The online auction companies put historical antiques into useful, well-known classes: Egyptian, Phoenician, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine. Sotheby’s has recently dropped its London antiquities auctions, therefore it has added two additional groups, Western Asiatic Antiquities and Islamic Works of Antiques, to the June 4 antiquities sale in Manhattan.
The Christie’s sales event, on June 5, includes all historical antiques, beginning with neolithic sculpture of the fifth millennium B.C. Both sales are large, and the works of art are described.
However the historical world is becoming more complicated. Another “lost” culture will be rediscovered, as can be seen inside a show entitled “Old Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians,” organized by the Republic of Bulgaria using the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington. It is actually currently on the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth (through July 19), then moves to San Francisco and after that New Orleans. Later it will probably be seen in Memphis, Boston, and Detroit. An accompanying catalogue is authored by Vassil Bojkov and costs $40.
The show’s 200 wonderful gold and silver artifacts, dating from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 400, plus some, only recently excavated, come from the Balkans, an area now comprised of Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, northern Greece and western Turkey. It’s an easy show to appreciate. There are sumptuous gold necklaces dripping with golden rosettes, large gold drinking vessels within the model of galloping horses, silver jugs with friezes depicting wild satyrs pursuing maenads, as well as a splendid Pegasus wall plaque. In addition there are horse trappings and ceremonial objects for mysterious rituals.
Technically, early Thrace was actually a Balkan region in which a conglomeration of tribes coexisted on semifriendly terms until they reached the zenith of the power within the fifth century B.C. At one time, Thrace stretched over the Balkan Peninsula, involving the Adriatic and the Black Sea. (Dr. Stella Miller-Collett, professor of classical archeology at Bryn Mawr College, said Byzantium was named right after the Thracian city of Byzas.) Thrace had been a loose entity until around A.D. 45, once the Roman Emperor Claudius annexed it.
The Thracian everyone was Indo-Europeans who settled in Thrace. As Torkom Demirjian, the president of Ariadne Galleries in Manhattan, explained: “Their origins are not known. Only the geography is clear.”
The Thracians had no written language, so what exactly is known on them is colored through the perspective of those who wrote on them. To Homer, Thracians were the formidable enemies of the Greeks inside the Trojan War. In Book X of “The_Iliad,” Homer discusses the Thracian King Rhesos, whose horses were, “probably the most royal I have seen, whiter than snow and swift since the sea wind,” he writes. “His chariot is really a master function in gold and silver, as well as the armor, huge and golden, brought by him here is marvelous to see, like no war gear of men but of immortals.”
Herodotus writes about the ferocity of Thracian warriors, who failed to value civilization. According to Thracian custom, he declares, “noblest of all the is living from war and plunder.” Thucydides notes how through the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C., the Thracian king was paid the equivalent amount of annual tribute as Athens, 400 to 500 talents.
Just what the Thracians lacked in language, that they had in gold. “Athens was without natural gold; it had to originate from other sources,” Dr. Miller-Collett said. She claimed that gold should not be carbon-dated, but the earliest worked gold in Europe is at Bulgaria. The goldsmithing is exquisite. The thing is how you can analyze the Thracian style.
The Letnitsa Treasure, as an example, is a team of 22 fourth-century B.C. plaques that after decorated horse harnesses. Discovered in 1964, the appliques depict bears in mortal combat, a figure attacking a 3-headed dragon, a nereid, riding a lot creature, and other energetic encounters. In composition, these figures appear to be the ferocious beasts rendered in metalwork by nomadic peoples in the Asian Steppes. A show with this animal-style art is currently at Ariadne Galleries, 970 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street, through June 15.