Monday, 12 May 2014

All that glitters ...........is gold

The White Tower built in the late 15th century is  regarded as the symbol of Thessaloniki, the second city of Greece. In the 19th century it was known as the Blood Tower as it served as a prison and place of execution for long term convicts. It is known as the White Tower following whitewashing by a convict in 1890 done in exchange for his freedom. It now hosts an exhibition showing the history of Thessaloniki, and it is possible to climb to the top of the tower to see the far reaching views. We had intended to do so, but that day weather systems carried in sands from the Sahara creating an overcast atmosphere.
The main focus for our visit was to see the exquisite gold from ancient Macedonia.
The 16 ray star covered the royal burial larnax of Philip ll of Macedonia 359 - 336 BC discovered in Vergina, Greece. Philip was King of Macedonia and conqueror of lllyria, Thrace, and Greece. To him is attributed the phrase divide et impera - divide and conquer. He was the father of Alexander the Great.
 King Philip ll's larnax made from pure gold
Gold was used in the ancient world by those who had power; mainly kings and the priesthood. 
It was also used by the aristocracy and classes who had economic power depending on the political, and social conditions prevailing at the time.
Gold medal of the athletic games that were held in Beroea in 225-250 AD in honour of Alexander the Great. It belongs to a hoard of medals found in Abukir, Egypt, depicting portraits of the family of Philip ll. Olympias is depicted on the obverse, she was the fourth wife of King Philip ll, and mother of Alexander the Great.  She was a devout member of the snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus.
Gold bracelet with animal heads from the Hellenistic cemetery at Europos - one of the highlights at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum together with the Derveni Krater below
In 1962 whilst widening Thessaloniki's Langada Street several tombs were discovered. Pride of place amongst the finds was this bronze Krater (wine vessel) with its unique workmanship depicting scenes from the Dionysian cycle. The tombs were dated to the last quarter of the 4th century BC.
A gold myrtle wreath, a religious symbol which also indicates the wearers social position. It was worn for public appearances, religious celebrations, and it accompanied the owner to the grave.
Bronze hydria, a vessel used to carry water. The vase was made in the 5th century BC - the area below the woman's head was repaired at the end of the 4th century BC. 

Tomb from cemetery of Ancient Aineia 350-325 BC. 
The bones of a young woman and her newborn infant were placed in a wooden box on top of a pedestal. 
The painted decoration of the tombs interior reflects and imitates the architectural details of the walls in the woman's home when she was alive. Objects from her everyday life were hung from nails or were placed on a shelf.
Whilst looking at the design running around the top of the female tomb I was reminded of Florentine paper inspired by traditional Renaissance patterns. However, the tomb's design was 1700 years old by the time the Renaissance commenced.
Gold necklace from a female burial at the cemetery of Pydna 5th and 4th century BC.
Sheets of gold were used as clothing decoration and frequently embellished burial garments, particularly in the Archaic and Hellenistic periods.
Generally women were buried with their heads facing east wearing all of their jewellery, whilst men were buried facing west wearing full armour. 
 Corinthian bronze helmet decorated in gold sheet
Ancient goldsmiths were considered artisans rather than artist. This is why they did not sign their work, and there are no names preserved. Furthermore, the written sources are especially vague in conveying information concerning the nature of the goldsmith's work and the social position of the profession.

55 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary:

    These are extraordinary treasures and particularly so when one considers their age. What always amazes us in consideration of such things is the great artistic, and to some degree technical, skills which abounded at the time.

    It is interesting what you say about the way in which men and women were buried facing in different directions. We wonder why that was so.

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    1. Dear Jane & Lance - I cannot be sure that the burial procedures were the same all over Greece. No explanation was given for the reason why the men and women were buried facing in different directions.
      If you look here http://www.travel-to-thessaloniki.com/place.php?place_id=9
      it gives information regarding the cemetery and the finds.
      I agree about the artistic and technical skills involved in creating these wonderful treasures from antiquity.

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  2. Very clever people to make those gold pieces, truly amazing and wonderful to view through you.
    Interesting as to male and female burials - that difference, maybe I should research as to why!
    Hope you had a lovely Mother's Day.

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    1. If you do find an answer then I would be interested to know - the gold was not only very beautiful but also astonishing when one considers just how old it was.

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    2. I didn't find why the male or females were buried different ways. Most sites say Cremation was undertaken...
      Regards, Margaret

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    3. Thank you for taking the trouble to look Margaret. I had the same response when I looked.
      I think that it must have been a peculiarity of the group of people who were buried in Ayia Paraskevi Cemetery, which was 25 km away from Thessaloniki. The information states that 500 tombs were discovered with each containing a single burial whose orientation varied according to the gender of the dead - women facing east and men facing west. It also mentions that the tombs yielded lozenge shaped sheets of gold with relief decoration which covered the mouths of all the dead. The cemetery dated to the 6th century BC.

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    4. Thanks Rosemary for that information.

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  3. Hello Rosemary, Gold is unique among ancient objects--since it doesn't corrode or tarnish, when we look at a well-preserved gold artifact, we are seeing pretty much exactly what the original owners saw. (That being said, I think my favorite piece here is the hydria, with its incredible weathered surface.)
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I suspect that given a choice I would probably opt for the hydria too. It is exquisite in both shape and form, the decoration subtle, and much enhanced by the verdigris.

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  4. Hello Rosemary, what wonderful gold pieces from the ancient world. I particularly like the gold myrtle wreath and the exquisite portrait medal of Olympias. As others have said, the workmanship from antiquity is so accomplished, it is incredible to see. We have recently had an exhibition of gold jewellery and other pieces from ancient Afghanistan showing at the Brisbane Museum, astonishing in its variety and beauty. But I will join you in voting for the hydria, which I would very much love to have sitting among my plants!

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    1. Hello Patricia - I am always astonished when I see the gold and metal work from antiquity. Several golden hoards have been discovered in the UK over recent years too revealing that the people were far more sophisticated then we ever imagined them to be.

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  5. Wonderful shots of wonderful things. I like the gold portrait on the coin best, just stunning.

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    1. The coin shows Olympias to have been a very good looking women - the photos are better than I thought they would be as they were all taken through glass screens.

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  6. It's a great place to visit Rosemary. I've been there 8 years ago. Your photo's are stunning.
    Have a wonderful day.

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    1. Dear Marijke - so pleased that this area is familiar to you, and that it has, in fact, reminded you of your own trip there.

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  7. Hi Rosemary,
    The city has a fascinating, and tragic, history. Recently we read 'The Thread' by Victoria Hislop at my book group. It is very interesting on the history of Thessaloniki. There is also a much more serious book, 'Salonika, City of Ghosts' by Mark Mazower.

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    1. I shall show a little bit more about the history in the next post - it has been invaded so many times over the centuries. I must get The Thread, I think I read that Victoria and Ian have a house in the area.

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  8. What amazing objects, so beautiful and your photographs are amazing too Rosemary. So lovely to see, I wish that I could visit now! xx

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    1. The objects did take your breath away, and it was difficult to comprehend that they were actually so old.

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  9. The crown is a most lovely gold piece I think. Your images are quite beautiful.

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    1. Dear Olive - they obviously loved their golden headwear which usually replicated myrtle, ivy, laurel or olive branches.
      The images turned out better than I could have hoped for. No flash was allowed, and everything was behind glass.

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  10. Greece's history is reason enough to go there on a holiday. I have never been there, but hope to visit king Minos's palace on Crete and the Acropolis one day.

    You showed us some beautiful Greek treasures.

    Happy week ahead!

    Madelief x

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    1. I know what you mean Madelief - the world is so full of wonderful things to see and places to visit, but there is just not enough time.

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  11. The gold pieces are fantastic it must have been quite an experiencing seeing them for real. Thank you for showing them to us too. Sarah x

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    1. I was taken aback by the skill of the goldsmiths work when I first saw it.

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  12. I am fascinated by the history of the ancient Greeks so I loved this post. All the objects are remarkable and the gold items are dazzling. That is interesting about the men and women being buried facing different directions. I wish we knew why!

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    1. I agree Wendy - the Greek and the Roman civilisations have always held a great fascination for me too.
      I think that the burial of men and women mentioned may not have been necessarily true of all the ancient cemeteries, it could have been a tradition in that particular community.

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  13. Dear Rosemary,

    Without a question, my favorite artifact is the golden krater, if for no other reason those handsome portraits that adorn each handle (I assume there are four in all). The scroll work around the inside of the Aineian tomb is truly lovely. I wonder whether the dark "baseboard" of the tomb was originally painted to look like marble? I see a little trompe l'oeil happening at the right center of that photograph . . .

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    1. Dear Mark - the krater is considered to be the most elaborate metal vessel from the ancient world ever discovered - a tour de force of highly sophisticated bronze work. There are four bearded faces each one different - each seems to represent a different deity.
      I am sure that you are right about the painted marble effect, I thought the same myself.

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  14. All finely crafted artifacts: the details inside the female tomb attracted further inspection by me, also the details from the tiles on the White Tower. I agree with you, the Florentine gilded papers appear to have similar floral shapes! Good catch, Rosemary. Greece is still on my list of Go Sees!

    Mary in Oregon

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    1. Thank you for taking such an interest in the post Mary - the ancient world is intriguing, and even more so when you see how exquisite these wonderful treasures are.

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  15. what an interesting and informative post..i love Greek archeology ..of course I love the gold

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    1. One of the wonders of modern archaeology for me is the way we keep discovering so many wonderful archaic treasures. They continually alter our whole perspective on how we view our ancestors. The more we discover the more we realise how much more sophisticated they were.

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  16. Amazing luxury , such an incredible skill , really fascinating to read and beautiful photos ! Hope you a wonderful day.

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    1. Some of the golden jewellery would be perfectly at home in a first class jewellers on the high street today.

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  17. Such an interesting and beautiful post - when you think of the problems modern Greece is having it is hard to believe that they were once such a rich and powerful nation.

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    1. We found so many things that interested us greatly in Greece but I was especially taken with the gold that we saw.
      Hopefully with the worlds economy beginning to turn itself slowly around again things will pick up for Greece. It seems to be the way of the world - the UK too was once a much more powerful nation when most of the world seemed to be pink. Now it appears to be the turn of China, Indian and South America.

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  18. Such beautiful treasures and artifacts! I have never seen a myrtle wreath - only laurels and oaks. Thanks for sharing, Rosemary!

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    1. The myrtle is beautiful - in ancient times symbolising love and sacred to Aphrodite - think it was for a female whereas the ivy and olive were for men.

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  19. Beautiful photos of truly wonderful craftsmanship - this post was a feat for the eyes, Rosemary. To see those gold items as fresh the day they were made - no wonder gold has always been so highly prized.

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    1. Oops, I meant "feast" :-)

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    2. The skills involved in making the gold and bronze work we saw were as you say a feast ♡ for the eye. I just really loved seeing it all, and had to keep reminding myself of how old it all was.

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  20. Great post dear Rosemary!I'm so glad you visit these beautiful Greek treasures that have found in Vergina!
    This is our history,and Greece is a beautiful country!Wonderful pictures!Thank you for sharing !!Wishing you a lovely week!
    Dimi...

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    1. Dear Dimi - the ancient gold and bronze treasures were a treat for me to see and I was very impressed by them all. Glad you enjoyed this post showing the wonderful archaic artefacts from your lovely country.

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  21. We were in the Gold museum of Cartagena in Colombia but your pictures are better.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Hope you show your photos of the gold from Cartagena - my husband has visited there too, but many years ago.

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  22. Can you even imagine coming upon all this treasure while on an ordinary street digging job? Talk about luck. (Though maybe not so astonishing in this part of the world.) Can you imagine that helmet plated in gold? How alarmingly beautiful. At least to me. Gold is a very soft metal so, I'm assuming that these helmets were mainly ceremonial? Thank you once again, Rosemary, for sharing your travels with us.

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    1. I don't think that the helmets were only ceremonial - the base of the helmet was bronze.

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  23. I love the myrtle wreath and the gold on the fabrics. I think we still have many burial traditions today, and would have more if the subject and service were seen in a different way. We are so reserved in our western culture.

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    1. All of the wreaths in the museum were beautiful and looked so delicate - there were also ones which replicated ivy, and olive leaves. I think it always important when looking at archaic artefacts to remember that they were the property of the person who died. Presumably the fact that they accompanied them in the grave they never expected them to be removed.

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  24. Absolutely wonderful Rosemary. I love the fine craftsmanship of the bracelet and the delicacy of the sacred Myrtle wreath. Can you image how long such thing would take to create. I have great patience and appreciation for fine handwork in any medium but all that gold add a little extra pizazz. We grow Myrtle here and its discreet flowers have always fascinated me.

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    1. I suspect that the women liked their myrtle wreaths because of their symbolism - myrtle was sacred to Aphrodite and love.

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  25. The necklace is on my want list ! How gorgeous. The Myrtle wreath is so beautiful. How amazing that these craftsmen were able to create these masterpieces so long ago... and how wonderful that they have survived.

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    1. The necklace would look perfectly at home in a top class jewellers today - I had to keep reminding myself that most of the items were over 2500 years old - remarkable.

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