Blog on Life Athens NAM National Archaeological museum of Athens

Greece: NAM – National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Ticket price for adult 5 Euros

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens has a collection of some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological sites in Greece, and what caught my attention, are pieces from prehistorical times to late antiquity. It is located in the Exarcheia district of Athens and is adjacent to the historical building of the Athens Polytechnic University. The construction of the museum began in 1866 and was completed by 1889. It was named The Central Museum and was renamed its current name in 1881. During World War II, the museum was closed and all the antiquities were sealed in special protective casings and buried, to avoid destruction and looting. By 1945 the artifacts were once again displayed.

Blog on Life NAM National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Collections at National Archaeological Museum of Athens

  • Prehistoric Collection (Neolithic, Cycladic & Mycenaean)
  • Sculptures Collection
  • Vase * Minor objects Collection
  • Santorini Collection
  • Metallurgy Collection
  • Egyptian & Near Eastern Antiquities Collection
  • Epigraphical Museum

It is safe to say that there is a lot to see and something for everyone’s interest!

There are a few things you notice that the Greeks seemed to have given more importance to throughout history. Such as; Philosophy (without a doubt), Sports & Athletes, the Arts (specifically Theatre), and the belief in Magic & the Afterlife.

Some items at National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Ivory artifacts

There is a large collection of Ivory artifacts dating 14th – 13th BC. Even though the artifacts are very small, notice the detailed work done on the ivory, like that of the bovine head.

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Ivory Artifacts 14th 13th BC
Blog on Life Lifestyle NAM of Athens bovine head 14th 13th BC

Bronze artifacts

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Bronze portrait head of a boxer 330 to 320 BC
Bronze portrait head of a boxer 330 - 320 BC
Blog on Life NAM of Athens philosopher glass paste eyes 240 BC
Bronze portrait of philosopher with glass paste eyes, about 240 BC

Statue from Pentelic marble

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Theseus fight with Minotaur
Torsos of two statues. They represent Theseus' fight with the Minotaur

Philosophers’ room

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Philosophers room
A room filled with marble portraits of the Greek philosophers
Blog on Life NAM Athens room of Philosophers
Hadrian (in the center) having an imaginary conversation with philosophers and noblemen of the time

Theatre

It is no doubt that theatre played a big role in Greek culture and there are many references to this in the museum. Oedipus the King of Sophocles theatrical costume.

Blog on Life NAM Oedipus King of Sophocles costume Niketas Tsakiroglou
Blog on Life NAM Athens Oedipus the King of Sophocles

The famous Greek theatrical masks were used during performances but displayed in marble.

Blog on Life NAM Theatre mask ruler slave the first slave of New Comedy 2nd BC
Theatre mask 'ruler slave' the first slave of New Comedy 2nd BC
Blog on Life NAM Athens Marble Tragic theatrical mask 50 BC to 50 AD
Theatre mask for a Greek Tragedy 50 BC - 50 AD

Death & the Afterlife

One of the topics you see the most appearing in different eras throughout the museum is death. Or rather, respect towards it as well as the importance of mourning.

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Funerary lebes kalpe about 350 BC
Funerary lebes-kalpe (a wine bowl having an oval body without handles and a rounded base) depicting griffins found at Acharnon Street in Athens, about 350 BC
Blog on Life NAM of Athens Monumental Attic grave amphora
Dipylon Vase, a monumental Attic grave amphora, from the Kerameikos cemetery, 760-750 BC
Blog on Life NAM Monumental Attic grave amphora mourning
Monumental Attic grave amphora depicting mourning of the dead. Men, women, and a child with hands on their heads in grief
Blog on Life NAM Attic sarcophagus in the form of a couch
Attic sarcophagus in the form of a couch

Found in the city of Athens. The sarcophagus was used twice. A reclining married couple was originally depicted on the lid, which has the form of a mattress. When economic difficulties dictated its reuse at a later date, the male figure was cut back and replaced by a group of papyrus scrolls (byblos), and the female head was replaced by with a head of a man.

Blog on Life NAM Funerary lekythos. Marble. 420 to 410 BC
The marble funerary lekythos of Myrrhine, found in the city of Athens 420 - 410 BC

Marble funerary lekythos, found at Syntagma Square, the city of Athens, is the site of an important ancient cemetery. In the center of the image, Hermes Psychopompos (Escorter of Souls), identified by the chlamys, the winged sandals, and the caduceus (herald’s staff), leads the young Myrrhine to the Underworld. On the left stand, the dead woman’s relatives are led by an old man, probably her father, who raises his right hand in a gesture of farewell.

Egyptian artifacts

The museum displays many ancient Egyptian artifacts, including mummies. It was hard to choose which artifacts to write about but I finally decided to pick the following:

Blog on Life NAM Double false door of Ptahnakht and his wife
Double false door of Ptahnakht and his wife Meritmutes made of Limestone. First intermediate period 2150 - 2040 BC

As the name suggests, this is not an actual door but rather an imitation. In ancient Egypt, these false doors were very commonly used and found in tomb complexes. They were important architectural elements found in royal and non-royal tombs. These served as imaginary passages between the world of the living and the world of the dead. It was believed that they would allow Ka (an element of the soul), to pass through them. It was also believed that these doors would allow the deceased to interact with the world of the living by allowing them to pass through it, or receive offerings from the living, through the door.

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Double false door
The double false doors have the symbol of the eyes of Osiris
Blog on Life NAM of Athens Egyptian Antiquities False door Senetites
Double false door of Senetites made of Limestone. Probably from a mastaba in Saqqara. First intermediate period 2150 - 2040 BC
Blog on Life NAM False door Senetites Saqqara 2150 to 2040 BC
Close up on the eyes of Osiris, the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. He was also the god of resurrection and fertility

Marble artifacts

Blog on Life NAM Marble votive relief with Greek inscription
Relief with Greek inscription "I, Epaphroditos, freedman, dedicated this to Isis" inscription
Blog on Life NAM of Athens Marble plaque with zodiac circle
Marble plaque with the zodiac circle

Statue for funerary use

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Figures garment inlaid decoration
Statue of the princess - priestess Takushit, found south of Alexandria in 1880

This figure’s garment has an inlaid decoration with the use of precious metal wire. The statue had a ritual, votive, and funerary use, approximately 670 BC.

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Garment of figure inlaid decoration

This is certainly one of the most exquisite items at the museum. The wire patterns cover her body perfectly, looking like tattoos. It is a hollow cast of the princess – priestess, which is decorated with incised patterns using precious metal wires.

Wooden funerary model of Ship

Blog on Life NAM Wooden funerary model of a ship with its crew
Wooden funerary model of a ship and its crew 2040 - 1640 BC

Boat models were made using papyrus and were used as grave gifts. It was believed that the boat would carry them to Abydos, to participate in the sacred pilgrimage of Osiris. It was also believed that Ra, god of the sun, travelled across the sky during the day and to the underworld at night in his divine barque.

Blog on Life NAM Wooden funerary model ancient Egypt and Greek traditions

One of the things both cultures had in common is their fascination and respect for the dead.

Kore & Kouros

Blog on Life NAM of Athens greek kore Phrasikleia kouros Merenda of Attica
Kore Phrasikleia 550-540 BC
Blog on Life NAM of Athens kore Phrasikleia and kouros Merenda of Attica
Kouros 540-530 BC from Merenda of Attica

Kore, the statue of a maiden, the female counterpart of Kouros. These statues began appearing in about 660 BC in Greece and remained till about 500 BC.

The Kore, a draped female figure carved from marble standing upright and sometimes on one foot usually the left. The arms are at times down by their sides but mostly are brought upholding an offering. It is unknown what the Kore represents exactly. Interpretations have been made that the Kore may be a representation of young girls in service of the goddesses.

The Kouros, a young male from marble standing upright. Aspects of the Kouros directly indicate the influence of the Egyptian influence on the Greek culture and history, however over time took on distinct Greek characteristics.

Odysseys exhibit

For the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the museum, a new exhibit was open. It shows a collection of items that account for the adventurous journey of a young man through condensed time from an abstract and symbolic perspective that draws inspiration from the Homeric Odyssey.

Some pieces to view at The Odysseys exhibit

Bronze artifacts

Blog on Life NAM Bronze statue of Poseidon 480 BC
Bronze statue of Poseidon from sea region of Livadostra about 480 BC
Blog on Life NAM Statuette of Poseidon from Ampelokipi of Athens 2nd century AD
Statuette of Poseidon from Ampelokipi of Athens 2nd AD
Blog on Life NAM of Athens Statuette of Poseidon 2nd AD
Close up of the statuette of Poseidon from Ampelokipi of Athens 2nd AD
Blog on Life NAM of Athens Sanctuary of Olympia
Honorary decree from the Sanctuary of Olympia 300 - 250 BC

Tablet with an honorary decree of the Eleians for the Olympic victor Demokrates from the island of Tenedos written in the Eleian dialect.

Blog on Life NAM Honorary decree for the Olympic victor Demokrates

According to the text, the decree would be dedicated to the temple of Zeus at Olympia and sent to the victor’s compatriots.

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Figurine of Scylla mythical monster 4th BC
Figurine of Scylla mythical monster, end of 4 BC

In Greek mythology, a Scylla was a sea monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water opposite its counterpart Charybdis. She was the child of Gaea and Poseidon and was originally born as a nymph who after displeasing Zeus, was cursed and became a much-feared sea monster residing in the Strait of Messina.

Marble artifacts

Blog on Life National Archaeological Museum of Athens Marble statue Siren 370 BC
Marble funerary statue of a Siren. About 370 BC

A Siren by mythology had forms of a bird with maidens’ features from the thighs downwards. One played the lyre, another sang and another played the flute. It was said that by these means they persuaded mariners to linger and ultimately causing their destruction. This is why it is said that the island where they lived, was full of bones.

There was a prophecy that stated if a ship was to pass by them unharmed, then the Sirens would die. Since Odysseus succeeded in escaping them, no one else has met them, which meant that they have forever disappeared.

Other pieces to view at The National Archaeological Museum of the city of Athens

Blog on Life NAM of Athens Statuette of Aphrodite
The goddess Aphrodite leaning against an archaistic statuette, probably Aphrodite
Blog on Life National Archaeological Museum statue of Zeus or Poseidon
Bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon
Blog on Life Stele with decree about the temple of Athena Nike 440 to 430 BC
Stele with decree about the temple of Athena Nike 440 - 430 BC

Stele orders that a priestess of Athena Nike is chosen from all Athenian women and her salary to be fifty drachmas, plus the legs and hides of a publicly sacrificed animal. A door for the sanctuary as well as a temple (located at the entrance of the Acropolis) and a stone altar are to be built to the specifications of Kallikrates.

Athena Nike

In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory, daughter of Titan Pallas, and the goddess Styx. Nike is represented as having wings and in art is shown as a small figure carried in the hand by divinities as Athens, the goddess of wisdom, and Zeus, the chief god, and father of Athena.

Athena Nike however, is always represented as wingless. The story goes that the Athenians always represented Athena Nike without wings since the goddess of victory was known to never stick around in one place for too long. So they depicted her without the wings to make sure that she, the goddess of victory, shall never leave them.

Blog on Life Marble Aphrodite Pan and Eros 100 BC
Marble group statue about 100 BC of Aphrodite, Eros, and Pan

The naked goddess of beauty and love, holding a sandal in one arm, ready to slap Pan, whilst covering herself with her other arm. Eros, attempting to mediate the situation and repulse Pan by grasping one of his horns.

Some background on Pan

When looking into the background of Pan, the god of forests and shepherds, I came across some interesting information relating to the origin of Panic attacks. The mischievous Pan took pleasure in scaring and tormenting people who travelled through the forest. It is said that the people would get so frightened that they would have a panic attack. It seems that the term Panic attack was derived from Pan, describing the state in which the people were put during their encounter with the mischievous god.

Blog on NAM Aphrodite Eros and Pan from Delos

Ancient world not forgotten

One of the things I noticed when being in the city of Athens, is how much the city is rich in ancient history, and this is not only because it is where the systems of today were created. I was surprised by the preservation of historical sites in the city of Athens. How strong and evident the presence of mythology is everywhere. In other cities, this is not felt, as many years and many wars after the ancient times, especially with religions, the traces of the past are discredited and those in power try to destroy any trace of a previous ideology or belief. Even though religion is a big part of today’s Greek society, the city of Athens and the people don’t feel to put it out there as much as in other places in Europe. Actually, they give more references to ancient history and mythology. I have spoken to a few guides during my visits to the historical sites and museums, and when asking them about certain aspects of mythology, they never seem to shut down the idea that all these pieces, maybe more than a simple representation. Actually, they leave it up to you to make your own decision on whether or not these artifacts are an actual recollection or a representation.

I find it very hard to believe that 92 metopes, which were placed on the most important building of that time, and today, would simply be of something that wasn’t real. Most people may think it is insane to think that mythology is actually a recollection of the past, followed by the words I have heard way too many times before of “they are just stories representing something else”. To me, I find more truth about the past in mythology and in stories that were passed down from generation to generation. I do not believe that 1 person had a wild imagination and others just believed him or her. People back then, as people today, always want to see things for themselves to believe something, let alone continue passing on the word about it. Keeping that in mind, this much importance would not be given to something which was made up, unless of course, it was something people did encounter.

Looking into the gods and goddesses from ancient Greece, I couldn’t help and see a similarity with the writings about angels, specifically archangels. It is very hard for me not to see a repetition in history, when time and time again, in different parts of the world, at different times in history, there seems to be a mention of some beings that were perceived as higher beings or gods, by the ordinary people on earth. It is possible that they were seen as gods as they had abilities that ordinary people did not have. History and mythology also seem to show similarities in their behavior. Although possessing knowledge and certain capabilities that ordinary people did not, they also seemed to have been driven by certain desires to an extreme degree.

Taking this thought a step further and closer to our time, these desires and urges can also be noticed in ordinary people around us who have a certain power or a certain placement in society. I won’t go as far as to say that “ultimate power corrupts absolutely” (although in some cases, that would be very fitting), but it does seem that people possess from birth to a small degree, the capability of being driven by certain desires. In religion, these can be considered as the seven deadly sins and we are also told that we are all born with them and can fall into the temptation, but where did they really come from? I have a hard time believing that the sin of one woman has cursed the rest of humanity to pay the price for her own sin, pretty selfish at the least if you ask me. However, maybe there is some truth to this, to a certain degree. Maybe we are all born to the possibility of falling into the temptation of desires, ego-driven desires which can cause harm not only to ourselves but even to those around us. And maybe, there is a possibility that this element of ourselves has been either passed down from the people of the past after witnessing certain beings with explainable abilities living their lives purely for their own pleasure and giving in to their own deep desires. Or maybe we have more in common with them than we think and this was passed down to us from them on a biological level?

Whatever you choose to believe, there is only one thing I can suggest as a universal suggestion, regardless of your belief, if history, religion, and mythology teach us anything, that would be balanced. Balance allows us not to lose ourselves in one extreme or another. It reminds us that life is not black or white, but it has a ton of grey, and if you are open to it, you will see life in many different ways. Historical sites and museums in the city of Athens, all hold pieces of the truth, you just have to be open enough to actually see it.

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