“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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Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort of Scholars

On February 17, 1901, a young American archaeologist and member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was “roaming over the city in search of Mr. Kavvadias, the general ephor of antiquities in Athens, in order to get a permit to begin work at Vari tomorrow” (letter of Charles H. Weller to his wife).  Together with a small group of students from the School, he had conceived of the idea of conducting a small excavation at the Vari Cave on the southern spur of Mount Hymettus, near the ancient deme of Anargyrous. Known since the 18th century, the cave had been visited and described by several European travelers who were particularly taken by the reliefs and inscriptions carved on its walls.

Vari Cave interior with sculpted figures, 1923. Source: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

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