A Journey in the Mediterranean on the Eve of the Great War, 1914.

On July 4th, 1914, Francis Henry Bacon (1856-1940) and his wife Alice (née Calvert) departed from New York aboard the S.S. Kaiser Frantz Joseph (the ship would be renamed the President Wilson shortly thereafter). The Dardanelles were their destination, where the Calvert family owned an estate, as well as a farm in nearby Thymbra. This is where Bacon had first met Alice in 1883, when the members of the Assos Excavations received an invitation to dine with Alice’s uncle, Frank Calvert (1828-1908). An amateur archaeologist, Calvert had conducted several excavations in the Dardanelles. Perhaps more importantly, he suggested that Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) look for Troy at the site of Hissarlik, not far from Thymbra, in the late 1860s. The Calverts were English expatriates long established in the Dardanelles, who made a living trading commodities with the benefit of consular posts.

The time was not good, however, to travel to Europe and especially to the Balkans and Turkey. Just a few days before, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife had been assassinated in Sarajevo. His death sparked a series of events that led Austria with the support of Germany to declare war on Serbia a month later. Within a week, the great powers of Europe were forced to ally with or against the main belligerents. Greece tried to remain neutral until 1917 (in no small part because the Greek King was married to the Kaiser’s sister and thus sympathetic to the German side), but the Ottoman Empire openly supported the Germans. 

Retracing his Steps

Bacon, a graduate of M.I.T (1876), first traveled to Greece in 1878, before the American School of Classical Studies was even founded. In 1881 he would join, as chief architect, the Archaeological Institute of America’s excavations at Assos in Western Turkey. Following Assos, Bacon pursued a successful career in interior design on the East Coast of America about which I have written before (Francis H. Bacon: Bearer of Precious Gifts from the Dardanelles). He is also credited with the design of the Shrine of the Declaration of Independence in the Library of Congress. Because of Alice’s attachment to the Calvert house in the Dardanelles, the Bacons frequently crossed the Atlantic. Occasionally, Francis would make a stop in Greece to retrace his steps.

After several stops including the Azores, Algiers, and Naples, the Bacons finally reached Patras on July 16th, where the couple parted. Alice continued on another steamer to the Dardanelles, while Francis planned to spend a week in Greece, starting from Olympia. “Splendid Victory of Paionios, and then the lovely, beautifully finished Hermes of Praxiteles – about the only authentic ancient masterpiece in the world,” Bacon scribbled in his notebook. The authenticity of the statue –whether it was a 4th century B.C. original or a fine Roman copy- had not yet been challenged.

The Olympia Museum, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

From Patras, Bacon took a little steamer to Itea. At Delphi he was much impressed by the restoration of the Athenian Treasury, which the French had completed a few years earlier (1903-1906.) He only wished that “they had restored the acroteria, two horses with naked riders prancing off the corners of the pediment.” Bacon, an ardent photographer, did not miss a chance to capture monuments and landscape, as well as to experiment with interior photography, which was exceptionally difficult at the time. “Back to the Museum where the Ephor Contoleon is very obliging and invited us to photo and measure anything we like.” I cherish Bacon’s interior photos because we catch glimpses of the old museum displays. To him we owe a partial view of the old Delphi Museum, built in 1903, and several charming photos of the local children who had befriended one of his fellow travelers. See slideshow below.

After two days at Delphi, Bacon headed off for Athens. “Start at Itea at 5 A.M. Steamer at 6:30 for Corinth Canal and Piraeus. There has been a landslide in the canal and the little steamer almost climbs over a pile of clay and earth in the narrow channel. Reach Piraeus at 4 P.M. Drive to Athens over the dusty road. Go to Hotel Minerva where I spent winter in 1883, now rather dirty and forlorn.”

(The Hotel Minerva located at Stadiou 5 operated until 1991. When Bacon first stayed in it in 1883, it was known as Αι Αθήναι. For more information and a photo of the hotel, check out the site of the Greek Literary and Historical Archive.)

View of the Acropolis from the Hotel Minerva, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

A fine dinner at the Averoff would, however, compensate for the disappointing accommodations. Athens was hot and lethargic in July. “Impossible to do anything with such heat and dust. Shops all close from 12 to 3, and everybody takes a siesta.” They would find some relief in the premises of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (the School hereafter), which was almost empty, except for William Bell Dinsmoor and [Stuart] Thompson, “the young architect in charge of alterations in the building. Dinsmoor is working on drawings of the Propylaea now being restored.” The School was undergoing its first major expansion since its construction in 1886-1887, enlarging its library and adding an east wing to accommodate the growing number of students. Dinsmoor, also an architect and then just beginning a distinguished academic career, had recently embarked on the study of the Propylaea, a life-long project, which was completed after his death.

William B. Dinsmoor, Francis H. Bacon, and William M. Stanton, outside the Director’s House at the ASCSA, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

The restoration of the Southwest wing of the Propylaea was also the pet project of the School’s Director, Bert Hodge Hill, who frequently assigned its restoration on paper to the School’s students. It is aptly described by Emerson Swift who was a first year student at the School in the spring of 1913-1914. The students “sprang to it gaily” only to find out that it was “becoming increasingly more baffling. In a way, it resembled the old jigsaw puzzle but very much harder, because one worked not only in three dimensions but also on a grand and imposing scale.” Although Swift “enjoyed a rare sort of mental expansion,” he also commented “that Mr. Hill’s novel teaching methods proved him to be a true educational genius, at whose feet I would be honored to sit as a slow and baffled student” (Emerson H. Swift, Youthful Rambles: On the Trail of the Classics, 1912-1915, California 1975, p. 28).

As soon as he came to Athens, Bacon went up to the Acropolis. “[Will] try to photograph my ‘beauty’ the lovely archaic statue.” By ‘beauty’ he was referring to Kore 686 (also known as the Euthydikos kore), the upper part of which had been found in 1882 east of the Parthenon and the lower near the Erechtheion in 1886-87. Indeed, in Bacon’s scrapbook contains two great photos of Kore 686, which was displayed, however, without her lower part, although the connection between the two fragments had already been made in 1885. Attached to the base that supported the Kore is a piece of paper with “do not touch” instructions in French and Greek. The Greek is amusing because it does not use the expected “αγγίζω = touch” verb but the visitor is asked not to “θίγη τα αντικείμενα” (not to encroach or offend.) The other sculpture that grabbed Bacon’s attention was the Persian rider, which had been partially restored at the time. In Bacon’s interior photos we also catch glimpses of the Kritios Boy and the “Blonde Boy.” See slideshow below.

Bacon spent his last night in Athens at the Actaeon Hotel in Phaleron, “room facing the sea, breakfast on the terrace.” Actaeon, a true “belle epoque” jewel, which had opened ten years before, was perhaps the fanciest and most impressive hotel that Athens ever had. On July 26, 1914, Bacon finally reached the Dardanelles where Alice was waiting for him.

In the Dardanelles

After the devastating earthquake of 1912, Alice and Henry could no longer live in the large Calvert mansion: “We go to look over the big house to see the damage […]. The exterior not hurt much but what a terrible wreck inside.” The house not only suffered from the earthquake but also the years of neglect following Frank Calvert’s death in 1904. After a thorough inspection, Bacon concluded that “the house was a hopeless wreck, and it would be folly to attempt to repair it. The best plan would be to sell it, if possible, and then if the mill could be abolished, build a smaller house on the sea front, on the site of one of the stores […]. However, it is no time to do any building,” Bacon noted. He was referring to the “recent chasing out of the Greeks from all the coastal villages in the Troad. Armed bands of Cretans and Albanians were sent around to beat the Greeks and intimidate them, and a great influx of Turkish refugees from Thrace and Macedonia [who had been expelled from those areas after the victorious for Greece Balkan wars] have occupied their houses, driving out the inhabitants, most of them losing their furniture and household belongings to say nothing of their crops and animals.” These events of 1913-1914 were just a prelude to the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 which saw the expulsion of the Greek population from western Turkey.

From the Dardanelles the Bacons drove to the Calvert farm at Thymbra where the excitement of the day included the installation of a new English steam engine and a threshing machine. In the evening Bacon and Alice walked over to Hanay Tepe, “excavated by Uncle Frank so many years ago.” The site located 7.5 km southeast of Troy was first excavated by Calvert in 1853. In 1878-79, after the discovery of Troy by Schliemann, Calvert went back to the site and correlated its stratigraphy to the levels recorded at Hissarlik.

Upon their return to the Dardanelles on August 5th, they heard that Germany had declared war on Russia and France. “What will Turkey do, as well as Greece and all the rest?” Bacon wondered. Martial law was declared in the Dardanelles. One of their Turkish servants, Mustapha was drafted for the army. “He is only 27, has a wife and two children. Served all through the Balkan war while his family starved and now he must go again.” The Greeks who lived in Asia Minor were also recruited or else they had to pay a steep fine. Bacon worried about his return to America. Plans to travel in Germany and England were cancelled. “They say the Straits will be closed again and how will I get away…”.  By August 8th, England had declared war on Germany and Austria, and Germany began to invade Belgium. “What a state of affairs, nothing like it since the time of Napoleon” lamented Bacon. In addition, the banks had stopped all payments.

Bacon made arrangements to leave the Dardanelles with an Italian boat, the “Romania,” since the French and English ships were held in the harbor for fear of mines, but Italian and Greek boats dared to navigate the Straits following the pilot through the mine field. The boat was full of Greek and Armenian refugees from Constantinople. While still in the harbor waiting for the ship to depart, Bacon witnessed two dark hulls with German flags coming slowly up the Straits: the Goeben and the Breslau. According to Bacon, the Breslau moving slowly down the Straits came “to anchor right astern of the French reserve ship, [the] Saghalien.” “We saw the sailors all at their posts and as she stopped, her long guns begin to waggle up and down in the sunlight trained on the French boat. It was the most menacing thing I ever saw, and the assembled company gasped.” Four years later, Bacon, having witnessed  the Breslau in action, would glue a newspaper clipping from Jan. 23, 1918 on a blank page of his scrapbook: “Four Explosions as Breslau Sank. Airmen Chased Goeben.”

While sleeping aboard and waiting for the Romania to depart, Bacon and his company saw a small boat coming in from Constantinople and flying the American flag. Word came that she was leaving immediately for Mytilene. Without hesitation, Bacon, together with Captain Guy Pears of the Royal Engineers who was trying to get to Egypt, and a Mr. Moloney, a Reuter’s correspondent who wanted to get to Belgium to report on the war, grabbed the opportunity and switched boats. They landed on Mytilene on August 13th [1914] at two o’clock in the morning. They found themselves stepping around mounds: “the streets full of sleeping refugees, men, women and children, their household goods piled all around them. These poor creatures are driven by the Turks from their homes on the mainland opposite. Boats are coming with them daily.” Bacon was referring to the Turkish expulsions of 1913-1914.

For Bacon, Mytilene was a familiar place, “so full of old-time memories – when we had our house there the first season of the Assos expedition in 1881, when Howdy, [William C.] Lawton and [Charles] Bradley were here, […] and all the world was young.”   

Tales of a Greek Island

A few days later with another small Greek steamer, Bacon and his fellow passengers managed to arrive in Piraeus on August 18th. Waiting for the next boat that would take him back to America, Bacon managed to take some good panoramic photos of Athens, one looking towards mount Lycabettus and another towards Hymettus (see slideshow below). Finding that the steamer to New York would not sail shortly, Bacon decided to skip the heat and dust of Athens by spending a few days on the island of Poros. He had recently read “the very pretty stories of the Island by Julia Dragoumis.” Bacon was referring to Tales of a Greek Island that Julia Dragoumis had published in 1912.  Nearly forgotten today, Dragoumis (1858-1937) was a prolific author who wrote both in Greek and English, specializing in short stories and children’s books.

“Picturesque village on the narrow strait, clear blue water, nice room with balcony on the sea. 3 francs. Good eating in restaurant. Coffee and narghileh after under the Eucalyptus tree in the square with the fountain.” (See slideshow below.) After a good night’s sleep, Bacon planned for a day trip to the Temple of Poseidon at Calauria “where Demosthenes is said to have put an end to his life in B.C. 322,” and later in the day he took a sail in the bay, “past a pretty villa on a terrace with some pine trees at the back. The boatman says it belongs to Madame Dragoumis, the author of ‘Stories of a Greek Island.’ As I’d come on account of reading her book, think I’ll call and pay my respects.  Send up my card and a young man comes out, Mad[ame] D[ragoumis]’s son. He is sorry his mother has gone for a walk.” But later that same the evening after Bacon had enjoyed his narghileh on the quai, a boatman brought him an invitation from Madame Dragoumis, “if not too late.” Bacon took a boat across the bay to Villa Gallini, as the house was known, to spend a pleasant evening with the Dragoumis couple, their sons and other friends of the family.

The Villa Gallini was built in 1894 by architect Anastasios Metaxas (whose works in Athens include the French and the Italian Embassies and the Presidential Megaron [the former palace]). It was the summer residence of Dimitris and Julia Dragoumis, who spent the rest of the year in England. Among the many intellectuals who spent time in the house were writer Henry Miller in 1939, and, later, in 1947, poet George Seferis who composed his famous poem Κίχλη (Thrush) there. Julia and her husband were also friends of Carl and Elizabeth Blegen. On December 10, 1932 they took afternoon tea at the Blegen House at 9, Ploutarchou, where Julia presented some grape and grapefruit cuttings from the Villa Gallini for Blegen’s garden.

On his way back to Athens, Bacon made a quick stop on Aegina. “At a café near the quai I asked about the Museum, and presently a very pleasant Greek, Mr. Pelicanos, the ephoros, appeared and invited me to go to the Museum.” There Bacon took a photo of Ephor Pelicanos next to the marble sphinx found by Adolf Furtwängler (1853-1907).

Aegina Museum, Ephor Pelicanos posing next to the Sphinx, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

All Aboard for New York

On August 26th, 1914 Bacon finally boarded the Thessaloniki. The boat has just arrived from Alexandria. “She looks unkempt and dirty,” but there is no other way to get home.  Sailing along the Coast of the Peloponnese (and not through the Corinth Isthmus), the boat made quick stops at Kalamata and Katakolo (the port of Pyrgos) to take on cargoes of currants. At Patras Bacon went ashore to the U.S. Consulate to find if there was any news of the war. Consul Cook had just arrived from America “with $5,000,000 in gold, and several relief committees to assist Americans in Europe to get home.” The Thessaloniki finally started her long transatlantic journey. In addition to the passengers, the boat carried live cattle, sheep, etc. “which they slaughter on the deck daily for fresh meat” because there was no ice on the boat. “As for the pantry, galley, etc., the least said the better,” Bacon scribbled on his notebook. As for personal hygiene, he managed “to get a salt bath every day or two.”

By the time they left Gibraltar, Bacon and his fellow passengers had already spent ten days on the Thessaloniki “and Heaven knows how many more until we reached Sandy Hook.” Bacon finally reached New York on September 17th. His brother, Henry (also an architect, known today as the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.) was waiting for him. Francis was “once more in the land of the free” and “Allah be praised!”

A Rare Photo

At the end of Bacon’s scrapbook there are copies of letters that he exchanged with his co-traveler Captain Guy Pears in the following two years. Pears fought in the war in trenches in France.  In June 1915, while hospitalized in London after having been wounded on the battlefield, Pears received a copy of Bacon’s scrapbook: “Your journal brought back to me so vividly those happy days we had at Mytilene and Athens. One never knows at the time when one is well off, and I poor fool was fretting all the time about getting back to Egypt and fearing that if I were a day or two late, I should miss my chance of seeing some of the war…”.  

Francis Bacon and Guy Pears enjoying a nargilleh, 1914. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

A year later, Pears sent to Bacon through his father, the Levantine lawyer and distinguished historian Sir Edwin Pears (1835-1919), who came to Boston to lecture, a rare photograph that showed him and General Kitchener inspecting cadets at Woolwich. “It is of interest as it is the last picture of Kitchener,” wrote Guy Pears to Bacon on Sept. 29, 1916. Lord Kitchener (1850-1916), who built England’s first mass army in 1914 and is also known for his colonial victories in Sudan and South Africa, was drowned in June 1916 when his vessel struck a mine.

Captain Pears and General Kitchener inspecting work of cadets, 1916. ASCSA Archives, Francis H. Bacon Papers.

Author’s Note

Bacon’s scrapbook is one of nine which were recently donated to the Archives of the American School by his descendants. This one will be available online on the ASCSA’s webpage shortly.


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 https://ascsa.net.

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.

Afterthoughts

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 newspapers.com 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.


References

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.


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.

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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.   

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

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.)

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