3. Bronzes from the Aegean Sea: A Reassessment of Old and New Finds

  • George Koutsouflakis, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, Athens


Bronze artworks have seldom survived the whims of fortune on land. The Mediterranean Sea remains the richest reservoir of ancient bronzes lost in transit, and over the last 130 years the Aegean Sea has yielded some of the most spectacular and well-known masterpieces. The bronze pieces retrieved by salvage operations sponsored by the Greek state at Antikythera (1901) and Cape Artemision (1928) inaugurated a discussion about the exact nature of such cargoes that continues well into the twenty-first century. Yet bronzes from known underwater contexts are far outnumbered by isolated finds unexpectedly brought to light by fishing activities. Extracted violently from their postdepositional environment, they offer little information about the circumstances of their transit, while the wreck sites from which they originate continue to resist discovery.

The aim of this paper is to examine the existing evidence of bronzes found in the Aegean Sea, highlighting less-known material retrieved from the sea over the last twenty years or long forgotten in museum storerooms.

“Thank God for Vesuvius; thank God for shipwrecks.” Bondo Wyszpolski’s comment1 on the exhibition Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World at the Getty Museum accurately sums up an art historical reality: bronze artwork of antiquity rarely survived the vicissitudes of history, except by mere chance. The contribution of Pompeii together with a handful of other sites is well known and recognized; the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, for example, with its exquisite bronze portraiture “catapulted the study of bronzes from antiquarian pastime to art historical discipline,”2 presenting an excellent archaeological context in which the Hellenistic art of portraiture could be well appreciated and understood. By contrast, the yield from the depths of the sea covers a considerably longer time span and is mostly the result of unintentional acts, resulting in a testimony that is far more ambiguous. The pursuit of context remains a major issue for most bronzes recovered underwater.3

The Mediterranean Basin forms the largest reservoir of bronze statuary, and a kind of reservoir that will not run out anytime soon. Scholars tend to link the bronzes recovered from the sea to shipwrecks, dated to the Late Republican and Early Imperial periods. This notion, often perceived as true a priori, is contingent upon a perceptual framework that dominated scholarly thought for more than a century. Yet, after a hundred years of underwater research, examples of solid shipwrecks carrying bronzes are very few, with a large number of “ghost-wrecks” remaining evasive and tenaciously resisting discovery. This very fact reveals one of the weaknesses of early discoveries: while much ink has been spilled over analyzing styles, musculature, drapery, and rendering, the exact locations where those masterpieces were found are poorly documented and have fallen into oblivion. Those infinitesimal details that could lead directly to the findspots were left unpublished because they were regarded as either unimportant or self-evident. Furthermore, recent finds suggest a much more nuanced story in the dating of bronzes loaded on board.

Shipwrecks do indeed present evidence for the advance of archaeological studies that no other terrestrial or underwater site can possibly provide. They offer an opportunity to trace the nexuses between trade, trade routes, commercial strategies, shipping, and ship-management. But doubtless their most salient quality is the range of intact artifacts they provide in connection with their existence per se in space and time. As self-contained and self-organized units, they offer a unique possibility to study bronzes in a transitional context, completely independent of the historical topography of terrestrial sites. This “disconnected reasoning” is well appreciated by scholars, who are often inclined to dovetail wrecks with certain historical events recorded in written sources.

Although underwater archaeology as an open-water activity was initiated in the Aegean in the nineteenth century, certain discoveries were made even earlier, when the sea was still considered insurmountable. Bronze statues were traditionally raised from the sea by fishermen dragging their nets. This phenomenon, as old as some of the raised statues themselves, was illustrated for the first time on a relief from Ostia, found in the vicinity of the temple of Hercules and dated around 70 BC (fig. 3.1).4 Commissioned and dedicated to the temple by the haruspex Caius Fulvius Salvis, the relief depicts six fishermen pulling up a supernatural statue of Hercules Promachos in their net. It is not well understood if the episode depicted is an accident or a deliberate act.

Figure 3.1. Ostia relief. Ostia Archaeological Museum, inv. 157 Image: Schwanke, Neg. D-DAI-Rom 81.4534

The earliest reported example of a bronze statue raised by nets in the Aegean is the “Berlin Youth” or “Apollo,” a headless corpus of a youth dated in the late first century BC, said to have been retrieved by Italian fishermen from the sea off Salamis in the Saronic Gulf in 1878.5 Very little is known about the circumstances of the discovery. The youth passed into the Sabouroff collection and in 1884 was acquired by the Antikensammlung in Berlin.

A few years later, in 1899, a bronze statue of another god was discovered in the shallows of the modern village of Agios Vasileios, in southern Boeotia, affixed to an inscribed base that identified the figure as Poseidon.6 The statue, dated in the very late Archaic period and restored in the 1970s, was placed on permanent display in the Athens Archaeological Museum.

The history of the Antikythera wreck discovered shortly thereafter, in 1900, is well known.7 The Greek state, though on the verge of bankruptcy and just recovering from war, nevertheless undertook and completed one of the most remarkable archaeological operations ever. Thanks to a group of sponge divers from the island of Sími, most of the wreck’s cargo was raised, bringing to light some of the most dazzling masterpieces of ancient sculpture. This historic research opened a long archaeological dialogue, renewed several times during the twentieth century and prolonged well into the twenty-first. Apart from leading the way and triggering the underwater excavation of the Mahdia wreck several years later, the Antikythera wreck demonstrated for the first time the potential of underwater archaeological research. The site remains under investigation 115 years after it was first discovered: no other project undertaken by the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities has been more time-consuming in organization, more complex in application, more demanding in resources, and more celebrated by the press than the “Return to Antikythera” project, the first attempt to reevaluate this historic shipwreck and excavate it according to modern procedures.

The resonance of the 1901 research did not last long, however. Technological limitations, ignorance, and a series of unfortunate international circumstances seriously affected any further steps toward establishing a discipline. For the following half century, shipwrecks were considered suitable only for salvage operations: any other retrieval from the sea remained accidental until the 1950s.

Nevertheless, the recovery of some of the most famous masterpieces of art worldwide is dated to this early twentieth-century period. In June 1925 a complete bronze statue of a youth known as the “Marathon Boy” was raised during a fishing operation in the southern Euboean Gulf. Konstantinos Rhomaios, to whom the piece was handed in the port of Rafina, was not keen to delve deep into the details of the discovery: he contented himself with the information provided. “The statue was found,” he writes, “in the Marathon Bay, between the coast and some tiny island.”8 The information was never cross-checked, although he reports that there was evidence available from other eyewitnesses. The nickname agalma (statue) was adopted among the local fishermen to define the findspot. Ironically enough, the nickname survived in records and lists of toponyms, but there is no living memory of where it is.

Those three statues—the Berlin Youth, the Poseidon, and the Marathon Boy—were all single objects retrieved from the sea and lacking a definite context. The obvious and most self-evident reasoning—that they once belonged to the cargo of ships that never reached port—was generally accepted without further investigation. This is not, however, the only reasoning. Even Rhomaios in his 1925 report remained circumspect in recognizing a wreck under every statue raised from the sea.9 In fact, a large number of excerpts culled from ancient writers declare that ancient bronzes could have been submerged underwater in antiquity for a variety of reasons. They could result from an act of “dumping,” or jettison (the legal term for goods or equipment thrown overboard from a ship when in danger); from geophysical phenomena (earthquakes, inundations, etc.); or from an official symbolic condemnation of the memory of a certain person (damnatio memoriae).10 “Dumping,” or jettison, no doubt, was a common practice, since it was expedient to heave things overboard when a ship was in danger. References to jettison of all kinds abound in ancient sources,11 and we can assume that the things dumped into the sea were the heaviest on board.

After Antikythera, the first bronzes directly linked to a shipwreck came from the sea off Artemision, the narrow strait separating Euboea from the Pagasetic Gulf, and once the site of a famous sea battle between the Persians and the Greeks.12 The first piece to be drawn up in fishing nets in 1926 was the left forearm of Zeus of Artemision, one of the most celebrated works of ancient Greek art.13 The find was reported to the Department of Antiquities, and initially no further action was taken. Two years later, in September 1928, a boat was reported to be performing illicit salvage operations in the same area. Concerted action led to the investigation of the suspected boat and confiscation of a newly broken right arm of a statue. A heavy cable was attached at that very moment to something that the divers and crew were about to pull up. Over the next few days, the authorities towed the remaining body of Zeus ashore onto the beach of Pefki.

The incident triggered outrage among the press and the public, who reprimanded the department for its idleness. Pressure mounted to undertake a more intensive investigation of the site. A new mission was pioneered by the ephor (magistrate), Nikos Vertos, an enthusiastic land archaeologist who, unfortunately, could not dive and therefore could not be directly involved in underwater work. Diving in those days was still difficult and dangerous, and archaeologists could not possibly meet the demands of such operations. To quote a passage from George Bass, they “stayed instead on deck and gratefully accepted the artifacts handed up to them by hired divers.”14 The exclusion of scholars from the finds’ archaeological context had a serious impact on our understanding of early shipwrecks. Yet Vertos’s official report, precise in its facts and accurate in its diction, remains today the main source of information regarding the Artemision shipwreck. The expedition lasted less than three weeks and was undertaken at the wrong time of the year, and thus confronted extreme weather conditions. The divers unearthed and pulled up the forepart of the body of a horse and the statue of a small boy. A short expedition resumed work in the spring of 1929, before the project ended due to the lack of adequate diving equipment. Efforts to locate the rear part of the horse failed, and Vertos insinuated that the piece had been washed away into a deep channel. This missing part appeared several years later, in 1936, caught by fishing nets in a spot several kilometers west of the wreck site, near the town of Oreoi. Even at such an early stage of underwater investigation, there was clear evidence of a fact that would prove an ongoing issue even seven decades later: bronzes discovered underwater, no matter how heavy, tend to get dismembered and separated from their postdepositional context as a result of secondary human action.

There is no official record indicating that anyone saw the wreck site again, and all later attempts to relocate the site—by Jacques Yves Cousteau (1976, 1982), Willard Bascom (1993), and Shelley Wachsmann (2006)—failed to yield any results. Details or schedules about the exact findspot again are lacking in the archives. Probably the site was silted over without leaving visible remains.

The statue of the horse and jockey was reassembled, and after extensive restoration went on display at the National Museum of Athens.15 The original artist and the circumstances under which the work was created are unknown. Seán Hemingway has suggested that it may have been plundered from Corinth in 146 BC by the Roman general Mumius during the Achaean War and given to Attalus as a share of the booty, but lost while in transit to Pergamon.16 Christos Piteros connected the wreck with the plundering of Chalkis by Mithridates’s general Archelaos after the defeat of their coalition by Sulla in 86 BC and his escape back to Pergamon.17

Figure 3.2. Artemis statuette from the sea off Mykonos. Athens NAM, inv. X16790 Image: Courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

After the delivery of the last part of the Artemision assemblage, almost half a century passed without any significant new finds in Greece. The only exception was the confiscation by the port police of a bronze statuette depicting Artemis, raised during illegal operations in 1959 from the sea off Mykonos (fig. 3.2).18 According to the statue’s drapery and style, it should be dated in the Early Hellenistic period.

Several bronzes have however been reported found off the coast of Asia Minor, modern Turkey. The “Lady from the Sea” was found in 1953 by fishermen dragging their nets along the coast of Arap Adasi, not far from the Knidos peninsula, at a depth of around 100 meters (330 ft.).19 They brought the bronze to the village of Bitez, near Bodrum, and abandoned it on the beach. There, neglected and covered with marine incrustations, it remained for several weeks until it attracted the attention of George E. Bean, a British professor at Istanbul University; he had the bronze removed to Izmir, where it was cleaned and housed. The work is usually dated in the first half of the third century BC. Extensive underwater surveys conducted in the area failed to link the bronze to any specific context.20

Ten years later, in 1963, the half-broken bronze statue of a young African was pulled from the sea by sponge-draggers at a depth of 100 meters (330 ft.), not far from the modern city of Bodrum.21 Preserved from the hips up and retaining both arms, it might represent a groom and might have been part of a Hellenistic honorary monument. A bronze figurine of Isis-Fortuna was netted in the same area that same year, leaving open a hypothesis that both works may have originated from the same wreck.

The latest reported statue from the coast of Turkey is the life-size bronze of a runner discovered at the Bay of Nemrut, near the ancient city of Cyme (Kyme).22 The work represents an athlete, probably the victor of a footrace. Somewhat awkwardly composed and schematically muscled, he is remarkable for the individual features of the face. It is evidently a portrait, but it might also echo a famous high Classical statue, Myron’s Ladas, which inspired numerous epigrams praising its sense of swiftness; this work has unfortunately not survived, even in replica. The face’s individuality and hairstyle suggest a Late Hellenistic or even an Early Imperial Roman date.

The next find was again in Greek territorial waters, in Spring 1979: the bronze equestrian statue of a male was delivered by fishermen to the authorities, from the sea near the island of Ai Stratis (Agios Efstratios), in the northern Aegean.23 It was immediately identified as Augustus on the basis of the emperor’s portraits on coins. Statues like this were probably promoted by Roman state policy and distributed to the provinces to serve the aims of imperial propaganda. There is evidence of another bronze cuirassed equestrian statue from the same area, suggesting that the presumptive wreck may have carried a number of such sculptures. A small part of a bronze statue was delivered to the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in 1981; it was never published and has lain forgotten ever since in the storerooms (fig. 3.3).24 It exhibits the right thigh and the pteryges (“feathers”) of the lower part of a cuirass of another life-size equestrian statue, possibly a companion or general of Augustus, although there is no clear evidence that the two bronzes originate from the same site.

Figure 3.3. Fragment of an equestrian torso from the sea off Ai Stratis (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 1981/43)

The most monumental bronze statue to be raised from the sea, known as the “Lady of Kalymnos,” was pulled up by a fishing boat in the sea east of the Greek island of Kalymnos in 1994 from a depth of about 120 meters (390 ft.).25 It is a Hellenistic variation of the statue type known as the Large Herculaneum Woman. Variants of this type were used during the Hellenistic period to portray women from the middle and upper classes, queens, and even goddesses;26 it exemplifies the ideal of the demure, respected lady of that era. On the basis of the idealized facial features and the similarity with works such as the Ackland Head,27 the Lady of Kalymnos could, in all likelihood, be dated within the third century BC. The manner of representing the veil covering the head and hair very much recalls the portraits of Ptolemaic queens on coins. An identification of the Kalymnos Lady as Arsinoë III has recently been suggested by Olga Palagia, based on the similarity of the facial features to those of a bronze head in Mantua.28

The delivery of the Lady of Kalymnos to the Hellenic Archaeological Service and the stupendous reward granted for it had a huge impact on the community of local fishermen and resulted in an unexpected chain reaction: for the next twenty years, parts of statues were delivered to the department, some of them newly found and raised from the sea, others that had been stored for years in Kalymnian cellars. Dragging nets for the recovery of bronzes was for a while considered much more profitable than fishing. We can only imagine the damage inflicted to ancient shipwrecks in the deep. Whatever entered the Archaeological Service after 1994 was very fragmentary and of highly questionable origin.

A fragment of a bronze dolphin was salvaged in 1997 in the waters off the north Dodecanese island of Leipsoi.29 It has a broad, curved forehead and a wide, raised snout that correspond to the widespread iconographic convention for Hellenistic dolphins. Iconographic parallels with dolphins in comparable representations allow this sculpture to be dated in the Hellenistic period.

A bronze head slightly larger than life-size was found in the sea northwest of Kalymnos in 1997.30 The head is a portrait of a mature bearded man wearing a kausia, the felt hat worn at the Macedonian court and used by the Diadochoi as a distinctive sign of their origin. The head is gently tilted with separated lips and eyes looking slightly upward—two features known from the iconography of Alexander the Great. But it also has some personalized characteristics such as a short, curly beard, mustache, short hair, and deep horizontal and vertical wrinkles in the middle of the forehead. These characteristics suggest that it is a portrait of a well-known man, a face that was to be immediately recognizable.

Two identical bronze legs, right and left, were also found in the sea south of Kalymnos during 1997 and 1999, albeit in different locations, some nautical miles apart.31 Their knees are bent, and the lower legs slope gently downward, like the legs of a rider who, like all ancient equestrians, did not use stirrups. The shoe is an almost perfect match with the krepis, a sandal that, according to Pliny the Elder, was worn when traveling on foot or horseback. Feet wearing identical shoes are likewise found in Hellenistic bronzes, especially statues of riders, with all known examples dating to the third and second centuries BC. A fragmentary piece of a third leg was lifted from the sea northwest of Kalymnos,32 suggesting the existence of at least two mounted bronze figures, but the evidence for combining the findspots was highly controversial.33

Figure 3.4. Bronze rider from the sea off Kalymnos (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 2006/1)

In 2006 a fragmentary body of an armored rider was raised from waters south of Kalymnos (fig. 3.4).34 The rider wears a type of leather cuirass that corresponds to a spolas over a short-sleeved garment, and over it a chlamys, which is fastened at the right shoulder and runs across the chest to fall freely down the back. The bottom part of the armor is decorated with a band of incised pairs of spiral motifs, while the lower edge exhibits a double line of pteryges. The cuirass is tied at the waist with a cloth belt that crosses at the back and then fastens in an intricate knot at the center front, imitating the “Persian girdle” worn by Alexander the Great.

Figure 3.5. Bronze rider from the sea off Kalymnos (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 2009/28)

The most complete piece of this group appeared in 2009: the full bust of an armored horseman, preserved from the neck down to the flaps of the cuirass (fig. 3.5).35 The head, both legs, and the horse are missing. The figure exhibits the same kind of cuirass as the rider found in 2006. The visible right shoulder strap is decorated with a relief of a winged thunderbolt. The left shoulder strap is hidden by the chlamys, which, fastened on the right shoulder, folds over the chest and falls back, covering the entire back. Clearly, the horseman held the horse’s reins with the left hand. The right hand is raised forward in a gesture of greeting. A strap hangs from the neck, down the left side of the cuirass, and is decorated with a plate incised with an archaistic female figure. The cuirass is tied at the waist with the exact same Persian-girdle manner as the find of 2006. Unlike its former companion, the whole work is fully decorated with minor details: a griffin under the armpit, a line of flying birds on the belt, and double spiral motifs at the lower edge of the thorax. The pair of legs raised in the 1990s have been securely associated with the figure. The attribution of the head with a kausia to the one or the other rider torso, however, remains less certain.

The two horsemen are of similar size, wear the same type of clothes and armor, were found in the same waters, and reasonably should be attributed to the same shipwreck.36 However, the exact archaeological context is still lacking. The dating of the riders can be based only on stylistic and typological criteria: the style of the clothing, the double row of flaps, and the knotted belt are all known already from a fourth-century BC rock relief depicting the general Alketas on the funerary monument at Termessos in Lycia.37 The elaborate belt (cingulum) on each of the two armored riders appears in depictions of the Diadochoi and is adopted later by the Romans, who used it to indicate that the wearer held an official post. Stylistic analysis of some details of the clothing, and the striking resemblance of the bent legs and leather shoes to an example found in a well in the Athenian Agora,38 suggests a date from the third to the mid-second century BC.

Up to now it has not been possible to identify the head with a kausia with any certainty. It has, however, been suggested that it represents a famous Macedonian king. On grounds of iconographical resemblance with a much worn marble head from the island of Kos, Palagia suggests that it is Philip V, the penultimate ruler of the Antigonid dynasty.39

Concerning the conditions of transport and loss of the statues retrieved from the sea near Kalymnos, we can only make assumptions. A terminus ante quem for the date of the bronzes is provided by an intact stamped amphora, part of the same catch with the horseman recovered in 2006, partially covered with calcareous deposits containing a high percentage of copper oxides. This fact clearly demonstrates that the armored figure and the amphora were in the same underwater environment for a long time.40 It is a typical example of a Knidos-type amphora, which, on the basis of shape and the two stamps, can be dated approximately between 78 and the end of the first century BC.

Among the late finds originating from the Aegean there is also a life-size bronze statue of a nude male, raised in 2004 from a depth of almost 450 meters (1,475 ft.) in the area west of Kythnos in the Cyclades.41 The entire head, the right arm from the shoulder, the right leg from the knee down, and part of the back are missing. The nudity, the equipoise, and the musculature of the body suggest a robust athlete, perhaps a discus thrower. The dating of the bronze is still very uncertain and depends on its potential relationship with a shipwreck found in the same area, loaded with a mixed cargo that contained, among other items, Chian amphorae of the late fourth or early third century BC.42

Figure 3.6. Bronze head from Kythera (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 2015/14) Image: Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Greece

The latest accession in this long series of bronzes found underwater is a head of a young male figure that was delivered to the department by a spear-fisherman in late summer 2015 (fig. 3.6).43 It was collected in shallow waters in front of the village of Agia Pelagia in the island of Kythera, south of Peloponnese; according to the existing evidence, it is not connected to any shipwreck remains. The rendering of the hair in shallow relief might indicate a Late Hellenistic, if not Early Roman, variation of an earlier prototype.

Any catalogue of bronzes retrieved from Greek or Turkish territorial waters inevitably remains incomplete: we lack information about the numerous bronzes that worked their way through illegal transactions directly into private collections or appeared out of nowhere on the international market. Ownership of art is de facto sanctioned by time. After aging a few years in private collections and then taking advantage of less strict legislation, they may well end up in collections of well-respected institutions. The repatriation in 2002 of a young male nude, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens,44 is one of the very few that made its way back. The sculpture allegedly was found somewhere in the Ionian Sea, perhaps off Preveza, but as in most such cases, there is no definite information. No doubt, there are many more.

While complete or dismembered statues may at any time rise from the deep to the full glare of publicity, investigators of shipwrecks on the coastal zone tend to conceal any trace of more valuable or uncommon cargo. As of summer 2015, the number of ancient wrecks surveyed in Greek territorial waters exceeded two hundred. Yet the number of wreck sites containing bronzes has remained stable for almost a century: Antikythera and Artemision, two of the very first wrecks ever investigated, were the only known examples until 2010. In that year a series of unexpected finds came to light during the opening of some trial trenches on a Late Hellenistic shipwreck in the southern Euboean Gulf, off the island of Styra, at an accessible depth between 40 and 45 meters (131–47 ft.).45 Several fragmentary pieces of bronze statues of natural size were unearthed by removing the upper sediments: a part of a nude calf, parts of folded drapery, and the selvage of a garment displaying a zone of inlaid reddish cooper (fig. 3.7).46 From the same wreck, two intact bronze legs of a table or couch decorated with busts of sirens and acanthus leaves were also recovered (fig. 3.8).47 Luxury furniture is seldom found in ancient shipwrecks, with the only other known examples reported in the wrecks from Antikythera and Mahdia, both known for their cargo of bronzes.48

Figure 3.7. Fragment of folded drapery from the Styra shipwreck (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 2010/4-50)
Figure 3.8. Wooden core and bronze fittings of furniture legs from the Styra shipwreck (Athens, EUA, inv. BE 2010/4-6, 4-7)

Bronzes, however, constituted only a small part of the total cargo of the Styra shipwreck. The main cargo was a consignment of north Peloponnesian (Sikyonian) amphorae and tableware (fig. 3.9). The nature of this complementary cargo of bronzes cannot be fully understood until the completion of the excavation. They could represent booty from the devastation of a town; the luxury belongings of an official who was travelling to or from his post; or even art objects ordered by a Roman patron. And considering the historic circumstances, fragmentary bronzes may well also have been collected as scrap and transported by sea on their way to the foundries that operated incessantly during that period to meet the demands of war.

Figure 3.9. Site view of the Styra wreck

The Styra shipwreck clearly demonstrates that shipwrecks loaded with bronzes do not necessarily differ from any other carrier of the period. Scholars have made much of the heavy construction of the hulls from the Antikythera and the Mahdia shipwrecks.49 No doubt, the Antikythera ship was a huge vessel with characteristics that only exceptionally large ships of the Roman era presented.50 However, the rest of the consignment shipped together with statuary and luxury items does not differ significantly from any other cargo circulating in those years between the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea. The Antikythera wreck provided Rhodian, Koan, Ephesian, and Lamboglia II amphorae. Knidian amphorae were probably carried together with the bronzes recovered from the wreck off Kalymnos, as yet undiscovered. Amphorae are also reported from the Kythnos wreck, and mixed consignments can be traced even back to the early fourth century BC, with the Porticello shipwreck being the most characteristic example.51 Instead of indicating aberrant times, these mixed consignments seem to insinuate nothing out of the ordinary.

These facts clearly demonstrate that common boats, loaded with all kinds of commodities, were used to load the bronzes and make crossings. The correspondence of Cicero, in a letter written from Rome in March of 67 BC, seems to verify that. Cicero orders his agent, Titus Pomponius Atticus, to find him Megarian statues, Pentelic herms, and any other statue suitable for a lecture hall and colonnade. Closing his letter, he underscores that “if a ship of Lentulus is not available put them aboard any [ship] you think fit.”52 It seems that any ship seaworthy and safe enough could have been used to transport works of art. If we push this argument to its extreme, any shipwreck, any amphora carrier dated between the years 150 BC and AD 50 could have carried bronzes.

Shipwrecks transporting bronzes remain elusive no matter the time, means, and funds invested in tracing them. Several good reasons for this should be mentioned. Doubtless, the great depth to which these wrecks sank increases the operational cost of any underwater survey, and as such, it is not often expected to be prolonged to the final exhaustion of any possibility offered by a certain area. The dynamic underwater environment in several areas is now hiding and now unveiling traceable remains over and over again. Secondary, postdepositional removal of bronzes may also draw underwater investigation several miles away from the original spot of a wreck. False or deliberately misleading information also has its share in the failure of many missions of the past. While amateur divers have too often been flung into the breach between illusion and reality, professional fishermen remain very reluctant to provide accurate information, for fear of a possible generalized ban on the use of dragged nets in their traditional fishing fields. State policy must also claim a fair share of blame. While Hellenic law encourages and rewards the handing over of antiquities and information, bureaucratic procedures are often stalled by officious public servants with no interest in achieving a sensible balance between underwater archaeologists and local communities of fishermen: rewards can be delayed for years and this creates an additional ambience of mistrust.

Defining an archaeological context remains today the most crucial issue for the majority of bronzes retrieved underwater. Bronzes without context can still serve the history of art, but our understanding of the conditions of transit are relegated to the sphere of assumption. A subsequent need to relocate and investigate anew historic wrecks of the past is slowly being fulfilled. The painstaking documentation of the remains of the Antikythera shipwreck, now under excavation, will partly address that. The relocation of the remnants of the Artemision wreck is evoking a reconsideration of the date and circumstances of the ship’s transit. Experience has shown that only fully excavated shipwrecks and detailed study of all of the material on board can provide the kind of information that will allow scholars to link those wrecks to specific historical episodes.


  1. http://www.easyreadernews.com/108987/power-and-pathos-bronze-sculpture-of-the-hellenistic-world.
  2. Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 26.
  3. Hemingway 2015, 66–67.
  4. Ostia, Archaeological Museum, inv. 157; Becatti 1939; Mattusch 1997, 12, fig. 9.
  5. Berlin, Altes Museum, inv. Sk 1; Heilmeyer 1996.
  6. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X11761; Filios 1899. The work is often erroneously referred as “Poseidon of Livadostra” or “Poseidon of Kreusis” even though it was found several miles away from the ancient city. See Kaltsas 2002, 86, no. 146.
  7. For the most recent discussion on the Antikythera shipwreck and its finds, see Kaltsas, Vlachigianni, and Bouyia 2012, with previous bibliography.
  8. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X15118; Rhomaios 1924–25, 146; Kaltsas 2002, 242–43, no. 509.
  9. Rhomaios 1924–25, 147.
  10. The sea has been always considered as “a place of no return,” a place where one could easily get rid of something one would rather not deal with again (Lindenlauf 2003). Ancient sources briefly refer to the disposal of bronze portraits and statues of Demetrius of Phaleron when the Antigonid dynasty took control of Athens in the late fourth century BC: His statues were either destroyed or thrown into the sea as part of a political condemnation. See Azoulay 2009.
  11. Aeschylus Agamemnon 1008–13; Herodotus 8.118; Josephus Bellum Judaicum 1.280; Lycophron Alexandria 618; Plutarch Moralia 134C; Athenaeus 2.5; 7.39, Juvenal 12.30–56; Cicero De officiis 3.23.89.
  12. For the circumstances of the discovery, see Vertos 1929; Hemingway 2004, 35–43; Tzalas 2007, 351–52.
  13. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X15161; Karouzos 1930–31; Kaltsas 2002, 99–93, no. 159.
  14. Bass 2011, 6.
  15. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X15177. For a full discussion of the sculpture, see Hemingway 2004.
  16. Hemingway 2004, 146–48.
  17. Piteros 2001, 114–20.
  18. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X16790; Bouyia 2011, 76, n. 113.
  19. Izmir, Archaeological Museum, inv. 3544; Ridgway 1967; on the circumstances of the discovery, see Throckmorton 1965b, 78; and Frost 1963, 200.
  20. Bass and Joliene 1968; Green 2004.
  21. Bodrum, Archaeological Museum, inv. 756; Ridgway 1990, 339, plate 177.
  22. Izmir Archaeological Museum, inv. 9363; Ridgway 2000, 313, plate 76; Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 26–27, fig. 1.7.
  23. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X23322; Touloupa 1986; Kaltsas 2002, 318, no. 664.
  24. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 1981/43.
  25. Kazianis 1994, 856, plate 265; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 72–73, fig. 5.1.
  26. For a comprehensive survey of the type, see Daehner 2007.
  27. Immerwahr 1969. The Ackland Head might as well originate from Asia Minor and it exhibits some traces that indicate an underwater context.
  28. Palagia 2013, 155–56. For the Mantua head, Museo Civico di Palazzo Te, inv. 96190279, see Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 200–201, no. 8 (E. Ghisellini).
  29. Kalymnos Archaeological Museum, inv. 3904. Kazianis 1997, 1201, plate 444ε; Koutsouflakis 2007, 48, fig. 8, Bairamē 2014, 238–39; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 75, plate 5.2.
  30. Kalymnos Archaeological Museum, inv. no. 3901; Kazianis 1997, 1201, plate 444β; Tzalas 2007, 362; Koutsouflakis 2007, 46–47; Lichtenberger 2012, 173–74; Bairamē 2014, 238; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 78; Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 194–95, no. 5 (E. Bairamē); Palagia 2013 and in this volume.
  31. Kalymnos Archaeological Museum, inv. 3902; Kazianis 1997, 1201, plate 444δ; Dellaporta and Dimitriadou 1999, 1031–32. figs. 20–22; Koutsouflakis 2007, 48–49; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 76–78, figs. 5.5–6.
  32. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 1997/1956; Koutsouflakis 2007, 47–48, fig. 7; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 78, fig. 5.7.
  33. On the puzzling circumstances and findspots of most of the bronzes attributed to the “Kalymnian cluster” and delivered from 1994, see Koutsouflakis 2007.
  34. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2006/1; Dellaporta 2006; Koutsouflakis 2007; Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 75–76, fig. 5.4.
  35. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2009/28. Koutsouflakis and Simosi 2015, 75, fig. 5.3
  36. Both figures present close typological similarities to a torso of another bronze equestrian formerly in the collection of Bill Blass, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 2003.407.7). It is long believed to have been retrieved from an undefined place in the Mediterranean. The rendering of the New York bronze, however, seems to indicate a more advanced chronology (or a less skillful craftsmanship), while the hypothesis of an underwater origin is seriously challenged by the results of chemical analysis (Hemingway, Abramitis, and Stamm, forthcoming).
  37. Pekridou 1986.
  38. Shear 1973, 165–68, plate 36.
  39. Palagia 2013 and in this volume.
  40. Koutsouflakis 2007, 45, figs. 3–4.
  41. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. 2004/45; Dellaporta 2001–2004, 591–92; idem. 2014, 237; Daehner and Lapatin 2015, 214–15, no. 14 (K. P. Dellaporta).
  42. Dellaporta, Kourkoumelis, and Micha 2005, 1247; Sakellariou et al. 2007.
  43. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2015/14.
  44. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv. X26087; Tzalas 2007, 362–63; Proskynitopoulou 2004.
  45. Koutsouflakis et al. 2012, 51–52; Koutsouflakis, forthcoming.
  46. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2010/4–50.
  47. Athens, Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, inv. BE 2010/4–6, 4–7.
  48. Faust 1994; Palaiokrassa 2012.
  49. Throckmorton 1965a; Höckmann 1994.
  50. Steffy 1994, 71–72.
  51. Eiseman and Ridgway 1987.
  52. Cicero Epistulae ad Atticum 4(I.8), 2, Loeb, trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey.


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