Discovering the ancient origins of Taranto, founded by settlers of mighty Sparta
(Fabien Bièvre-Perrin, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
We come now to the main museum in Taranto, containing Greek and Roman artefacts of various kinds, some of the most unique in the world. This place truly offers a wide range of archaeological materials, such as figurines, ampoules, vases, and beautiful works in ceramic, bronze and golden jewellery.
It exhibits one of the largest collections of artefacts dating back to the Magna Graecia era, including the famous gold of Taranto, a museum collection of jewellery including rings, earrings, bracelets, and crowns and consists of precious jewellery from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. They are luxury objects that are part of the history of a people and a community, as a precious historical testimony and as a synthesis of the famous gold work in the Hellenistic and Roman ages. The main processing techniques were hammering, chiselling, filigree and granulation. The concepts of goldsmithing, craftsmanship and exceptional materials make this museum collection unique.
Among the exhibits are marble sculptures, including the ‘Headless Statue of a Female Goddess’, the ‘Kore’ from 500 BC, the ‘Head of Herakles’, and the ‘Votive Statue of Athena’.
As for the collection of statues, the bronze ‘Zeus’ from Ugento, the ‘Head of Aphrodite’, and the ‘Body of Nymph’ stand out.
However, the museum is also rich in ceramics and votive figurines, many of them from the necropolis previously visited. Among the most famous are the ‘Bronze of a Horse’, ‘Aryballos’, ‘Skyphos of the Theseus Painter’, and the three ‘Kylikes’.
Usually, the deceased’s body was placed on some cherished object, and after the cremation, the ashes were collected in an urn in the family monument. In the case of burial (the most common procedure in later archaic times), the body was placed in a wooden or terracotta coffin. The grave goods consisted of objects from everyday life such as weapons, strigils, dice, etc., for men, perfume vials, jewellery, domestic work tools for women and toys for children. Votive food offerings were also placed in the tomb, in cups, vases, plates, etc., then libations were performed, and part of the vessels used was crushed. At public and solemn funerals reserved for those who had fallen in war, eulogies were pronounced and sometimes games were held. Incredible examples of these burials can be seen in the museum, such as the ‘Kylix with the mask of the Gorgon’ (the kylix was the most common type of wine-drinking flat cup), the ‘Kylix of the Fish Painter’, the gold jewellery with the precious ‘Flowering Diadem’ from Canosa and the ‘Crowns’, the ‘Disc earrings with three pendants’.
Curiously, the museum also houses the ‘Tomb of the Athlete’, attributed to a man who lived in Taranto, presumably in the 5th century BCE.
By looking at these masterpieces, it is possible to perceive the aura of the ancient polis and to imagine the richness and solemnity of its glorious distant past that is so uniquely linked with Sparta.