“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Our first day spent entirely within the Peloponnese was one of much scenery, travelling from Nafplio in the Argolid along the Peloponnese’s eastern coast and through stupendous mountain scenery in the region of Kynouria to Laconia, the ancient province belonging to the city of Sparta. This post is being written in the fortified Old Town of Monemvasia, a place of exquisite beauty. More about that, however, tomorrow!
Today’s cultural highlight was, without any doubt, our morning visit to Nafplio Archaeological Museum. The museum, although it consists of only two large rooms in the city’s old Venetian barracks, is one of Greece’s prime showcases of the country’s rich past. One floor is dedicated nearly entirely to the extraordinary Bronze Age finds from so many sites in the region, the Argolid, chief among them the great Mycenaean citadel of Tiryns. There is much to see here: pottery, figurines, frescoes, jewellery, weaponry, and so on, all of extraordinary quality, illustrating how the area was a hub of power and wealth, embedded in networks of contact and trade that extended across the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. The other floor contains finds from the first millennium BC, the Geometric era and the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, all of which are collectively summarised as what we know as “Ancient Greece”.
One of the many objects we showed our guests in Nafplio Archaeological Museum is this one, a Corinthian-type helmet, made of bronze, from a grave in the cemetery of Hermione, from within a decade or two before 500 BC. It is an efficient object, the result of a few centuries of development of defensive armour, a development that took place in parallel with that of hoplite warfare, the type of fighting typical of the Greek city-states. The citizen soldier, or hoplite (literally shield-bearer), would fight as part of a phalanx, a serried row of men, all of them armed with two spears and a sword or dagger, and protected by a large round bronze shield, body armour of starched linen or (for those who could afford it) of bronze, greaves, a crotch-guard and a helmet. The Corinthian type, the most favoured among several kinds of helmet, was supposed to be an invention from Corinth. It is characterised by its large cheek-guards and the spur protecting the nose, leaving only the eyes free, in this case surrounded by a thickening of the helmet’s metal. It provided considerable protection against thrown or wielded spears and also against arrows.
A closer look at this plain but fine example of a Corinthian helmet reveals a further feature, one that is not functional, but may have added to the intimidating aspect of confronting a warrior wearing such a helmet. The top of the helmet in Nafplio Archaeological Museum is remarkably phallic. That is not accidental: while not a universal feature of Corinthian helmets, it is quite common. At the end of the day, even the highly regulated and collective form of fighting that was hoplite warfare was still a game of one-upmanship!
Tomorrow, we shall explore the beauties of Monemvasia and the history that brought them into existence.