Early antiquarians in Roman Greece

Antiquarians, individuals usually of education and means, who studied or collected antiquities, have played a key role in the present-day view and understanding of the ancient Greek world. One of the most important antiquarians ? judging from a contemporary, archaeological perspective ? was Pausanias, a Greek native of Roman-controlled Asia Minor, who wrote extensively about his travels through mainland Greece just after the middle of the 2nd century AD.

Pausanias? writings (today titled ?Guide to Greece?), although preserved only in two 15th-century manuscripts containing many copyists? errors and textual gaps (lacunae), offer uniquely detailed, remarkably accurate descriptions of the ancient Greek landscape. He is best known for his firsthand observations of the richly adorned cities and sanctuaries of Athens, Delphi and Olympia but equally intriguing are references to outlying sites or monuments on the urban fringes, in the countryside or on the coast (see below). Pausanias, like 5th-century BC historian Herodotus before him, relates orally transmitted topographical, historical and religious data that he gathered from learned local sources. Occasionally, Pausanias? ?Guide? omits or overlooks seemingly significant features or appears to be mistaken; at other points, it contains fascinating examples of locally retained knowledge.

?Twenty stades [3.7 km] from Piraeus,? Pausanias writes, ?lies Cape Kolias, onto which, when the Persian fleet was destroyed [at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC], the wrecks were carried down by the waves.? Pausanias is probably referring to Aghios Cosmas, a small, hook-shaped peninsula adjacent to the Elliniko Olympic Complex on the road to Vouliagmeni, southeast of Athens, which acted as a trap to catch the floating, shattered remains of Persian warships.

Pausanias? account of Greece gave aid many centuries later to like-minded antiquarian travelers including William Leake (early 1800s). Half a century after Leake, Heinrich Schliemann, inspired by Homer but guided by Pausanias, discovered Grave Circle A at Mycenae.

The mention of antiquarians today usually brings to mind images of 17th-, 18th- or 19th-century Western Europeans like Leake and Schliemann who roamed the ancient Mediterranean world recording and collecting the tangible traces of a romanticized past. James Stuart, Nicholas Revett, Louis Fauvel, Baron von Stackelberg and Lord Elgin also ranked among the most renowned or notorious antiquarian figures, while Cyriac of Ancona described Athenian antiquities as early as 1437. Even in the 15th century, however, antiquarianism was already an age-old pursuit.

Fascination with 5th- and 4th-century BC Classical Greece had begun almost as soon as that era had ended with the rise and fall of Alexander the Great. Rulers of Hellenistic kingdoms following Alexander?s death in 323 BC sought to to preserve the heritage of the Greek homeland?s glorious past. The Attalid kings at Pergamon and Ptolemies in Alexandria founded vast libraries that together amounted to almost a million scrolls, many of which recorded the scientific, philosophical, artistic and political contributions of the earlier Greeks. Interest in the past was also visible in the works of contemporary Hellenistic writers, including Diogenes Laertius (3rd c BC), who authored ?Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,? and Philochorus (3rd c BC), who wrote a history of his native Athens down to 262 BC.

The Romans, after subduing the Greek East in the mid-2nd century BC, exhibited their own appreciation for Greek history and culture. Arrian (ca 86 BC – AD 160) compiled a well-documented account of Alexander?s conquests; Diodorus of Sicily (1st c BC) produced an extensive world history in 40 books; and Plutarch (ca 46 BC – AD 120) compared the common virtues and vices of famous Greeks and Romans. The eras of emperors Augustus (31 BC – AD 14) and Hadrian (AD 117-138) were periods when Roman respect for past Greek ways was particularly evident. Augustus? architects showed familiarity with the Athenian Acropolis, when they inserted caryatids into the design of the emperor?s new forum and styled swirling acanthus tendrils ? carved in relief on the Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis) ? after the Erectheion?s similarly decorated moldings. The Altar?s figural procession also evokes the Panathenaic Procession on the frieze of the Parthenon.

Pausanias was a product of such Roman antiquarianism, born in a century when Hadrian ? perhaps Rome?s best-known philhellene ? had himself traveled to Greece, erected significant monuments in Athens (including the colossal Olympieion) and made numerous benefactions to the venerable province. Pausanias? description of Greece has become a highly regarded source exploited by archaeologists and enjoyed by the lay public who, especially in recent years, have increasingly recognized the accuracy, value and charm of this age-old Roman guidebook.

Pausanias on…

Mts Pendeli, Parnitha and Hymettus

?The Attic mountains are Pentelicus, where there are quarries; Parnes, where there is hunting of wild boars and of bears; and Hymettus, which grows the most suitable pasture for bees… The Athenians have also statues of gods on their mountains. On Pentelicus is a statue of Athena, on Hymettus one of Zeus Hymettius. There are altars both of Zeus Rain-god and of Apollo Foreseer. On Parnes is a bronze Zeus Parnethius and an altar to Zeus Semaleus (Sign-Giving). There is on Parnes another altar and on it they make sacrifice, calling Zeus sometimes Rain-god, sometimes Averter of Ills…?

Athens?s Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro)

?A thing… wonderful to see is the white marble stadium. The best way of conveying the size of it is to describe the hill above the Ilissos [River], starting from a natural amphitheater, coming right down to the bank of the river in straight double lines… This was built by Herodes [Atticus], an Athenian, and the greater part of the Pentelic quarry was exhausted in its construction.?

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