Thasos Island, Greece.
Yves Grandjean & François Salviat, Guide de Thasos (Paris/Athens 2000)—an exemplary account of the ancient city which will long remain unsuperseded.
Thasos Travel Guide
The Archaeological Museum
This is one of the finest and most comprehensive museums of antiquities in the islands. It has recently been enlarged and refurbished. Both because of the quality and variety of exhibits as well as for the intelligence of the display and didactical material, it is a collection that should not be missed. (Open 8–3, closed Mon.)
Magnificently confronting the visitor on entering the museum is the treasure of the whole collection and its largest exhibit—the *colossal Kouros holding a ram—3.5m high, sculpted in Thasian marble, and dating from c. 600 bc. This is one of the masterpieces of monumental Archaic sculpture. The piece is manifestly unfinished and was abandoned because of the fault and split in the marble which appeared through the left ear and neck of the figure. It was subsequently broken up into five pieces and used as building material in the northeast terrace-wall of the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo on the acropolis of Thasos : this was common practice since a sculpture, once begun, belonged to the god to whom it was to be dedicated, and burying it in the foundations of a temple or its walls was therefore a way of rendering it to the divinity nonetheless. The work has been substantially roughed out, and bears the clear marks of bronze tools (pick, point and chisel) on its surface: its face, hands, feet and limbs are still mostly un-worked; but the hair on the back is beautifully finished, with only the crown and the knot of the hair-band still incomplete. The artist takes a delight, typical of Archaic taste and design, in the clear outline of the ram’s haunches and the vigorous spiral of the horns which form the focus of the image: it is these pure and stylised lines which give such power to Archaic sculpture. In similar fashion to the Moscophoros (the ‘calf-bearer’) in Athens, the statue—perhaps unconsciously—evokes the close interdependency of man and animal. The presence of the animal has led to the suggestion that, in spite of its colossal size, this statue represents not the deity himself, but a figure bringing an offering to him—as in the case of the Moscophoros. But the question of size cannot be explained away so easily: it might be preferable to see this magnificent piece as the divinity (probably Apollo) simply receiving the offering, and taking it to himself. The image nonetheless is unusual: the only comparable subjects derive from an artistic tradition, found in particular in Boeotia and Arcadia, which depicted the god Hermes as Kriophoros, ‘carrying a ram’.
To the left of the Kouros in the main hall, is exhibited the beautiful fragment of a relief depicting a seated goddess in a framed aedicule with women bringing votive gifts. The piece was returned to Thasos in 2006 from the Getty Museum in California, where it had been the subject of a judicial inquest.
A room (to the right on entering) exhibits an interesting and nostalgic photo graphic reportage of the early excavations undertaken on Thasos , inviting the visitor to participate in the excitement of the uncovering of so many ancient pieces.
The itinerary begins in the room to the left of the Kouros, where the finds from prehistoric Thasos are immaculately exhibited. Especially noteworthy are: the displays showing the wide variety of prehistoric decorations for pottery; the anthropomorphic stelai or monoliths from Skala Sotiros; and the fine reconstructions of the interior of an Iron Age dwelling from Kastri Theologos and of a burial-place from the cemetery there.
The main area which fol lows and which is articulated in zones on different levels, gives a rich sense of the sophistication and prosperity of the city of Thasos , as well as of the quality of its architecture and sculpture—something which was fuelled by the presence of the quarries of its own excellent native marble. Here can be seen copies of the magnificent reliefs of crouching lions (7th century bc; originals in the Louvre) which marked the entrance to the Archaic sanctuary of Apollo Pythios, and the superb craftsmanship of the architectural fragments collected from the temple—soft and pliant Ionic capitals, and intricately-carved sections of friezes. There is also an interesting section dedicated to the public areas of the city, exhibiting the inscribed lists of theoroi from the ‘Passage of the Theoroi’ (see pp. 29–31), and some examples of the fine statuary which adorned the area of the agora. Also displayed in this area is the boustrophedon dedication (c. 600 bc) from the monument to Glaucus (see p. 28), who was a friend of Archilochus.
Passing (up a shallow flight of stairs) through a small collection of Roman portraiture, with a particularly well-pre served statue of Hadrian from the city’s agora, you come at the next level to the core of the upper area which is formed by the general sculpture collection. The first piece you encounter—the stylised ‘Wix’ Sphynx (6th century bc)— would probably have stood on top of an Ionic column to mark the grave of a hero or warrior. Facing it, against the wall, is a piece from a very different age, but of grandly dramatic design: it is a *large, fragmentary sculpture-group from a funerary stele in which the life-size figure of the deceased is seen in what are perhaps her last moments in life, supported under her arms by a figure who bends over her from behind, while another figure looks on possibly pre paring to veil her head. The head of the sick lady, turned dramatically to one side, gives the whole scene a sense of foreboding, reminiscent of entombment scenes in mediaeval and Renaissance art.
Many of the other pieces in this area are of funerary art with carved reliefs of mourning figures and funeral banquets. Note especially the Pancarpos stele (2nd century ad), which possesses elements which seem to presage future Christian iconography—a serpent entwined around a tree (Genesis), and a solitary lancing rider on a horse (St George), above a woman seated nursing a new-born baby (Nativity). In a show case in the centre of this area is a perfectly conserved *bronze hydria, probably of Attic origin, with a small medallion-sized relief depicting a somewhat effeminate figure of Dionysos beside a pacified lion. The form and the restraint of the piece is exemplary. It contained the ashes of a middle-aged man. What comfort it must have been to know that the ashes of the deceased might be conserved for eternity in such beautiful objects.
The unfinished pieces in the statuary collection are, as always, revealing of the ways sculptors worked: the half finished, Hellenistic sculpture depicting a helmeted warrior in one corner of the gallery, still preserves the ‘knobs’ on the surface used for the three-point transfer method of copying from a clay model into stone.
There follows a series of thematic displays. A small and select collection of pottery artefacts and architectural elements in terracotta: note the fine 7th century bc Cycladic (? Parian) platters with intricate designs of animal and mythological scenes (another of these is exhibited on the ground floor). An exhibition relating to the important trading of wine on the island, including the inscribed 5th century bc laws regulating the wine trade, and the standard measures for liquids which were kept in the agora.
The rest of the upper area is divided topographically, with each zone displaying the artefacts of a particular sanctuary of one of the gods. The large Hellenistic sculptures from the votive monument to Dionysos are exhibited here. The placid and effeminate head of Dionysos, of c. 350 bc, whose elegiac gaze belongs to the age and influence of Praxiteles, could not be more in contrast to the terrifying, 6th century bc *head of Silenus (on the opposite wall), emphatically carved with deep-cutting point-work. The original appearance of this minuscule piece—which is one of the jewels of the collection—would have been further intensified by the addition of bright colour.
Some of the finest sculptural pieces are from the sanctuary of Hercules: these include the front portion of a *winged horse or Pegasus, (c. 500 bc) whose rhythmic carving is of decidedly oriental style; and the beautiful head of another horse, whose slightly later date has endowed the piece with a greater and more graceful sense of movement.
Other points of interest in this area include a collection of portable artefacts and marble carving from Byzantine Thasos , and a small display of coins found in excavations. For the design of its earliest coins, in the 6th and 5th centuries bc, Thasos chose the theme of Silenus (sometimes seen carrying off a Maenad); the island turned to the more ‘orthodox’ theme of the head of Dionysos or of Hercules in the 4th century bc.
On leaving the upper floor, the visitor is rewarded with a vision of the colossal Kouros in the vestibule from a balcony above, which reveals the fine carving of the hair and the back of the figure.
The finds displayed around the external courtyard are mostly Hellenistic sarcophagi and funerary monuments, bearing inscriptions or—as in the case of one family of stone-masons—showing the tools of their trade. The inscriptions make instructive reading: they speak of ‘the fortune of being happily married for 50 years’, of ‘being as blessed in death as in life’. In the world of grave-stone sentiment, it appears little has changed over the millennia.
Just to the east of the museum is the broad, low structure of the church of Aghios Nikolaos, which was substantially restored in the last century. In its pleasant interior, the nave is lined with re-used ancient marble columns (some fluted) supporting Early Christian capitals. The remains of wall-paintings can be seen in the sanctuary and apse, but these are much blackened with candle soot and are consequently hard to date.
Thasos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.