The Aegina Treasury

18/01/2019 13:05

Aegina is an island not too big in the waters of the Saronic Gulf, near the Greek capital, Athens. The British Museum occupies a prominent space in the Bloomsbury neighbourhood, in the heart of London. Seventy gold jewels from the Bronze Age link both. The link is the Aegina Treasury history.

Along Greek archaic period and at the beginning of the classical, the island of Aegina colonized by Dorians arrived from the Epidaurus, according to Herodotus, rivalled the city-state of Athens. In the seventh century BC they could boast of possessing the most powerful fleet in the Aegean until Themistocles ordered the construction of a fleet of triremes that would have to surpass that of the Aegineans and that would serve to fight victoriously the Persians in Salamis. In the 5th century BC Aegina succumbed to the Athenian power. Two thousand five hundred years later the Athenians still go to Aegina. Now they do it on weekends thanks to the numerous ferries that connect the capital with the island taking no more than half an hour. There, in addition to beaches and taverns, there are you some ancient ruins to visit, including those of the Temple of Apollo.

To the northwest of the urban Aegina is the archaeological site of Κολώνας, Kolona, ​​name that the Venetian sailors gave precisely for the column that remained standing in the temple and that was, and still is, easily distinguishable from the sea. By land, it is reached at the end of the street that, from the port, goes bordering the coast to the northwest. Upon reaching the beach is the entrance to the Archaeological Museum and to the site, wider than it looks like from the outside.

Excavations carried out there, the most extensive between 1921 and 1954 by Gabriel Welter, revealed the presence of various settlements throughout history, beginning with the Neolithic, five thousand years before our era. The presence of organized communities continued in the Copper Age, when they would be related to the Minoan civilization of Crete and, later with the arrival of the successive migratory waves of Achaeans and Dorians. It is in a tomb of Mycenaean origin somewhere in what was known as Windmill Hill where is believed that an extraordinary funerary hoard consisting of seventy jewels was found. It is believed, because the origin was probably hidden so as not to disclose the location in the face of possible future findings because of economic interests. Neither is the exact date known, it is speculated that it must have been found between 1887 and 1890, since in 1891 a certain Fred Creswell, linked to the London company Cresswell Brothers, offered it to the British Museum. The company Cresswell Bros. was located at numbers 18 and 19 of Red Lion Square, near Holborn, and although they were mainly engaged in the importation of sponges they also traded with the findings made by the suppliers of the product in the Aegean. In their dives was common to find amphorae or other remnants of ancient shipwrecks. In 1891, a British resident in Aegina, whose name was George Brown, managed the sale of the treasure found, according to his son, Georges Brown II, randomly while planting vines. The treasure was offered to the museum in July 1891 through the Cresswell company for 6,000 pounds, finally the museum negotiator, A.S. Murray, who suspected that Frederick R. Creswell was merely acting as an intermediary in the transaction, ended up acquiring it in May 1892 for 4,000 pounds. Other pieces related to the treasure were added in 1914 and are currently exhibited in gallery 12, dedicated to the Greek age of bronze.

Although the tomb where supposedly were found is dated around 1350 BC the jewels have an earlier dating, between 1850 and 1550 BC. It is believed that the hoard has a Minoan origin and that its style denotes Mediterranean, Egyptian and Anatolian influences. Although, there were also opposing views such as that of Reynold Alleyne Higgins, who worked for the British Museum and also for the British School of Athens. In an article published in 1957 he suggested that there was enough evidence to believe that the treasure had actually been stolen between 1880 and 1885 from the Chrysolakkos graveyard, north of Malia, on the island of Crete.

The composition of the metal, studied with modern analysis techniques to certify and determine the age and the relation of the raw material of the different pieces, conclude that most of the elements come from the same workshop in which two different goldsmiths participated.

The treasure is composed of seventy pieces made of high purity gold, including three headbands, earrings, five rings, necklaces and pendants, a bracelet and a ring, fifty-four circular plates and a cup. Some pieces incorporate elements of lapis lazuli, amethyst, carnelian, quartz and green jasper, featuring a pendant in which is represented a human figure that grabs two ducks, probably geese, one in each hand, his feet rest on a stylized representation of a boat adorned with lotus flowers. This is the jewel known as Master of the Animals, possibly a Cretan deity. Four curved strips wrapping around the three figures surround the set. The one of the man is dressed with a skirt in the style of those that can be seen in Egyptian figures, has a naked torso and on his head wears a tiara with vertical grooves; the ears are decorated with two earrings and from the bottom of the piece hang five discs. Other relevant pieces are four almost identical earrings, with the exception of some missing element. Within the circle that forms a snake with two heads there are two symmetrical greyhounds facing their snouts and holding a reddish and translucent carnelian stone. The dogs are placed upon the figures of two monkeys who turn their backs each other. Around the circle are seven rings and seven figures of birds, all joined with fine chains of the same metal. The pendants of the birds hold each one a piece of rhinestones of the same type as the one in the centre of the jewel. A curved plate topped by two male heads that look in opposite directions forms another pectoral, from the bottom hang ten gold discs. There are also diadems and bracelets as well as 54 circular pieces in the shape of a button. The cup is almost ten centimetres in diameter decorated with a rosette and four spirals.

© J.L.Nicolas


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