The Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of antiquities from the Classical world, with over 100,000 objects. These mostly range in date from the beginning of the Greek Bronze Age (about 3200 BC) to the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD, with some pagan survivals.
The Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are represented, and the Greek collection includes important sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens, as well as elements of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.
The department also houses one of the widest-ranging collections of Italic and Etruscan antiquities and extensive groups of material from Cyprus. The collections of ancient jewellery and bronzes, Greek vases and Roman glass and silver are particularly important.
Greek and Roman life (Room 69)
1450 BC – AD 500
Room 69 takes a cross-cultural look at the public and private lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The objects on display have been chosen to illustrate themes such as women, children, household furniture, religion, trade and transport, athletics, war, farming and many more.
Around the walls supplementary displays illustrate individual crafts, on one side of the room, and Greek mythology, on the opposite side.
Roman Empire (Room 70)
The Wolfson Gallery
8th century BC – 4th century AD
The objects in Room 70 illustrate the rise of Rome from a small town to an imperial capital that controlled the Mediterranean basin and north-western Europe.
The exhibition covers a period of approximately 1,000 years from Rome’s legendary foundation in 753 BC, to AD 324, when the emperor Constantine founded his new, Christian capital at Constantinople (Istanbul).
Objects on display come from all over the empire. They range from stone and metal sculptures of emperors and gods to jewellery, silverware pottery and glass, including the famous cameo glass Portland Vase.
Etruscan world (Room 71)
3000 BC – 1st century BC
The Etruscans flourished between the eighth and first centuries BC and were famed in antiquity for being devoutly religious, for their metalworking, their love of music and banqueting, and the independence they allowed their women.
The Romans, with their greater military strength and unity, overcame the different peoples of Italy one by one, but they learned much from the Etruscans.
The wide range of objects in Room 71 illustrates life and beliefs in pre-Roman Italy.
Ancient Cyprus (Room 72)
The A G Leventis Gallery
4500 BC – AD 330
The island of Cyprus, in Greek mythology the land of Aphrodite, goddess of love, has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years.
Settlers were attracted by its fertile land and traders by its abundant resources of timber and copper – the word copper actually comes from the name Cyprus.
Major political powers fought for control over Cyprus, because of its strategic location in the Eastern Mediterranean. This long history of contact created a material culture that was diverse, yet still distinctively Cypriot.
The objects on display in Room 72 were all made or found there and illustrate Cypriot culture and civilisation from its earliest known times to the end of the Roman period.
Greeks in Italy (Room 73)
Trade and the search for raw materials, especially metals, first brought the ancient Greeks to southern Italy and Sicily. Sometimes this led to permanently settled outposts and eventually important colonies.
These colonies were organised as independent city-states and brought Greek language, writing, arts, craftsmanship and religion to Italy.
A wide range of objects on display in Room 73, including pottery, jewellery and coins, demonstrate the many connections between Greece and her colonies.
Greek and Roman Architecture (Room 77)
560 BC – AD 300
The British Museum has an especially important collection of architecture and architectural sculpture from ancient Greek buildings.
Fragments of buildings on display in Room 77 include the earlier and later temples of Artemis at Ephesos, the Propylaea (gateway), Erechtheum and Nike temple from the Acropolis of Athens, the temple of Apollo at Bassae, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos and the temple of Athena Polias at Priene. The Roman architecture on display in the room includes examples of the Corinthian and Composite orders in particular.
Classical inscriptions (Room 78)
6th century BC – 2nd century AD
Ancient Greek and Roman inscriptions are displayed in Room 78 and show how script engraved in stone was used to record and commemorate events and transactions.
These include examples of civic or official inscriptions such as laws, decrees, treaties and accounts of income and expenditure from public funds.
In the private sphere inscriptions on gravestones served to commemorate the dead. Many bear poignant epitaphs of remembrance.
Department of Greece and Rome
The British Museum has one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of antiquities from the Classical world, with over 100,000 objects. These mostly range in date from the beginning of the Greek Bronze Age (about 3200 BC) to the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Milan under the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313 AD. Archaeology was in its infancy during the nineteenth century and many pioneering individuals began excavating sites across the Classical world, chief among them for the museum were Charles Newton, John Turtle Wood, Robert Murdoch Smith and Charles Fellows.
The Greek objects originate from across the Ancient Greek world, from the mainland of Greece and the Aegean Islands, to neighbouring lands in Asia Minor and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean and as far as the western lands of Magna Graecia that include Sicily and southern Italy. The Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are represented, and the Greek collection includes important sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens, as well as elements of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.
Beginning from the early Bronze Age, the department also houses one of the widest-ranging collections of Italic and Etruscan antiquities outside Italy, as well as extensive groups of material from Cyprus and non-Greek colonies in Lycia and Caria on Asia Minor. There is some material from the Roman Republic, but the collection’s strength is in its comprehensive array of objects from across the Roman Empire, with the exception of Britain (which is the mainstay of the Department of Prehistory and Europe).
The collections of ancient jewellery and bronzes, Greek vases (many from graves in southern Italy that were once part of Sir William Hamilton’s and Chevalier Durand’s collections), Roman glass including the famous Cameo glass Portland Vase, Roman mosaics from Carthage and Utica in North Africa that were excavated by Nathan Davis, and silver hoards from Roman Gaul (some of which were bequeathed by the philanthropist and museum trustee Richard Payne Knight), are particularly important. Cypriot antiquities are strong too and have benefited from the purchase of Sir Robert Hamilton Lang’s collection as well as the bequest of Emma Turner in 1892, which funded many excavations on the island. Roman sculptures (many of which are copies of Greek originals) are particularly well represented by the Townley collection as well as residual sculptures from the famous Farnese collection.
Objects from the Department of Greece and Rome are located throughout the museum, although many of the architectural monuments are to be found on the ground floor, with connecting galleries from Gallery 5 to Gallery 23. On the upper floor, there are galleries devoted to smaller material from ancient Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the Roman Empire.
Key highlights of the collections include:
The Parthenon Marbles (Elgin Marbles), (447–438 BC)
A surviving column, (420–415 BC)
One of six remaining Caryatids, (415 BC)
Temple of Athena Nike
Surviving frieze slabs, (427–424 BC)
Temple of Bassae
Twenty-three surviving blocks of the frieze from the interior of the temple, (420–400 BC)
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Two colossal free-standing figures identified as Maussollos and his wife Artemisia, (c. 350 BC)
Part of an impressive horse from the chariot group adorning the summit of the Mausoleum, (c. 350 BC)
The Amazonomachy frieze – A long section of relief frieze showing the battle between Greeks and Amazons, (c. 350 BC)
Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
One of the sculptured column bases, (340–320 BC)
Part of the Ionic frieze situated above the colonnade, (330–300 BC)
Knidos in Asia Minor
Demeter of Knidos, (350 BC)
Lion of Knidos, (350–200 BC)
Xanthos in Asia Minor
Lion Tomb, (550–500 BC)
Harpy Tomb, (480–470 BC)
Nereid Monument, partial reconstruction of a large and elaborate Lykian tomb, (390–380 BC)
Tomb of Merehi, (390–350 BC)
Tomb of Payava, (375–350 BC)
Prehistoric Greece and Italy (3300 BC – 8th century BC)
Over thirty Cycladic figures from islands in the Aegean Sea, many collected by James Theodore Bent, Greece, (3300–2000 BC)
Material from the Palace of Knossos including a huge pottery storage jar, some donated by Sir Arthur Evans, Crete, Greece, (1900–1100 BC)
The Minoan gold treasure from Aegina, northern Aegean, Greece, (1850–1550 BC)
Segments of the columns and architraves from the Treasury of Atreus, Peloponnese, Greece, (1350–1250 BC)
Elgin Amphora, highly decorated pottery vase attributed to the Dipylon Master, Athens, Greece, (8th century BC)
Bronze Statuette of Athletic Spartan Girl
Etruscan (8th century BC – 1st century BC)
Some of the artefacts from the Castellani Tomb in Palestrina, central Italy, (8th–6th century BC)
Contents of the Isis Tomb, Vulci, (570–560 BC)
Painted terracotta plaques (the so-called Boccanera Plaques) from a tomb in Cerveteri, (560–550 BC)
Oscan Tablet, one of the most important inscriptions in the Oscan language, (300–100 BC)
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa from Chiusi, (150–140 BC)
Ancient Greece (8th century BC – 4th century AD)
Group of life-size archaic statues from the Sacred Way at Didyma, western Turkey, (600–580 BC)
Dedicatory Inscription by Alexander the Great from Priene in Turkey (330 BC)
Head from the colossal statue of the Asclepius of Milos, Greece, (325–300 BC)
Bronze sculpture of a Greek poet known as the Arundel Head, western Turkey, (2nd–1st centuries BC)
Remains of the Scylla monument at Bargylia, south west Anatolia, Turkey, (200–150 BC)
Ancient Rome (1st century BC – 4th century AD)
Cameo glass Portland Vase, the most famous glass vessel from ancient Rome, (1–25 AD)
Silver Warren Cup with homoerotic scenes, found near Jerusalem, (5–15 AD)
Discus-thrower (Discobolos) and Bronze Head of Hypnos from Civitella d’Arna, Italy, (1st–2nd centuries AD)
Capitals from some of the pilasters of the Pantheon, Rome, (126 AD)
Jennings Dog, a statue of a Molossian guard dog, central Italy, (2nd century AD)
British Museum, London, United Kingdom
The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection numbers some 8 million works, and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire, and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It’s the first national public museum in the world.
The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of expanding British colonisation and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington in 1881 (it is nowadays simply called the Natural History Museum).
In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.
In 2013 the museum received a record 6.7 million visitors, an increase of 20% from the previous year. Popular exhibitions including “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” and “Ice Age Art” are credited with helping fuel the increase in visitors. Plans were announced in September 2014 to recreate the entire building along with all exhibits in the video game Minecraft in conjunction with members of the public.