Issue 14, April 2010
homepage > The Onassis Prizes in Law and Humanities award ceremony in Paris
The Onassis Prizes in Law and Humanities award ceremony in Paris
The awarding ceremony of the first Onassis International Prizes in Law and Humanities took place December 14, 2009 at the magnificent Coupole (Dome) of the Institute of France in Paris.
International media rightly compared the new Prizes to the Nobel Prizes, as the fields of Law and Humanities are not covered by the highest Swedish award. Morover, the prestige of both the Onassis Foundation and of the Institute of France that support the prizes guarantee the international recognition of the new awards.

The Onassis International Prize in Law was bestowed on Lord Thomas Bingham, Lord High Steward of the University of Oxford, member of the British Academy, while the Prize in Humanities was shared by Sir John Boardman, Lincoln Emeritus Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art of the University of Oxford, member of the British Academy, and Jean-Yves Empereur, Director of Research at the National Foundation for Research (CNRS) in France and Founder of the Center of Alexandrine Studies in Alexandria.

“The establishment of the two new international prizes was achieved thanks to a common goal set by the Onassis Foundation and the Institute of France, which relates to the support and promotion of the Sciences, Humanities and Art”, said the President of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation Anthony Papadimitriou. “In the context of progress –with a humanitarian connotation- and strengthening of the dialogue among different people, we are very pleased for the bestowment of the prize to such distinguished figures, as the eminent judge Thomas Henry Bingham, the leading British archaeologist of our time Sir John Boardman, and French archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur, who stands among the best Hellenists of his generation”.

Sir Basil Markezinis and François Terré spoke on the Lord Bingham’s contribution to the discipline of law. Lord Bingham thanked the Onassis Foundation, the Institute of France and the Prize Committee and said he is profoundly grateful to be the first recipient of this Prize. “To all who believe that respect for the law is a condition of good government at home, and peace, understanding and cooperation among the nations on the international plane, I feel sure that the Onassis Prize will be an inspiration, a challenge and a welcome reminder of our Hellenistic heritage”, said Lord Bingham.

“There are doubtless those who regret any dilution of the pure milk of national jurisprudence and resist any crack in the wall of the national legal fortress”, he noted. “I am not of their number.  Nor, I infer, are the Onassis Foundation and the Institut.  Judges are of course duty-bound to apply the national laws to which they are subject.  But if without doing violence to such laws, they can draw on the wisdom and experience of others elsewhere in confronting the same problem, this seems to me in every way desirable.  In enables the law to fulfil its potential as a bridge and not a barrier, a symbol of what unites rather than divides us.  It is in that firm belief that I gratefully accept this most prestigious Prize”, concluded Lord Bingham.

After his awarding, the Prize in Humanities was bestowed on Sir John Boardman by Professor Vasilios Lambrinoudakis, and on Jean-Yves Empereur by Jacques Jouanna. Sir John Boardman is the leading British archaeologist of our times and an authority on Greek antiquity on an international level. He specializes in the Classical era, but has also contributed to the Minoan and Mycenaean archaeology, to the study of ancient Greek art and architecture, and especially of vase-painting, engraved gems and sculpture. He has studied extensively the diaspora of ancient Greeks and their relations with other people, especially those in the East.

His voluminous publications include an impressive number of books on the ancient world, which constitute an irreplaceable reference for specialists but also appeal to the wide public, thus contributing to the understanding and appreciation of the ancient greek history. Most important is the publication of the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae and the Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum.

Sir John Boardman has carried out archaeological excavations at many sites, including in Smyrna, Crete, and Chios in Greece and at Tocra in Libya. Having served as assistant director at the British School in Athens he now remains a member of its Board. One of his most important tasks was his contribution to the completion of the Beazly pottery database in Oxford.
His contribution to the worldwide promotion of the ancient Greek civilization has been recognized through high distinctions that he has received.  

«It is for me an exceptional honour and pleasure to be rewarded in this way by a Foundation based in Greece”, said Sir John Boardman, “the country where I have spent several happy years, and whose history and art have been my object of study for so long; and that this should happen here in the most civilized city of the modern world, and guardian of the scholarship of the ancient world. Athens – Paris – the perfect pair.

But Greece is far more than the land of Greece itself. As an archaeologist excavation took me outside Greece to Greek sites at Smyrna, and, later, to the coastline of Libya. Part of the achievement of ancient Greece took place in what is today Turkey, and especially in Italy. An archaeologist learns more quickly than the student of Greek literature, that any serious study of Greek antiquity is boundless, following the readiness of Greeks, ancient and modern, to travel and establish themselves far from their homeland, to which, nevertheless, they always return.

The Greeks”, continued Sir John Boardman, “were always ready to acknowledge their debt to the civilizations of Egypt and the east, but the return traffic became no less influential and, for a scholar of art and archaeology, of absorbing interest.  

With the years, the pleasure gained from all this, the pleasure indeed even of sharing it with others through teaching and publication, has indeed increased and diversified. So it does seem a little strange to be actually rewarded for having been able to do what I always wanted to do, from which I have gained so much enjoyment. It is no little satisfaction to know that my family, including my wider family of pupils, have shared this pleasure and experience – a way of life that the years have not diminished for me, but have so considerably enhanced”, he concluded.

Jean-Yves Empereur, who shared the Prize in Humanities with Sir John Boardman, is one of the leading Hellenists of our time. His discoveries in Alexandria were of the most important of the last 15 years and have earned him international acclaim. The major archaeological sites he has excavated include the Pharos (lighthouse) of the Ptolemaic city, one of the Seven Wonders, the Necropolis (first described by Strabo) at Gabbari, rich Hellenic houses with mosaics in the area of the former British Consulate, Marea island, Canopic road and Caesarion.

A doctor of Archaeology and University professor, Jean-Yves Empereur has served as secretary of the French School of Archaeology in Athens between 1982 and 1990. He then settled in Egypt, where he founded in 1990 the famous Centre of the Studies of Alexandria (CEAlex). This Foundation, with many Greek scholars among its members, was established in order to support and promote excavations and research in the metropolis of Lagides and to publicize the ecumenical cultural heritage of Greeks and their other people who walked along their example. Jean-Yves Empereur focuses now in bringing to light the remains of Macedonian Alexandria, as well as archaeological evidence that the Ptolemies strived to create a civilization that would bring Greeks and Egyptians closer.

He is a voluminous writer and devotes a major part of his time in publicizing his findings through scientific symposia, conferences and exhibitions, traveling around the world, giving lectures and publishing an impressive amount of research. The series of Alexandrian studies has already reached 17 volumes, while the relevant website ( is extremely well documented.
“The National Center for Social Research team and I, as member of this team, were truly and deeply moved when we were informed that we are awarded the Onassis Foundation Prize”, said Jean-Yves Empereur. “I would like to extend special thanks to the Onassis Foundation President, who, like me, comes from Alexandria, and this common descent of ours is affecting. We are also greatly honoured by the fact that the Institute and the Onassis Foundation Committee have chosen us next to a man I have highly admired for several decades, Sir John Boardman, whose work we learnt by heart during our preparation for the exams in the French School of Athens.

I would also like to say how touched we are from the fact that this Prize comes from Greece and how much it motivates us to expand and probe into the new discovery of Alexandria, and to disseminate Greek culture from the capital of the Hellenistic World, which bears particular importance for us. It is at this place (Alexandria), where the two greatest civilizations of the antiquity, the Greek and the Egyptian, meet, that we bear witness daily to this Alexandrian miracle unveiled gradually under our excavations at Alexandria in Macedonia emerging from under 12 meters, and in all creations and devices in the spectrum of art, science and technology the Hellenistic Era has bequeathed to us. Thanks to your moral support and the resources provided with this Prize, I would like to ascertain you that our team will continue working towards the same direction through scientific publishing, movies, websites and the creation of models of Alexandrian monuments, and that we will go to great lengths to attract both an expert and a wider public to the Greek culture in which we have so much faith in”, concluded Jean-Yves Empereur.

The award ceremony was attended by Mr. Xavier Darcos, French Minister of Labour, Mrs. Theodora Tzakri, Greek Deputy-Minister of Home Affairs, the Ambassador of France in Athens, Mr. Christophe Farnaud, the Ambassador of Great Britain in Paris, Mr. Peter Westmacott, the Ambassador of Greece in Paris, Mr. Constantinos Chalastanis, the General Consul of Greece in Paris, Mrs. Katerina Koika, members of the Academies of the Institute of France, representatives οf the international press, as well as personalities in law and humanities of international repute, such as the First President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil, who was awarded the Onassis International Prize for International Understanding and Social Acievement in 1980, Helene Glykatzi-Ahrweiler, and Professor Paul Cartledge, among others.

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