Travels and Discoveries in the Levant/Volume 1/Letter XXVI

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Rhodes—Calymnos—Necropolis—Excavations in Tombs


Calymnos, November 11, 1854.

After duly presenting my firman to the Pasha at Rhodes, and receiving in exchange for it a mandate addressed to the Turkish Governor and the Primates of Calymnos, enjoining them to facilitate my operations in every way, I set sail in a caique for that island, accompanied by an Italian artist, Signer Panni, who was staying at Rhodes, and by my cavass, a smart young Albanian, whom I have recently engaged in my service, securing his affections for the next six months by a present of a gold-laced jacket, with a promise of a pair of silver-mounted pistols if he behaves well in this expedition. He condescends to cook for me as long as we are travelling, though no Albanian will stoop to regular menial service in a household. Our stock of tools and implements for excavation was not extensive. It consisted of four English shovels and picks, three crowbars, two blocks, and a rope. The caique had a cargo of wheat, which made a very cool and comfortable bed to lie on.

At Rhodes we heard many stories of pirates off Cape Crio; so when I got to Cos, I asked the captain of the caique, a knowing old Greek mariner, whether he thought we should be safer with a guard of Turkish cavasses. He declined the offer, confiding to me at the same time the fact that he himself had some money on board; so I took his advice, and we completed the voyage without any adventures. On arriving at Calymnos, we found the inhabitants very Russian in their sentiments, and rather indisposed to welcome Frank visitors.

The news of the battle of the Alma, which we brought with us, did not contribute to their good-humour, and I was told privately that I had come at an inopportune moment, and that it would be hopeless to attempt excavations, as the land was all private property, and no one would consent to my digging in his field. I thought, therefore, it would be more prudent not to hurry matters, and so kept the Pasha's letter in my pocket, and established myself quietly in the upper town, where I spent some days in copying inscriptions and collecting coins.

Every day the price of corn rose, as winter approached; and the poorer classes, being in want of employment, began to agitate in my favour; till at length I was formally invited by some of the chief Greeks of the place to commence my excavations. The land being all private property, I had in each case to make a bargain with a different owner. These negotiations were at first very troublesome; but I succeeded in persuading several small proprietors to let me dig their little plots of ground, with the agreement, that for every tomb I opened I was to pay a price, which I at first fixed to three dollars, but afterwards lowered, in consequence of the unproductive results of many tombs.

I commenced my operations in the middle of an ancient cemetery, which still retains the classical name of ὁ δᾶμος.

On referring to Dr. Ross's map of Calymnos,128 it will be seen that this cemetery is situated between the modern harbour, now called Pothia, on the eastern coast, and Linaria on the west, and that behind it is a range of mountains crossing the island in a direction north-west by south-east.

The cemetery of Damos lies on the sloping irregular ground at the foot of this mountain; and immediately below these slopes is a small and fertile valley, extending to the western coast. Such slopes, intervening between the cultivated land of the plains and the barren mountain-sides, were very frequently selected by the Greeks as the sites of their cemeteries. The site called Damos, at Calyimios, is a piece of rocky ground which evidently formed an ancient stone-quarry. Here the surface of the rock is cut into steps and grooves. In one place is a monolithic base containing a square chamber 9 feet 7 inches by 7 feet 8 inches, entered by a doorway, the whole being cut out of the solid rock. Above the doorway, the rock is cut into steps, in rude imitation of a pyramidal roof. Near it is another tomb, consisting of an underground chamber cut out of the rock and roofed over by two immense blocks, one of which has been removed. The chamber is 8 feet long by 4 feet 7 inches wide. One of the blocks which cover it measures 7 feet by 2 feet 2 inches wide, and is 2 feet 5 inches thick. Adjoining this quarry on the north is a field where a number of graves have been opened. They he in clusters, and are cut out of the solid rock, which here crops up to the surface. This field is bounded on the north by a ravine, beyond which the land bears the singular name of Δραπέτης—"the Runaway." From the quarry the district of Damos extends downwards towards Linaria, forming a sort of lingula of rock jutting out into the plain in a direction north-west by south-east: on each side is a ravine.

On this isolated tongue of land are foundations of houses, and two Hellenic cisterns, cut out of the solid rock, with steps in the sides, giving access to the water at the bottom. The ground is strewn with fragments of pottery and painted stucco. On the north side a staircase cut in the rock leads down into the ravine below. The neck of this peninsula is separated from the quarry by an Hellenic wall, the foundations of which still remain. It is evident that a small Greek town once stood on this rocky site.

On the south of the Damos the land becomes less rocky, and slopes more gradually to the plain. The land here takes its name from a small church dedicated to the Prophet Elias, but forms part of the cemetery already described. Here, about the year 1842, a peasant called Janni Sconi found in his vineyard a stone coffin or soros, covered with a marble slab so heavy that he could not lift it alone. Calling in the aid of a neighbour, he uncovered the sows, which was full of beautiful gold ornaments. On the discovery of this great treasure, the neighbour who had aided Janni Sconi to lift the stone claimed his share. Janni Sconi presented him with the magnificent sum of five piasters, or rather less than a shilhng; on which the neighbour, out of revenge, informed the Turkish Governor of the discovery. The law of treasure-trove was instantly put in force, and Janni Sconi had to give up everything, and was presented with a sum of money very much below, as he assured me, the amoimt to which he was legally entitled. The gold ornaments were sent to Constantinople, and have since imfortunately been dispersed. The finest of them were obtained from the Porte by the Prussian Government.

According to information acquired at Calymnos by Ross, the whole treasure consisted of the following objects:—

  1. A diadem of massive gold about 1 1/2 in. wide.
  2. A necklace richly ornamented, from which

hung two gold cornucopias suspended from chains.

  1. A pair of fine gold earrings, the pendant of

which was formed by a winged figure, probably a Cupid, holding in one hand a wine-jug, in the other a dish. The whole of these ornaments weighed 42 1/2 Venetian ducats, and were valued at only 2,000 Tui'kish piasters, about £18.129

There were found with them in the sarcophagus a silver coin of Calymnos and a bronze mirror.

I commenced digging in the part of Damos which had anciently formed a quarry, and at the end of the first day came to three tombs of children, all of which had been previously opened and the contents broken. The next day I came to a much larger tomb, rather more than four feet below the surface. This tomb was covered with a stone lid in two pieces. The workmen, who are artists for this kind of work, having a great deal of practice at Calymnos, first removed every atom of earth from the lid of the tomb, taking care to stop up all the holes to prevent the earth running in. They then, with much care and neatness, and not with the clumsy impetuosity which English labourers would have shown, lifted up one of the two stones which formed the cover. On looking into the tomb, the first thing I saw was a jug of red pottery, the mouth turned downwards: between the handle and neck of the vase was a small earthenware lamp. Taking out these two, we came to the feet and legs of the skeleton. We then took off the middle stone, and found a glass bowl of very elegant form, turned over the pelvis, the mouth downwards; higher up, towards the head, was another earthenware jug, and a small vase of the sort formerly called lachrymatories. We then took out the bones and the whole of the earth of the skeleton; and lifting it with great care, found a silver coin, the ναῦλον, which was always placed in the mouth of the dead person, to pay his passage in Charon's boat. This proved to be an unedited coin of Cnidus, with a magistrate's name. The present Archbishop of Mytilene, who has been much in Macedonia, told me^ that in that uncivilized and remote part of the Turkish empire the Greek peasants still retain the custom of placing a ναῦλον in the mouth of the dead. "Wishing to put an end to this relic of paganism, he explained to them that the coin they used for the purpose being a Turkish para, and being inscribed with a quotation from the Koran, was consequently quite unfit to be placed in a Christian tomb.130 The skull was that of a woman; the teeth were very perfect, and as remarkable for whiteness and regularity as those of the Calymniotes of this day. The grave itself was a narrow bed, just large enough to hold a body, very neatly cut in the rock.

After we had finished this tomb, we dug on and came to a second close by. Here the head was towards the west, and lay between the two thigh- bones. We therefore concluded that this body had been in ancient times shifted from its place. This skeleton appears to be that of a man about thirty years of age. We found hardly anything in the tomb, and the workmen said that the defunct was a shabby fellow not to have left a coin to pay Charon with.

In the nest field to the south I found another grave, containing similar common pottery and a bowl of thick well-preserved glass. Contiguous to this, on the south, was a grave lined with large square tiles with flanged edges, and covered with a stone. Outside the tiles were two rows of deep cups, placed one within the other, and lying horizontally on their sides. This grave contained many vases, all broken, two coarse terra-cotta reliefs, a silver ring, two silver fibulæ of very ordinary workmanship, a large calcedony polished for engraving, and a copper coin as naulon. Inside this grave were layers of shingle. I found in this field a whole cluster of graves, the bearings of which evidently followed no fixed rules. In one of them were a bronze arrow-head and a number of broad-headed iron nails, which may have served to hold together a wooden coffin or casket. I sound one instance of the same mode of interment in large earthen jars, which I had noticed in the Troad two years ago. (See ante, p. 135.)

The contents of the graves up to this date are not very promising. The pottery is generally coarse and unvarnished. In one grave I found a cup of late black ware, ornamented with a Dionysiac subject in relief. This kind of ware is seldom to be met with, and belongs to the Macedonian period.

In spite of the small success up to this date, I find great pleasure in the kind of life I am leading here. I remain in the fresh air all day long, enjoying the beautiful view which stretches away towards Astypalæa and Carpathos, and watching the progress of the workmen at every stroke. My food is brought to me in the middle of the day, when we all sit down under the shade of the rock and eat rustic fare.