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The Aegina Treasure Reconsidered1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2013


The Aegina Gold Treasure in the British Museum has always been something of a mystery, because no other ancient jewellery has been found sufficiently like it to give any indication of its date or its fabric. At the time of its first appearance it was generally regarded as Late Mycenaean (i.e. L.H. III). More recently there has been a tendency to put it in the seventh century B.G., and one scholar even sees it as Phoenician. The Greek archaeologist Stais, moreover, held from the start that it was not a homogeneous deposit, but a mixture of Mycenaean and later elements. The time is clearly ripe for a thorough re-examination in the light of present archaeological knowledge.

What, in fact, do we know of the circumstances of its discovery? It was offered to the British Museum in 1891 through the agency of a member of a firm of sponge-importers, and was said to have been recently found in a tomb in Aegina. Although no other details were disclosed, this find-spot is inherently reasonable, since Aegina was at that time the centre of the Greek sponge trade. The Museum bought the Treasure in the following year, and in 1893 Evans published it, but could give no further details. Indeed, he implied that since the export of all antiquities from Greece was illegal, the jewellery must have been secretly excavated and smuggled out of the country, and nothing more would ever be known.

Research Article
Copyright © The Council, British School at Athens 1957

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2 Evans, , JHS xiii (18921893) 195 ff.Google Scholar; Marshall, BMC Jewellery xix; Myres, , Antiquity 1951, 70.Google Scholar For his remarks about associated pottery, see n. 10.

3 Becatti, , Oreficerie Antiche 38 (hereafter = Becatti)Google Scholar; Demargne, , La Crète dédalique 126.Google Scholar

4 Lorimer, , Homer and the Monuments 71.Google Scholar

5 AE 1895, 252.

6 Loc. cit.

7 Stais, loc. cit.; Keramopoullos, , AE 1910, 178 and 183.Google Scholar The temple is now believed to belong not to Aphrodite but to Apollo.

8 Loc. cit.

9 Op. cit. 183. For the date, see Furumark, , Chronology 66.Google Scholar

10 Ashmolean Museum nos. AE 299–301. They were bought in 1893 from a member of the firm of spongeimporters through whom the Treasure had reached the British Museum in 1891. Although the Register only says ‘from a tomb in Aegina’, Sir John Myres (in a letter about the Treasure) writes: ‘The associated pottery was acquired by Sir Arthur Evans, and is in the Ashmolean Museum … My own information was from Sir Arthur Evans about the time of its arrival at the Ashmolean.’ This can only refer to these four vases, and it explains Myres's remarks (loc. cit.) about the association of Mycenaean pottery with the Treasure. The vases appear to be transitional L.H. IIIA–B.

11 A gold bead now part of 758 A; four green jasper beads now part of 754 A; two cornelian beads now part of 756 A; and three cornelian beads now part of 760 A.

12 Prehistoric Aigina 24.

13 Aigina 55, 118.

14 JHS xiii. 195 ff.

15 BMC Jewellery xviii, and 51, nos. 683–768. The rings are also catalogued in BMC Finger-rings, under nos. 690–3 and 888.

16 To bibliography add Holland, , AJA xxxiii. 191, fig. 7AGoogle Scholar; Marinatos, , BSA xlvi. 115, fig. 7Google Scholar; Becatti, pl. 25, no. 122; Nilsson, , Minoan-Mycenaean Religion 2367, fig. 177.Google Scholar

17 Palace of Minos (= PM) iv. 168; Nilsson, op. cit. 360; BSA xlvii. 275, fig. 16, 111. 20.

18 Cf. Karo, , Schachtgräber von Mykenai pl. 30.Google Scholar (Hereafter = Karo.)

19 See Karo, loc. cit.

20 See the four succeeding notes. Demargne dated the tomb 1900–1700 B.C. (M.M. I). Platon, , however (Heraklion Museum Guide (1955) 96)Google Scholar, brings its lower limit down into the seventeenth century. The gold in Minoan communal tombs tends to belong to the latest interments, since that from earlier burials was removed on later occasions. This would give a seventeenth-century dating for the Chrysolakkos gold.

21 Demargne, , Mallia: Nécropoles i (Études Crétoises vii) 56, pls. 22Google Scholar and 67, no. 588. (Hereafter = Demargne.)

22 Demargne, 54, pl. 66, no. 559.

23 Ibid. 53, pls. 22 and 67, no. 562.

24 Ibid. pl. 65, the two (unnumbered) below no. 564.

25 I do not include gold disks pierced twice and connected by loops of wire. This appears to be a later Mycenaean type. Examples are: AE 1888, pl. 9: 9; Persson, , Royal Tombs at Dendra pl. 27Google Scholar and p. 41, no. 3. JHS xxiv. 323, no. 4905 (from Mycenae, L.H. II) is not illustrated nor described in detail, but apparently belongs to this later type.

26 Seager, Mochlos fig. 43, xix. 19 (hereafter = Seager). The tombs from which most of the jewellery came probably all belong to the last centuries of the Early Minoan period, say, 2200–1900 B.C.

27 BMC Jewellery no. 815. At first sight it might be thought, from its resemblance to a piece from Ephesus (Hogarth, , Ephesus pl. 23, 2Google Scholar), to belong to the seventh century B.C., but this Mesopotamian motive, never really Greek, has a long history in its homeland. PM iv, pl. 34, top (L.M. IA), is an earlier example from Crete. Cf. also Zervos, L'Art de la Crète fig. 484.

28 Blegen, , Zygouries pl. 20, 11.Google Scholar

29 PM i, frontispiece.

30 Ibid. ii. 774 ff. See also AJA xxxiii. 173 ff.

31 Pendlebury, , Archaeology of Crete 117.Google Scholar

32 PM iv. 575, figs. 555 and 557.

33 See p. 45 n. 17.

34 Nilsson, op. cit. 357 ff., 513 ff.

35 JHS xiii. 197. For instance, whatever our man is standing on, it is not a boat. And the head of an Egyptian fowler would almost certainly be rendered in profile.

36 Seager, figs. 10, 11, 20, 25, and 43; Xanthoudides, , Vaulted Tombs of Mesara pl. 57Google Scholar; Ann. xiii–xiv. 195, fig. 63.

37 Die alte Orient xv. 64, fig. 115. For H.'s date, see Anatolian Studies vii. 54ff.

38 PM ii. 265, fig. 158.

39 To bibliography add Becatti, pl. 25, no. 118.

40 See succeeding note.

41 Most of the pendants are in their original positions, and this scheme may be regarded as certain. A few, presum ably because they were found detached, have been at some time attached with cotton, not always logically so far as the owls are concerned. The present arrangement is intended to reproduce the original scheme. The second set (nos. 764 and 765) is complete. Of the first set, no. 763 now lacks one owl, and no. 766 two. An owl of the type proper to the second set was formerly attached with cotton to no. 763. It cannot belong to the second set, which has its full complement, and almost certainly represents a survivor from another ornament of this nature. The beads listed below as nos. 21 (3 and 4) add weight to the possibility that there were originally more than four such ornaments.

42 Demargne, pl. 67, 3.

43 Seager, figs. 10, 11, 20, 25, and 43; Karo, op. cit., pl. 22.

44 Morgan, De, Fouilles à Dahchour, Mars–Juin 1894, pl. 19, 1.Google Scholar

45 BSA xxxix. 66.

46 Seager, fig. 11, 11. 42b; Xanthoudides, op. cit., pl. 15, no. 1026.

47 See Frankfort, , Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient 56, pl. 56.Google Scholar

48 Nilsson, op. cit. 490.

49 To bibliography, add Becatti, no. 119. Pallottino, Critica d'Arte 1942, pl. 1, fig. 1.Google Scholar

50 Evans, (JHS xiii. 207)Google Scholar and Marshall, (BMC Jewellery 54)Google Scholar both mention traces of blue glass-paste. By this they presumably mean the substance present in nos. 1216, which they also mistook for glass, but which in fact is lapis lazuli.

51 e.g. Bossert, The Art of Ancient Crete figs. 226–31, 238, 248–55.

52 Chapouthier, , Deux Épées … (Études Crétoises v) pl. 18.Google Scholar

53 PM iii. 418, figs. 283 ff.

54 To bibliography add Becatti, no. 120.

55 Mon Piot xxviii, 1 ff.: Études Crétoises i, pl. 32.

56 To bibliography add Becatti no. 121.

57 Demargne, pl. 65, nos. 564; 563; unnumbered to right of 563; unnumbered, immediately below last.

58 Karo, pl. 39, nos. 236–9.

59 Illustrated London News Feb. 27th, 1954, 324, fig. 7.

59 Archaeologia lxxxii (1932) 195.

61 Karo, pls. 36–39, especially pl. 39 (top).

62 Seager, figs. 8 and 9, and elsewhere.

63 Xanthoudides, op. cit. pl. 57.

64 Demargne, pl. 65.

65 PM iii. 295, fig. 193. Karo, pls. 174 (no. 200) and 55.

66 Seager, figs. 8, 10.

67 Demargne, pl. 65.

68 De Morgan, op. cit. pl. 20, no. 17.

69 These comprise all the beads of this type from the old nos. 758 and 759 respectively, together with a few more, from the same source, acquired in 1914. They have been restrung (in 1956) in a less fanciful and more logical way, and one which has a greater chance of being correct. No reliance is to be placed on the order in which the beads were strung when the Treasure was acquired.

70 Illustrated London News 27 Feb. 1954, 324, figs. 5 and 8.

71 Mylonas, Ancient Mycenae fig. 80.

72 To bibliography add Beck, , Beads and Pendants 35, fig. 28, A. 7. a.Google Scholar These beads were strung together (in 1956) from beads from nos. 753, 756, 760, and two, of cornelian, from the same source, acquired in 1914. This arrangement does not pretend to be correct, but is logical and makes for greater ease of study. There is no evidence for the original arrangement of the beads from the Treasure. That the blue beads are of lapis lazuli was established by examination (in Nov. 1956) by the British Museum, Natural History, Department of Minerals. At the same time the inlay of the rings nos. 1316 was also established as lapis lazuli.

73 Examples are: Seager, figs. 32 and 34, and Demargne, pls. 31 and 32 (twentieth century B.C.); Karo, pl. 27, nos. 27 and 28 (sixteenth century B.C.); Winter, , Typen der figürlichen Terrakotten i. 19Google Scholar, and BMC Terracottas i (1954) no. 32 (seventh century B.C.).

74 Woolley, , Ur Excavations ii, pls. 127–35.Google Scholar

75 AJA xlix. 14 ff., and refs.

76 See p. 50 n. 72.

77 Woolley, op. cit. pl. 138.

78 The Vapheio Tomb, , AE 1889, pl. 7, 9.Google Scholar

79 Slightly later examples come from Phaestus, (MA xiv. 592, figs. 53–55)Google Scholar and Volo, (AE 1906, 233, figs. 10, 11).Google Scholar

80 Seager, fig. 31, XII m.

81 Payne, , Necrocorinthia pl. 4, 1–2Google Scholar; Pfuhl, Malerei und Zeichung fig. 135.

82 See p. 50 n. 72.

83 See de la Ferté, Coche, Les Bijoux antiques 67.Google Scholar

84 Winlock, , Treasure of Lahun pl. 13c.Google Scholar

85 De Morgan, op. cit. pl. 16, no. 15.

86 BMC Jewellery no. 817. I am assured by I. E. S. Edwards that, although there is strong Egyptian influence, the piece is not Egyptian. The fact that the inlay is a pyroxene and not lapis lazuli is immaterial; the principle is the same. It was analysed by the British Museum, Natural History, Dept. of Minerals in Nov. 1956, and was pronounced to be a pyroxene, probably diopside.

87 AE 1906, 234, figs. 10 and 11.

88 MA xiv. 592, figs. 53–55.

89 BMC Finger-rings no. 14.

90 BSA xxviii, pl. 19.

91 Kunze, , Kretische Bronzereliefs pls. 10 ff.Google Scholar, and see Evans, , JHS xiii. 213.Google Scholar For recent discussions see Lorimer, , Homer and the Monuments 155 ff.Google Scholar, and Webster, , BSA 1 (1955) 41 ff.Google Scholar There are Classical examples of rings with a Boeotian shield, but they are very different. See Coche de la Ferté, op. cit. pl. 17, 2–3; Amandry, , Collection Stathatou pl. 30, no. 214Google Scholar; Payne, , Perachora i, pl. 84, 30 and 45Google Scholar; AM xxxviii, pl. 16, 7–8.

92 Reg. no. 1952. 5–6. 2. The dating is by the Rev. V. E. G. Kenna, R.N. See also AJA ix (1905) 280, fig. 1 and pl. 10.

93 Hall, , Sphoungaras 69, fig. 43 A. and B.Google Scholar

94 BSA xxxix. 65 ff. (L.H. II); MA xiv. 595, fig. 57 (L.M. IIIA); BSA xxv. 54 (L.H. III). AE 1888, pl. 9, 14 (L.H. II or III). BMC Jewellery pl. 3, no. 197 and many more not illustrated (L.H. III). Swedish Cyprus Expedition i, pls. 67, 78, 88.

95 Blegen, , Zygouries 202, fig. 189Google Scholar and Prosymna 265. Tsountas, , Dimini and Sesklo pls. 4:6 and 5:1.Google Scholar

96 BMC Jewellery 21.

97 BSA xxxix. 73.

98 Restrung in 1956. Comprising elements from the old numbers 747–50, 753, 758–60. The purpose of the restringing was to unite, for ease of study, all beads of the same kind. The combination in one necklace of different classes of bead, here and in nos. 20 and 21, implies no suggestion that they were so combined originally; it has been done purely for exhibition purposes. Nor in fact is there any proof that all beads of the same kind belonged to the same necklace; but this is probable.

99 AM xxxiv, pl. 14, 7.

100 Examples, taken at random, are: Seager, fig. 10,11. 22 (twentieth century); ibid. pl. 10:5, fifth from top of either side (L.M. I or later); PM iv. 963, colour plate XXXIV, extreme right of upper necklace (L.M. I A); Lolling, , Kuppelgrab bei Menidi pl. 3Google Scholar, 1, nos. 4 and 9 from left (L.H. IIIB).

101 Restrung in 1956. Comprising elements from the old nos. 753–5, 758, and 760, and a few beads, from the same source, acquired in 1914.

102 Ann. xiii–xiv. 195, fig. 63 (M.M. I). PM iv. 963, col. pl. xxxiv, the two to right of lotus bead (L.M. IA). MA xiv. 605, fig. 74 (top) (L.M. IIIA). Lolling, op. cit. pl. 3, 1 (L.H. IIIB). BMC Jewellery pl. iv, no. 578 (L.H. III).

103 BMC Jewellery pl. ix, nos. 1003–6 (Ephesus, seventh or sixth century).

104 Restrung in 1956. Comprising elements from the old nos. 753, 758–60, and a few beads, from the same source, acquired in 1914.

105 See also p. 47 n. 41.

106 PM iv, colour plate xxxiv, bottom necklace, to right of large pale blue bead.

107 AE 1898, pl. 8, 24.

108 Seager, fig. 41, XXII a, and pl. 10; the bead from which the bull's head hangs.

109 A bead from Ephesus (Hogarth, , Ephesus pl. 46, no. 35)Google Scholar is made on the same principle, but is much wider. It is not so close in shape as those cited above.

110 PM ii. 387, fig. 221a.

111 Karo, pl. 126.

112 Phylakopi 134, fig. 106, and pl. 27, 3.

113 It has been suggested that the Treasure is loot from a Cretan cemetery, stolen in the thirteenth century B.C. by an Aeginetan raider and buried in his tomb. Against this view are, first, the character of the burial as described by Welter and, second, the absence of any traces of the Treasure in Keramopoullos's tomb, which has every indication of being the tomb where it came to light.

114 The earliest Minoan jewellery to be found outside Crete comes from Grave Circle B at Mycenae. This belongs to the very end of M.M. III and is appreciably later than the bulk of the Treasure.

115 Several hoards have been explained, rightly or wrongly, as ancient tomb-robbers’ caches. See PM iv. 963; BSA xxxix. 65; AM lv. 119.

116 Cresswell, E. J. J. in Sponges (1921) 25 writesGoogle Scholar: ‘The sponge-fisheries of Crete, which are very important, are carried on entirely by fishermen from other Greek islands, who arrive in the spring and return in the autumn to their native places with their catches.’ If this was true in 1921, it was probably true thirty years earlier.

117 Demargne 25 ff.

118 The latest pieces from Platanos probably just come into the nineteenth century, slightly later than Mochlos.

119 Whether the Shaft Grave jewellery was made in Crete or on the Mainland is immaterial. There can be no doubt that it was made by Minoan artists.

120 Filigree, unknown at Mochlos, is just found at Platanos (Xanthoudides, op. cit. pl. 57, nos. 454 and 455). Its introduction can therefore be dated with some certainty to the very beginning of the nineteenth century B.C.

121 Not actually present in the Treasure. See Appendix.

122 Kantor, , Aegean and Orient 18.Google Scholar

123 See especially Singer and others, History of Technology i. 623 ff., and ii. 449 ff.

124 Tsountas, (AE 1897, 97)Google Scholar demonstrates that L.H. III moulds from Mycenae were used both for casting glass and for fashioning sheet gold. Although he describes the moulds as being composed of granite or basalt, subsequent examina tion has established that they are of steatite. A slightly earlier (L.M. I or II) steatite mould from Knossos lacks the distinctive features for glass-casting, and must have been intended only for pressing gold (PM i. 487, fig. 349). From this period it is a short step backward to M.M. III and the Aegina Treasure.

125 Xanthoudides, op. cit. pl. 4, no. 356. Probably contemporary with the jewellery from Platanos (see p. 56, n. 118); a particularly suitable date, if Demargne is right in deriving the process from Babylonia or Syria, (BCH liv. 418Google Scholar; RA (Ser. VI) viii. 87).

126 It was certainly commoner in L.H. II than in earlier periods (see BSA xxxix. 75), but its use was always exceptional.