In 2008, a vast wreckage site was discovered off the coast of East Africa. The finding lent credence to the legend of Cif Amotan II, a freed slave from Antioch (north-west Turkey) who lived between the mid-first and early-second centuries CE.
Ex-slaves were afforded ample opportunities for socio-economic advancement in the Roman Empire through involvement in the financial affairs of their patrons and past masters. The story of Amotan (who is sometimes referred to as Aulus Calidius Amotan) relates that the slave accumulated an immense fortune on the acquisition of his freedom. Bloated with excess wealth, he proceeded to build a lavish collection of artefacts deriving from the lengths and breadths of the ancient world. The freedman’s one hundred fabled treasures – commissions, copies, fakes, purchases and plunder – were brought together on board a colossal ship, the Apistos (translates from Koine Greek as the ‘Unbelievable’), which was destined for a temple purpose-built by the collector. Yet the vessel foundered, consigning its hoard to the realm of myth and spawning myriad permutations of this story of ambition and avarice, splendour and hubris.
The collection lay submerged in the Indian Ocean for some two thousand years before the site was discovered in 2008, near the ancient trading ports of Azania (south-east African coast). Almost a decade after excavations began, this exhibition brings together the works recovered in this extraordinary find.
A number of the sculptures are exhibited prior to undergoing restoration, heavily encrusted in corals and other marine life, at times rendering their forms virtually unrecognisable. A series of contemporary museum copies of the recovered artefacts are also on display, which imagine the works in their original, undamaged forms.