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The couches (klinai) from the Antikythera shipwreck

Material: Wood and bronze
Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck
Date: 2nd - 1st c. BC
Exhibition Place:Temporary Exhibitions Wing, Room II

The underwater research of 1900-1901 and 1976 in the vicinity of the Antikythera shipwreck brought to light parts of the wooden frames of klinai-anaklintra (bedscouches). The variations that are observed with regard to the type, dimensions, construction technique, as well as the corrosion of the individual metal parts indicates the existence in the ship's cargo of at least three wooden klinai with bronze revetment.

The fragments of the wooden frames represent the three main parts of the couches. That is, there are surviving parts from the ornamental ends of the headrests (fulcra), the side rails, and the bases of the legs.

Microscopic and macroscopic examination of the wood showed that the discrete parts of the couches were constructed from various timbers. On the upper parts - for example, the ends of the headrests - the narrow-leafed ash (Fraxinus) was utilized, while in the lower parts - for example, on the bases of the legs - chestnut (Dios balanus, 'Euboian nut') was employed. The side rails are made of walnut ('Persian nut'). This variation particularly attests to the experience of the carpenter, who seems to have been familiar with the mechanical properties of each timber, for instance, its durability as well as its degree of workability.

Traces of the marks from the carpenter's tools, an adze or a large chisel, are preserved in various places on the wooden surface of the surviving parts. The wooden legs would have been constructed on a lathe, as is necessary for the type of rich decoration with overlying bell-shaped attachments found in the shipwreck. Although lathed legs were produced by carpenters since the late 6th century BC, only from the 3rd century BC were they embellished with concave and convex mouldings and bell-shaped attachments.

On a single example, near the middle of the front side there is a groove dovetailed in cross section for joining the base with another wooden part (fig. 2). This element implies that the legs on the short sides of at least one kline were joined together with a horizontal bar.

Decorative side ends of headrests (fulcra), bases of the legs, and pieces from the side rails comprise the couches' metal attachments.

The coppersmith employing the technique of bronze casting manufactured the bronze ornamental fittings, which were then attached to the wooden frame. The metal and wooden parts of the couches with exception of the legs, were assembled with bronze bolts (rivets), as is indicated by existing holes and partially preserved bolts. The decorative side ends of headrests (fulcra) consist of an inclined S-shaped frame, which bore various ornamental attachments, such as protomes of human figures and animals, e.g. of Artemis, of a dog, a lion, a water fowl.

Their elaborate assembly technique confirms the existence of talented bronze- and wood-workers. Some scholars, relying mostly on reports by Pliny (Nă 34.2.9 and 33.144), attribute the couches with turned legs and decorated headrests to ateliers on Delos. The written sources also note that Delian couches were introduced to Italy by the general Gnaeus Manlius following the conquest of Asia in 187 BC (Pliny, Nă 34.14). The assumption that these couches were made on Delos is also supported by the discovery on the island of a similar leg-type and its matching molds.

The couches surely were part of the ship 's valuable cargo. They were likely destined for Rome, the major market of that era, and they would probably have ended up among the prized household furnishings of a wealthy citizen, as a testimony of the requirements and customs of the society as symbol of wealth and social dominance.

Bibliography: N. Palaiokrassa, Small metal objects and utensils in ═. ╩altsas-┼. Vlachogianni-P. Bouyia (eds), The Antikythera Shipwreck: The ship-the treasures-the ╠echanism,Catalogue of the Archaeological Exhibition, ┴pril 2012- ┴pril 2013, ┴thens 2012,, 116-127. S. Faust, Fulcra, Figurlicher und ornamentaler Schmuck an antiken Betten, RM Ergh 30 (1989), Mainz am Rhein: Von Zabern, 1989.

 
 
 
 
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