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Pollini addresses the problems facing the destruction of classical antiquity

By Olivia Spector | April 18, 2013


Staff Writer


The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) hosted a lecture last Friday in Gilman entitled “Christian Destruction and Desecration of Images of Classical Antiquity,” featuring Dr. John Pollini, Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology, of the University of Southern California.

The topic of Christian destruction of classical art is a very sensitive subject.

Previously, archaeologists have ignored the Christian destruction and desecration of polytheistic religious artifacts and assumed that they were destroyed by war, accident or natural causes.

However, it has been revealed that many ancient Greek temples, among other religious sites and artifacts, were not in fact destroyed by the gods or an earthquake, but rather by Christians and other religious groups.

“[Today] Christianity is generally viewed as a positive force, one that is even responsible for the preservation of the classical past,” Pollini said. “But in some form or other Christianity was responsible directly and indirectly for the destruction of an enormous amount of classical art and literature.”

Many Christian saints and other figureheads were supporters of the destruction of polytheistic structures because they feared that the statues were possessed by demons.

To get rid of the demons, they picked crosses on the foreheads, eyes and occasionally the chins on many statues of polytheistic gods.

Statues of Aphrodite, Hera, Augustus and Livia have all been found with these markings.

“Marking non-Christian images with crosses is a form of desecration, which many consider positively because it is a form of baptism,” Pollini said.

St. Nicholas, who today is commonly known as Santa Claus, was also actively involved in the desecration.

“St. Nicholas … was a religious fanatic who was celebrated for the destruction of the sacred arts in Asia Minor.

There is even a painting of him commanding followers to destroy a statue of Aphrodite,” Pollini said.

Most of the destructions appear to have occurred between the fourth and sixth centuries when the Church considered polytheism a major threat that needed to be eradicated.

For example, the Parthenon was converted into a church in the sixth century after it was taken over by Greek Christians.

Pick marks can still be seen on the wall sculptures of the Parthenon, and the heads and limbs were cut off of many of the ancient gods.

There is also evidence of Christian destruction of its own images during the Byzantine Iconoclasm period. There are two known examples of the defacement of Mary and the Christ Child.

Pollini discussed all three of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, in his lecture, and how they inadvertently lead to violence.

“The power and role that intolerant monotheistic dogma played, and continues to play, [is] as a catalyst promoting hate crimes and other violent acts of intolerance.  The fundamental problem with Christianity, as we well as with Judaism and Islam, lies in the very concept of a universal monotheism,” he said.

He continued his talk with examples of how, in general, the monotheistic religions have been intolerant of polytheistic religions and religious articles.

One example given was that of the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist artifacts in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban’s ministers of information and culture, and of finance, personally led a wrecking crew that destroyed more than 2,750 precious works of art in the Kabul Museum,” Pollini said.

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