CYRIACO OF ANCONA
In many respects, it could be considered that the first Greek antiquarian cum archaeologist, of whom we have recorded works is Pausanias, who travelled through Greece in the second century AD, a time between the glories of the Greek past he was so keen to describe and the realities of a Greece beholden to Rome as a dominating imperial force. His work bears the marks of his attempt to navigate that space and establish an identity for Roman Greece. In doing so he is a crucial link between classical literature and modern archaeology. Pausanias wrote at the dawn of a new era. A century later would see the Christianisation of the Roman Empire and a total cultural shift in the lands inhabited by the Greek people.
Similarly, Ioannis Laurentios Lydos, a Byzantine administrator and antiquarian, wrote his remarkable work, De Magistratibus reipublicae Romanae (Gr. Περί αρχών της Ρωμαίων πολιτείας), a record of the administrative details of the time of Justinian making use of the works (now lost) of old Roman writers on similar subjects. His also was a world in transition, one where the Romanised oikoumene was gradually being formally re-hellensed.
Writing a millenium or so later, his successor, Cyriacus of Ancona, would also describe the same world traversed by Pausanias, also in flux. For a few years after his death, a millenium of Christianity would fall under the shadow of the Crescent Moon, most of the artefacts faithfdally recorded by him would be lost and life, indeed, culture for the Greeks, would never be the same again.
Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli or Cyriacus of Ancona as he styled himself, was a restlessly itinerant Italian humanist and antiquarian who came from a prominent family of merchants in Ancona, an ancient Greek colony in Italy. Unlike many library antiquarians, Ciriaco traveled at first for his family's ventures then to satisfy his own curiosity, all around the Eastern Mediterranean, noting down his archaeological discoveries in his day-book Commentaria that eventually filled six volumes. During his fascinating life, he made numerous voyages in Southern Italy, exploring the ancient Greek ruins of the area, the coast of Dalmatia, Epirus, the Peloponnese, then down to Egypt, to Chios, Rhodes, Beirut and finally to Anatolia - by this time overrun by the Ottomans except for a few isolated pockets and finally Constantinople. During his travels, he wrote detailed descriptions of monuments and ancient remains, illustrated by his drawings.
The passages of the Commentaria are, in the style of the time, not just a dry exposition of facts but moving, florid and lyrical prose. His 'discovery' of Mycenae, long before Schliemann, is engrossing:
"Then, while searching for ancient remnants of Mycenae among old, uninhabited Argive villages that bespeak some hint of the long-ago ruined temple of Juno, finally, not far from it and no more than about seven miles away from the cit of Argos, towards the north and less than forty stadia from Nauplion, on a hill that is rocky at the top and steep, we saw that remains of the Mycenean citadel, and some portions of its ancient walls survive, as well as traces of towers and gates, conspicuous for the wondrously beautiful craftsmanship of the architects and eminently worthy of our scrutiny as well. When, along with the same highly experienced men, we had decided to climb to it, we chose to set down here a drawing of the part of the same wall that looks toward Nauplion. The walls of the very old citadel of Mycenae which are visible even in our own time, built with extraordinary craftsmanship on a rocky hill of large, lead-coloured stones."
Imbued with the neo-pagan zeitgeist, he peppered his writings heavily with astrological and classical allusions, representing the renascent interest of the west in its pagan past:
"On the 23rd of March, the eve of the blessed resurrection of the incarnate Jove, when I had revisted Nauplion, we saw on the plain a great number of remarkable remnants of antiquity and, among the more important, some slabs of shining marble [bearing] images of outstanding beauty that had been removed in the past by Christians from a very old temple of Juno, thought to be from among the masterpieces of Polyclitus, to adorn later churches of our religion. On the principle and more outstanding of these slabs, on a partially broken off stone, we found this ancient inscription in Latin script: "The Italians who do business in Argos to Quintus Caecilius Metellus, son of Gaius, Imperator."
Cyriacus was probably the first traveler who recognized the importance of the ruins of Eretria in Euboea. On April 5, 1436, he described and sketched a plan of the ancient city walls, indicating the position of the amphitheatre and the fortifications of the acropolis and mentioning the existence of inscriptions. He collected a great store of inscriptions, manuscripts, and other antiquities. Through a drawing made by Cyriacus, the appearance of the Column of Justinian is recorded for us, before it was dismantled by the Ottomans. Some of his entries though, deal with the curiosities and sheer delights of travel:
"For today, while we were traveling from the village of Arcasa to Spartan Mistra, we saw among our companions a certain Spartan youth, tall of stature and quite handsome, George, called by the sobriquet Chirodontas, that is, "Boar's teeth," because, they say, that once, while hunting in the forest, encountering a fierce boar, he leaped onto its back, and pressing it down by sheer force, killed the prostrate beast; and that once he caught and held two men together under his arms and carried them several paces. In my case also, instead of reassuring me, and as a statement of his honesty, he caught me up with his hands on the bank of a certain small river, held me under his arm, and deposited me safely on the farther bank of the stream. And at the next village, we saw that, brandishing an iron rod that was three fingers thick, he had split it into separate parts."
Cryriacus was employed by the Ottomans during the 1422 siege of Constantinople. His detailed on-site observations, particularly in lands of the Ottoman Empire, make him one of the precursors of modern archaeology. His accuracy as a meticulous epigrapher was praised by Giovanni Battista de Rossi and his work was acclaimed even by the emperor of Byzantium with whom he established a personal relationship and appraised him of his travels in a manner that has led many to assume that he was actually a spy:
"To John Palaiologos, the divine, august, devout, successful Byzantine emperor, from Cyriac of Ancona. After the most holy union of the faithful was achieved, to your great credit, and you left Italy, much-praised King John, I wanted, for many extraordinarily persuasive reasons, to visit your fortunate majesty in your famous palace in Byzantium, most worshipful prince. Indeed, although I had every desire to go to the west in order to see, as is my habit, whether any worthwhile antiquities have survived in these noble lands until our own day, I decided not to begin that journey without first visiting you and receiving your blessing. At length I arrived at Patras, a city of Achaea in the Peloponnesus, where I wrote immediately to your distinguished brother Constantine and disclosed what I thought he ought to know concerning this project [a possible crusade in defence of the Byzantines]. From there I went to Corinth, where I learned from Demetrios Asan, his deputy, that Constantine had recently gathered a large force from everywhere in the Peloponnesus and was about to march with his excellent brother, Thomas, from Lacedemonian Mistra to the Isthmus. There the long line of earthworks has been restored and the fateful Isthmus has again been fortified with turreted walls. From there he intends to lead his entire force through the Megarid and all of Achaea, and, now that the city of Thebes has recently been received in surrender, to invade Lebadea, Parnassian Daulis and the sacred city of Delphi, sending one division to each, and, with the good Lord's help, to free them from the barbarians, a worthy task indeed."
After extensive travelling, Cyriacus settled in Rome, where he occupied himself by studying Latin and drawing many of the monuments and antiquities of ancient Rome. He enjoyed the patronage of Eugenius VI, who had been Papal legate in Ancona, Cosimo de Medici and the Visconti, of Milan. He was in Siena at the court of Sigismund, and when Sigismund came to Rome for his coronation as Emperor, Ciriaco was his guide among Rome's antiquities. Two years later in 1435, Ciriaco was back exploring in Greece and Egypt. Again as a precursor of Schleimann, he toured the ruins reminsicent of Troy:
"After these princes and distinguished men had received me most cordially, they expertly showed me all of the city's important sites: first, we saw outside the city. . ., the remarkable Trojan tomb of Priam's son Polydorus, which consisted of a large mound of earth. With Cristoforo we rode to the top of this mound on horseback . . .. Then, as we explored the city everywhere more carefully, we saw numerous traces of her great antiquity: huge marbles sculptured with a variety of figures, but for the most part demolished, and we examined numerous broken statue bases with their inscriptions, whose beginnings and endings were missing."
Some ten years before the fall of Constantinople, Cyriacus was horrified to witness the depredations committed against the Greek inhabitants of areas already occupied by the Ottomans:
"For on numerous occasions we saw Christians—boys as well as unmarried girls and masses of married women of every description—paraded pitiably by the Turks in long lines throughout the cites of Thrace and Macedonia bound by iron chains, and lashed by whips, and in the end put up for sale in villages and markets and along the shore of the Hellespont, an unspeakably shameful and obscene sight, like a cattle market, so to speak."
Nonetheless, his is one of the last surviving western accounts of the daily life of a civilization that would, in a decade, be snuffed out and lost forever:
"On the 15th of August, the lucky, bright day of the light-bearer Diana, the middle of the month of Augustus Caesar, a day marked by the Assumption into heaven of the blessed mother of God, the Virgin Mary, a day solemnized at the sacred church of the seraphic Francis in this famous colony of Byzantine Pera with many different sorts of religious and civil celebrations, I first witnessed the solemn ceremonies in the distinguished church of bountiful Wisdom in the royal city of Constantinople, presided over by his excellency, the patriarch Gregory. "
Pushed by a strong curiosity, Cyriacus bought a great number of Greek documents which he used to write six volumes of Commentarii ("Commentaries") and which ended up in various Renaissance libraries of Italy. The ravages of time have been unkind to Ciriaco's lifework, which he never published, but which fortunately circulated in manuscript and in copies of his drawings; the Commentarii were lost in the 1514 fire of the library of Alessandro and Costanza Sforza in Pesaro. A series of Pizzicolli's manuscripts about Ancona was destroyed during a fire of the city's archives in 1532.
Cyriacus retired to Cremona, where he lived so quietly that the year of his death is not sure. Long after his death, some surviving texts were printed: Epigrammata reperta per Illyricum a Kyriaco Anconitano (Rome, 1664) and Itinerarium (Florence, 1742). Without his painstaking work, which served to fuel the West's interest in the Classics, much of the corpus of our knowledge of the past would be but a dim shadow. We pay homage to him then, in the words of Jim Bishop: "Archaeology is the peeping Tom of sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone has been."