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January 7, 2023

Rare Photographs of the First Excavations at the Greek Island of Delos From the 19th Century

Over the centuries, Delos was truly a cosmopolitan center with a diverse population that included people from all around the Mediterranean, but in 88 BCE, the Romans razed the island during their war with Mithridates (an ally of the Athenians who controlled the island), a calamity Delos never recovered from.

Following the foundation of the French School at Athens (FSA) in 1846, the institution sent several of its members on expeditions to the island. In 1864, after spending a month on Delos, L. Terrier produced an impressive report, which included meticulous observations along with proposals for identifying remains that were often very insightful. Nine years later, in 1873, the French School sent A. Lebègue to carry out excavations. In spite of interruptions of varying lengths triggered by the need to work on other sites, the French School has never ceased to explore a site of which the richness has inspired and echoed archaeologists’ and historians’ interest in a range of different aspects of ancient Greek civilization.

Until the First World War, on the instigation of T. Homolle and then M. Holleaux, the emphasis was on the clearing of large areas in the Sanctuary zone and on the northern slopes of Cynthus, although the rest of the island was not neglected. Several years apart (1894 and 1907), two archaeological maps of the island were drawn up, while a study of its physical geography was successfully completed by the geologist L. Cayeux.

From 1903 onwards, the excavations enjoyed annual financial support from Joseph Florimont, Duke of Loubat (1831–1927), a rich American philanthropist and foreign corresponding member of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres. This major contribution to work in the field was complemented in 1920 by the creation of a Greek epigraphy fund to support the Institute, from which the income was used for the publication of the Choix d’inscriptions de Délos by F. Durrbach (1921) and the Corpus des inscriptions de Délos.

Courtyard of the House of the Diadoumenos.

The Diadumenos, supported by two Mykonian workers, trying to shake off the numbness of a 2,000-year sleep from his “perfect limbs” uncovered in 1894.


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