Life

The Mysterious Allure of the Bronze Warriors of Riace

  Right on the land where the oldest “Italy” was born, on the northern shore of the Strait of Messina, lies Reggio Calabria. Like all the great ports of the Mediterranean, this bustling, bustling city has a proud and illustrious history, once controlling the gateway between the ancient Greek world and the Western Mediterranean. In Italy, where works of art are dotted, this southern provincial capital city is not inferior to Rome or Florence. Anyone who has seen the Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria must be convinced.
Visit the “Treasure of the Town Hall”

  Palazzo Piacentini, where the museum is located, is named after its architect and opened in 1954, facing the central square of the city on one side and overlooking the Strait of Messina on the other. A complete renovation between 2009 and 2016 made it the most modern museum in Italy, including a Hellenistic (4th-2nd century BC) necropolis discovered during the renovation.
  The most precious thing in the Reggio Calabria Museum is the ancient Greek artwork, including the bronze head of the philosopher from the 5th century BC from the bottom of the sea, the bronze plate of the Temple of Zeus engraved with ancient Greek characters, the reliefs showing ancient Greek mythological scenes and Mosaics, as well as a large number of ancient Greek silver coins that witnessed the prosperity of ancient Mediterranean commerce. Standing in these rich and exquisite works, one can imagine how prosperous this Greek port was more than two thousand years ago.

The most precious thing in the Reggio Calabria Museum is the ancient Greek artwork, including the bronze head of the philosopher from the 5th century BC from the bottom of the sea, the bronze plate of the Temple of Zeus engraved with ancient Greek characters, the reliefs showing ancient Greek mythological scenes and Mosaics, as well as a large number of ancient Greek silver coins that witnessed the prosperity of ancient Mediterranean commerce.

  Among the many treasures, the most famous are the two ancient Greek bronze warrior sculptures from the bottom of the sea. They represent the highest artistic achievement of the Greeks. They traveled through 2,500 years and came out of the bottom of Ionia, attracting the attention of the whole world. , enough to eclipse other sculptures.
  Visiting the two bronze warriors was a unique experience: visitors had to spend the full 20 minutes in the vestibule for a “pre-filter” before entering the real “filter room” for at least 3 minutes to remove the body and Impurities on the garments should avoid damage to these two extremely precious and fragile bronze sculptures. When the automatic door finally opened, the sculpture of “Youth” among the bronze warriors first came into view, a warrior with curly beard and hair, and a few steps away was the sculpture of “Mature”, a general with wisdom. They have strong muscles, natural and gentle movements, gaze intently into the distance, and impress everyone with their great calm force. The feet of the two statues are on a shockproof base weighing 1.5 tons developed by the Italian National Scientific Research Center ENEA Laboratory. In case of an earthquake, the 4 marble balls inside the base can balance any bumps. In addition, the indoor temperature here is always maintained at 21-23 degrees, and each batch of visitors can only stay for 20 minutes.
  During this “sacred” ceremony, one cannot help but ask: who are they? where are they from?
Immortal warrior, or worshiped god?

  At noon in August 1972, on the coast of the coastal town of Riace, Mariotini, a Roman chemist who was keen on underwater fishing, dived underwater to find prey hidden behind the reef. Through the clear water, he saw an arm protruding from a small sand pile on the bottom of the sea. The arm was so lifelike that Mariotini was terrified that he was facing a dead body. He worked up the courage to touch it and realized it was metal. “It was a complete statue, lying on its side in the sand. I saw his hair, and his face was covered with sand and pebbles.” Mariotini was extremely excited, and when he looked around, he found that he was lying on his back. Another statue of the statue, “for a split second its brilliance filled my eyes.” Once
  back on shore, the chemist called the archaeological department of Reggio Calabria and at the same time reported the discovery to the police. Five days later, gendarmerie divers and members of the archaeological watchdog dived into the area where the bronzes were found, 230 meters from the shore at a depth of 8 meters. They secured the two statues to giant inflatable rubber beds, allowing them to gradually surface and move towards the shore. You know, with two thousand years of decay and sticky matter, each statue weighs up to 400 kilograms. On the shore, the excited crowd surrounded the two bronze warriors. Some people folded their hands together to pray, some were angry to block them, and countless hands stretched out, trying their best to touch the two sculptures.
  It turned out that there was a story circulating in the small town of Riace. In the 3rd century AD, two brothers came to Italy from the East. They practiced medicine and helped the world, and they were deeply loved. During the reign of Emperor Diocletian of the Roman Empire, the two brothers who were Christians were persecuted, and a huge stone was tied around their necks and thrown into the sea. Since then, they have not only become the patron saints of doctors and pharmacists, but also the patron saints of the small town of Riace. Their worship has been passed down to this day, and a four-day festival is held for them every September. The old people and devout believers in the city believed that the two bronze sculptures were them, and digging them out would be a blasphemy against the gods and would bring disaster to the city.
  Among the onlookers, the vast majority are pilgrims who came from all directions immediately after hearing the news. They believe that as long as they can take a look and touch the sculpture, they can cure diseases and eliminate disasters. Some residents proposed that the sculptures should be put back into the sea, and some residents hoped that they could be placed in the city’s cathedral to accept people’s worship. But according to the decision of the Italian Ministry of Culture, the two statues were wrapped in Styrofoam, loaded on a truck escorted by the Gendarmerie, and taken to the city of Reggio Calabria for research and restoration. On that day, the mayor of Riace blocked the road with residents in an impassioned attempt to prevent them from being taken away, but ultimately failed.
  The next day, Italian cultural relic protection experts arrived, and they immediately realized that these were two authentic masterpieces of ancient Greek art. In addition to the two statues, the salvage also found 28 lead rings that may have belonged to the vessel and a wooden fragment from the wreck. It is very likely that the ship and all its cargo were lost to sea in a storm 2,000 years ago. The find also sparked years of controversy, with some claiming that the full armor and shield of the samurai had been found next to two statues, while others claimed that at least three bronze sculptures were found, with the third being stolen and turned up in a smuggler’s Some people think that they are the two heroes in the myth of “Seven Heroes Attacking Thebes”, and the other five are still buried under the sand of the seabed…

  For further study and restoration, in 1975 the two bronze sculptures were transported to a restoration laboratory in Florence. It took a full five years to clean up the silicon-calcium deposits of more than two thousand years and restore the appearance we see today. In 1980, the Riace Bronze Warrior was exhibited for the first time in Florence, the city of flowers. This exhibition without any publicity unexpectedly received unprecedented attention. The “Bronze Syndrome” broke out in Florence at the moment. Italian archaeologist Salvador Sedis lamented, “This kind of fanaticism is beyond the scope of our explanation.” In 1981, at the request of the then President Perdini, the bronze warrior was exhibited in the Presidential Palace in Rome . Likewise, a huge crowd appeared outside the door, all wanting to have a direct conversation with these two mysterious sculptures.
“Italy” was born in “Greek Greece”

  The ancient Roman poet Ovid once wrote: “We call Italy where Great Greece used to be.”
  In the 8th century BC, when the Etruscans and the newly emerging Romans were vying for hegemony in the central part of the Apennine Peninsula, southern Italy from Naples south to Sicily ushered in the complex and magnificent colonial era of Great Greece. When Greek city-states such as Crotone, Taranto, Siragusa, Pestum, and Partenope (today’s Naples) prospered and established alliances, “Great Greece” was born. The Greeks brought their language and culture, art and commodities from the east, and to this day, the light of that ancient civilization still shines here.
  And it was the Greeks who migrated here who discovered “Italy”. According to Antiphon, a Greek historian in the 5th century BC, a nation with a cow as a totem lived on the land of the “boot tip” of the Apennine Peninsula. inhabitants of the land”. As the Greeks prospered here, “Idari,” or “Italy,” that sweet word, denoted a larger and larger region. At the end of the 4th century BC, it was clearly stated in the peace treaty between the Romans and the Carthaginians that the Carthaginians should not invade Italy. This means that “Italy” at that time had become the synonym for the south-central Apennines including Rome. It wasn’t until the 4th century that Sicily and Sardinia were included in “Italy” that this word fully corresponded to the territory we know today.
  We can try to imagine the era when these two bronzes were born: it was a world where the Greek language was absolutely dominant. The Greeks were politically fragmented. They built their own cities and became kings, opened up business routes, and established colonies. Only a common culture connected all the parts together. But there is one ability that makes Greece a cultural empire that will never be surpassed: the ability to create beauty.

  Everything shows that on a stormy night, a ship drifting on the sea could not bear the wrath of the sea god and never reached land. But the tenons (the lead pins that secured them to their original bases) found together with the two sculptures raise the question: why were these lead pins removed, and when did this happen? We know that the enthusiasm of the Romans for Greek bronzes reached its peak between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, when a large number of merchant ships loaded with Greek artwork landed on the Apennine Peninsula. The sinking of an unknown merchant ship has not left a single word in history, so we might as well assume that these bronzes are likely to be stolen goods, treasures stolen from the temples of Olympia or Delphi. Aboard this merchant ship and be sent to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, such a work of art would be paid extremely handsomely. But they encountered a shipwreck, and the fear of death made the people on board decide to abandon the two sculptures in order to appease the anger of Poseidon. It is certain that none of those men, whether thieves, officers, or common sailors, survived the waves, or at least did not return.
  Based on carbon-14 dating, the statues date back to the fifth century BC, meaning they are around 2,500 years old. Speaking of the 5th century BC, we will think of the Parthenon Temple in Athens, which was built in 447 BC, the two battles between the Greek coalition led by Athens and Sparta against the Persians, and the outstanding figures active in the second half of the 5th century. Philosopher Socrates, Greek technology, art, and democratic politics developed rapidly, so this century is called the “golden age”, which is also the era when the two bronze warriors were created. At the same time, according to an English philosopher, “Europeans are still wandering in the bushes”…
  The most striking thing about these two bronze statues is their “divinity”: they are perfect in shape and full of strength, and they seem to have human love and hatred, but they are detached from human emotions. What is also surprising is that their heights are 1.89 meters and 1.9 meters respectively. You must know that the average height of Greek men may be only 1.6 meters 2,500 years ago. Their faces show obvious differences in age and expression: “youth” is more serious, while “mature” men are more calm. They were naked, with their legs slightly apart and their feet planted firmly on the ground. From the movements of their arms and hands, we can tell that they held spears and shields – typical equipment of hoplites in ancient Greece, while the shape of their heads suggests that they wore helmets. Some scholars boldly hypothesize that the prototype of this “mature man” may be Miltiades, the hero of the Battle of the Plains of Marathon, who led the Greek coalition army to defeat the Persian army in 480 BC.

  The sculptor possessed accurate knowledge of human anatomy and sculpting skills to realistically reproduce detailed beards, half-closed lips with silver teeth showing between them, eyeballs filled with elephant stone, and skin surfaces The looming vein. The ancient Greek sculptures of their contemporaries are probably only comparable to the “Bronze Driver” from Delphi and the “Son of Kronos” from Athens. When it comes to the latter, the discovery process mirrors that of the Bronze Warrior: an ancient Roman ship shipwrecked in Greek waters and salvaged in the last century. And to find the same work of art, we have to go back to the Renaissance era, in the crucifixion of Donatello in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, or in Michelangelo’s David sculpture in the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts. Similar creative techniques. These masterpieces and geniuses, however, came about 2,000 years after the Bronze Warrior was created.
The process of creating a masterpiece

  How are these bronze sculptures made? Incredibly, the technology of 2,500 years ago is the same as it is today. First, the craftsman will use clay to forge the model of the statue, and then apply a thin layer of wax of only a few millimeters on the clay, and paint and carve all the details on the wax layer as a “wax sample”. Then gently spread a layer of softer and more delicate clay on it to form an “outer model”. Then, the wax sample and the outer mold are sent into the oven together, the wax flows out from the small hole left on the outer mold, and the bronze liquid that has been melted at a high temperature of 1000 degrees flows into the outer mold, and automatically precipitates in the position where the wax sample used to be. . After the bronze has cooled, the entire outer shell is peeled off, and the “melt” inside needs to be poured out of small hidden holes. For these two bronze statues, for example, their openings are hidden underfoot, and most of the molten clay inside has been removed. But fortunately, because the hole was too small, some molten soil was left inside forever. This gives researchers today strong evidence to accurately determine the age of the statue and where it was made. After the researchers’ analysis, the molten soil did not come from Italy, but from Greece, which is the soil of the Attica region where Athens is located or the Peloponnese Peninsula.
  Finally, it is worth mentioning that it is not easy to make a complete figure sculpture in one go, so the parts of the sculpture are usually cast separately and then welded. These two bronze warriors are no exception, but their subsequent assembly is so delicate that the welds are barely visible to the naked eye. To complete such a high-level work, there is not only one artist behind it, but a team. Moreover, it can be concluded from the differences in the welding technology and the inner molten clay that the two bronzes came from different workshops.
  We can once again boldly assume that the “young” warrior came from the most outstanding sculptor and bronze craftsman of the Peloponnesian art school, and the teacher of the next generation of art master Phidias – Argodalus of Argos (Ageladas) hand. Of course, it is also possible that it was the work of Phidias, who was responsible for the construction of the Parthenon. As for the “mature” man, it may be delayed by 10 or 20 years. The greatest artist of that era, besides Phidias, was another student of Argodalus, Policleto, also from Argos. The two disciples of the same school once shined in Athens together, and received the sponsorship of the Athenian consul Pericles at the time, and perhaps the appreciation of the great philosopher Socrates. The acknowledged masterpiece of Polycritus is The Spearbearer, the original of which has not survived, but whose features we know from numerous Roman copies. Judging from the proportion of human anatomy, the balance of strength and the distribution of body weight, the “mature” man is likely to be his work.
  But at the end of the day, we have to come back to where we are: these are assumptions. From the rediscovery of the bronze warrior to today, we can only be sure of one thing—the yesterday, which is full of wisdom and emotion, pursues the ultimate and eternal, and eludes us, has been reborn because of them. Many questions remain unanswered and may never be answered. But such is their fascination, and the charm left by that magnificent civilization.

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