July 20, 2013
|Dea of Butrint in Pristina, Kosovo’s
capital National Museum Exhibition
Picture by Alma Lama
A recurrent theme of popular folklore concerning foreign archaeological missions working in the Mediterranean is the illegal removal of finds. Stories of this kind range from the true exploits of larger-than-life characters such as Lord Elgin and his assistants in Greece (St Clair 1998) and Giovanni Belzoni in Egypt (Trigger 1989), through to the activities of well-constituted scientific missions of the 1920s and 30s. In many cases the archaeologists concerned have not helped themselves in this matter. Sir Leonard Woolley, for example, filled his books with a series of stories of how he managed to hoodwink the Italian and Turkish authorities and make off with choice pieces (Woolley 1954; 1962).
The end of colonialism and the politicization of the past have reinforced this idea in the modern era. Many of the archaeologists of the past are seen as opposing in some fashion the establishment of local national identities; thus, for example, Elgin is demonized in Greece. In the mind of the general public of those countries actually involved in acquisition this concept has also taken root. Witness the activities of Indiana Jones in securing antiquities for his clients.
Obviously each case must be taken on its own merits. Here I intend to examine the Butrint sculptures from Albania. This is an instance where the myth has obscured the unpleasant reality, and as a consequence has deflected attention from the present sad situation of theft from museums and archaeological sites.
Butrint 1928: the fifth shore
The Italian Archaeological Mission to Albania was established in 1924 under the aegis of the Italian Foreign Ministry. It was one element of a programme intended to extend Italian hegemony to the eastern Adriatic — the ‘fifth shore’ of Italy — the others being in Italy itself and Libya (Gilkes & Miraj 2000). Political in its conception, the mission also adapted its strategy to embrace the nationalist concepts that had been adopted by the fascist regime, Romanità and Italianità (Gilkes & Miraj 2000; Petricoli 1990; Zevi 1986). Albania had been a brief cause celèbre in the earlier career of Benito Mussolini (Mussolini 1920). Nevertheless the mission’s first director, the young and able Luigi Ugolini (Fig. 1), while a supporter of the regime, clearly had his own agenda which he managed to dovetail with political necessity to pursue a solid programme of high-quality research.
The sculptures that were finally brought to light consisted of eighteen statues, or fragments of statues, most of which must have formed part of the decoration of the theatre complex. Principal amongst these were five large torsos, three female and two of cuirassed males, one signed by the Athenian sculptor Sosikles. A statue of the ‘Grande Ercolanese’ type accompanied these. There were also fine portrait busts of Augustus, Agrippa, ‘Livia’ and a very fine bust of Apollo, the so-called Goddess of Butrint, of the Anzio type (Bergemann 1998; Papadopoulos 1996) (Fig. 3).
The exhibition is open in Pristina national Museum of Kosovo’s capital city.
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