Circa 3,500 years ago a Greek warrior died and was buried by himself in the area today known as Palace of Nestor around the city of Pylos, in the Messenia region of Greece. In that same Nestor where time later many Homeric Heroes had spent their lives, the Greek warrior had been buried with a rich legacy of objects which, thousands of years afterwards, would have been of fundamental importance in order to write down the worldwide Art History.
The tomb, called Griffin Warrior due to a little ivory sculpture found between the legs of the man, contained objects almost entirely made out of precious metals so lots of gold, silver and bronze. Inside the site no ceramic had been found; that was a singular circumstance in the history of Greek archeology considering how much they valued the importance of the tombs in this culture.
Below the reconstruction of the tomb where you notice the disposition of the weapons on the left and other goods on the right on top of the man’s chest. Picture shared by the official Griffin Warrior website, credit Denitsa Nenova.
Amongst the many objects found, one has revealed itself of particular interest for the archeologists and Art historians. This is a tiny seal engraved into agate stone, wide only 3.6 cm (1.4 inch), which could very well rewrite the Art History as we know it today.
When it was discovered during the campaign of excavating in October 2015 conducted by the Cincinnati University and the American School of Classical studies of Athens, the limestone was covering entirely the details of its finishing effects.
It took 2 years to reveal the details of this miniature. Underneath the limestone there was a battle scene which would include 3 different warriors
The two people in charge of the research, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, affirmed that the level of detail of the engraving defines this piece of art as the most beautiful one of the glyptic arts in the Bronze Age. Davis explained: “What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later. It’s a spectacular find”.
Furthermore what makes the tiny sculpture this extraordinary is the reduced dimension. Many details become visible only through microscopic view.
Some details do not exceed half a millimeter of length
“they are exceptionally small”, continued Davis on an article on the website of the Cincinnati University
Below: illustration of the sculpture in all its details
Below: high resolution picture showing thee details of the artwork
Below: The muscles of the warrior are reproduced with a level of accuracy that were known to belong to the Greece of 1,000 years later
The piece of art represents a victorious warrior that, after having defeated the enemy that lays at his feet, focuses the attention to another enemy with a spear. The shield of the other leaves part of his neck uncovered and so the warrior plunges his sword through it, taking his life with it
The scene evokes the epic Homeric battles which in fact took place around the Nestor Palace. The researchers cannot affirm that the picture was supposed to represent the Homeric epic poem but the iconography reminds of a well known legend to Minoan and Mycenaean populations, declared Stocker. The woman also said “it was certainly a precious object, representative of the role of the warrior in the Mycenaean society. Certainly the man would identify himself as that hero represented on the seal”.
Below: the face of the warrior of the Griffin Warrior Tomb recreated starting from the skull found in the tomb. Source Cincinnati University
Although the seal and the other objects found in the site suggest that the warrior was holding a high position in the Mycenaean society, many other objects are of Minoan origin, so this raises questions about his culture. The researchers have for a long time thought that the continental Mycenaeans would import or rob the competences of the rich knowledge that Crete had and that it was South-East from Pylos. The Minoans were commanded by the Mycenaeans of the Peloponnese, but their society fell around the 1500-1400 BC, approximately when the death of the warrior from the tomb occurred too.
Below: objects from the tomb including the seal inside the bronze goblet
In a series of presentations and an article published last year, Davis and Stocker explained the discovery of four golden rings and other precious objects of Minoan origin. Apparently these items indicate a much more articulate cultural exchange between Crete and the mainland than it was believed until now.
Below: a golden chain with finishing of ivy leaves. Picture by Jennifer Stephens
The level of sophistication of the seal of the warrior of Pylos is incomparable to any other Minoan and Mycenaean artifact.
how does our understanding of the Greek Bronze Age art change after this discovery?
Below: the sword of the warrior, Minoan type
“It seems that the Minoans produced a type of art with a level of detail that no one thought to be possible to sculpt. Their skills and interest in the figurative art, especially for movement and human anatomy go beyond any hypothesis ever made until today”, explained Jack Davis.
The discovery of the seal forces with no doubt a reconsideration of the Greek Art development
The researchers explain that inside the tomb there have been found beyond 3,000 artifacts, most of them still to be studied, which most likely allow a better understanding of both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. The results of the modern study will be published in the “Hesperia” magazine, while much more content will be available on the official blog of the Cincinnati University as well as on the website of the Griffin Warrior used in this article as sources.
Below: Nestor Palace as it appeared during the Heroes Age and how it look today, covered by a new ceiling installed in 2016
Below: Sharon Stocker along with Jack Davis shows the tomb during the phases of excavation