Scholars' Association News
Issue 20
October 2011

01/04


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Heracles to Alexander the Great: A revealing exhibition in Oxford
By Leda Bouzali

A groundbreaking exhibition entitled "Heracles to Alexander the Great-Treasures from the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy" was hosted at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, from April 2nd to August 29th 2011.

It was organized in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiques. Associated events were supported by the Onassis Foundation.

Over five hundred treasures made of gold, silver and bronze, recently found in the royal burial tombs and the palace of Aegae, the ancient capital of Macedon were displayed, many or them for the first time outside Greece. The Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aegae is releasing 25 objects from their permanent display, most of which were found in the tomb of Philip II by Professor Manolis Andronikos.

The more recent discoveries were made in the last 20 years by the archaeologist Dr Angeliki Kottaridi, of the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and will be on view for the first time. They re-write the history of early Greece and tell the story of the royal court and the kings and queens who governed Macedon, from the descendants of Heracles to the ruling dynasty of Alexander the Great.

"This exhibition is a very important cultural event for Greece. From the astounding finds made by the late Professor Manolis Andronikos in the ‘70s to the recent discoveries of the past twenty years, this is groundbreaking work that tells the story of life in the ancient kingdom of Macedon, northern Greece. The artistry, skill and foresight with which these objects were made represent a truly sophisticated dynasty about whom there is much more to learn," said Dr Angeliki Kottaridi.

Aegae was the first capital of the Macedonians and the seat of the Temenids, a dynasty that ruled for 350 years, from the mid-7th century to the 4th-century BC, and gave to Greece two of its most famous heroes: King Philip II and Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon). Through the reconstruction of individual burials, the role of men and women at the palace and the royal court, the lavish banquets (symposia) and the architecture of the palace at Aegae, the exhibition gave visitors a unique experience of the ancient world in the time of these legendary rulers.

The exhibition was articulated in three parts: the first was the world of the king and his companions at war and hunting; the king as ruler and high-priest, and the royal funeral. In this section, arms and armour, golden wreaths, life-sized marble sculpture, and painted battle-scenes illustrated the lives of Macedon’s most famous kings, among them Philip II and Alexander IV, father and son of Alexander the Great respectively.

The majority of the finds came from the tombs of the royal women, and the exhibition’s next section showed their important role at the court. Jewellery, fashion, and objects used for grooming, as well as sacred objects, such as clay heads of divine and demonic figures, underlined the leading role of these powerful women as queens, princesses and high-priestesses, offering a vivid portrayal of the female world in the palace from around 1000 to 300 BC. A centrepiece of the show was the assemblage of five women: four dating to the Early Iron Age (1000-700 BC) and one, the ‘Lady of Aegae’, to around 500 BC. The ‘Lady of Aegae’, a queen and high-priestess, wife of Amyntas I and most probably mother of Alexander I, was found in an undisturbed tomb, bedecked head-to-toe, in spectacular gold jewellery which had been sewn into her clothes.

Life in the palace – its architecture and the symposion (banquet) – was the exhibition’s concluding theme. Silverware, ceramics, and architectural fragments from the palace itself give a tantalising glimpse of life in the royal capital of this ancient kingdom. The gallery highlighted the development of the ‘symposion’ – a key expression of contemporary social and political life, and the rich architecture of the palace built in the reign of Philip II. ‘The Macedonians lived under the same political system uninterruptedly for some five hundred years.

Nowadays we admire the ancient Greeks for their invention of democracy, but even among the Athenians it lasted much less long. Macedon’s system was monarchy, the most stable form of government in Greek history. It persisted from about 650 to 167 BC and only stopped because the Romans abolished it.’ said Robin Lane Fox, Ancient Historian, University of Oxford.

A series of related events were supported by the Onassis Foundation. Dr Angeliki Kottaridi gave a lecture on "Myth and Politics: The legend of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy"; Archaeologist Dr Bettina Tsigarida presented the "Macedonian Jewellery; Dr Hallie Franks of New York University spoke about "The Royal Hunt in Macedonia", while Professor Ioannis Akamatis and Dr Maria Lilimpaki-Akamati gave a lecture on "Excavations at Pella"; "Greek Religion, Macedonian Religion" was the title of the talk by Professor Robert Parker of the University of Oxford; Professor Olga Palagia presented the topic "The Roayl Court and the Hereafter: Themes in Macedonian Painting", while Dr Susan Walker talked about "The Social and Architectural Legacy of Macedon".

In addition, drama group Temple Theatre presented in Oxford its new production Unmythable, directed by Mike Tweddle and supported by the Onassis Foundation. It was an alternative narration of Greek myths, in a novel and amusing way: Jason and the Argonauts, Heracles, Theseus and Odysseus, myths that try to explain the world’s creation and the connection of gods and mortals.


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