[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an article in
The Classical Journal
Vol. 14, No. 4 (Jan. 1919), pp250‑257.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p250  Archaeology in 1917
By George H. Chase
Harvard University

The meagreness of news from Greece, to which I referred in my last report, has been more marked than ever during the past year. Apparently war conditions have brought about an almost complete cessation of archaeological activities, at least so far as excavations are concerned. One suspects that the Greek Society may have continued some of its enterprises, but no reports, so far as I know, have reached this country. For the foreign schools, at all events, the year 1917 was simply a period of "carrying on," of keeping the machinery in order in preparation for the return of normal conditions.

At the American School, only the Director, the Secretary, and the Architect were in residence. Mr. Hill and Mr. Blegen visited Corinth, but only to arrange for the expropriation or the lease of additional land for later excavation, or to study what had been found in earlier years. Mr. Blegen devoted a considerable amount of time to the preparation of complete reports on the architectural remains at Korako​1 and on the early pottery discovered on all the prehistoric sites explored in 1916. In collaboration with Mr. Wace, of the British School, he also prepared an article on prehistoric pottery in Greece, which is to be published in the Annual of the British School. Mr. Hill continued his work on the Erechtheum. He reports that some new fragments of the frieze have been identified and that a little further excavation was undertaken near the building itself in an attempt to clear up disputed points. Mr. Dinsmoor succeeded in bringing his study of the Propylaea and the other monuments of the western slope of the Acropolis nearly to completion, but the publication of this work, as well as that of the long-awaited book on the Erechtheum, cannot be expected until the war is ended.

 p251  The French School in Athens remained closed from December, 1916 to August, 1917. Then Mr. Fougères, the Director, returned to Athens, and with him four men took up their residence in the School building. According to the official report, they were "appointed interpreter-officers in the Army of the East, placed under the orders of Gen. Braquet, and allowed to work in the School." Under these circumstances, naturally, no excavations could be undertaken.

This is all the "news" from Greece that I have been able to gather. Since it is so little, it may, perhaps, be permissible to supplement the reference which I made in last year's report to discoveries in the neighborhood of Salonica by a fuller account, based on an interesting letter of Professor Ernest Gardner in the literary supplement of the London Times for March 28, 1918. Soon after the Allied forces occupied Salonica, a general order was issued that any discovery of antiquities in the trenches or elsewhere should be reported to headquarters. The British authorities established a provisional museum in the famous White Tower, which was placed at their disposal by the Greek government. The French began the formation of another collection in a temporary building. What has been discovered has been found for the most part by chance, though systematic excavations have been made at a few places, mostly by French archaeologists. Attention has been directed especially to the mounds which are found in large numbers in Macedonia, but which have never been much investigated. Two types can be distinguished — regular conical tumuli and mounds of irregular, but usually oval, plan. Of these the tumuli are of a familiar type, namely, heaps of earth piled up over a tomb, which is usually a built tomb of stone or marble. Those that have been examined are mostly of Hellenistic date, though some may be earlier.

The irregular mounds are in some ways more interesting. They are the remains of early settlements, and when carefully explored reveal the stratified remains of successive villages. Hearths and stone floors mark the position of separate dwellings, sometimes with empty sockets which once were filled by wooden beams to support the roofs and which still show the impress of bark or the grain of  p252 the wood. The superstructures were apparently made of unbaked clay and rushes. Burnt layers suggest that the settlements were frequently destroyed by fire; in other cases the houses probably were rendered uninhabitable by storms and simply disintegrated. When a settlement fell into ruin, the top of the mound was leveled and a new settlement begun. Thus the mounds, which at first were comparatively low, rose gradually to a considerable height, sometimes as much as forty or fifty feet above the level of the plain. When the gradual raising of the level reduced the habitable area on top of a mound, a new settlement seems to have been begun on another rise nearby; at least, it is noticeable that in several cases a small, steep mound and a lower, flat one are found side by side, and in such cases the pottery found on the lower mound is later in date than that in the steeper and smaller one. In several instances, the change appears from the pottery to have taken place in the sixth or the fifth century, B.C. Thus a lower limit is arrived at for the date of the older mounds, and an upper limit for that of the later ones. The period when the older mounds were begun is harder to fix, but the beginning of the third millennium is suggested by the pottery, which is similar to early Thessalian wares of about 3000 B.C. Moreover, fragments of ordinary Mycenaean vases of about 1400‑1200 B.C. often appear in the upper strata of the older mounds.

In general, the Thessalian pottery is clearly of local manufacture. It has certain similarities to the early Thessalian fabrics, but shows little similarity to any of the styles that prevailed in the Aegean area between 3000 and 1200 B.C. It is handmade, and in the earliest strata is decorated with strips of clay or incised patterns. The scheme of the decoration is usually geometric, although large spirals are common. Later, painted decoration in dull pigments appears. From very early times the pottery shows skilful workman­ship; the texture is fine and delicate, and among the painted specimens some have almost the appearance of fine china, with red designs on a creamy white surface. These early wares are succeeded by rougher and coarser fabrics, which merge into a very ordinary type of pottery found in Macedonia down to historic times. Indeed there seems to be a steady deterioration in handicraft  p253 in the latter part of the prehistoric period. The Mycenaean vases were clearly imported, and in general the evidence for communication with Greece or the Aegean area in prehistoric times is comparatively slight.

From later times the most important discovery is a series of tombs of the eighth or seventh century, B.C. In these were iron weapons, gold and bronze ornaments, and a pottery lamp of Greek design, by means of which the whole series is dated. The most noteworthy point in connection with these tombs is that the decorative designs do not resemble those in vogue in Greece in the eighth and the seventh centuries, but are very similar to early Iron Age designs from Central Europe. Even in this period, therefore, Macedonia seems to have looked toward the north rather than toward the south.

From still later times, graves of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine date have been found, and from them considerable numbers of vases, terra cottas, coins, and other small objects have been brought together in the collections at Salonica. Among larger objects Professor Gardner mentions especially two Roman tomb reliefs, one of which represents a man and his wife, the other a family group; a draped female figure of excellent workman­ship, dating from early Hellenistic times; and the inscription relating to Manius Salarius Saborius to which I referred last year. Altogether, the prospects for an interesting Macedonian Museum in Salonica seem bright.

Between this meager showing and the comparatively large amount of news from Italy the contrast once more is marked. In spite of the difficult living conditions brought about by the war and the great amount of time and energy that the Italians were obliged to devote to the protection of monuments exposed to danger by air-raids, most of the larger enterprises were carried forward and many chance finds were made.

In Rome the most remarkable event of the year was the discovery, near the Porta Maggiore, of a large vaulted hall of basilican type, some fourteen meters long and eight meters wide, with vestibule, apse, and three aisles divided by pillars. This was found as the result of a landslip under the roadbed of the Rome-Naples  p254 railway, and was cleared with considerable difficulty, owing to the necessity of reinforcing the walls to prevent their collapse under the vibration caused by passing trains. The decoration is elaborate. Walls, vaulted ceilings, pilasters, and apse are all covered with well-preserved stucco reliefs, executed in a bold and rapid style. Among the subjects are mythological compositions (Apollo and Marsyas, the punishment of the Danaids, Hermes Psychopompus, Hercules and the Hesperids are mentioned), figures of orantes, sacrificial and ritual objects, and symbols of resurrection and afterlife. All this suggests that the building was used by followers of some of the mystic cults which flourished in Imperial Rome, but as yet no good evidence as to the particular cult has appeared. In the main chamber all decoration is in white stucco, but the vestibule has a dado of Pompeian red, adorned with bright figures of flowers and birds, and a ceiling decorated with squares of sapphire blue. Much of the mosaic flooring is preserved, but several rectangular spaces where the pavement is missing show that its finest portions, no doubt panels with figure compositions, were removed in the later days of antiquity. The date of the building is apparently the second century after Christ.

On the Via Appia, about a mile and a half outside the Porta San Sebastiano, the ancient ruins under the basilica of San Sebastiano were further explored. This spot is traditionally associated with the worshipº of Peter and Paul, either as the place of their residence or of their temporary burial. In earlier investigations here, columbaria and portions of Roman villas with excellent paintings were discovered. The more recent work in May and June, 1916, and in March, 1917, brought to light further columbaria and two more rooms of one of the houses. The mural decorations are described as among the finest examples yet known of Augustan and Claudio-Neronian painting. The only one of which I have seen a description represents a harbor with a long, pillared pier; boats are putting out to sea, and on the shore is a fête champêtre under an awning which is stretched between a great tree and a round tower. Under the nave of the basilica, a complicated building of the third century after Christ was found. This appears to have been a triclia, or place of refreshment for pilgrims, who, as  p255 numerous inscriptions bear witness, came to visit this spot on account of its supposed connection with the two great apostles.

Inside the walls, also, several interesting discoveries were made. The excavations in the Golden House of Nero were continued, but the one brief and tantalizing account which I have seen barely mentions "a superb domed octagonal hall and a number of chambers with wall paintings that for freshness and beauty surpass anything yet found in Rome." In the eastern extension of the Piazza Colonna, where the Palazzo Piombino stood until 1889, a careful examination of the ground preparatory to building operations revealed, not the Porticus Vipsania, which had been generally supposed to be located there, but only a large group of insulae of Imperial date. Near the intersection of the Via Po and the Via Gregorio Allegri, the discovery of several tombs of the first century after Christ, with paintings and mosaics, is reported, and also remains of a large building connected with the tombs by a stairway of travertine. The building consisted of a portico, an atrium with mosaic pavement, and several side rooms. In the same excavations fragments of a fine Hellenistic relief, representing a four-horse chariot rising from the sea, with marine animals pushing it from behind and two young men making it fast to the shore, came to light.

Among the mooted questions of the year in Rome was a proposal to remove the Palazzo Caffarelli, which in recent years has been the home of the German embassy. The ostensible reason for the removal is to disengage the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, but political and sentimental considerations naturally played a great part in the discussions. As yet, so far as I have seen, no official decision as to the fate of the palazzo has been made. One of the interesting events of the year was the official opening, on April 21, 1917, of the Passeggiata Archaeologica between the Caelian hill and the baths of Caracalla.

At Pompeii, work along the Via dell' Abbondanza was continued, but no remarkable discoveries were made. One of the houses exhibited a projecting balcony formed of blocks of stone held together by a wooden framework, which has been restored. Near by was a well-preserved castellum aquae, with its lead reservoir still in place.

 p256  At Ostia, further excavation north of the Via Decumana, between the theater and the Temple of Vulcan, revealed the ruins of a large rectangular forum divided into two parts by a central building, the whole considerably below the level of the city of Imperial times. In this neighborhood were found fragments of the local fasti, parts of a great inscription of which two portions, covering the years 19‑21 and 91‑92 A.D. were found at the beginning of the last century. The new portions cover the years 36‑38 A.D. They give the names of the magistrates of Rome and of Ostia and record important events. Among the latter are fires in Rome in the Campus Martius and between the Circus Maximus and the Aventine; the death of Antonia and that of Drusilla; and, most interesting of all, the death of Tiberius at Misenum, on March 16, 37 A.D., the transport of his body to Rome (it was carried on the shoulders of the soldiers), and the funeral ceremonies.

The balcony of the Casa di Diana,​2 which was found to run the whole length of the house on the two sides toward the street, has been replaced, thus giving an excellent idea of the original appearance of this unique structure. Another house near by has a large hall measuring some 8 by 7 meters, with a well-preserved mosaic pavement and wall paintings. Among the latter is a remarkable series of portraits, chiefly of elderly, bearded men, probably philosophers or poets. One, which is unusual in that the subject is young and beardless, is thought possibly to be a portrait of Virgil, a suggestion to which a crown of laurel lends some support. Among the lesser finds may be noted one of the few Christian monuments found at Ostia, namely, a small column of cipollino, with a relief representing the Good Shepherd.

At Veii, where Dr. Colini has begun to carry out a systematic plan of excavation, the foundation of one of the gates of the acropolis was cleared and two strata of huts were found, the earlier apparently Italic, the later, Etruscan. The site of a temple, tentatively identified as a temple of Apollo, yielded many figures of terra cotta, which are said to be the most important archaic works yet discovered in Italy. Among them are a head of Hermes, several small heads of warriors, and especially a remarkable head of Apollo  p257 with well-preserved color, which has all the qualities of fine archaic Greek work. The long, narrow eyes, elaborate hair, and carefully modeled drapery bring further proof of the Ionic influence which is notable in many archaic statues found in Etruria. These terracotta sculptures have been deposited in the Museo di Villa Giulia.

During the year the museum at Ancona was enriched by an archaic chariot found at Fabriano in Umbria,​a which is of the greatest interest. Unlike the famous chariot from Monte­leone in the Metropolitan Museum and the later example in the Etruscan Museum of the Vatican, both of which seem made for ceremonial rather than military purposes, this new specimen was apparently intended for use in war, and so gives us our first example of a real war-chariot from Italy.

Finally, in spite of war conditions, the excavations at Cyrene were carried steadily forward, especially in the precinct of Apollo and on the site of the ancient agora. The most important single discovery that has been reported is a statue of Eros playing the lyre, the best example yet known of a type which is generally attributed to Lysippus.

The Author's Notes:

1 Cf.  Classical Journal, XIII, 188.

2 Cf.  Classical Journal, XII, 206.

Thayer's Note:

a in Umbria: Fabriano is not now (2006) in Umbria, nor was it in 1916: it is in the Marche. The archaeologist is thinking of Roman Umbria, with which modern Umbria overlaps rather than coinciding.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 20 Aug 06