10 January 2013

Negroponte Hoard, Part Four

Lombard and Hebrew plaques from the Halkis Treasure.
(Hebrew plaques inverted.  BM photo.)

Continuing the previous entry, which is from my paper to the AIA on aspects of the Halkis Treasure:

Some of the items are demonstrably from Halkis.

The first picture shows two small ornamental plaques with Lombard lettering. One says CLARA. B. and the other says SEABA --probably another name. Halkis -- Negroponte -- was given to the Lombards in 1204 as part of the division of territory after the Fourth Crusade, and it was Lombard Dominicans who built Ag. Pareskevi in the 1260s, as the style of sculpture on the triumphal arch demonstrates.

The Hebrew plaques are tiny, not 2 centimetres long. The first transliterates as ARTINO which seems to be meaningless, as are the other Hebrew plaque inscriptions. Halkis, with Thebes, is of course known to have had Jewish communities from very early.

Venetian belt fastening.

There is no reason to question whether the specifically Venetian items in the Halkis treasure were found locally, although there is no reason to assume that they necessarily were. There was a Venetian presence in Halkis from before the 1082 chrysobull of Alexios Komnenos until 1470, and Venice acquired complete control of the island in the 1380s.

Belt ends.

With these belt ends, we move into questionable territory. They are in the late 14th-15th-century Gothic style, particularly of northern and eastern Italy, and they could have been found anywhere Italians lived in Greece.  Or anywhere Italians lived.

These belt ends are appealing pieces, with their clumsy craftsmanship and the serious interest in architectural forms. These all seem to be from the same workshop,even possibly the same craftsman. Possibly you could have the figure of your choice inserted into a pre-fabricated set of arches. Were they found together? We don’t know.

Here is a belt in use. A great many of the items in the Halkis collection in the British Museum are the small metal belt appliques such as you see on this belt and below.

Belt ornaments.

Lampros offered Fortnum more than 200 buttons -- mostly silver and silver-gilt -- which went on to Franks for his collection. In the British Museum catalog, each button has its own entry, which gives us 60 entries of one style of button, 40 for another style, and 42 for another. Buttons could have been found anywhere.

Silver buttons.

Notice here that this wonderful spherical gold and pearl button has threads from a fabric still attached.

Some pieces strike me as highly unlikely to have been found in Negroponte/Halkis.

These belt ends -- three were found -- with the clumsy three-dimensional classical figures under Gothic arches fascinate me.  Where was a gold-worker seeing classical or Hellenistic sculpture? If you consider that the Florentines held Athens for seventy years, lived on the Acropolis, and had the Parthenon sculptures before their eyes, I think it a reasonable guess that these pieces were made, if not found, in Athens.

I have already written about the three Malatesta stemme -- coats-of-arms -- in the Treasure.  The Malatesta were based at Rimini and Pesaro. This was a large family of condottieri, and there is no indication that any were involved in trade. Possibly one led fanti in Negroponte, but if so, no records have survived. But there were Malatesta in the Morea, which is a much more likely source for these finds. Pandolfo Malatesta was Archbishop of Patras from 1424 to 1430, and his sister, Cleofe, was married to Theodoros II Palaiologos at Mistra from 1421 to 1433.

Double-headed eagle ring.

This signet ring from the Ashmolean with the Palaiologos double-headed eagle strikes me as unlikely to have come from Halkis. It has an inscription which the Ashmolean translates to read,
When you have enjoyed the world then you come to the tomb, Gold comes from the Clay, Flesh from dust, I have experienced both."

A ring in the Franks Bequest -- not identified as part of the Halkis Treasure -- may offer a clue.

Ring of Manuel Kantakuzenos.

It is shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog of the Byzantium: Faith and Power exhibition of 2004 which identifies it as coming from Mistra, as does this ring in the Mistra museum which was found in the sea off Monemvasia.

Gold ring, Mistra, with Lusignan emblem.

These are the sort of things we would hope to find -- expect to find -- at Mistra, along with many of the other items at least of the quality of the Halkis Treasure.

But with very few exceptions -- the gold ring, a few earrings -- these items below show what has survived to be exhibited in the Mistra museum -- low-quality metal, clumsy craftsmanship. But perhaps these were the items that were left for archaeologists after the pearl rings and the gilt buttons were selected out.

Finds in the Mistra museum.

Lampros had an "agent" in Negroponte. He certainly had an agent in Corfu, which was his home. In this group of 14 letters he mentions being sent items from agents on Kalymnos, Nissiros, Melos, and in the Peloponnesos.

Grave-robbers, Isthmus of Corinth, 1877.

This picture, from a London Illustrated News of 1877 shows people -- who might be called agents -- at work at the Isthmus of Corinth. Barrès, visiting Mistra in the 1890s, speaks of graves in churches at Mistra freshly opened, of the mounds of skulls and tibias.  When Buchon wrote in 1841 about the armor found in Halkis, he said that some of it went missing while it was on the way to Athens, and that pieces were available for sale in Halkis.

The question of sources and agency for the Halkis Treasure cannot really be discussed until the Lampros papers are examined. I hope that someone -- or several people -- will want to pursue this further.  Again, I am glad to make my material available.

Ashmolean Museum Search

Halkis treasure numbers run CDEF.F103, CDEF.F376-F396.

British Museum Search
Search term "Halkida"

Particular thanks to Nicky Tsourgarakis who obtained the Lampros letters for me and retranslated sections of them. The Lampros letters are found in: Ashmolean Archives, Fortnum Papers, F/9/i/1-14.  The English translation in the Ashmolean is by Bet McCleod and Nicoletta Norman.


  1. Which Lusignan princess married into the Byzantine dynasty? That's probably how that ring got there.


  2. Isabella/Zampia (1333-1387), daughter of Guy de Lusignan, married Manuel Kantakuzenos (1326-1380), Despot of Mistra. Quite a few Lusignantes/Lusignanians came in her entourage. That is the assumption about the ring. Lusignan symbols can be found at Mistra. She was highly regarded, & her monogram is on several churches.


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