A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
(Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
The history of archaeology is rife with spies. But art historian Marina Belozerskaya's new book, To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology (W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95), reveals that this style of espionage dates to the 15th century, when an Italian merchant, Cyriacus of Ancona, spied shamelessly for the Vatican as he made drawings and transcribed inscriptions on classical ruins within the Ottoman Empire. Cyriacus was the first to make accurate drawings of many famous sites, including the Parthenon and Hadrian's Villa, becoming in many ways the world's first archaeologist.
Belozerskaya's biography of Cyriacus is deeply flawed. The book rambles annoyingly, and would have benefitted from a map to help readers sort out the merchant's travels. But those who stick with it will be rewarded with some intriguing history.
Cyriacus witnessed the vandalism committed by invading Ottoman forces, which ransacked the Macedonian city of Thessaloniki in 1430, destroying many of its ancient buildings. The only way to halt the devastation, he decided, was to launch a new crusade.
In his zeal, however, he failed to consider the effects of this clash of civilizations. An alliance of Christian leaders, primarily from Italy, eventually attacked the Ottomans, leading to 200 years of hostilities. Before the war was over, artillery fire from Christian forces would gravely damage a site he loved, the Parthenon.