Suspicious Greeks wreathed in smiles

Helena Smith

Monday August 14, 2000

Salonika - A gold wreath 2,350 years old, discovered last month by a farmer in his field outside Salonika, is being brandished by Greeks as the latest evidence of the Greekness of ancient Macedonia, the region now embraced by the Greek province of that name and the independent Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Archaeologists believe the wreath, bearing 30 leaves and two bunches of berries, will provide clues to the worship of Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine and revellery. Paintings show gold wreaths being worn by priests attending the often riotous symposia in his honour.

It is the third of its kind to have been found, and similarities between the three suggest that they are the work of the same hand.

The wreath is being cleaned and assessed by conservators at the Archaeological Museum in Salonika, which was besieged at the weekend by Dionysians disappointed at not being allowed to see it.

The director, Chrysanthi Koukouli, said it was likely to be the precursor of a much bigger find in the region. "If it proves to be the spot [in which it originated], then we may well find an important tomb where some distinguished, well-off and reputable Macedonian citizen was buried," he told the daily To Ethnos.

Archaeology has often been used in the row over the right to the name Macedonia.

Although passions have subsided since the former Yugoslav republic's claim to the name filled Greeks with dread that their landlocked neighbour was laying claim to the Greek province - and its port Salonika - the fear remains.

Most liberal-minded Greeks use the title - abbreviated to Fyrom - that the country was given by the UN 1993, and when not referring to its people as Skopjians, after Skopje, the capital, call them Fyromians: a name Slav Macedonians very much hope to drop when the squabble is finally settled later this year.

Original article