Friday, March 15, 2013

Princesses of the Mediterranean in the dawn of history

The Museum of Cycladic Art (MCA) in Athens, Greece is presenting a major new archaeological exhibition entitled ‘Princesses’ of the Mediterranean in the dawn of History.

A new insight

The exhibition is curated by the MCA’s Director Professor Nicholas Stampolidis, in collaboration with Dr Mimika Giannopoulou and presents 24 examples of ‘princesses’ from Greece, Cyprus, Southern Italy, and Etruria from between  1,000 to 500 BC, displaying over 500 artefacts to shine new insight into the women of the Archaic Mediterranean.

Royal ladies or princesses; priestesses or healers; women of authority; are all women who stood apart from the rest who either accepted and adopted cultural traits of different societies or of the men they married in their homeland.

Through their stories, one can perceive how women played a contributing role in broadening the cultural horizons of their time, including their involvement in the development of the archaic Mediterranean culture.

This exhibition presents real women rather than mythical figures; women who were born, lived and were very much of flesh and bone.

Lifting a veil on women of antiquity

When considered with tomb and burial typologies, funerary customs, and, above all, the grave goods such as garments and jewellery buried with them – whether chosen by the deceased in life, or provided after their passing by loved ones to take to Persephone’s meadow – these remains can potentially help ‘resuscitate’ them by lifting the veils of time to see their likeness, however faintly, as far as archaeological thinking and interpretation permits.

The term ‘princesses’ in the title does not necessarily refer to real princesses of a royal or princely lineage, although these are also present. Because the regimes, roles, and possessions of the persons of power and prestige differed from one another in the eastern and central Mediterranean during the long interval covered by this exhibition (1,000-500 BC), the terms ‘king/queen’ and ‘prince/princess’ cannot be defined unequivocally. Therefore, the terms ‘prince/princess’ (from the Latin princeps) are used here in a broader sense to describe someone eminent in their community for reasons such as lineage (family), prestige, or wealth.

The Lady of Lefkadi in Euboea, the wealthy Athenian Lady from the Areopagus, the famous Picenean queen from Sirolo-Numana near modern Ancone, burials from Verucchio and Basilicata in Italy, from Eleutherna in Crete, from Sindos in Thessaloniki are only a few examples of the exhibition which dazzles with its wealth of objects and personality

The assembled artefacts

The various assemblages comprise bronze vases, bronze and iron implements, glass and faïence objects, terracotta, bronze, and ivory figurines.

There is a wealth of jewellery: gold, silver and bronze breastplates, belts, bracelets and armbands, earrings, finger rings, hair pins, and necklaces; bronze, iron, or silver fibulae; beads of faïence, amber, precious and semi-precious stones, such as amethyst, carnelian, rock crystal, and Egyptian blue; scarabs made of various materials; gold masks; various pins and pendants.

The jewellery displays a vast array of fine gold and silverwork techniques, such as pierced work, granulation, embossing, chasing, and decorative wire, which illustrate a world of high art and wealth. The famous wooden throne of a princess from a tomb at Verruchio (Italy) completes the display.

In an attempt to give a Mediterranean dimension to the role of women in the dawn of history, from the 10th century BCE to the Archaic period (6th century BCE), 24 assemblages of grave goods associated with women from Greece (Attica, Euboea, Macedonia, Crete), Cyprus, Southern Italy, and Etruria are on display.

Analysis of these specific burials reveals how, concentrations of grave gifts and the similarities in burial customs, establish a strong ideological connection and a collective social dimension between countries and civilizations; it appears that these women, who held high status positions in their societies, were carriers of cultural and social information.

The exhibition’s strength lies in the selection of artefacts belonging to real women from the past, rather than mythical figures such as Helen of Troy. A genuine, tangible dimension is provided, where specific women are shown to be the active protagonists in the society and consequently, the human element plays a definitive role. The opportunity is afforded to discuss the interpretative issues and approaches of a woman’s role in the Early Iron Age societies.

The exhibition will run until 10 April, 2013.

Past Horizons. 2013. “Princesses of the Mediterranean in the dawn of history”. Past Horizons. Posted: February 5, 2013. Available online:

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