Semni Karouzou

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Semni Karouzou
Semni Karouzou.jpg
Polysemni Papaspyridi

1897 (1897)
Died1994 (aged 96–97)
OccupationArchaeologist and curator
Academic work
DisciplineGreek Archaeology
InstitutionsNational Archaeological Museum, Athens

Semni Papaspyridi-Karouzou (1897–1994) was a Classical archaeologist who specialized in the study of pottery from ancient Greece. She was the first woman to join the Greek Archaeological Service, and worked as Curator of the ceramic collections in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens for over thirty years; she has been described as 'perhaps the most important woman in Greek archaeology.'[1]

Early and personal life[edit]

Polysemni Papaspyridi, known as Semni, was born in 1897 in Tripoli, Greece. Her father was a military officer, and her mother the French-educated daughter of a judge; her family moved frequently due to her father's career, finally settling in Athens.[1][2] She took the name Papaspyridi-Karouzou on her marriage in 1930 to Christos Karouzos (1900-1967), also an archaeologist.[2]

Education and early archaeological career[edit]

Karouzou studied archaeology at the University of Athens, taught by the distingushed archaeologist Christos Tsountas.[1][3] She joined the Greek Archaeological Service in 1921 as a curator of antiquities at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, becoming the first woman to do so.[1][4] She subsequently worked on excavations at Bronze Age sites at Herakleion (Crete) and the classical site of Eretria (Euboea).[1][5] In 1928, she (along with Christos Karouzos) was awarded a Humboldt Fellowship to study at the universities of Munich and Berlin; when she returned to Greece in 1930 she was promoted to the post of Ephor of Antiquities, an achievement described as a 'feminist victory' by the activist Avra Theodoropoulou.[1] Karouzou held this post first in Thessaly and subsequently in the Argolid, where she excavated tombs from the Mycenaean and classical periods;[6] worked at ancient Epidaurus; and worked to preserve historic buildings in the town of Nafplio, to which she later published a guide.[1][2][7]

Curatorial work at the National Archaeological Museum[edit]

In 1933, Karouzou became curator of the ceramic collections at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, a post she held for over thirty years (until 1964). For most of this period women were prohibited from joining the Archaeological Service under a law introduced by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas in 1936, and existing women members were refused promotion to the highest posts as museum directors or ephors; in the less prestigious museum posts which they tended to hold, rather than directing high-profile excavations, they nonetheless carried out highly significant work on museum collections.[1] Karouzou's work included reorganising the collections - identifying artefacts which had not been properly catalogued, recording them, and arranging new displays; she described this cataloguing work, which she had also performed at Epidaurus and Eretria, as 'invisible service'.[8] She also published extensively on the museum's collections of ceramics[9] and stone monuments[10] as well as on new archaeological discoveries,[1][11][12] and wrote a monograph on the 'Amasis Painter', a major painter of Attic black-figure pottery,[13] which was described by a reviewer as 'a scholarly and valuable study'.[14]

On the invasion of Greece in 1940, Karouzou along with her husband, other archaeologists, and museum employees and their families packed away the museum's collections for safety during the war;[1][3] Karouzou later recalled with pride that 'in the end of the war when the boxes were opened and the antiquities received, despite [the] fatally insufficient supervision [of the packing process] not a single gold object, no precious gem was missing'.[8] When Athens was occupied by the German army in 1941, the Karouzous were the only archaeologists in Greece to withdraw their membership of the German Archaeological Institute in protest.[5] They were later responsible for reinstalling the museum collections, using the catalogues Karouzou had previously made; this reinstallation was completed in 1947.[1]

Career post-retirement[edit]

In 1964, Karouzou reached the age of 67 and was obliged to retire from the Archaeological Service. Three years later, the military junta came to power; Karouzou, whose husband had died just a month earlier, was labelled as a political dissident and banned from accessing material in the museum by the junta-appointed General Director of Antiquities, Spyridon Marinatos.[1][5] Unable to carry out her research - a situation which she described as 'a shameless exclusion from the places of research of unpublished ancient works'[8]- she secretly left the country by boat to stay at the German Institute in Rome and then in Munich by invitation from colleagues. On her return, she was accused of being a communist and prohibited from leaving the country again; international outcry over this led to her being allowed to leave again to spend time visiting other exiled Greeks and to work as an invited scholar at the universities of Tübingen and Geneva.[1]

Following the fall of the junta in 1974, Karouzou was able to return to Greece and to take up the position of chair of the Greek arm of the 'Lexicon Iconographicarum Mythologicae Classicae' ('Lexicon of the Iconographies of Classical Mythology'), in which she carried out a great deal of collaborative work with international colleagues.[1] She was also made President of the International Congress of Classical Archaeology in 1983.[4]

Karouzou published twenty books and over 120 articles during the course of her distinguished career, many of which have proven foundational to understandings of the Classical world; she also made significant contributions to public access to archaeology through the publication of guidebooks to the National Archaeological Museum and to archaeological sites.[1][5][15] From 1975-77 she was Vice President of the Archaeological Society at Athens.[2][3] She was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Lyon, Tübingen, and Thessaloniki for her scholarship and contributions to the field.[1] Karouzou defined her own research methodology as attempting to reveal 'the invisible meaning of ancient works'.[16]

Karouzou died in December 1994; in its announcement of her death, the Greek newspaper To Vima called her 'the last representative of the generation of great archaeologists'.[1] However, her contributions to Greek archaeology and museology have often been overlooked due to the focus on prominent male archaeologists over the 'invisible service' of Karouzou's museum curation.[1]

Selected publications[edit]

  • National Museum: Illustrated Guide to the Museum, Εκδοτική Αθηνών, 2000.
  • Βιώματα και μνημόσυνα (Experiences and memorials), ΗΟΡΟΣ 2.2, 1984, pp.1-61
  • Nauplion (in Greek: Το Ναύπλιο). Εμπορική Τράπεζα της Ελλάδος, 1979.
  • The Amasis Painter, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956.
  • Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Grèce 2: Athènes, Musée National 2, Paris, 1954 (publication of the National Museum's classical vase collections)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Marianna Nikolaidou & Dimitra Kokkinidou (1998), 'Greek women in archaeology: an untold story', in Margarita Díaz-Andreu & Marie Louise Stig Sorensen (eds), Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology (London/New York: Routledge), pp.235-265.
  2. ^ a b c d "Καρούζου – Παπασπυρίδη Σέμνη (1889 – 8 Δεκεμβρίου 1994)". ΑΡΓΟΛΙΚΗ ΑΡΧΕΙΑΚΗ ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΣΜΟΥ (in Greek). 2010-09-30. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
  3. ^ a b c "Semni Karouzou" (PDF). Archaeological Society at Athens.
  4. ^ a b Rolley, Claude (1995). "Semni Karouzou (1898-1994)". Revue Archéologique: 333–335.
  5. ^ a b c d "Semni Karouzou: Visible Resistance". TrowelBlazers.
  6. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1933–1935). "Anaskafi tafon tou Argous (Excavation of tombs at Argos)". Archaiologikon Deltion. 15: 16–53.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  7. ^ Semni Karouzou, Το Ναύπλιο [Nafplio]. Εμπορική Τράπεζα της Ελλάδος, 1979.
  8. ^ a b c Semni Karouzou (1984), Βιώματα και μνημόσυνα (Experiences and memorials), ΗΟΡΟΣ 2.2, pp.1-61: quoted in Nikolaidou & Kokkinidou (1998)
  9. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1954). Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Grèce 2: Athènes, Musée National 2. Paris.
  10. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1952). "Archaika mnimeia tou Ethnikou Mouseiou (Archaic monuments of the National Museum)". Archaiologiki Ephemeris: 137–66.
  11. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1945). "Vases from odos Pandrosou". Journal of Hellenic Studies. 65: 38–44.
  12. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1963). Angeia tou Anagyrountos. Athens.
  13. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1956). The Amasis Painter. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  14. ^ Cook, R. M. (1957). "Semni Karouzou: The Amasis Painter. Pp. xii + 46; 44 plates. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956. Cloth, 75s. net". The Classical Review. 7 (3–4): 271–272. doi:10.1017/S0009840X00177571. ISSN 1464-3561.
  15. ^ Karouzou, Semni (2000). National Museum: Illustrated Guide to the Museum. Εκδοτική Αθηνών.
  16. ^ Karouzou, Semni (1945–1947). "Ai epta thygateres tou Atlantos (The seven daughters of Atlas)". Archaiologiki Ephemeris: 22–36 – via quoted in Nikolaidou & Kokkinidou (1998).CS1 maint: date format (link)