Dimitris Plantzos

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Dimitris Plantzos


Dimitris Plantzos is a classical archaeologist, educated at Athens (BA, 1982-1987) and Oxford (MPhil, 1988-1990; DPhil, 1990-1993). He is the author of various papers and books on Greek art and archaeology, archaeological theory and classical reception. His Greek-language textbook on Greek Art and Archaeology, first published in 2011 by Kapon Editions, was published in 2016 in English by Lockwood Press in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also co-editor of the volume A Singular Antiquity. Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in 20th century Greece (published in Athens in 2008) and the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Greek Art (2012; paperback edition 2018). His latest books are The Recent Future, a study of archaeological biopolitics in contemporary Greece (2016, Nefeli Editions), and a study of ancient Greek painting in 2018, also published on both sides of the Atlantic. He is co-director of the Argos Orestikon Excavation Project; he teaches classical archaeology and reception at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Opening conference:


Classical art has captured the attention of scholars and enthusiasts since the Renaissance. Based on art-historical tools devised independently of archaeology (such as connoisseurship), classical archaeologists, followed soon enough by their colleagues working on pre-classical and post-classical cultures, forged a research model based on aesthetics and their reception, also assuming that their breed of archaeology was value-free and their methodologies transparent. Connoisseurship still dominates vast areas of Mediterranean archaeology, from prehistoric frescoes to Late Roman jewellery. Over time, art-historical reasoning was increasingly used in combination with positivist tools (such as archaeometry); often enough, however, the former may be found to contaminate the results of the latter. In the last thirty years or so, the study of material culture has been influenced by new trends appearing elsewhere. The so-called ‘pictorial turn’ observed in cultural studies already in the late 1980s called for a renewed interest in the way images interact with their viewer, an interaction that dramatically supersedes the old creator/spectator axis. Inspired by parallel research in anthropology, cultural historians and archaeologists now accept that things (no more ‘artefacts’ or ‘objets d’ art’) interact with us through their own materiality, irrespective of whether we use them as everyday items, admire them as remains of a glorified past, or study them as historical reference. In other words, the division of subject and object is less straightforward than we once thought. This turn involves a reappraisal of culture’s ties with the material world, the new concept of material agency, and a novel approach to interaction that relies on network thinking, and is bound to influence archaeological discourse in the years to come.

In this paper, Ι revisit well-known objects from classical Greece to demonstrate that a new, anthropologically informed approach is possible in the study of Greek art. This approach is hitherto ignored by both theorists of agency and materiality and classical archaeologists. In my discussion I hope to show that such approaches may reverse the standard flow of disciplinary power in classical Greece (from artist to viewer), as well as in classics at large (from scholar to the general public).



If “the past is a foreign country”, then Greece’s classical past could be described – and it has been – as an ideal, as well as idyllic land, colonized by the West. This paper employs post-colonial theory combined with discussions of trauma as a historical agent in order to investigate ways in which contemporary Greek museums and archaeological sites strive to attract the colonial gaze by reclaiming ownership of the nation’s (neo)-classical past; at the same time, however, this exercise may be seen as an effort to alleviate the pains of modernity as experienced by a people who has never overcome the trauma of its separation from its famed antiquity. As a result, Greek archaeological spaces – both museums and sites – can be described as “sites of trauma”, as the placescapes where the unlived experiences of an imagined past become revived. A number of examples are discussed, including the Benaki and Acropolis Museums, as well as several clusters of antiquities preserved “in situ”, mostly within the urban grid or incorporated in buildings and other structures, such as Athenian metro stations. Such cases of incidental archaeology, the paper contends, are devised in order to suture, in the psychoanalytical sense of the term, Greek national imaginary onto the very sites where the nation experienced the trauma of its separation from its past.


• Plantzos, Dead Archaeologists, Buried Gods

• Plantzos, The glory that was not


As archaeological finds go, statues tend to be rather scarce; it is not very often that you meet an archaeologist who has actually found one, let alone in a state of even relative completeness. On the other hand, statues and statuary tend to be strongly associated with the idea of archaeological searching and finding, as well as common perceptions of what one finds in a museum – especially one specializing in classical antiquity. Gradually, and ever so spectacularly, statues in the modern world have come to symbolize antiquity itself, and the ideas randomly associated with it – from intellectualism and democracy to beauty, sportsmanship and sensuality. I this paper, I will be discussing ways in which ancient statues tend to become entangled into contemporary political agendas. My examples will be drawn from a number of Mediterranean countries and several historical occurrences from the 20th and the 21st century.


• Plantzos, The frustrated vision

• Plantzos, The kouros of Keratea

• Plantzos, Caryatids lost and regained




The discovery of a monumental ‘Macedonian’ tomb at Amphipolis in northern Greece in the summer of 2014 prompted a wave of enthusiasm among archaeologists, politicians and the public at large; at the same time, however, Greek nationalism was given the chance to revisit some of its favourite themes of national exception, racial distinction, and historical determinism. In this paper, government rhetoric and actions related to Amphipolis are examined against the by now standard practice of investing plainly biopolitical experiments – such the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants by the police – with the splendour of classical Greece. As Greece finds itself engulfed in a harsh economic as well as political and social crisis, this paper addresses the biopolitical uses of the classical past in order to examine ways in which the state deploys archaeology as a means to establish the ostensibly temporary state of exception of the crisis as the new, paradigmatic, style of government.


• Hamilakis, Some debts can never be repaid

• Plantzos, Amphipolitics