Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Riace Warriors: Remnants of a sanctuary in Magna Graecia or Roman plunder?

 I first learned of the Riace warriors while listening to the Great Courses lecture series "Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome presented by John R. Hale of the University of Louisville.  Dr. Hale made them sound so intriguing I had to research them further and see what they actually looked like since I was listening to an audio version of the course while I commuted to work at my university.  When I finally saw them I found them absolutely breathtaking, too!

 The Riace Warriors, are two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BCE that were found in the sea near Riace, Italy in 1972. The bronzes are now in the collections of the  Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, Italy.  Stefano Mariottini, then a chemist from Rome, chanced upon the bronzes while snorkeling near the end of a vacation at Monasterace. While diving some 200 metres from the coast of Riace, at a depth of six to eight metres, Mariottini noticed the left arm of statue A emerging from the sand. At first he thought he had found a dead human body, but on touching the arm he realized it was a bronze arm. Mariottini began to push the sand away from the rest of statue A. Later, he noticed the presence of another bronze nearby and called the authorities.  Surprisingly, no associated wreck site has been identified, but in the immediate locality, which is a subsiding coast, architectural remains have also been found. Authorities also reported a helmet and shield as well as a third statue with open arms but these objects were stolen before the official recovery occurred and it is thought they were sold to a collector abroad.

The two bronze sculptures are simply known as “Statue A”, referring to the one portraying a younger warrior, and “Statue B”, indicating the more mature-looking of the two. The most popular theory is that two separate Greek artists created the bronzes about 30 years apart around the 5th century BCE. “Statue A” was probably created between the years 460 and 450 BCE, and “Statue B” between 430 and 420 BCE. Some believe that “Statue A” was the work of Myron, and that a pupil of Phidias, called Alkamenes, created “Statue B.”  They are considered to be exquisite examples of contrapposto - their weight is on the back legs, making them much more realistic than with many other Archaic stances. Their musculature is clear, yet not incised, and looks soft enough to be visible and realistic. The bronzes' turned heads not only confer movement, but also add life to the figures. The asymmetrical layout of their arms and legs adds realism to them. The eyes of Statue A are formed of calcite (originally supposed to be ivory), while their teeth are made with silver. Their lips and nipples are made of copper. At one time, they held spears and shields, but those have not been found. Additionally, Warrior B once wore a helmet pushed up over his head, and it is thought that Warrior A may have worn a wreath over his.  

It is thought the two warriors originally formed part of a votive group in a large sanctuary and it has been speculated that they represent  Tydeus and Amphiaraus respectively, two warriors from the Seven Against Thebes monumental group in the polis of Argos, as Pausanias noted.  Other scholars think they may have originally been part of a monument to the Battle of Marathon.  Still others have expressed their opinion the pair may be Erechtheus, son of Athena, and Eumolpos, son of Poseidon.  The Greek temples at Olympia, Argos, and Delphi were plundered after the Roman occupation and some scholars have posited that these warriors were being transported to Rome as booty when a storm overtook their ship, but no evidence of a wreck has been found. 

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Luca Galli

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems 

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

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