A major exhibition, Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes from the British Museum featuring 180 iconic objects that have never toured the southern hemisphere, is coming to the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra in December 2021, after COVID-19 delayed its arrival last year.

Logistical challenges in bringing international exhibitions to Australia due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, prompted the rescheduling of Ancient Greeks.

Curator Lily Withycombe told Neos Kosmos that there are numerous challenges in moving international displays of this calibre, much more so at a time when international border restrictions are in place.

“We are delighted that it is going ahead – and this is a huge triumph,” she said, adding that it is a “happy coincidence” that the display is taking place during the Bicentenary of Greek Independence and coincides with the Tokyo Olympics though the artefacts on display are of “eternal relevance” and transcend time and place.

“This display in particular was suggested by the British Museum, but we had input by negotiating to include two additional figures,” Ms Withycombe said in reference to a black-figured amphora made in Athens from 540-530BC by Exekius and a sculptural relief depicting the hero Achilles made of Hellenistic Marble and signed by Archelaos of Priene as these tie beautifully into the display.

READ MORE: When French historians of Ancient Greece conquered the world

Honorary stele marble probably made in Alexandria, Egypt, about 220-200 BCE signed by Archelaos of Priene probably found at Bovillae, Lazio, Italy 1819,0812.1 PHOTO: TRUSTEES OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM, 2021

“Visitors will learn about ancient Greeks and concepts related to competition through sports, politics, drama, music and warfare,” she said of the 180 objects as part of a partnership between the British Museum, the National Museum of Australia, the Western Australian Museum, and the Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Ms Withycombe says that for many the display offers “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to see works ordinarily featured at the British Museum as part of an ongoing relationship between the NMA and the British Museum, and is even more relevant at a time when travel is difficult.

She remembers her visit to Greece and the awe she felt when visiting the National Archaeology Museum of Athens and said “the reason we haven’t displayed artefacts from there is simply because we haven’t been approached,” she said, not ruling out any collaboration should one arise in the future.

“The central theme of the exhibition is the concept of Nike (victory), especially in sport, and will showcase the competition,” she said, adding she hopes that “Greek Australians would also find an interest in this and be a key part of our audience numbers when we open.”

National Museum of Australia Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said he was delighted with the show which will bookend the rescheduled 2021 Olympics.

READ MORE: The way Ancient Greece idolised Olympic victors shows a way we could benefit from Games

Black figure pottery made in Athens, Greece, about 540–530 BCE signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter found at Vulci, Lazio, Italy 1836,0224.127 PHOTO: TRUSTEES OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM, 2021

“I know audiences will be mesmerised by the stories of competition in the ancient Greek world and by the beautiful depictions of athletes, the ceramics, sculptures, armour and jewellery featured in the show,” Dr Trinca said.

Exhibition dates

Western Australian Museum, Perth, 20 June to 7 November 2021
National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 17 December 2021 to 1 May 2022
Auckland War Memorial Museum, 10 June 2022 to 16 October 2022