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Masterworks from the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, pt.2

As promised, here's a follow-up to my previous post about the amazing collection at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. My previous post covered the earliest periods (Neolithic, Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean and Archaic) so here's some more "modern" stuff from the Classical and Roman periods. At the end I'll offer a few tips for visiting this massive museum, so read on if you're planning a visit.

The biggest shift in art from the older period to this more modern one was the move from abstract human forms to very detailed and specific portraits. Certainly, the gods and rulers are depicted in heroic postures with chiseled bodies and perfect features, but gone are the static poses and flattened faces.

Here below the god Zeus (probably; some say it could be Poseidon) stands larger than life, right arm poised to throw a thunderbolt. This amazing bronze -- dubbed the Artemision Bronze since it was discovered in a shipwreck off the Cape Artemision -- is from the Classical Period (~460 BC) and would have had bone inlay for eyes as well as copper and silver inlay over the eyebrows, lips, and nipples. Wow!

Below is the god of the sea, Poseidon, who was fittingly found deep in the Mediterranean Sea. Also from the Classical Period, he is regal from the side and somewhat bemused when seen head-on:

There was also an Egyptian collection, which aside from the usual suspects had several of these striking Fayum Portraits.

These quite modern-looking images were placed over the faces of mummies but clearly showed the influence of Roman art as most are from the 1st-2nd centuries AD. They're made using an encaustic wax technique and are quite arresting!

There are also some touching grave carvings from the Classical Greek period, like this one from the 4th c. that depicts a certain "Demokleides, son of Dimitrios," who lost his life in a naval battle. The prow of the ship and the line of the sea would have been painted:

Or this one showing a woman saying a tearful goodbye to her child:

But it wasn't all doom and gloom! There was also love, a ménage-à-many, and satyrs stomping grapes. 🙂

And this merry little flying phallus!

Then there is the mind-blowing Antikythera Mechanism, which was found in a shipwreck in 1901 and has intrigued scholars ever since:

It was made of various metals and had a series of dials that predicted the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Amazing how much the Ancients understood about the world! Here's one of the many models that has been made to show what it would have looked like:

Found in that same shipwreck was this gorgeous bronze statue, depicting a young man holding something in his hand. Scholars aren't entirely sure who he represents.

It's unusual to see the eyes "filled in" with colored objects, and they can sometimes look creepy but they always stop me in my tracks!

This horse and young bareback jockey was found in the same shipwreck as Zeus, above, but it comes from a few centuries later (the shipwreck was possibly a Roman vessel taking plunder back to Rome 😕). There's a stamped seal depicting the goddess Nike (Victory) on the horse's right thigh, so this "Jockey of Artemision" may have been erected at a sanctuary after a victorious race.

Many tombs contained jewelry (gotta look your best in the afterlife!), some of which would fit right in on my dressing table, and some that obviously would NOT 😄. These below are from the 1st c. BC - 1st c. AD.

And who's this playful little guy?!

The museum usually has a temporary exhibition, and this time it was a nod to Roman Greece (double history-nerd win!) with Hadrian and Athens: Conversing with an Ideal World.

The hall was full of Roman-era statuary, like this bust of Antinoos of Bithynia (130 AD). Apparently he was Hadrian's young lover and after his death in the Nile River the Emperor had busts of him erected throughout the Empire.

The room was full of busts of Roman leaders, all depicted with grizzled realism. Below center is a bust of Hadrian himself, which was originally placed in the Athens Agora (or Roman forum).

But the "Best Beard Award" goes to Roman Emperor Lucius Verus, who is always shown looking like he's one step away from howling at the moon. 😄

Roman Emperor Lucius Verus (2nd c. AD, Pantelic marble from Athens)

This next image is of the Emperor Augustus, portrayed as an older man riding a horse (you can only tell by the shape of the cloak over the missing animal's flank). Extraordinary to see him depicted with such realism: clearly in control but also a bit gaunt and worn out by the pressures of being the most powerful man in the world.


The museum itself is in a grand Neoclassical building that was built in the 19th century to house new archaeological findings from around the Mediterranean. You can find opening hours and prices on their website.

Here are a few tips for making the best of your time there:

* Mandatory storage lockers: you have to check your backpacks and large purses (not sure whether small purses are allowed) in a free luggage locker located outside the entrance, so find some way to carry the essentials with you: money, reading glasses, phone & camera, etc. Maybe a waist belt/"fanny pack" or else voluminous cargo pants! 😉

* Pace yourself: the place is HUGE and I ended up spending four hours inside. Of course, that's because I'm a history geek and looked at everything in the beginning. So feel free to gloss over things you're not that into and set a pace that won't wear you out.

* External phone charger and/or spare camera battery: I took so many pictures my camera ran out of battery (and the spare was in my backpack out in the locker!) and then I even ran my phone almost to zero. Panic! Next time I'll make sure to bring external chargers and a spare battery.

* The Museum Cafe: since you can't take in a bottle of water and snacks I eventually got extremely thirsty and hungry. Luckily, there's a small cafe' in a lovely internal courtyard that has minimal food, Greek coffee, bottled water, and even free WiFi! It was like a little Garden of Eden in there and a great place to rest from all the time on my feet.

So that ends my exhaustive tour of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, I hope you enjoyed it! I'm busy planning new tours for 2022 so stay in touch, and let me know if you need some guiding/guidance! You know where to find me. 🙂 The Tip Jar is on the bar if you'd like to help support my museum addiction, or come join me some day!

Ciao and see you next time!

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Ann Rowland
Ann Rowland
Nov 17, 2021

Wow! What a fabulous tour. I, again, would love to experience this amazing history lesson in person.

Claire Duiker
Claire Duiker
Nov 17, 2021
Replying to

Anytime you want to come, I'll show you around! :-)


Bobbie White
Bobbie White
Nov 15, 2021

With the Delta virus once again spreading, now in Eastern European countries, a hoped and longed for trip in 2022 may be on hold a bit longer :( Glad the younger children can now be vaccinated before the end of this year ( all 4 of my grands, 3 that are 9 years old and 1 6 year old, will have had 1st shot by the end of this month!) so perhaps that will help. Thanks for the great tour of this amazing museum, Claire.

Claire Duiker
Claire Duiker
Nov 15, 2021
Replying to

Don't give up yet on 2022! I'm still hoping things will get better (even if they get worse over the winter months). Hope hope hope! 💕

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