No one knew about Amphipolis until the appearance there in mid-August of our prime minister, this time in the role of Indiana Jones.

Amphipolis is a village that is hard to find as the sign on the Egnatia highway reads ‘to Proti Serron’, the homeland of our ethnarch [Constantine Karamanlis, a four-time prime minister in the 50s, 60s and 70s], therefore more significant.

My father Dimitris Lazaridis, a classical archaeologist, settled in Kavala, after the War and the completion of his studies in Thessaloniki. His field of research was extensive and included the whole of eastern Macedonia and western Thrace.

As a child I followed him to his excavations on the islands of Thasos and Samothrace, making treacherous sea journeys on a seiner fishing vessel in the early years.

He set up the museums of Kavala, Thasos and Amphipolis. He excavated at Abdera and Maroneia, whose museum includes the ‘Dimitris Lazaridis’ hall. He restored the ancient theatres of Thasos and Philippi etc. 

The military junta had removed him from the area for 7 years. When he returned he dedicated himself to the digs at Amphipolis, an Athenian colony whose importance stemmed from the gold-bearing region of Paggaios (Παγγαιος).  What I’m trying to say is that his guide was the ancient historian Thucydides who had been exiled to a metal mine in the Paggaios region. 

His interest in Amphipolis began in the 50s. He excavated tombs containing Macedonian graves and other important finds. Politicians at the time were not interested in excavations.

With one exception.

In 1954, Frederica of Hanover, the wife of Paul Glücksburg (the former King of Greece), paid a visit to the museum of Thasos. My father had found a statuette of a dolphin with Aphrodite on its back and Eros playing on its tail. Frederica wanted it for her personal collection.

Using all his diplomatic skills, my father indirectly, but clearly, refused. That refusal was documented and its price was a high one.

As an architecture student in 1970-75,  I helped him map the city’s 7km-long wall, the ancient pile bridge on the Strymon river, Hellenistic-era houses, the Kasta burial mound, where he conducted his first excavation but didn’t have enough money to continue. He did however unearth a Geometric-era cemetery.

Among his many assistants was his student Kaiti Peristeri. My father was a generous man and he would assign areas to his assistants, to my mother’s constant nagging. His repeated response to her was that not even ten lifetimes would suffice to publish his finds. He probably had an intuition that he would die young. Maybe, in retrospect, my mother was right after all.   

Apart from everything else this summer, we were freaked by the nationalist fervour surrounding Amphipolis. I freaked out seeing the prime minister, Mr Tasoulas [Culture Minister Konstantinos Tasoulas] and Ms Mendoni [Lia Mendoni-general secretary of the culture ministry] overseeing the dig.

Why such zeal? And since when do scientific endeavours (and this constitutes hubris that merits punishment) have to take place under the watchful eye of people that have nothing to do with the profession?

Our beleaguered nation needs a grand narrative, a grandiose history that extends to the Sangarius river, Egypt, Samarkand, Baktria etc.

I hope the tomb is intact and it yields important archaeological information. At this point, I’d like to remind everyone of another great archaeologist, Giorgos Hourmouziadis, who specialised in prehistoric archaeology. He founded a school of archaeologists for whom an prehistoric olive pit from 7000 BC is equally important
from an archaeological perspective to a golden wreath.

The reasons that motivated me to write the above are: 

  • To pay tribute to the memory of my father.
  • Anger and outrage at the show that was staged and the over-the-top reactions of people who should have been more collected in their demeanour.
  • Anger at politicians for: degrading culture and selling off archaeological areas (the temple of Apollo Zosimaios at Asteras in Vouliagmeni [the Asteras resort, which includes the ancient temple, was recently sold to foreign investors as part of the privatization program], Amnisos, Issos etc), for dismissing experienced marble workers, restorers, excavation workers etc and for ignoring the delicate and subtle procedures required for a dig, which is being conducted with minimal funds and a love for the job.

*This article was originally published in the Efimerida Ton Syntakton website and was translated by TPP with its permission

* Anastasia Lazaridou is the daughter of Dimitris Lazaridis,  the first archaeologist to work on the Kasta hill in 1964, where the tomb of Amphipolis was discovered