Ancient Paros: a great artistic and cultural centre of the Aegean world
by Dora Katsonopoulou, Professor of Archaeology & President, Paros & Cyclades Institute of Archaeolo
Paros occupies a central position in the Cyclades, the cluster of the Aegean islands that has played a significant commercial and maritime role since early times. The island was inhabited already in the prehistoric period (3rd-2nd millennia BC); in the 12th century BC, a Mycenaean settlement flourished on the summit of the Koukounaries hill in the bay of Naoussa, on the northeastern part of the island. In historic times, Paros developed a number of significant settlements dating back to the Geometric period (9th-8th centuries BC). In the next Archaic period (7th-6th centuries BC), the city-state of Paros was involved in a variety of activities including high artistic production, sea contacts and maritime trade. In this period, the Parians founded a colony on Thasos and developed relations with the coast of Asia Minor, in particular with Miletos. Parian workshops produced excellent works of art made in the unique Parian marble to adorn public buildings and temples in the great Greek sanctuaries of Delphi, Olympia, Delos and on the Acropolis of Athens. Parian craftsmen travelled and worked in the Greek sanctuaries transmitting artistic influences of the Ionic world. The flourishing of the Parian artistic workshops continued into the following Classical period and until the middle of the 5th century. In the second half of the century, the use of the Pentelic marble in art working and the development of Athenian workshops led gradually to a decrease of the Parian artistic production. Nevertheless, famous Parian artists of the 4th century created great works of art in many areas of the ancient world where they travelled and worked. Following the end of the Peloponnesian War, in 377/376 BC, Paros became a member of the revived Athenian League and later in the century entered the alliance with Macedon. In the 2nd century BC, the island fell back into Athenian influence, and a century later Paros became part of the Roman province of Asia.
Paros owed much of its wealth and reputation in the ancient world to its priceless white marble, the famous lychnites extracted from the underground quarries surviving at Marathi. Ancient inscriptions describe the capital city of Paros as “the most splendid city of the Parians” because of its numerous marble buildings. Lychnites is a fine quality translucent white marble used in antiquity for the carving of important marble statues, much favoured by great sculptors. According to the Roman writer Pliny, it was named lychnites because it was mined in the underground stoas in the light of lychnoi (oil lamps). Marble was provided from many other quarries both open cast and underground, located around the valley of Choridaki, 1.5 km to the west of the Marathi valley along the modern road leading from Paroikia to Lefkes. But the most representative Parian quarry regarding methods of marble extraction is the Quarry of the Nymphs at Marathi, known to visitors already in the early 15th century. The quarry owes its name to the famous mid-fourth century BC relief with an inscription near its entrance dedicated to the nymphs by an Adamas Odryses.
Marble was extracted on Paros already in the 7th century BC and used for grave reliefs and lamps with plastic decoration. Pliny mentions that the first sculptors to have used Parian marble were Dipoinos and Skyllis, the pupils of Daidalos, in the first quarter of the 6th century BC. From this period on, statues of kouroi and korai carved out of Parian marble by local sculptors started to be exported, gradually expelling from the trade market the Naxian marble which had prevailed since the mid-seventh century. Thus, the presence of Parian works in the most important sanctuary of the Cyclades, Delos, outnumbered the Naxian. The same is observed in Attica, where imported Parian marble was used by Athenian sculptors for the carving of some of the most excellent Attic sculptures such as the Volomandra and the Anavyssos kouroi, Aristodikos, the Peploforos and the Antenor korai on the Acropolis, also the Euthydikos kore. Furthermore, the Peisistratids imported Parian marble for the construction of the pedimental sculptures of the temple of Athena on the Acropolis. The treasuries of the Athenians and the Siphnians in Delphi, as well as the east pediment of the temple of Apollo were made in Parian marble. In the same period, the marble from Paros was dominant in other places of the Greek mainland and even beyond to Magna Graecia in the West and Cyrene in Libya of Africa. Especially in Cyrene, Parian marble was extensively used in the production of Hellenistic and early Roman sculptures.
In the Classical period, the most renowned Greek sculptors made their most celebrated statues in Parian marble. In the 5th century, Pheidias made the statue of Aphrodite Ourania for the Agora in Athens; his dear pupil, Agorakritos of Paros, carved the statue of Nemesis for Rhamnous in Attica. Parian marble was used for the pediments and the metopes of the early Classical temple of Zeus in the sanctuary of Olympia, for the carving of the famous Nike of Paionios, for the most celebrated of all statues in antiquity, the Knidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles, and also the Hermes of Olympia by the same artist whose craft was primarily associated with the use of marble from Paros. In the same century, the great contemporary of Praxiteles, Skopas of Paros, carved his much praised Maenad in Parian marble, and also the cult statue of a seated Hestia for her sanctuary on Paros. Parian lychnites was employed in the statuary of the Nereid Monument at Xanthos in Lycia in the early 4th century BC. Recent scientific analysis of a marble sample from the famous statue of the emperor Augustus from the Prima Porta in Rome (Fig. 1, page 30), in the Vatican Museum, representing him as benefactor and saviour of the Roman state, showed that the statue was made in the precious lychnites of Paros.
The island got its name from Paros, the leader of colonists from Arkadia in the Peloponnese, who colonised the island in the Geometric times (around the 8th century BC). It is interesting and worth mentioning that Skopas from Paros, one of the greatest Greek sculptors of the 4th century BC, made the sculptures narrating the story of the mortal wounding of Telephos, mythical hero of Arkadia and heroic ancestor of the Parians, for the western pediment of the new temple of Athena Alea at Tegea. The earlier temple was destroyed by fire in the first years of the 4th century BC and was rebuilt by the Tegeans between 350-340 BC. Skopas was the architect of the building made for the Tegeans: “the most magnificent temple of the Peloponnese” as Pausanias reports in his Greek travels.
Skopas is one of the glories of ancient Paros. He was born ca. 395 BC, coming from a family of sculptors. His father Aristandros was a sculptor, active at the time of the great Polykleitos from Argos, with whom he collaborated, and an older Skopas, a contemporary of Myron and Pythagoras, was most probably his grandfather. Two other sculptors named Skopas II and Aristandros, a father and a son respectively, of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, are apparently members of posterior generations of the same renowned family of Parian artists.
Born on the island of marble, Skopas grew up in the proper environment to become a craftsman of marble. The particularly rich artistic production of Paros before his age was the best source for Skopas to draw on techniques and skill. It is not surprising, then, that he became one of the greatest sculptors of Greek antiquity, introducing in sculpture the representation of pathos – the intense emotional situation of a man’s soul – highly praised by ancient writers and critics. Significant Parian artists before him were engaged in the Parthenon or other Attic workshops. Aristion of Paros, who was active in the third quarter of the 6th century BC, was the sculptor of the famous statue of Frasikleia (Fig. 2, page 30) found in Merenda of Attica in 1972, perhaps the best of the existing statues of korai. In the second half of the 5th century BC, Agorakritos of Paros, the pupil and favourite of the great Pheidias, made the statue of Nemesis for her sanctuary at Rhamnus in Attica. In the early 4th century BC, Thrasymedes of Paros created the gold and ivory cult statue for the temple of Asklepios in Epidauros, completed ca. 370 BC.
Parian marble was a material used by Skopas for his most famous works. Among them, one of the most admired statues in antiquity, the famous Maenad known by a copy in Dresden (Fig. 3, page 2), was described in detail and highly praised by the sophist and art connoisseur Kallistratos. Another famous statue by Skopas in Parian marble was the statue of a seated Hestia mentioned by the Roman writer Pliny, displayed in his days in the city of Rome. This was most probably the statue of Hestia made by Skopas for her sanctuary in the city of Paros which the emperor Tiberius abducted from the island in 6 BC and transferred to Rome. The existence of a sanctuary of Hestia on Paros, first suggested by the German archaeologist Otto Rubensohn, was later corroborated by the discovery of a 2nd century BC inscription found in the church of Katapoliani in Paroikia, in the process of restoration work. Thanks to the careful and thorough work of the late architect Gottfried Gruben, the temple of Hestia included in the Prytaneion, built near the Agora of the capital city of Paros, in the second quarter of the 4th century BC, was recently reconstructed on the basis of Classical architectural members re-used in the Byzantine church of Katapoliani on Paros and the ruined church of Aghios Stephanos on Naxos. The Prytaneion of Paros was probably the earliest major architectural work of Skopas, executed ca. 375-365 BC, before he took on other significant projects outside Paros in the Greek mainland and in Asia Minor.
Following the construction of the Prytaneion on Paros, Skopas seems to have been involved in sculptural projects in Asia Minor where he worked mainly between 360-350 BC. First, having accepted the invitation to work for the Maussolleion, the great burial monument of the king Maussollos, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, Skopas worked in Halikarnassos together with other famous Greek sculptors of the 4th century BC, Timotheos, Bryaxis, and Leochares. Skopas himself carved the eastern façade of the monument which was the first to be seen by the visitor who entered the terrace where the tomb stood. At about the same time, he was invited by the Knidians to make two statues for their city expanded and embellished after 360 BC, an Athena and a Dionysos. His third engagement in Asia Minor was in another Wonder of the ancient world, the new temple of Artemis which started to be rebuilt soon after it was burned down in 356 BC. Skopas made one of the 36 columnae caelatae (columns with sculptured decoration on their base) for the temple of Artemis. After 350 BC, the renowned Parian sculptor returned to the Greek mainland and worked in Tegea in Arkadia as architect and sculptor of the new temple of Athena, his architectural masterpiece. Among his last major projects was most probably the carving of cult groups for two temples of Aphrodite: a group of Eros, Imeros and Pothos in Megara and a group of Aphrodite and Pothos for the sanctuary of the goddess in Samothrace.
But Paros was fortunate to have given birth to another exceptional personality before Skopas, the great poet Archilochos who lived in the 7th century BC and was considered equal to Homer by the ancients. Archilochos dared to introduce in poetry the personal element as opposed to the heroic, prevalent before him, and to express personal feelings and individual experiences. He was worshipped as a heros in his island, where his heroon (a shrine dedicated to a hero) was first erected in the last quarter of the 6th century BC. In the 5th century, Archilochos’ fame was well established outside the island and his poetry was highly praised. He was even portrayed on Attic vase-painting and members of his family were depicted on the famous Polygnotan paintings in Delphi. There is good evidence to suggest that his statue of the Walking Poet type, known from Roman marble copies, was made in this period (about 440 BC) most probably by another exceptional man of Paros, the sculptor Agorakritos, to be set up in his sanctuary on the island. In the following 4th century BC, Archilochos’ cult place was further embellished by new buildings and by the dedication of the Dokimos inscription engraved on the abacus of a reused Ionic capital dated to the last quarter of the 6th century BC (Fig. 4, page 2): Αρχίλοχος Πάριος Τελεσικλέος ενθάδε κείται, το Δόκιμος μνημήιον ο Νεοκρέωντος τόδ’ έθηκεν (Archilochos of Paros, son of Telesikles, lies here. This monument was erected by Dokimos, the son of Anakreon). In the early 3rd century BC, Mnesiepes monumentalised the sanctuary by founding a temenos and setting up altars to offer sacrifices and honour Archilochos, designating the place as Archilocheion. In the Archilocheion, the poet was worshipped in common with other groups of gods, namely the Muses, Apollo Mousagetes and Mnemosyne, Dionysos, the Nymphs and Horai, Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Artemis, Apollo Prostaterios and Herakles. In the same period, it seems that a new statue of the poet was dedicated in his sanctuary on Paros. The statue showing Archilochos seated and holding the lyre may be the one reproduced on Parian silver coins of the Late Hellenistic period and described in an early 3rd century epigram almost certainly composed by Theokritos.
Archilochos was a daring and uneasy mind. Looking for better opportunities, he travelled outside Paros participating either in colonial trading activities as on Thasos and probably Parion, the colony of the Parians on the Propontis, or as a soldier fighting against enemies of his country. Especially in the case of Thasos, Archilochos served Paros both as a citizen and as a soldier. Fighting against the local hostile groups of the Saians on the Thracian coast, he lost his shield. That Archilochos was honored by the Parians both as poet and as soldier is evident from accounts related to his bravery in battle and heroic death. The Parian writers, Mnesiepes of the early 3rd century BC, and Sosthenes of the early 1st century BC, describe a naval battle against the Naxians where Archilochos fought very bravely, killed many enemies, but finally was wounded by one of them and died. His fellow citizens, then, sank two enemy ships and captured the rest to bring back to Paros with Archilochos’ body. There they buried him with great honours.
Archaeological research and excavations in Paros during the last century and more recently have brought to light numerous finds from the historical past of the island. Although only limited excavations are possible in modern Paroikia, which lies over the ancient city of Paros, rescue excavations in the last decades have revealed a notable number of ancient remains in the contemporary town. In addition, a great deal of information on important ancient temples of Paros was provided by the work of G. Gruben who attributed various architectural members incorporated into later walls of the Frankish castle of Paroikia to certain ancient temples known from epigraphical evidence, such as the temple of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the temple of Hestia and other public structures of the ancient city of Paros. Among the most notable discoveries, we should mention the sculpture and pottery workshops found recently in the area of Tholos near the Archaeological Museum of the town. Also the complex of Hellenistic houses with mosaic floors uncovered at Kastrovouni behind the Archaeological Museum. Near this area lies one of the most important sites of ancient Paros. At the locality known as Aghios Panteleimon, excavations in the last decades revealed an important outdoor sanctuary including rich finds among which the statue of an Archaic marble kouros and the most amazing marble statue of a Gorgo dated to the 2nd quarter of the 6th century BC (Fig. 5, page 31 & front cover), also an exquisite marble relief of the 5th century representing a young woman wearing a peplos. A circular stepped marble funerary monument was found in the same location, perhaps a heroon dedicated to a significant person of ancient Paros. At a short distance from the area of the sanctuary, by the port of Paroikia along the coastal road is located one of the most important cemeteries of the Cycladic islands, dated between the 8th century BC and the 3rd century AD. Among the various types of graves discovered are included two mass burials (polyandria) of the 8th century BC containing 110 amphorae holding the cremated remains of the dead. Two of these amphorae are unique in ancient Greek art, representing battle scenes arranged in a narrative way (Fig. 6, page 2) seen for the first time in the history of the ancient Greek painting.
To conclude this short presentation on the antiquities of the major area of Paroikia, two significant sanctuaries should also be mentioned: the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo and of the healing god Asklepios on the low hill at the locality of Aghia Anna south of the modern town, and the sanctuary of Delian Apollo and his sister Artemis on the high hill north of Paroikia overlooking the sea toward the island of Delos. During the early excavations of the temple of Artemis at the beginning of the 20th century, fragments of the marble cult statue of the goddess were found, recently partially restored and exhibited in the local archaeological museum.
Although small – consisting of three main exhibition halls, a third smaller room and the atrium also serving as an exhibition area – the Archaeological Museum of Paroikia is one of the most important museums in Greece. The antiquities displayed in the museum collection are unique original works of art, mainly marble sculptures made in the famous Parian lychnites. Also of great interest are finds from the Late Neolithic settlement of Saliagos located between Paros and Antiparos, the Mycenaean settlement of Koukounaries in the bay of Naoussa, and the Geometric cemetery of Paroikia. A most important exhibit in the museum is one of the slabs of the famous marble inscription known as the Parian Chronicle, a chronological record of important events occurring between the time of the mythical king of Athens Kekrops and the year 264/263 BC. Finally, a variety of grave monuments from Paroikia itself and the rest of the island are on display in the courtyard.
The Paros Archaeological Museum is open daily except Monday from 8.30am-3pm.