In August 2014, the Greek version of the popular Netflix series ‘’House of Cards’’ ‘’premiered’’ for its willing, debt stricken Greek audience. The protagonist wasn’t just one and for sure he wasn’t Kevin Spacey. His place took the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, and the Amphipolis Tomb (or Kasta tomb) in modern day Macedonia, Greece.
Amphipolis was an ancient port with great importance during the rule of King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. During the early 60’s excavations started in the area. In 2012, excavations started again in the surrounding area, and in August 2014, the excavations revealed the entrance to the tomb, where 2 marble sphinxes (2 m tall ) guarded the main entrance to the tomb . The tomb is a unique burial ground , according to Mrs. Peristeri( Head archaeologist of the excavation), due to its size, which reaches a total length of 497 meters, and 3 meters height(Proto Thema. 2014). There were 3 chambers unearthed. In one of which there is a unique mosaic—3 m wide and 4.5 m long—which seems to depict Persephone abducted by the god Pluto.
Source: Proto Thema Newspaper
On the 12th of August, the prime minister A. Samaras made a surprise visit to the excavation site, along with his wife and the minister of Culture, and made some remarkable statements to the influx of journalists and reporters who rushed to Amphipolis. ‘’It is certain that we are faced with an extremely important finding”, said Prime Minister “the land of Macedonia still moves us and surprises us by revealing from its viscera the unique treasures that make up, all wearing together this unique mosaic of our Greek history, which all Greeks are very proud of ” (Proto Thema.2014). That was the beginning of the abusive exploitation of the Amphipolis tomb as tangible heritage to serve personal ambition, manipulation and diversion of the public mind for political purposes and petty political games.
Source: Proto Thema Newspaper
After the 12th of August, the Amphipolis tomb was on the first page of every Greek newspaper and magazine. Greek TV stations were conducting live broadcasts from the dig, updating their audiences on the excavation’s daily schedule. Every update was breaking news. The Amphipolis tomb frenzy got out of hand fast. Archaeological excavation in progress was being discussed before the findings could be examined. The Head archaeologist Katerina Peristeri, working on the excavation dated the tomb back at the time of Alexander the Great’s era (325-320 BCE), and agreed to several interviews in the Greek TV stations (Proto Thema.2014). Speculations were made that Alexander or his murdered wife and child or one of his top generals could be inside the tomb. On the top of it, paparazzi-style pictures from the excavation site, its excavation team and the findings somehow found their way to the Greek media, fuelling the frenzy.
This abusive treatment of a heritage monument such as the Amphipolis tomb caused the reaction of the Association of Greek Archaeologists who sent a public letter addressing the Ministry of Culture, with which they protested for the exploitation of the excavations and the obstruction of the work of the archaeologists. The association specifically called for the re-evaluation of the ill-advised communication tactics that the ministry followed regarding the release of information concerning excavation to the media. It is interesting that the association demanded from the ministry to intervene to put an end to the pressure exerted on archaeologists by high-ranking government officials (To Vima, 2014). In addition, the loyal opposition, through its online newspaper, accused the prime minister for using the Amphipolis tomb, to distract the public opinion from the austerity measures the government brought to the Greek parliament to ratify, as well as taking advantage the national narrative that emphasised a brilliant ancient past. (left.gr, 2014).
History and heritage have been used by politicians for political purposes throughout the Modern Greek history. History and the tangible heritage that archaeology unearthed were first used for political purposes during the 19th century. The ancient Greek artifacts and monuments unearthed established identity, furnished the young Greek state with its most potent symbols and provided the material to demonstrate that the impoverished Greeks in open rebellion with the Ottoman Sultan are descendants of the ancient Greeks (Mazower, 2008). That exact link between the 19th century Greeks and the ancient Greeks (and of course the ancient Greek heritage) provided the much-needed justification for the Greek rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, which would have certainly been suppressed in a Metternich influenced Europe. Tangible heritage also served to justify the territorial possessions of the newly founded Greek state, and to demonstrate that the credentials of the Greek Nation lay buried within them.
It is no wonder that Greece stands out as a prime example of a state which can press scholarship into political service and instrumentalise both history and archaeology (Mazower, 2008). This is evident in the case of the Amphipolis tomb. Prime Minister A. Samaras had his reasons for using (or abusing) the ancient tomb. These include both national and personal political purposes; The Macedonian question, the unpopular austerity measures that the troika required the government to implement, and the tension that dominated the Greek political landscape. To begin with, the Macedonian question and the dispute over the national identity of Alexander was, and still is, one of the most prominent Greek national issues. The archaeological finds of Macedonia constitute proof of the Greek identity of Macedonia. In this context, the Amphipolis tomb which dates in Alexander’s era is crucial. At the same time, the ongoing negotiations of the Greek government with the Troika resulted in new austerity measures, which had to be ratified by the Greek parliament to get implemented. It comes as no surprise that the tomb served as a distraction of the public opinion. Last, but not least, the tension that dominated the Greek political landscape seemed to drive the right-wing government in resignation. A. Samaras tried to use transfer propaganda to increase his popularity and that of his party. I believe his visit to the excavation site in Amphipoli was a desperate attempt to associate himself with the ancient tomb as a heritage monument which carries a value of the glorious ancient past. When using the transfer technique, the use of images is the key to success (Vincent,2006).
Source: Proto Thema Newspaper
Source: Source: Proto Thema Newspaper
At the end of the day, A. Samaras lost the elections to Alexis Tsipras. But what about the tomb itself? The excavation and the findings have been undermined by the travesty caused by the media and the abuse of the tangible heritage for political purposes. No appropriate, concrete archaeological research or excavation can take place while the archaeologists involved are pressured by the government to progress the excavation and the dating of the findings, constantly ‘’persecuted’’ by the media or over consumed with verbal confrontations with fellow archaeologists in TV talk shows and news broadcasts. All these, while the Greek politicians proceeded to major budget cuts in the cultural sector (excavations, restoration projects) and the ancient monuments and contemporary workers in Culture suffer from governmental, deeply anti-social policies, which in no way serve the ideals of cultural heritage. The house of cards came tumbling down.
Mazower, M. 2008. Archaeology, nationalism and the land in modern Greece. Mpenaki Museum, 0, 33-41. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.12681/benaki.17970. . [Accessed 7 October 2018]
To Vima.2015.diamaxi Peristeri-sullogou Ellinwn Arxaiologwn gia tin Amphipoli.[online] 9 October. Available at: https://www.tovima.gr/2015/10/09/society/diamaxi-peristeri-syllogoy-ellinwn-arxaiologwn-gia-tin-amfipoli/ . [Accessed 7 October 2018]
Vincent R. Academia.edu2006.[online]2006. Global Communication and Propaganda. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/4041459/Global_Communication_and_Propaganda
Proto thema.2014.Samaras apo Amphipoli.[online]12 August. Available at: https://www.protothema.gr/politics/article/402026/tin-arhaia-amfipoli-episkeptetai-o-prothupourgos-adonis-samaras [Accessed 7 October 2018]
Left.gr.2014.I Amphipoli, I Makedonia kai I ideologiki xrisi tou parelthodos. [online] 2014.Available at: https://left.gr/news/i-amfipoli-i-makedonia-kai-i-ideologiki-hrisi-toy-parelthontos .[Accessed 7 October 2018]