About the dating of sculptures of Amphipolis – Antonio Corso about Olga Palagia: she supports dogmas and not the data


Dr. Antonio Corso is also progressing in his understanding of the tumulus Kasta’ near Amphipolis and describes how it expresses the transition of the ancient world from the domination of Apollo to the sovereignty of Dionysus, a phenomenon that characterizes the period of the Macedonian rule and particularly that of Alexander the Great !!!

Interview by Theodore An. Spaneli

A lot of information about the archaeologist Antonio Corso is not needed, at least by those who monitor the progress of Amphipolis excavation. He has lavished the wealth of his knowledge about several aspects of the tumulus Kasta, through his work with the excavation team as well as through his statements, whether through interviews or posts on social media. He developed a strong expertise on the subject of ancient sculptures (he is also author of several books) which is why I approached him for a comment about the «heretical» views of his colleague Olga Palagia on the dating of the monument. However, the discussion was not limited just to the question of the validity of the views of Mrs. Palagia, but also evolved into a revelation of all the background behind the points of view expressed by the specific archaeologist!

A background which is really interesting because it turns out that the views expressed by Mrs. Palagia are not accidental nor are they product of poor evaluation!!! Nevertheless, it was not possible to avoid discussing the tumulus Kasta’ as well, as Dr. Corso with his exceptional knowledge goes one step further in his interpretation of the symbolic elements of the tumulus and reveals the ideology it embodies and which is closely related to the period when it was built. The views expressed on the identity of the monument are another important element for its proper dating since each era has an ideology that characterizes it and which is reflected in monumental buildings.

– Your colleague, Mrs. Palagia wrote again recently on the issue of Amphipolis in her survey of news about ancient Greek sculpture. «In that text, she makes a big mistake: she claims that the head attributed to one of the two Sphinxes is not pertinent to that statue. This is a big mistake. I’ve been twice in the tumulus Kasta’ and I saw the head with my own eyes as well as the Sphinxes: it fits one hundred percent with the body of the statue. Second, she argues that the sphinxes were found without wings and this is also not true. As you know, in the presentation of September 30th, 2015, in the Aristotle University, the relevant material for the wings was presented. Let me remind you that several pieces of the wings have been found, so no one can say that there are no wings. Third, she supports another idea which I think is wrong, the claim that the lion was not up the hill when in fact a piece of it was found on the hill of the tumulus. A fourth mistake is found in her statement that each Karyatid held the architrave with one hand. That is also not true. Here, there is a methodological question. Science requires precision and being precise is absolutely crucial in the research field. If there is no precision, there is no science, when someone makes four mistakes in few lines of a text, this fact is not good for the researcher who wrote that page. Moreover ethics requires that the archaeologist sees everything with his own eyes. For example, I had -for many years- some ideas on a statue of Eros, which is located in St. Petersburg , the Soranzo Eros. I did not write anything until I visited St. St Petersburg and saw the statue in optimal conditions for several hours. You have to see everything you study with your own eyes.

You cannot draw conclusions from photos whose quality often is not very good. In particular photos in internet are rarely good. The eye witnessing is something important in the work of the archaeologist, who cannot go to conclusions without it. Moreover you cannot study the sculptures of a monument ignoring other archaeological details. You saw at the presentation of September 30ththat a coin of Alexander the Great was found in the tumulus. I’m not an expert so I do not speak about it, for the same reason I do not speak of the inscriptions, leaving the matter to the specialists in the field. But you cannot reach a conclusion by ignoring the existence of these data, it is unethical. »

– Essentially Mrs. Palagia takes in consideration only the sculptures and ignore all the other data? «Exactly, she must take all the available data into account to arrive at a conclusion. The coin for example offers important information on the dating of the monument, the statue is just a part of a whole. We must also see the overall picture, the inscriptions speak of a specific period, that of Hephaistion. »

What is she saying exactly about the lion? Is she denying that it was up on the tomb? «She questions that conclusion. However since a piece of the lion was found on the hill, this fact suggests that it was there.»

– The styles of the lion, of the sphinxes and of the Caryatids are the same? «The general style is that of the late 4th c. BC, but the statues were made by more than one workshop. Any one, who studies archeology, knows that the surfaces of sculptures change in different periods, the type of polishing of the surface of a sculpture is an important indication for its dating. In the 4th century the surface of sculptures is rather crispy, while in the advanced Hellenistic period it becomes smoother, in the late Hellenistic period it is often hyper-polished. The statues I saw with my own eyes at the tumulus Kasta, have still crispy surfaces. This is an important element in favour of their dating within the 4th century. The surface texture is an important term of comparison. »

– Which other features of the sculptures lead to dating? «There is a statue of Dionysos from the theatre of Euonymos, in the National Museum of Athens. Its base is preserved and bears the dedication by Olympiadoros, an Athenian who is active in the 330s and 320s BC. Thus the date of this statue is firmly established. This Dionysos wears a garment bearing on the chest the same triangle with zig-zag borders which is also found in the clothes of the two Karyatids in the tumulus Kasta.»

– Mrs. Palagia claims that the Karyatids are archaistic. What is your comment?

«Archaistic styles do not begin in the Hellenistic period, but at the end of the 5th century with Alkamenes doing works that imitate those of the previous periods. A work of Alkamenes revealing this trend is his statue of Hermes Propylaios, on the Acropolis of Athens. He also made a statue of Dionysus set up in the Temple of Dionysus Eleutherios, near the theater dedicated to him, in Athens. There is even a copy of this statue which is kept in St. Petersburg and bears clear archaistic features. At the end of 5th century there was nostalgia for the golden age that was preceded these decades, that of Pericles. The ideology of Macedon, in the second half of the 4th century, is very retro. There is a strong desire to revive the values of the heroic times described by Homer: an age characterized by powerful monarchies and by the heroes of the Iliad. Which is why Alexander is the new Achilles and Hephaestion is the new Patroclus.

Also, the war against Persia becomes a second war against Troy. With this ideology, ancient styles become very fashionable and we know that from the statue of Dionysus from the theater of Evonimos as well. This statue also has the same strip on the chest which is found also on the Karyatids of Amphipolis. As noticed before, the Dionysos of Euonymos was dedicated by an Athenian politician, Olympiodoros, who flourished in 330-320 BC and was a member of the pro-Macedonian party of Athens. Moreover, the theater of Euonymos was destroyed in the 260s BC and thus the date of this statue cannot go below that date. Well, the style of this statue is very close to that of the Karyatids of Amphipolis. »

– You have found this comparison as an archaeologist studying sculpture, why Ms. Palagia does not acknowleddge these considerations?

“I do not know why. I did my research and comparisons and took my conclusions, but for reasons I do not know, she ignores them. What she does is not methodologically correct, but only the enunciation of dogmas. There is a movement in classical archeology that downdates many works of art usually attributed to the classical period to the Roman period! This movement is very strong in America and especially in the Bryn Mawr college where there is a lady, Mrs. Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, who wrote that many works of art until now attributed to classical Greece – such as the bronze statues of Riace and the Apollo Sauroktonos (lizard – killer), are late Hellenistic or Roman. Mrs. Palagia supports these views of American archaeologists and always expresses their opinions. For example on 21 January, 2016, a former student of Ridgway delivered a lecture in the American School at Athens in which she asserted that the Sauroktonos or lizard slayer is not a 4thcentury work by Praxiteles but a work of the advanced Hellenistic period. Palagia was there, she even was invited for dinner by the director of the American School together with the speaker, all these people are clearly allies and want the destruction of a spiritually rich notion of classical Greece, they want to establish a prehistoric notion of the same period, characterized by uniformity of style, absence of artists, etc.»

– This is the reason why Mrs. Palagia writes that even the statues of the tumulus Kasta are Roman?

«Exactly. It is directly linked to the views of Bryn Mawr and Mrs. Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. Mrs. Palagia is perhaps the only archaeologist in Europe that agrees with them, as most European archaeologists do not espouse these views. Maybe that’s why they honored her with great awards; scholarships (she got a rich fellowship of the Metropolitan Museum of New York), conferences, lectures, etc. Mrs. Palagia is doing her own business and thus she asserts what pleases this current of the American archaeology. »

– In any case the issue of Amphipolis was an obsession for Mrs. Palagia. «There is one more reason for that. Mrs. Palagia wrote that Thasos marble was not exported before the Roman period. Having made this mistake, she wants that every work in Thasian marble is Roman in order to cover her first mistake. There are people who when they have to choice between truth and dogma, they choose the dogma. For these people the dogmas are more powerful than data. And when the data are against their dogmas , they cannot admit that they were wrong! It is no coincidence that Mrs. Palagia published her views on the Tumulus Kasta’ in a pamphlet of the British School at Athens, the director of which, Mrs. Kathrin Morgan – for eight years she held the position – was a very close ally of Mrs. Palagia and supported the minimalistic idea of classical Greece, the opinions of Bryn Mawr and specifically those Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. This idea that dogmas are more powerful than data, is one of the most evil and dangerous phenomena of classical archaeology. »

– The monument of Amphipolis displays monumental sculptures, how important are they and how much new knowledge are they offering us? «They are very important because we see two Karyatids that are very close to the world of Dionysos. On the frieze we see the bull referring to Dionysus Zagreus. We see the world of Dionysos becoming very important: these figures reflect the shift in the Greek civilization from the logical analysis of the world toward ecstatic enthusiasm. This phenomenon fits very well the absolutistic monarchy; from the kingdom of Apollo we passed into that of Dionysos. This spiritual change implies also emphasis on death and on the life after death, because these great mysteries are very in keeping with the above mentioned ecstasis. This trend promotes also monarchic values, as the king is made equal to gods. This is the biggest revolution of the ancient Greek civilization. »

– The fact that we have a god like Dionysus, who though god dies and is reborn, as a god has something human, because he died and but enjoys the divine privilege of regeneration, this is in favour of monarchy? Videlicet, the monarchy has something human but also something divine? «Exactly! This happens with Alexander the Great who was a child of a woman and a god, which makes him half human half god. So Alexander is as a new Dionysos, he was a child of Semele and Zeus, he’s of Olympias and Zeus”.

– This is the ideology that reflects the monument?

«This is it. This is very important because you get a great change that is a revolution in the ancient Greek civilization. »

– There is a similar Macedonian monument throughout the empire of Alexander the great, in Europe or in Asia that captures this vision? «Yes, there are of course in Vergina monuments that partly express the hope that you may get after death the life of the blessed. In Amphipolis however, this vision is more open, more visible and more comprehensible. Vergina and Amphipolis are equal. The sphinxes as we know from the myth of Oedipus hold this secret idea. For this reason, while during the classical period the area of the sanctuary was the most important reference point in the city, in this new context it is the tomb which becomes a the most powerful symbolic monument of the community. This process begins with the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus during 355-350 BC and continues at Amphipolis. Of course this important novelty is tied to the revival of the absolutistic monarchy, since usually the monumental tomb which is admired from far away is that of the ruler. Amfipolis is the starting point of Alexander’s campaign to Asia, here is the tomb of Hephaistion, while the local cult of Dionysus on Mt. Pangaion is also relevant. The scholars who argue that the tomb in Amphipolis differs from standard Macedonian tombs forget that in this area we have a blend of two cultures, the Macedonian and Thracian, we have a mix that creates something new. Here we have the worship of Artemis and Phyllis, daughter of the king of Thrace. Generally the Thracian ideology is very strong. In fact, the Karyatids in Svestari, in Bulgaria imitate those of Amphipolis. The monument of Svestari is younger, of the first half of the 3rd century.

The worship of Dionysus is very strong in Thrace and from there came to southern Greece. Rhesus and Orpheus were also worshiped here; all these heroes are Thracians. That is why the monument is not only Macedonian «.

– Kasta Hill gave us everything that it had to give? «No, excavation has been done on a small part of the tumulus; if they don’t dig up all the space inside the tumulus we can not know if there is something else. We will wait for the sequence. » CAPTION: On the right, the statue of god Dionysus and on the left the Karyatid of Amphipolis, the similarities are really impressive. The base of the statue of Dionysos from the theater of Euonimos bears a dedication which is dated around 330-320 BC.


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