Greek antiquities tour US and Canada

As images of an ancient tomb discovered in Amphipolis, northeastern Greece, make headlines across the world, a group of ancient Greeks have been on the road since December 12, traveling to the New World for a well-documented comprehensive exhibition about their ancient world. Agamemnon, Leonidas, Plato, Aristotle, Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, all emblematic personalities of Greek history and mythology, are joined by anonymous Mycenaeans, aristocrats and athletes, kouroi and korai, in the largest ever archaeological exhibition of Greek-based artifacts to take place beyond the country’s borders, set to go on display in Canadian and US museums.

While the idea for the ancient Greek exhibits to make transatlantic trip, scheduled to last for two years (a first stop in Montreal, Canada, will be followed by Ottawa, Chicago and Washington DC), was born in the midst of the crisis, its realization was made possible thanks to funding from a consortium of North American museums formed for the tour, whose official representative is the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa. The Greek Ministry of Culture proved equally generous.

Over 500 masterpieces, including sculptures, paintings and pieces of jewelry – all discovered in excavations across Greece – were removed from the display cases of local museums to make up the portraits of Greeks who defined the country’s as well as the world’s cultural heritage through the centuries: from the unnamed dead to mythical King Agamemnon and from well-known early Iron Age aristocrats to the lustrous personalities of ancient Greek philosophy (Plato, Aristotle) and historical figures such as Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great.

The exhibition – the largest shipment of ancient artifacts showcasing landmark examples of excavation findings to travel beyond the country’s borders, following an exhibition on Alexander the Great at the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2011-12 – was put together with the help of 11 ephorates of prehistoric and classical antiquities and seven museums: the National Archaeological,Acropolis, Numismatic and Epigraphical museums in Athens and the archaeological museums of Thessaloniki, Pella and Iraklio.

“As highlighted in its title, ‘The Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Great,’ the exhibition focuses on man and images of places and cultures surrounding him from the Stone Age through the Hellenistic period, from about 6000 BC to the 2nd century,” noted Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, former general director of antiquities and culture at the Greek Culture Ministry, who coordinated the efforts of the committee in charge of selecting the objects and outlining the show’s structure through 10 display sections.

Landmark archaeological treasures, including the gold funeral mask of King Agamemnon and the gold wreath of Philip II of Macedon, highlight the Cycladic civilization, the dynamic character of the Minoans, the world of Mycenae, Homeric heroes, the ancient Greek athletic spirit, the depiction of the human figure, the self-sacrifices of Greeks, the structure and operations of democratic Athens, the accomplishments of Athenians in the fields of architecture, sculpture, painting, theater, history, philosophy and politics, as well as the military and financial rise of the Macedonian rulers.

While the Alexander the Great exhibition at the Louvre drew about 300,000 visitors during the show’s 80-day run, officials estimate that the current showcase of the ancient Greek civilization in North America will prove beneficial in several ways. According to Robert Peck, Canada’s ambassador to Greece, besides a rise in the number of international travelers expected to visit Greece through six weekly scheduled flights from Canada to the northern port city of Thessaloniki as of next summer, Canada will return the cultural favor with an exhibition on the Haida people, scheduled to take place in Greece after 2016.