The Onchestos Archaeological Project.) This new discovery combined with literary sources, such as the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, about unusual chariot races with newly tamed colts at Poseidon’s precinct in Onchestos adds another candidate to the list of sanctuaries suggested for the original location of the Artemision bronzes.

American Interest

From Lucy S. Meritt’s History of the American School of Classical Studies (hereafter ASCSA or the School), we learn that the ASCSA was also briefly involved in the retrieval of the Artemision shipwreck in 1952. “Professor Mylonas who served as Annual Professor in 1951-52… in fall 1952 with S. A. Dontas and Chr. Karouzos directed the sea investigation of the ship found earlier off Artemision, this latter actually with a permit issued to the American School” (Meritt 1984, p. 60). “We employed five divers with two diving suits and a sailing boat equipped with appropriate machinery, and the ‘Alkyone’… The divers worked in the morning and until one in the afternoon; then the ‘Alkyone’ took over and in the afternoon dragged the floor of the ocean… Unfortunately, we have no find to report, but we were able to locate the ship which in 1928 yielded the bronze statues…” mentions Mylonas’s report to the School (AdmRec 204/4 folder 4).  With this in mind I was able to identify some snapshots from the 1952 exploration in the George Mylonas Papers.

George Mylonas (front row, left) and the crew of the Alkyone, September 1952. ASCSA Archives, George E. Mylonas Papers.
Artemision Project, September 1952. ASCSA Archives, George E. Mylonas Papers.

I became further interested in the Artemision shipwreck when, recently, I came across correspondence referring to it in the School’s Administrative Records, as well as in the Oscar Broneer Papers. The files I found, however, were not about Mylonas’s project; instead, they preserved correspondence from the years 1936-1938, and their content is not mentioned in either of the two published ASCSA histories. The key figure in the School’s effort to initiate new underwater research at Artemision in the 1930s was not an archaeologist after all, but an American industrialist: Philip R. Allen of Walpole, Massachusetts.

“I had luncheon with Mr. Allen in Boston and he was full of his archaeological interests in Greece. He hopes that there will be soon a favorable response to his proposal to [George] Oikonomos about the Artemesium project. The terms he proposed seem to me very generous, as I understood them—viz. if the Government would furnish the tug-boat with derrick equipment, and would agree to recompense the divers for their finds in some reasonable amount, he himself would defray all other expenses, including the wages of the men; and the Government would send an ephor to oversee the work,” wrote Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee, to Oscar Broneer, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the School, on June 16, 1936.  Mr. Allen was also the main sponsor of Broneer’s excavations on the North Slope of the Acropolis. The School was also hoping that Allen would pick up some of the expenses for the restoration of the Lion of Amphipolis, a project that was in the works at the same time. There was also talk between Capps and the President of the Board of Trustees, William Rodman Peabody, about inviting Allen to become a Trustee of the School.

Allen was chairman of Bird & Son, a company established in 1795 that owned paper mills and made roofing material. By the early 20th century the firm had expanded and built plants at various locations in Massachusetts and in other states. (By 1969 it employed nearly 2500 employees and produced such products as shoe cartons, asphalt shingles and siding, tack boxes, and frozen food container. In 1983 its name was changed to Bird Inc., and then again in 1990 to its current name Bird Corporation. For more, see Norwood Historical Society.)

Allen was also active on various boards, such as the Greater Boston Salvation Army Advisory Board, while in 1938 he was elected President of the Trustees of the New England Conservatory of Music. He appears in the list of the School’s Board of Trustees for the first time in 1943-1944, a position he held until 1962, the year of his death. “Mr. Allen was the last of the large Boston group of Trustees who virtually directed the Board’s activities during the early decades of this century. Well-grounded himself in the Classics, he was especially interested in the School’s excavations, and, fired with the romantic as well as the scientific possibilities of original methods of exploration, was a pioneer in encouraging underwater archaeology long before its recent widespread fame,” as noted in the School’s Annual Report for 1962-1963, acknowledging Allen’s earlier interest in the Artemision shipwreck.

Fishermen’s Fees

In reading Capps’s description of Allen’s plan, it struck me as odd that Allen was concerned about recompensing the local divers for their finds. A letter by Allen to Charles H. Morgan, the new Director of the School, written on August 27, 1936, provides more information about the project as well as the compensation of the divers. Allen refers to a meeting he had with Professor Georgios P. Oikonomos (Director of the Archaeological Service) in the presence of Aristeides Kyriakides, the School’s legal counsel. In so doing, Allen provides an interesting background story for his interest in the Artemision shipwreck.

For over two years Mr. George Hasslacher of New York and I have been discussing with representatives of the Greek fishermen, who claimed to be the ones who originally found the statues off Artemisium Point, the matter of further work there. They wanted to raise $10,000 in this country to carry on the work, claiming that they had seen other statues in the sea, especially the horse from which the Jockey had been pulled. They claimed to have exclusive permission from the Greek Government to do further work there and also that there would be considerable profit to those who put up the money because the Greek Government would pay well for whatever was found and if the Greek Government didn’t want the findings, they could be sold in other countries at good prices

ASCSA Archives, Charles H. Morgan Papers, box 1, folder 5

Both Allen and Hasslacher showed restraint in their communication with the fishermen and their U.S. representatives asking for “documentary proof,” which, of course, never came. When Allen went to visit Oikonomos, the latter explained “that such a project could not possibly be handled in this way; that there could be no large sum paid for any findings because the budget was small; that the best that the Greek Government ever did was to give some ‘gratification’ to the man who reported the finding and probably would pay for the expense that anybody went to in any given worthwhile finding.” Oikonomos further suggested that the Greek government could furnish some sort of a naval vessel, provided that Allen could raise the money to pay the expenses of the divers. Allen asked Morgan to continue the discussions with OIkonomos for a joint operation between the School and the Greek Government. Allen was willing to go along with whatever decision the two parties reached, with only one condition, “that Mr. Hasslacher and myself are to have the privilege of being on the expedition for as much time as we arrange to be there.”

Unfortunately two weeks after this letter was mailed, Hasslacher died tragically when he plunged sixteen floors from a building on Fortieth Street in Manhattan.  George F. Hasslacher (1896-1936) was a chemist, Princeton Class of 1917, who was part of a family business, Roessler & Hasslacher Chemical Co., that produced chlorine products, hydrogen peroxide and metal cyanids. In 1933 he joined Snyder MacLaren Processes Inc., a company specializing in protecting metal surfaces from corrosion by depositing a thin film of lead on the metal surface. Clearly Hasslacher’s involvement in the Artemision project aligned with his scientific interests.

Following Hasslacher’s unexpected death, Allen continued to pursue the Artemision Project on his own, always in communication with the School’s leadership. However, Allen’s initial contacts with the representatives of the Greek fishermen now began to work against him.  On September 25, 1936, Broneer shared with Capps a strange encounter he had had.

A gentleman, by the name Chester Valencia, who said he was a friend of Mr. Allen’s, came the other day and asked me concerning the project of searching for further statuary off the coast of Euboea… He said he had spoken to Mr. Allen before leaving America, and was now over here trying to make some kind of agreement with Mr. Gounalakis, who was formerly engaged by the government when the bronzes were brought to light. Gounalakis had given Mr. Valencia to understand that the government would grant a blank permit for searching the sea at this point, with the understanding that the finders were to receive all duplicates and have the money value of other pieces of sculpture.

ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers, box 29, folder 3

Once again there was the issue of recompensing the divers for their finds. Broneer alerted by his conversation with Valencia went to see Oikonomos. And rightly so, because Oikonomos told him that Valencia had been misinformed by Mr. Gounalakis and “that the government would under no circumstances grant a permit of that nature” and that “Mr. Allen had been informed about this matter when he was here last year.” Broneer communicated Oikonomos’s reply to Valencia, who told him that “he considered the whole project fallen through.”

A search in about Valencia produced interesting information. A Californian from Ventura County, Chester (Chet) Esteban Valencia made his first appearance in the West Coast press in 1928 as a young stowaway in a steamer to Honolulu. “He is said to have been of an adventurous nature and so known among his friends when in Ventura” reported the local newspaper (The Ventura County Star and the Ventura Daily Post, 27 Sep 1928). He lived in Honolulu until 1932 working at the McBryde Sugar Plantation in Kauai. Ten years later his name reappeared in the newspapers. This time to announce his marriage to Sylvia MacGuffog of Westboro, Mass., the niece of State Senator Charles Cabot Johnson. It was probably through his marriage into the MacGuffog family and his relocation to Massachusetts that Valencia became acquainted with Allen, and somehow concocted the plan of profiteering from the Artemision project.

The same day that Broneer was communicating to Capps his concerns about Valencia, Morgan was also dispatching a letter to Capps outlining his plan to approach the King “to get his Majesty’s interest in the proposition, for I am sure it will appeal to him” and saying that he would not bother Oikonomos (obviously unaware of Broneer’s meeting) until he had “the King’s approval of the scheme” (AdmRec 318/4, folder 1, September 25, 1936).

One of Those Romantic Dreams

Morgan’s subsequent efforts to get Oikonomos’s ear about Allen’s proposal were fruitless. “He has been very evasive about the business all fall” complained Morgan to Capps (318/4, folder 1, January 14, 1937).  Oikonomos asked to be sent a clear statement of Allen’s proposal. A few weeks later Allen mailed Morgan a statement of his proposal: “I would prefer to have this as a joint operation of the School with the Greek Government but if the Greek Government would prefer to have it as their project and the American School act as my fiscal agent, approving the bills that may be submitted covering the divers’ operations and rental of equipment (which I undertook to pay up to $1,000) that would be satisfactory to me” (AdmRec Box 204/4 folder 4, Feb. 1, 1937). According to the proposal, the Greek Government would furnish a suitable naval boat at its expense. And there was no mention of special compensation for the divers. Allen hoped that all negotiations would have progressed enough by the time of his arrival in March 1937, and that he would be able to watch the work off Cape Artemision in person. This did not happen but on May 29, 1937, after Allen had returned to the States, Morgan telegraphed: “Government will agree to Artemision Project” to which Allen immediately answered, “Congratulations Check Deposited with Treasurer Weld Today” (AdmRec 204/4 folder 4). 

Philip R. Allen and Georgios Oikonomos

Despite the good news, the Artemision Project did not progress further. The next communication between Allen and Morgan dates from April 1938. “I have put off writing this letter way beyond the bounds of propriety, but I have constantly continued to hope that I might get some sort of commitment from the Ministry about your proposal concerning work under the sea at Artemision. I mentioned the matter to the authorities on innumerable occasions, and the gist of the answers has always been that the Government cannot refuse the offer, but that there is some difficulty with the conditions as outlined when the proposal was made. This, of course, is a sheer nonsense, for you will remember how carefully we left out all conditions from the proposal,” wrote Morgan to Allen on April 11, 1938 (AdmRec Box 204/4, folder 4). Morgan concluded that “they do not feel that can refuse the offer, but are unwilling to take any steps whatever to accept it.”

Despite having the School act as an intermediary and guarantor for the Artemision Project, I suspect that the Archaeological Service got cold feet once racketeers like Valencia and Gounalakis began trying to make their own negotiations. Oikonomos and other members of the Service were probably still aware of the litigation against the Greek State by the boat crew that had retrieved the Antikythera shipwreck in the early 1900s for not having been properly recompensed (Bafataki 2018).  

“I have nothing else to do except to drop the matter… You mustn’t feel hurt about it. It was just one of those romantic dreams I wish we could have gone through…” was Allen’s final words on the Artemision Project .

AdmRec 204/4, folder 4, Allen to Morgan, April 27, 1938

And, it indeed remained just that — a dream.


Bafataki, V. 2018. “Η συμβολή των πολιτιστικών χορηγών και ευεργετών στην έρευνα και ανάδειξη της πολιτιστικής κληρονομιάς: Η περίπτωση του ναυαγίου και του μηχανισμού των Αντικυθήρων” (Senior thesis, Greek Open University).

Hemingway, S. 2004. The Horse and Jockey from Aremision: A Bronze Equestrian Monument of the Hellenistic Period, Berkeley.

Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton.

Mylonas, G. 1944. “The Bronze Statue from Artemision,” AJA 48, pp. 143-160.

Mylonopoulos, I. 2016. “Ἀνασκαφὴ ἱεροῦ Ποσειδῶνος στὴ βοιωτικὴ Ὀγχηστό,” PAE 2015, pp. 219-229.

Varvarousis, P. and P. Papaevaggelou 2017. Ογχήστιος Ποσειδώνας: Λατρεία και πολιτική, Athens.

The Cretan Diaries of Colonel Émile-Honoré Destelle (1897-1898)

Following the Cretan revolt of 1896, six Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and England) sent a squadron of warships to Crete in early 1897 to maintain the fragile peace between the Muslim and the Christian communities. France appointed Admiral Édouard Pottier (1839-1903) to lead her naval forces. The French division included Colonel Émile-Honoré Destelle (1856-1944), who brought previous experience in the colonies of New Calydonia and Madagascar. The Colonel disembarked on Crete in February of 1897 to supervise the administration of the eastern part of the island.

I would not have known about Destelle had I not come across the publication of his military diaries from 1897 and 1898 on a recent visit to the Historical Museum in Herakleion (a must for anyone visiting Crete). Edited by his grandson Jean-Pierre Destelle and translated into Greek by Emmanuela Tzedaki with a thorough commentary by Maria Sorou, and published by the Society of Cretan Historical Studies in 2018-2019, Destelle’s diaries document in great detail his administrative activities, as well as everyday life in East Crete just before the island was declared an autonomous state under the protection of the Great Powers. For me, after excavating and traveling in the regions of Siteia and Ierapetra for the past three decades, Destelle’s descriptions offered unique glimpses into Crete’s pre-industrial past. (The Destelle family maintains an excellent web page.)

Destelle’s diaries became my evening companion during my six weeks on Crete this summer, while participating in the Mochlos excavations.  I was digging a Hellenistic fort on the summit of Mochlos, trying to understand how it functioned and which city it served, and Destelle was describing the daily activities of an army camp in the same region more than a hundred years ago. I mined the pair of books for ethnographic information, especially communications, since transportation on Crete before the early 20th century was hardly any different from that of ancient times.   

Slow Traveling

Destelle was originally stationed in Siteia before transferring his headquarters to Ierapetra. After the Italian squadron dissolved in early 1898, the French took over administration of all of East Crete including the eparchy of Viannos. From the beginning of his service, Destelle aimed at improving the region’s infrastructure. He recorded in minute detail departure and arrival times during his travels by horse or by boat. He also noted other people’s traveling times.

Destelle’s headquarters in Siteia. The inscription was discovered in a recent restoration. Photo: N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, 2021

The publication of his diaries does not include any maps, which would have been very useful to the reader. Upon my return to Athens, however, I was fortunate to find in the Stephanos Dragoumis papers (Dragoumis served as General Commissioner of Crete and Macedonia in 1912-1913) at the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies three leaves of a French map of the Lasithi region from 1907, documenting the road system. This allowed me to follow and understand Destelle’s travels. (These maps are now digitized and available online in high resolution.)

Left leaf of French map of Crete, 1907 (click to enlarge). ASCSA Archives, Stephanos N. Dragoumis Papers

While stationed in Siteia, Destelle preferred to travel to Agios Nikolaos by boat, almost never by land, although there was a road connecting Siteia with Candia (Herakleion). The boat ride varied from three to five hours depending on weather and winds (1897, 178). In one case it took them 6 ½ hours to cover the shorter distance from Spinalonga to Pacheia Ammos because of adverse winds (1898, 102). He and the other officers traveled by warships, either protected cruisers, such as the Galilée (with a length of 100.63 m and top speed of 20.5 knots or 38.0 km/h) and the Suchet (of similar length and speed), or armored ones, such as the Amiral Charner (length 110.2m and top speed 17 knots or 31km/h), or torpedo cruisers such as the Vautour, all built in the 1890s, when France invested heavily in its navy to keep pace with the increasing size of Italian and German fleets. These ships traversed the north cost of Crete on a daily basis carrying soldiers, supplies, and mail. In Siteia, Destelle hardly felt disconnected from the rest of Crete and or from his family at Toulon in Southern France. However, he was somewhat disappointed by the irregularity of boat traffic when he moved to Ierapetra, since fewer ships braved the long and rough route from Siteia to Ierapetra.

The Galilée, one of the French cruisers sent to Crete in 1897-1898.

For comparison, one notes that in antiquity merchant boats such as the Kyreneia (4th century B.C.) did not reach speeds higher than 3-4 knots. Even faster Roman boats would not travel faster than 6 knots. In addition, most seafaring stopped all together during the winter months. 

Destelle moved to Ierapetra on April 22, 1898. The Galillee departed from Siteia at 9pm, arriving at Ierapetra eight hours later at 6am. From the boat Destelle found Ierapetra impressive with her castle, the glittering minarets, and the high mountains in the background (1898, 70-71). What he could not see was the malarial swamp lurking at the eastern edge of the city. Destelle received the city from the Italians and paid his respects to the Turkish commander.

The French army taking down the Turkish flag in Ierapetra, November 13, 1898. ASCSA Archives, Philip P.Betancourt Collection.

A few days later (April 28, 1898) he traveled to Pacheia Ammos (where Harriet Boyd would pitch her tent in 1900 to excavate the Minoan town of Gournia and where INSTAP built the Study Center for East Crete in 1997), to visit the family of Andreas Vourdoubakis who worked for the French as a translator. Destelle described the road as flat and vehicular, surrounded by olive groves. It took him 2 ½ hours to cross the Ierapetra Isthmus by horse. By early November of 1889 the French had built a new road, decreasing the distance between the two places by an hour (always by horse). The French also favored local horses for their travels, since their military horses struggled for footing on the rough Cretan paths. “My little Cretan horse treads like a goat with an incredible, safe foothold” Destell scribbled with pride in his diary (1898, 188).

In addition to improving the infrastructure of the Lasithi region by building or repairing roads and bridges, the French undertook a more ambitious project: the construction of a canal at Elounda, which would shorten the boat ride from Spinalonga to Agios Nikolaos by an hour. Canal building became the hallmark of engineering in the 19th century, offering tremendous improvements in navigation and long distance trade. In the Mediterranean two of the most important canals, the Suez (1869) and Corinth (1893) canals, had already been opened by French companies.

Middle leaf of the French map of 1907 showing the Elounda Canal and the road system in the area of the Ierapetra Isthmus (click to enlarge). ASCSA Archives, Stephanos N. Dragoumis Papers

The guiding spirit for the construction of the Elounda canal was Émile Dupourqué (1859-1939), commander of Spinalonga and first lieutenant of the Amiral Charner. During the excavations for the canal, which lasted a year (1897-1898), the French army discovered the ruins of ancient Olous, including an early Christian basilica with a beautiful mosaic. According to oral testimonies, when the French found the mosaic they fired 21 canons out of joy (Makrakis 2017). In February 1898, Destelle paid a visit to the small museum in Spinalonga that the French army had built in order to house the finds from the excavation of the canal. He had heard about a large (H. 1.25; L. 0.45; 0.19 thickness) and important inscription which was about to be taken to the Louvre (1898, 54-55). The inscription, first published by Joseph Demargne (1870-1912) in the Bulletin Correspondance Hellenique (1900, 222-246) and later included by Margherita Guarducci in Inscriptiones Creticae I, preserves a proxeny decree recording names of people who were granted proxeneia, including that of a Macedonian, Patroclus, son of Patron. He was later identified as stratêgos Patroclus, the one who led the Ptolemaic fleet against the Macedonian king Antigonus Gonatas in the 260s B.C. As part of his Aegean campaign, Patroclus secured a number of bases in Attica and on Crete, Kea, and Thera.

Proxeny decree from Olous, now at the Louvre. Source: Guarducci, Inscriptiones Creticae I.

Tasting the Local Culture

Destelle had to procure meat for his soldiers. On May 10, 1897, he described the arrival of a small procession consisting of six calves, several donkeys loaded with suckling pigs (each donkey carried three on a side) and soldiers holding live chickens in their hands (1897, p. 122). Although today the sight of a cow is a rare spectacle in Crete, there was an abundance of bovines on the island before WW II, used mostly for agricultural work and less for food.  (See also Rackham and Moody, The Making of the Cretan Landscape, Manchester 1996, Chapter 7, Domestic Animals and Plants: “Cattle appear sporadically in Venetian records… In 1579 the Governor Foscarini reported a shortage of plough oxen, because many had been eaten or plundered in the recent Turkish war; he forbade any more to be slaughtered… Raulin in 1847 estimated that there were 65,000 cattle in the island, but very few of these small, thin, brown animals are left…”.)

Postcard from Crete showing field plowing at the end of the 19th century. Source: ASCSA Archives, Philip P. Betancourt Collection

On his travels through the Cretan countryside, Destelle took the opportunity to taste the local food, which he admired and described in detail in his diaries. On his first visit to Moni Toplou in June 1897, he was offered raki, fresh artichokes cut into slices, and fresh almonds. To this repast, the French contributed their own supplies: kavourmas, sardines, foie-gras and bread. The abbot further supplied the meal with an offer of rum (“to soften the stomach”), a milk soup garnished with lemon, chicken with rice, and a green salad made of onions, peppers, cucumbers, and purslane. All of this was consumed with Cretan wine made at the monastery (today the monastery continues to bottle its own wine). At the end of the meal, the monks brought out a selection of locally made cheeses, fresh almonds, raki, rum with sugar, and fresh lemonade (1897, 158-159).  

Moni Toplou. Source: Wikimedia, Wouter Hagens – CC BY-SA 3.0

Destelle returned to Toplou in early October of the same year to attend  the celebrations for St. John the Theologian. (All of Destelle’s dates follow the Gregorian calendar; Greece until 1923 followed the Old Calendar.) Once again he describes in detail the meal that followed the mass and the celebratory dances: pork (suckling pig) ragu, fried fish, hare in wine stew, pork in the oven, and lamb stew. “Everything is well cooked, but, as in the cuisine of Southern France, very spicy, which would not please a Northern European” (1897, 334). For dessert they were served watermelon, grapes, pomegranates, almonds, and loukoumi and Turkish coffee). The wine reminded him of “very good Madeira wine.” Destelle consistently praised the quality of the Cretan wine (which is notable given his background).  

Various wines from Moni Toplou

At Males, a village high up to the northwest of Ierapetra, they were served food that was simply cooked but very tasty: lamb and pork in the oven, hare in wine stew, cucumber salad and anthogalo (a creamy cheese made of sheep and goat milk), and “a wonderful local wine.”

Most of this good wine was produced in vineyards on the slopes of the Thrypte Plateau, northeast of Ierapetra. The harvest began in early September and lasted for about 20 days. The grapes were laid out in the sun for two-three days before treading. That process explained their slight sweetness, according to Destelle. He asked his local friends why all the vineyards of Ierapetra were concentrated in this area. Good soil and frequent rains favored the growth of vineyards, as well as pear and apple trees (1898, 210-212).

During his many trips in the Lasithi region, Destelle also noted repeatedly the sad spectacle of uprooted olive groves and orchards around the abandoned Muslim villages (1898, 47). The Greek revolutionaries had forced the Ottoman population to flee the country, and, in order to make sure that they would not return, the Greeks destroyed their houses and uprooted their olive trees. Since olive trees take years to become productive, their destruction was a terrible blow to the Ottoman farmers.

During his administration Destelle would also take measures against the removal of bark (πίτυκας) from the pine trees, which was used in leather-making. The export of bark to Egypt was a profitable business that resulted, however, in the destruction of large pine forests (1898, 124).


In order to avoid paying export taxes to the Turks, Cretans often traded their products illegally on remote beaches and in coves. During this transitional period with an on-going revolution and with the Turks confined to the urban centers (because they no longer felt safe living in the countryside), the Cretans felt no obligation to pay custom duties either to the Turkish authorities or to the supervising powers.

In one case, while visiting the Monastery of Faneromeni, west of Siteia, the French spotted a number of huts at the end of a ravine near the beach. The Cretans used the huts while preparing citrons for (illegal) exportation. The citrons were kept in barrels full of sea water that was replenished frequently (1897, 352).   Although now largely abandoned on Crete, the cultivation of citrons was popular in the 19th and the early decades of the 20th century. According to Michalis Frangiadakis (father of the current owner of Kochylia restaurant at Mochlos, George), whom I interviewed a few years ago, citron was one of the main commodities exported from the little harbor of Mochlos in the 1940s and 1950s. They were stored in barrels, which made it easy to roll them down to Mochlos! (While searching for more about the trade of citrons in Crete, I discovered that the Megaron Hotel in Herakleion originally belonged to the Fytakis-Kassapakis family, which made its money from growing citrons and trading in them. Read “Το Μέγαρο Φυτάκη και τα κίτρα στο Ηράκλειο.”)

Excerpt from my interview with Michalis Frangiadakis, 2012. Duration: 01:37. Size: 34MB. (Editing: K. Tzortzinis.)

A Memorable Feast

On October 13, 1897, Destelle, doctor Barthélemy, and a Greek by the name of Tsambarlakis left at 4:40 am from Siteia to go by horses and mules to the village of Tourloti at the invitation of Emmanouel Phoundalides (1850-1909), an important Cretan who had held several political appointments on the island, and who, in 1897, was representing the revolutionary Cretans in the area. At about 6.30 am they passed the village of Chamaizi, and at 7.30 they were at Exo Mouliana. Destelle noted that Turkish houses in the village were abandoned and destroyed. But the deep valley in front of them was full of orchards and a few walnut trees.  They met Phoundalidis near the village of Mouliana, and, as they entered the village they heard welcoming bells tolling as a welcome sign.

The entire village, as well a large body of armed Cretans who were firing  their guns (μπαλωθιές) in all directions, was out to receive the French with flowers as they cheered “Vive la France” (Ζήτω η Γαλλία). After five hours of traveling they finally entered Tourloti. After inspecting the village and the surrounding area, Destelle and his company sat down at Phoundalidis’s house for lunch. He was impressed by the setting: starched white tablecloth, clean plates and glasses, and carafes full of rosé wine. They started the meal with a chicken soup, followed by boiled chicken garnished with thick salt, and a suckling pig baked in the oven. For dessert they were served grapes, a tasty local cheese, and little cheese pies. As a departing gift Madame Phoundalides offered them a large bouquet made of basil, orange leaves, and marigold. While there, Doctor Barthelemy inspected a number of patients. “It is the practical aspect of our mission” Destelle noted (1897, 340-350).

Postcard depicting Siteia, ca. 1900. Source: ASCSA Archives, Philip P. Betancourt Collection.

Archaeological Wanderings

I left for last Destelle’s archaeological expeditions in East Crete. In the French tradition of combining imperial expansion with scientific research, Destelle made an effort to visit many archaeological sites and old churches in East Crete, received and entertained archaeologists, and also collected specimens of geological, and, occasionally, of archaeological interest. 

While on one of his frequent visits to Spinalonga, Destelle met Victor Bérard (1864-1931), an enlightened professor at the École des Hautes Études and former student of the French School in Athens (1887-1890), who, according to a recent article, “was also passionate about the Eastern Question and campaigned for the peoples subject to the Ottoman Empire” (Basch 2015). A few days later Bérard would join Destelle on an excursion to the Toplou Monastery (1897, 310-314). Bérard explained to his companions the content of the large inscription at the entrance to the church. Found by Admiral Spratt in 1853, it was brought to the church and immured there on Spratt’s initiative. This (now famous) inscription of the late 2nd century B.C. preserves the largest part of an arbitration of the conflict between the cities of Hierapytna and Itanos over the control of the Sanctuary of Zeus Dictaeus and the island of Leuke. (On the inscription, content, and copies, see Ager 1996, 431, no. 158.)

The immured inscription at Toplou. Source: Guarducci, Inscriptiones Creticae I.

On January 3, 1898, Destelle organized a trip to the cave of Peristeras on the peak of Mount Modi near Siteia (1898, 19-20). He described it as a labyrinth with rooms full of large stalactites, and diligently noted that the Cretans who had accompanied them were collecting the pointiest ones: “they pierce them from one side to the other, and use them as pipes for smoking.”

At ancient Itanos (Erimoupolis) Destelle stumbled on a partially exposed female statue missing head and hands, looted sarcophagoi, and fragments of pottery. One local showed them a large and intact amphora of “museum quality” (1898, 33-34).

In the spring of 1898 Destelle came across Arthur Evans in Siteia. Evans, who was touring the island looking for sites to excavate, gladly accepted Destelle’s invitation to stay with the French. He shared with them his interest in prehistory and ancient scripts, and told them about his large collections of seals. When Destelle showed him the figurines he had collected from Praisos, Evans explained that they were votives dedicated to Kore-Persephone (1898, 67).

While stationed in Ierapetra, the French would stage theatrical performances for the entertainment of the soldiers, which Destelle always enjoyed. One of them was staged “at the ancient Greek theater which is in perfect condition,” noted Destelle on May 12, 1898 (1898, 108). Which of the three theaters of ancient Hierapytna was Destelle referring to? It is also strange that he is referring to a well preserved theater, when until recently the archaeologists could not locate any one of the three theaters. Since 2012, Chrysa Sofianou and the Ephorate of Lasithi in collaboration with the city’s municipalities has brought to light one of the three theaters at the site of Viglia, at the western edge of the city (Sofianou and Gallimore 2019, 13-15). But it appears likely that the French were using a theater within the city, either the large theater to the north of the Plastiras square or the Roman amphitheater which was probably located in the area of the now demolished old soap/oil factory Minos.

The Cretan State

On December 21 1898, Destelle travelled to Chania to participate in the celebrations for the declaration of Crete as an autonomous state (still under the Ottoman Empire but without any Ottoman troops on the island) and the arrival of Prince George, second son of King George of Greece, who would become the first governor of the new state. He described Prince George as a tall, impressive man with delicate features: blue eyes, a thin mustache, thin hair, and fair skin. But he also found him a bit cold and aloof. Somehow, Destelle had already sensed that the new leader would have a hard time bonding with his people (1898, 329-330).

Destelle stayed on Crete until 1899 when he returned to France for health reasons. He would return two years later in June 1901, as High Commander of the International Army, bringing with him his family. However, continuous health problems forced him to leave Crete in 1904, this time for good. He would miss the Revolt of Therisos in 1905 and the replacement of Prince George, who, as Destelle predicted, had managed to alienate himself from the Cretan people.

Postcard showing a not-so-independent Cretan State. Source: ASCSA Archives, Philip P. Betancourt Collection.


1897: Émile-Honoré Destelle: Ημερολόγιο 1897 (Εταιρεία Κρητικών Ιστορικών Μελετών, Μαρτυρίες 10), Herakeion 2018.

1898: ÉmileHonoré Destelle: Ημερολόγιο 1898 (Εταιρεία Κρητικών Ιστορικών Μελετών, Μαρτυρίες 111), Herakeion 2019.

Ager, S. 1996. Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World, 337–90 B.C. Berkeley

Basch, Sophie (ed.), 2015. Portraits de Victor Bérard: Actes du colloque international organisé à l’École française d’Athènes (5-6 avril 2013). Athens ( )

Betancourt, P.P. 2003. Greece and Her Neighbors in Historic Postcards: 1895-1920, Athens.

Makrakis, M. 2017. “Το χρονικό της διάνοιξης του καναλιού στην Ελούντα 1897-1898,”  ( το-χρονικό-της-διάνοιξης-του-καναλιού/) – Accessed Sept. 1, 2021

Sofianou, Ch. and S. Gallimore 2019. “Recent Excavations at the Small Theater of Ierapetra,” Kentro 22, pp. 13-15.

“Metropolitan Transportation”: Sardis, Colophon, and the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922


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.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Financing the Reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos

1946 marked the re-opening of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in a country that had been devastated by war. In reading the official correspondence between the Greek Ministry of Education and the ASCSA, it becomes obvious that opening museums and the preservation of archaeological sites ranked highly on Greece’s list of priorities. With the launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, Greece’s chances of success were also tightly connected with the development of tourism, and a large part of U.S. aid was streamlined in this direction.

“It is well known that travelers come to Greece chiefly for the purpose of seeing the ancient sites and visiting the museums of the country. In other words, the antiquities of Greece constitute a productive source of revenue capable of adding to the national treasury some 30 million dollars in the course of three years… No investment in the economy of Greece can match this for returns” wrote Oscar Broneer, Acting Director of the American School, on June 29th of 1948, in a petition of the School to the Industry Division of the Marshall plan for a $1,149,000 grant that would re-establish the Greek Archaeological Service.  

ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 4

Carl W. Blegen, the excavator of many prehistoric sites in Greece who succeeded Broneer in the Directorship of the American School (1948-1949) and had served as Cultural Relations Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 1945-1946, also thought along the same lines. In an additional memorandum to the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, in August of 1948, Blegen underlined “the lamentable state of disrepair of the Greek museums,” which looked like empty shells (ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 11). Blegen participated actively in meetings between the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) representatives and the Archaeological Service and helped with writing proposals. (The ECA was a U.S. government agency set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan.) Since the American School could not receive direct funding from the Marshall plan, the only way to benefit from it was through collaboration with the Greek Government. The School hoped in this way to secure about $100,000 from the ECA through the Greek Government to supplement the cost of the construction of a museum that would store and display the growing number of finds from the Athenian Agora Excavations that had been accumulated since 1931. Before WW II, the School already had secured a grant of $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to build a museum on the west side of the Agora.

The Stoa of Attalos today. ASCSA Agora Excavations. Photo: Craig Mauzy.

Forced by the War to abandon their plans for an Agora Museum, the Americans resumed work at the Athenian Agora in 1947, conducting excavations at the proposed site, in order to begin construction. The 5th and 4th century B.C. houses and industrial workshops that they found were considered too important to be covered up, and a new site for the museum had to be found. After considering every possible location in the Athenian Agora for the museum, the Americans, following Homer Thompson’s suggestion, came to the conclusion that “another and in many ways preferable alternative would be to restore the Stoa of Attalos and install in it the museum, workrooms, and offices…” (ASCSA Annual Report 1947-1948, p. 29).

The draft of a program agreement between the ECA and the Greek Ministries of Coordination and Education included figures for the preservation of 34 monuments, and the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was first on the list.        

Read the rest of this entry »

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire: De Waele’s Story

The jumping-off point for this story was an odd comment that Louis E. Lord made in his History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens about a Belgian archaeologist who was active at the School from 1927 until 1934. “Ferdinand Joseph Maria de Waele, Assistant in Archaeology for six years (1929-1934) was not reappointed. He had served well as an excavator, his work at the Asklepieion had been competent. But he never made a final report for publication, and the manner of his departure left behind him an odor of unsanctity highly offensive to the School” (Lord 1947, p. 246). Lord was referring to an accusation of smuggling antiquities made against de Waele. But was it true? A simple Google search showed that Ferdinand Joseph Maria De Waele (1896-1977), after leaving the American School, went on to have a distinguished career as a professor of archaeology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands and, later,  at the University of Ghent.

Ferdinand Joseph Maria de Waele, ca. 1927. Source: Public domain.
Read the rest of this entry »