The Roman Society

Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

The antiquities trade in late 19th century Greece

Thursday 2 February, 5pm
Society of Antiquaries, Burlington House
Dr Yannis Galanakis: 'The antiquities trade in late 19th century Greece – stories of people & objects'


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The last few decades have witnessed a renewed interest on behalf of source countries to get back ancient objects that have been illicitly excavated and exported from them; and of institutions in central and north Europe and north America (in so-called ‘import’ countries) to document and investigate the provenance and authenticity of their collections. Despite this interest, however, objects – not people – remain central to discussions surrounding the antiquities trade – licit or illicit. In this talk, I aim to shift attention to people: who were the diggers, dealers and recipients of the ancient objects that were being unearthed in the second half of the nineteenth century in Greece? How did they organise their trade and what motives did they have? By going back to the protagonists of this fascinating story and by contextualising them historically and alongside the antiquities legislation that was in operation in Greece at the time, my aim is to provide a glimpse of a world little known – a social history of the antiquities trade, where people and their actions take centre stage and ancient objects become active agents in the promotion, negotiation and service of different socio-political agendas. This is, historically, a very important period not only for Greece but for Europe and North America as it was, after all, during this time that the foundations of modern museum collections were laid. It was also the period during which – more systematically than ever before – digging for the past was transformed from an antiquarian activity to a professional practice (archaeology). This transformation impacted on excavation processes, collecting attitudes, and the measures that had to be taken for the protection and curation of the past as well as on the, now more rigorously regulated, monitoring of the trade in ancient objects.

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