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Field, House, Garden, Grave

The Museum's open-air exhibitions: a pleasant archaeological stroll free of charge!

The open-air exhibition "Field - House - Garden -Grave", in the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, includes antiquities from the heyday of Thessaloniki (2nd - 4th c. AD).

The first part of the exhibition presents sarcophagi and altars from the city's cemeteries, funerary monuments placed along the streets or within privately-owned burial enclosures.

The second part of the exhibition displays the representation of a rich urban house of the Imperial era (2nd-3rd c. AD). The house was built with modern material and incorporates authentic mosaics. Residences in Thessaloniki, though influenced by Rome, preserved the type of rich Hellenistic houses, with rooms located around a central, inner courtyard with a peristyle. Walls and floors were decorated with wall-paintings and impressive mosaics.

The third part exhibits honorary altars that functioned as bases for statues of prominent citizens of Thessaloniki in public spaces and buildings.

The open-air exhibition "Memory in Stone" presents stone monuments from Thessaloniki and Macedonia in general. Most of the exhibits date from the 1st to the 7th c. AD.

Stone, a strong natural material that endures in time, was the main building material for public buildings, statues and busts of gods and heroes, rulers and prominent citizens. Stone was also used for the laws and decrees of cities, votive inscriptions to the gods, honorary inscriptions for the rulers, the kings and emperors. The burial sites of the deceased were also marked with stone relief stelae, altars and monuments.

The exhibition is accessible by disabled people and the visually-impaired.

The Aravissos Hoard

The Aravissos Hoard (Final Neolithic / approximately 4500-3200 BC) is an assemblage of six gold artefacts (2 ring-shaped pendants, 2 band-shaped ellipsoidal sheets, 1 disc-shaped sheet and 1 ring) found accidentally in the area of Aravissos near Pella. They are believed to originate from a cemetery, which unfortunately has not been located yet. They belong to known types from other sites in the Aegean, the Balkans and the Black Sea.

The ring-shaped pendants from wrought sheets are thought to be schematic representations of the human figure. They have been interpreted as apotropaic or religious symbols. Similar artefacts made of other materials, such as silver, marble, stone or clay, have been found in many sites throughout Greece. A rock-carving from the site of Plaka on the island of Andros depicts figures with ring-shaped pendants tied around their wrists.

The gold artefacts from Aravissos are an important assemblage not only for their precious material but also because they denote the capability of Neolithic people to acquire personal prestige items, which sometimes accompanied their owners to the afterlife. This is an indication for the community's care for the deceased, and the 'investment' in the ideology of death, as part of communal beliefs shared within Neolithic society.

The Petralona Hoard

The "Petralona Hoard" consists of bronze tools (forty chisels and four axes) and dates to the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC). It is a rare find that came to light by chance near the village of Petralona in Chalkidice.

The fact that all artefacts are of exceptional technical quality and bear traces of use and wear denotes that they possibly belonged to a metalworker and/or merchant, who could sharpen them and then return them to their owners or resell them. The Petralona Hoard clearly displays the advanced technological level reached by metalworking in the Early Bronze Age, which is also attested by other finds in Macedonia and the rest of Greece. The circulation of metal objects and the presence of types found throughout the Aegean and the Balkan peninsula show the existence of a strong technological tradition and active exchange networks.

Funerary altar of an actor (AD 170-200)

The grave of the tragic actor, Marcus Varinius Areskon, a prematurely deceased star of his time, was located near the eastern fortification wall of Thessaloniki. The colours on the funerary altar erected in his honour are remarkably well-preserved.

The deceased is shown as a hero or a king, wearing the chiton of a tragic actor. A female tragic mask is shown to his right, denoting that Areskon as an actor did not only play roles of military leaders or heroes, as his outfit signifies, but also women's parts as well.

The name Areskon (= one who pleases, who is popular), especially appropriate for an actor, is the same with his mother, Varinia Areskousa. Hence, they were a family of actors, though his mother was an actor of the popular 'mime' theatre, while Marcus managed to elevate himself to the "grand" theatre of drama contests and become a tragic actor, and at a very early age at that. Theatrical professions were traditional in antiquity and were often carried on from parents to children as a family business.

Augustus, the first emperor of Rome

The statue of Augustus, the first Roman emperor (24 BC – AD 14), is the best preserved statue in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. It reproduces a popular statuary type, known as Prima Porta. It was named after one of the most famous copies, found in the villa of his wife Livia, on a site of the same name, a few kilometres north of Rome.

It depicts a handsome and idealised man, at the prime of his youth. His rendition as semi-nude with a himation wrapped around his waist, holding a sceptre or a spear, elevates him to the status of a god. His youthful face and hair with carefully arranged locks point towards athletes or heroes of the 5th c. BC, resembling a famous Greek statue, the Doryphoros by the sculptor Polykleitos. This idealised rendition gives to the statue the prestige and superiority of classical artworks.

The sculpture is possibly a posthumus statue and was probably created in a workshop of Thessaloniki. It was found in 1939 along with a headless statue that is attributed to emperor Claudius. Perhaps they were on display in the same building, possibly a temple of the Imperial cult.

A "hellenised" Egyptian sanctuary in Thessaloniki

A section of the exhibition "Thessaloniki, Metropolis of Macedonia" is dedicated to the large sanctuary of Egyptian Gods in ancient Thessaloniki.

A unique find during the excavation of the sanctuary, now buried under a densely inhabited neighbourhood of the city's historical centre, was the underground crypt of a temple (a model is on display in the museum). The crypt was sealed and all its treasures were intact.

Numerous statues were found inside the crypt, along with inscriptions in Greek and votive offerings that recreate an ancient cult with a strong Greek character and fervent followers from all social strata. The sanctuary was in use continuously from the Hellenistic times until the end of antiquity (3rd c. BC - 4th c. AD).

Some exceptional finds were: an inscription of 187 BC, the so-called "Decree of Philip V" that testifies for the affluence of the local sanctuary in Hellenistic times and the heads of the cult statues of Sarapis and Isis. Greek deities were also worshipped alongside the sacred couple of Egyptian gods, such as Aphrodite, represented by a magnificent statue, copy of a renowned example of the Classical era.

Location: Thessaloniki. It was found during the construction of a road (now named Karaoli & Dimitriou Street, formerly known as Dioikitiriou Street). The large sanctuary covers the area between Ptolemaion Street and Antigonidon Street.

Dating: 3rd c. BC – early 4th c. AD.

Marble funerary couches from the Macedonian tomb of Potidaia

A small, single-chambered Macedonian tomb with a doric facade was discovered in 1984 at Petriotika, south of ancient Potidaia. The few finds in its interior date it to around 300 BC.

The most important find were the two burial couches located inside the tomb. Their marble facade depicts the legs and the two horizontal beams in relief and with brownish yellow colour, imitating real wooden couches. Additional decorative motifs in bright red colour decorate the legs: spirals, palmettes, checkers, acanthus leaves and gorgoneia. The decoration of the sides of the couches are divided into three zones. The upper one depicts a Dionysiac scene in an open-air sanctuary of Artemis, signified by altars, fountains, a tree and a statue of the goddess. Seminude, reclining figures are shown (Aphrodite, maenads, papposilenus, Dionysos, Ariadne, Eros), along with various animals (goose, fawn, leopard). The middle zone depicts five pairs of griffins devouring deer and the lower zone shows pairs of animals (lions, buuls, panthers, wildboars etc.) next to floral motifs and kraters. Two low footstools are depicted at the lowest part of the couches.

The topics of the first and third friezes are almost exclusively rendered with brown outline and the sparing use of other colours (red, blue, yellow). On the contrary, the main elements of the middle zone are designed with thin incisions and their final rendition is exclusively done with colours.

These couches are exceptional examples of painting with the drybrush technique. Their creator was a skilled artist who was familiar with the use of colouring, perspective, foreshortening and shadowing.

Marble door of the Macedonian Tomb of Agia Paraskevi, near Thessaloniki

The region of Agia Paraskevi (ancient Anthemous) has been inhabited incessantly from prehistoric times to this day. A monumental Macedonian tomb was found in 1983, at "Mikri Toumba", a site located 30 km southeast of Thessaloniki. The so-called Macedonian tombs were the characteristic burial monument for the elite of the Macedonian kingdom, mainly during the 4th c. BC.

This tomb is a large (6.50 m. long, 4 m. wide, 4.80 m. high) remarkably elaborate monument, built with poros blocks. a large court is found in front of the entrance, with walls on each side made of mudbricks that were coated with white plaster, as was the 20 m.-long road that led to the entrance of the tomb. The entire facade was white, apart from the upper part, which bore painted architectural decorations in black, red and blue. The walls of both interior chambers were painted in zones with four colours: black, olive green, ochre and red. It was looted already since ancient times, but several grave goods survived that help us date the monument to the late 4th c. BC.

The tomb had a marble double door, which was preserved in excellent condition and is now on display in the Museum, offering an idea of the monumentality, the technique and the craftsmanship found in Macedonian tombs. It is 2.48 m. high and preserves its bronze accessories: decorative nails, an ornate handle, a knocker, a keyhole. The opening of the heavy, marble leaves was facilitated by wheels that run along lead channels on the floor.

Mosaic floor with mythological scenes

Thessaloniki was a large city with opulent private houses that included official halls for gatherings and symposia organised by their rich inhabitants. Mosaic floors with geometric compositions or iconographic images gave a sense of luxury to those halls.

The mosaic floor of a house found on 45 Socratous Street, dating to the first half of the 3rd c. AD gives us an idea of the opulence and size of those halls.

Within a frame of meanders, three popular mythological scenes are depicted, enclosed in separate panels. The large panel dominating the centre displays the most impressive scene.

A multi-figured Dionysiac scene is shown: Dionysos arrives on the island of Naxos accompanied by his entourage and approaches sleeping Ariadne.

Ariadne is shown in the centre, sleeping, abandoned there by Theseus. Behind a rock, a winged Eros and a Maenad with a shepherd to the right, point towards Ariadne. To the left, Dionysos is shown, reclining on a Satyr, with a Silen next to them. The two smaller panels depict adbuction scenes: One depicts a young nude man chasing a nymph. Their heads are not preserved but the scene most probably depicts Apollo and Daphne. The other panel shows Zeus transformed into an eagle, ready to grab young Ganymede.

All three panels represent known and popular iconographic scenes. Especially the discovery of Ariadne is one of the most popular themes in the repertoire of mosaics in the 3rd and 4th c. AD. After all, the choice of a Dionysiac theme for the decoration of a luxurious hall is not accidental. The worship of Dionysos, god of nature and fertility, a cult associated with the joy of life, was very popular in the upper social classes of the city.

The mosaic's art is of high quality: The design and proportions of the human figures, the shading, the colour scale and the rendition of the third dimension reflect Classical tradition. It is probable that the artist who created them, used an older painting as a prototype.

The Dionysos mosaic, along with a series of polychrome mosaic floors found in excavations in Thessaloniki, display the high level of craftsmanship in mosaic art in the city, as active workshops of experienced artists would create high quality artworks.

General conscription decree of king Philip V, 197 BC

A very important inscription on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki takes us back to the early 2nd c. BC.

The inscription offers a very vivid image of the turbulent times of the war between the Macedonian forces and the Romans during the final stages of the conflict. It dates to 197 BC and is one of the copies of a general conscription decree addressing all male citizens throughout Macedonia, issued by king Philip V. It is the largest preserved royal decree from the kingdom of Macedonia.

The texts gives directions for a general conscription by city, with the recruitment of the male members of each household, according to the census catalogues.  The insciption is rife with the urgency of the situation and the agony of Philip V for the lack of new conscripts due to the long wars the kingdom had been facing. This is evident from the fact that the king calls to arms not only the veterans above the age of 50, but also 15 year-old children.

The detail that the conscripts were allowed to protest against the decisions of the conscription authorities is noteworthy. It shows that even during those desperate times, Philip V did not rule with an iron fist, but respected the laws and with his subjects' interest in mind, carrying on the long tradition of his predecessors, who according to written sources, ruled Macedonia according to the established laws, and without authoritarian attitude.

The conscription was ordered for the battle of Cynoscephalae in the spring of 197 BC. The Macedonian army was defeated by the Romans and the consul Titus Quinctius Flamininus, imposed his conditions to the Macedonians.

Medallion of Athena from an official Macedonian chariot

The bronze medallion with the bust of goddess Athena, found during excavations in Dioikitiriou Square, is an exquisite example of late Hellenistic art (mid-2nd c. BC).

Athena's rendition is dynamic and intense, in striking contrast with the serene expression of the Medusa that adrons the front of her helmet. Along with four more medallions, depicting the heads of animals (panthers and dogs), it belonged to the decorative elements of a chariot. It was surely a luxury vehicle, used for official ceremonies and processions.

This unique artwork probably belonged to a prominent Macedonian aristocrat or a member of the royal family.

Attic sarcophagus with amazonomachy

A monumental sarcophagus of an Attic workshop, one of the largest surviving in the entire Roman world. The lid is in the shape of a couch, with a couple resting on top. The woman holds a wreath in her hand, while the man holds a cylinder. The couch mattress is decorated by sea monsters and nereids that ride sea horses and bulls. A wide band with Eros figures and animals adorns the upper part of the larnax.

The main side depicts an intense scene of Amazonomachy (a battle between the Greeks and the Amazons) with combat on foot or on horseback. The Amazons are shown wearing short belted chitons that leave their right breasts uncovered. The helmet-wearing Greeks are nude or with a chlamys around their chest. The middle of the scene depicts Achilles preparing to strike down the kneeling queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea, grabbing her hair. According to the legend, the hero of the Trojan war fell in love with the beautiful Amazon queen, just before she drew her last breath. The battle scenes extend on all other sides of the larnax.

Luxurious, Attic sarcophagi with a rich relief decoration of mythological themes were sought after across the entire Mediterranean basin, during the 2nd and 3rd c. AD. Specialists believe that the work of four skilled artists for a year was required for the construction of a single Attic sarcophagus. It is understandable that these monuments were created for a limited, financially prosperous clientele. A small number of sarcophagi originating from the famous Attic workshops also reached Thessaloniki in the Roman Imperial era, while a local workshop of marble sarcophagi also operated in the city.

Attic sarcophagus depicting the Homeric 'battle by the Greek ships'

This impressive marble sarcophagus is the work of a skilled Attic workshop that specialised in sarcophagi. Its products circulated the entire Mediterranean. The lid is in the shape of a couch, with a couple resting on top, a man and a woman. The man holds two cylinders in his left hand. The mattress is decorated by sea creatures, nereids and tritons. A broad band on the upper part of the larnax is decorated with hares, boars and dogs running amid leaves and rosettes.

The main side of the sarcophagus is identified as the 'battle by the ships' between the Greeks and the Trojans as described in Book 15 of Homer's Iliad. The ships are shown to the right of the composition. In the centre, two larger figures fight in front of the pier. They are most probably aTrojan, Hector and Periphetes, a hero from Mycenae, who was killed by the former. High on the right edge of the scene, a seminude nymph is shown in front of a cave entrance. The marine environment under the ships depicts the waves of the sea, small fish, dolphins, an octopus and a crab. Two deities of the sea are shown in front of the ships, a seminude nereid, with a sea serpent coiling around her arm, and a bearded triton. The left part of the sarcophagus depicts the battle on the shore. The battle on the shore extends to the left, narrow side of the sarcophagus.

An entirely different theme was chosen for the right narrow side of the sarcophagus: The musician and poet, Orpheus, is shown seated on a rocky landscape surrounded by trees. He holds his lyre (Cithara) and his left foot rests on a lion. Various animals are shown around him, such as a ram, dogs, a deer, a boar, an ox, a bear, a stork, a bird, a seated monkey etc.

The Hunt of the Calydonian Boar is the theme of the back side. Meleager, the son of the king of Calydon, Oineas, attacks the large boar with a hunting spear. The beast was sent by goddess Artemis, who was upset with the king of Calydon as he forgot to offer her sacrifice. The hero is accompanied by other hunters, including the Amazon, Atalante, with her dog. The short chiton leaves her right breast uncovered.


The Derveni Krater

The masterpiece of the Museum, was discovered in 1962 inside the cist grave B of the Derveni cemetery, along with numerous other valuable finds. It contained the remains of a cremation, with a gold coin of Philip II, a gold ring, two gold pins and a bronze, gilded wreath. The mouth of the krater was covered by a bronze strainer-like lid, which was used to strain wine. A gold myrtle wreath was placed on top of the vessel.

The krater was wrought out of two sheets, one for the body and one for the upper part of the neck. The statuettes on the shoulder, the handles and the base were cast. Its golden colour is due to the large content of tin in the copper alloy.

The main figures on the relief decoration that adorns the body are Dionysos and Ariadne, in a sacred wedding scene. The couple sits on a rock. The young god is nude, with his right arm over his head resting on it and his left leg resting on Ariadne's thigh. He is accompanied by a panther. Ariadne sits next to him, lifting her veil and getting ready to reveal herself to her new husband, a typical wedding gesture for the bride. A group of maenads surrounds the couple, dancing ecstatically. A Silen is watching the dance, standing at the tips of his toes and raising one hand while holding a thyrsos on the other. A second bearded male figure is enigmatic; a man wearing only one sandal is walking intensely. He wears a chlamys and a himation,  with a sword sheated and hanging from his shoulder. He holds a knife in his left hand and two spears in his right one. He is possibly Pentheas, or the king of Thrace, Lykourgos, both of whom were overtaken by mania for being disrespectful to Dionysos.

Beasts, tame animals, vine and ivy branches decorate the entire vessel. Four statuettes rest on the shoulders. Young Dionysos and a maenad on one side, a sleepy Silen with a flask in his hand and an ecstatic maenad on the other. The volutes on the handles are adorned by busts of Heracles, Hades, and a horned, bearded god. Under the main scene, a pair of griffins and lion with a panther devour a fawn and a calf.

An inscription with silver letters along the rim offers us the owner's name: it belonged to Astion, son of Anaxagoras, who originated from Larissa.

The renowned volute krater of Derveni, a unique masterpiece of metalworking of the 4th c. BC, was most probably manufactured in a Macedonian workshop, by an artist acquainted with Attic art styles.

The Derveni Papyrus

The Derveni Papyrus, the oldest surviving book in Europe, is one of the most treasured exhibits of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. It is also one of the rarest finds in Greece, as Greek climate does not allow for the preservation of papyri. The papyrus, which survived only because it was charred, was found in 1962 inside cist grave A of the Derveni cemetery, amid the remains of the funeral pyre.

The papyrus script dates between 340 and 320 BC, but the book it copies is in fact quite older (dating approximately around 420-410 BC). The author of the book, which deals with theology and philosophy, was most probably Euthyphron from Prospalta, a community in Attica.

The surviving part is the upper part of the cylinder (cylinders were created by attaching many papyrus leaves together). The text was written in columns, 26 of which have been restored, and is divided into two parts. The first part gives a description of the cult practices associated with the afterlife of the soul. The second part contains an Orphic hymn that accompanied the ceremonies of the mystics, as the book was initially intended for them. 

The impressive arch crowned a small temple built at the eastern stoa of a large peristyle within the palatial complex of Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, the Roman Caesar (AD 293-305) and Emperor (AD 305-311) who used Thessaloniki as his seat. The remains of the large palatial complex can be seen nowadays in Navarinou Square.

The arch, a work of high artistic quality, is the product of a local workshop in Thessaloniki. The rich relief decorations occupy three sides of the arch. The main side depicts two men from the East, possibly Persians, raising two circular medallions with their hands. The right medallion depicts Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, while the left one initially depicted his wife, Galeria Valeria.

During a later intervention, after Galerius' death, a mural crown was added to the female portrait. This alteration transformed the female bust into the depiction of a deity, most probably the "Tyche (fortune) of Thessaloniki", who accompanied Galerius, the deified ruler of the city. Two winged Eros figures holding a garland fill the space between the medallions. Another medallion with a bust of Dionysos is located at the inner part of the arch, surrounded by vine branches. The right side of the arch depicts the hooved god Pan playing a pipe and holding a lagobolon (stick for hunting hares). The left side depicts a maenad.

Relief funerary stele from Nea Kallikrateia

The relief stele from Nea Kallikrateia, one of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art, is a worldwide known artwork.

Most probably made of Parian marble, it preserves traces of its painted decoration. It is crowned by a pediment and depicts a girl wearing a peplos and holding a dove by its wings with her left hand, while the right one lifts the edge of her garment, to reveal her body. She is a young girl as her female body hasn't formed properly yet.

Compared with other similar examples, other creations of the Parian workshop which was very popular for the quality of its artistic production, the artwork can be dated to 440 BC.

The stele of Nea Kallikrateia, occupying a central part in the history of ancient Greek sculpture, is one of the most important funerary monuments of the Aegean.

Statue of Aphrodite in the Louvre-Naples type, known also as Aphrodite of "Fréjus"

The female statue, standing on a rectangular base, is missing the head, neck and parts of the arms. She wears a chiton that sticks to the body outlining the figure and leaving the left shoulder and breast uncovered. The himation, the outer garment, falls on her back, while the figure would hold its edge with her right hand high above. The composition is original and calculated in a skillful manner.

The statue is one of the best copies of the type known as Aphrodite of "Fréjus" and has been widely discussed with academic opinions still divided. The copy dates to the mid-1st c. AD or according to another dating, to the first half of the 2nd c. AD, while the original can be considered with certainty a classical creation. It was found in the sanctuary of Egyptian gods due to the association between Aphrodite and the Egyptian goddess Isis. The artist who scuplted the original was probably Callimachus, Polykleitos, or Alkamenes, thus belonging to an Attic or a Peloponnesian workshop, based on its technical characteristics. The Thessaloniki copy is certainly a quality product, copying an equally masterful original of approximately 420 BC. The original was most probably bronze, though the possibility to have been originally sculpted in marble cannot be excluded. It is a widely known, high-quality work of art.