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The Burgon and Blacas Tombs

  • P. E. Corbett (a1)


There are in the British Museum two groups of Greek vases, from two burials, which may for convenience be called the Burgon and Blacas tombs, after their finders. The present article gives the evidence for their discovery and an account of the individual vases; for those which have already been published in the Catalogue of the Greek and Etruscan Vases in the British Museum and in the Corpus Vasorum, I confine myself to major additions to the bibliography and to supplementary comment, while the unpublished pieces receive fuller treatment.

Thomas Burgon (1787–1858), a Turkey merchant who lived in Smyrna till 1814 and returned to the Aegean on various occasions after that date, made good use of his opportunities for excavating and collecting antiquities; he was no dilettante but a knowledgeable and careful worker, and when his business failed in 1841 he and his collection found a refuge in the British Museum. His name has long been familiar to the student of Greek vases from the Burgon amphora, the earliest known Panathenaic amphora, which is conspicuous both for its own merits and for its importance for the chronology of black-figure vase-painting; very conveniently, the Burgon amphora came from the Burgon tomb, in which it was associated with six much smaller vases.



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1 The photographs in plates I to VII, taken by myself, are published by permission of the Trustees of the British Museum.

2 See Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement i 335 f., under Burgon, John William.

3 Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom (London, 1832) ii 102–35.

4 I am much indebted to Dr Dietrich von Bothmer and Dr G. Roger Edwards for providing photostats of these plates.

5 Panathenaic Vases 109 f.

6 That is, East of Aeolus Street, about half-way between the National Bank and Sophocles Street.

(1)B 130. Panathenaic amphora, plates I and II. Height, 0·613 m. Maximum diameter of body, 0·423 m. Diameter of mouth, 0·204 m. Diameter of foot, 0·138 m. Maximum internal diameter at narrowest part of neck, 0·105 m. Mémoire pll. 1 and 5, no. 7. ABV 89, Burgon Group, no. 1. The vase is 569 in the old Catalogue of the Greek and Etruscan Vases in the British Museum by Birch, and Newton, (London, 1851), where a brief account of the dis covery is given; it is also stated that the vase ‘contained some remains of burnt bones and also a Lêkythos and five other small earthen vessels of various forms, see nos. 2603, 3039, 3047, 3050, 3056, infra’, but the section of the catalogue which includes these numbers was never published and exists only in manuscript.

A, Athena. B, racing cart. The vase had not been completely freed from incrustation, and the joints were not well made, but Burgon had too much discrimination to emulate the Italian restorers of his time in filing down the projections left by faulty mending, so that no harm had been done. The photographs published here were taken after the vase hadbeen cleaned and re-mended in June 1951. On the underside was written in ink, ‘No. 48. Found May 16, 1813, Athens’ the writing was on a layer of incrustation, not on the body of the pot, and was therefore lost during cleaning.

(2) B 586. Attic black-figured lekythos. plate III. 1. Height, 0·146 m. Maximum diameter, 0·071 m. Small parts of the mouth and foot are restored. Mémoire pl. 5, no. 1. Haspels, E., Attic Black-Figured Lekythoi 195, Group of the little black-necked lekythoi, no. 13. A running youth, nude save for a cloak over one arm, between two draped youths; all three hold spears or long staffs. Red is used for the youths' hair, their cloaks, and for dot-rosettes on their chitons. Two red lines run right round the vase beneath the picture, and there is a third line just above the foot; the moulding round the neck is red, and so is the top of the mouth. The glaze has fired orange-brown in most places, with occasional small patches of black; there is in fact a thick orange-brown layer, over which in some places a thin black layer has formed, the black being much more lustrous than the brown. Marked under the foot in ink, ‘TB 835. No. 48 A. Athens 1813’.

(3) TB 836. Attic black-glazed olpe. plate III. 3. Height as preserved, 0·133 m. Maximum diameter, 0·071 m. Mémoire pl. 5, no. 2.

Almost all the rim is lost except for a little piece by the handle; some of the neck is also missing, and the handle and upper part of the body have been broken and mended. Two red lines run round the body just below the lower handle-root. The glaze has flaked a good deal and has fired grey and orange in places. Marked under the foot in ink, ‘TB 48 B. Athens 1813’ we know from the illustration in Mémoire that the vase belonged to the tomb group, and it can be identified as 836 in the list by elimination.

Compare a vase from the Agora, Athenian, Hesperia xxv (1956) pl. 18 g; it differs from ours in having no foot, but other examples found with it in the same well do have feet; other minor differences are the presence of a thirdred line round the body, lower down, and the unglazed handle.

7 Langlotz, , Zeitbestimmung 911; Payne, , Necrocorinthia 344 ff.; Beazley, , Development of Attic Black-Figure 26, 38, 88–9.

8 ABL 195, nos. 23–31, from Rhitsona, graves 49 and 50. In BSA xiv (1907–1908) 306, Ure says of these graves, ‘The black-figure prevents us of course from thinking of a date very long before 550 B.C. There are other considerations which suggest a date little after it’ in Sixth and Fifth Century Pottery from Rhitsona 39, that they ‘may be dated in the middle of the sixth century’.

9 Beazley, in Hesperia xiii (1944) 57 speaks of two tombs at Rhitsona, nos. 49 and 50 ‘which from the rest of the contents must be dated, with Ure, shortly after the middle of the sixth century’. ABV 454 ff., in particular 456, no. 5. Lullies, in JdI lxi–ii (19461947) pl. 9. 24 and p. 62.Bloesch, , Formen attischer Schalen 3.

10 ABL 27; ABV 455; CVA Gallatin Collection, pl. 35.1.

11 Hesperia xxv (1956) 57.

12 E.g. Langlotz, Zeitbestimmung, passim; Payne, , Necrocorinthia 345–7.

13 Cf. Smith, H. R. W., University of California Publications in Classical Archaeology i, no. 10, 272 n. 87; Beazley on the date and style of a vase by the Painter, Triptolemos in Charites: Studien zur Altertumswissenschaft 138 f.

14 The evidence is given by Langlotz, op. cit. 17–18. From the wording of Herodotus' account the treasury can only have been erected a few years before the Samian attack in 525 B.C.

15 In archaeology, as in fishing, little trust can be put in claims about ‘the one that got away’, but one cannot help thinking of the four vases which the unfortunate Burgon had discarded, and wondering what they were like.

16 Langlotz, op. cit. 9; similarly Ashmole, , Transactions of the International Numismatic Conference, London, June 30–July 6, 1936, 21 n. 2; Beazley, , Development 88 ff.; von Brauchitsch, , Die Panathenäischen Preisamphoren 76–9, while attempting to relate the Burgon amphora to the history of thefestival, rejected the connexion with the change of 566 B.C. and assigned it to the earliest years of Peisistratos' tyranny.

17 JHS lxxviii (1958) 23 ff., ‘Notes on the Panathenaea’; hereafter referred to as Davison.

18 Davison, 24 and 29.

19 Davison, 23 ff.

20 Marmor Parium, Ep. 10; (Eratosthenes) Kataster. 13; (sc. Erichthonios) Michaelis; Mommsen)

21 Davison, 28.

22 Hesperia viii (1939) 59 ff.

23 Davison, 27.

24 The chronology of Attic red-figured pottery from the late fifth century onward is well discussed by MissTalcott, and MissPhilippaki, in Hesperia Supplement x 711.

25 ARV 872, 22; 831–2, 1; 805, 21 and 22; 851, 1.

26 I am indebted to Sir John Beazley for permission to quote this attribution from his unpublished Paralipomena to ARV. This hydria, too, has passed from the Hearst collection to the Metropolitan Museum, and I am grateful to Dr von Bothmer for the opportunity to study both vases and for photographs of them.

27 Trendall, A. D., Vasi Antichi del Vaticano i 25.

28 Beazley, J. D., ‘The Brygos tomb near Capua', in AJA xlix (1945) 158.

29 D'Hancarville, , Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton ii engraving on p. 57; an account of the discovery, iv 42–3.

30 d‘Hancarville, ii pl. 74; ARV 691 no. 8.

31 d‘Hancarville, iii pls. 32–3, 63.

32 BCH lxviii–ix (1946) 296 ff., Metzger, H., ‘Dionysos ChthonienJdI lxviii (1953) 38 ff.

The Burgon and Blacas Tombs

  • P. E. Corbett (a1)


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