A measured take on the Pylos Combat Agate

A small agate decorated with a battle-scene, recovered from the so-called “Griffin Warrior” tomb in Pylos (Greece), has been hyped up for the wrong reasons.

Written by Matthew Lloyd on 15 November 2017

When I was an undergraduate studying Greek Art and Archaeology 500–300 BC, I had a tutorial partner who could not write an essay on coins or gems. These objects were so small that they found it impossible to be interested in them.

I wonder what they would have made of the Pylos Combat Agate, presented to the world last week in the New York Times: an object that is undoubtedly magnificent, but absolutely tiny in size (37 mm long!).

Then again, sillier things than its size have kept me from appreciating it.

Finds from the “Griffin Warrior” tomb

The agate was found in the “Griffin Warrior” tomb, one of around two-thousand objects currently being cleaned, studied, and published by a team from the University of Cincinnati. It is believed to be of Minoan (i.e. Cretan) origin. Encrusted with limestone, its taken more than a year for the object to be cleaned and the incredible decoration to be revealed.

Central to the scene is the figure dubbed by the excavators the “hero”: near naked wearing only a loincloth, with flowing locks of hair, this man strides forward over a dead body on the ground, grabs the crest of his opponent’s helmet, and thrusts his sword into his opponent’s neck. The opponent carries a large body-shield and a long thrusting-spear, too long to be an effective weapon now that the hero is so close to him. The opponent and the dead man on the ground wear skirts or kilts, finely decorated despite their minuscule size.

The dead man,