Virginia R. Grace— 1989 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

Virginia Randolph Grace has laid the foundations of anew and productive discipline within archaeology through her lifelong study of stamped amphora handles. Because of her work, wine jars and their stamps now provide a tool for closely dating archaeological contexts and a primary index for tracing and quantifying ancient trade. Excavators, historians, epigraphers, and economists are now building upon her pioneering research. To such scholars around the world she is an outstanding representative of North American archaeologists.

Virginia Grace received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in 1922, and first went to Greece as a member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1927-192S. She returned to Bryn Mawr as a graduate Fellow for an M.A. in 1929, and then spent three more fellowship years in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean developing her specialty. Her travels and fieldwork included excavations at Halae, Cyprus, and Pergamon, where she studied a deposit of stamped handles that was to prove critical in fixing the order of Rhodian magistrates named in stamped handles. She also dug as a member of the staff of the Agora Excavations, and by 1934 had published in a substantial work (Hesperia 3.3, which became her Ph.D. dissertation from Bryn Mawr) the stamped handles found during the first two seasons of the excavations.

Continuing to work at the Agora through 1938-1939, the year she held a Guggenheim Fellowship, Virginia Grace was the last member of the American School to leave Athens in 1940. She spent the war years partly in Cyprus and partly doing war work in Turkey and Africa. From 1945 to 1949 she was a Visiting Member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, after which she returned to Greece as an Edward Capps Fellow of the American School. In that year alone she read and sorted some 20,000 handles at the Agora and in the National Museum at Athens, and in the course of those labors established the catalogue of Knidian Types used in identifying Knidian stamps. In the following decades she classified the handles from numerous other sites. A pivotal point in the study of amphora stamps was her analysis, based on several work-periods in Alexandria during the 1960s, of the massive collection of Lucas Benaki (installed by her in the Musée Gréco-Romain), which enabled her to refine the Rhodian chronology.

The research files, to which she and her team, including Maria Petropoulakou and Andreas Dimoulinis, are still adding, have grown into unique archives of stamped handles (totaling some 150,000 records) from all over the ancient world. For years, with characteristic generosity and precision, she has answered requests for information that have poured into her office from an international clientele. Besides assisting the publications of many others, she has herself produced over forty specialized studies with a chronological and geographical range from the Canaanite jars of the Bronze Age to the Rhodian amphoras on board the ship wrecked at Antikythera early in the first century B.C. Her publication with Mrs. Petropoulakou of the handles found in the House of the Comedians at Delos (Exploration archlologique de Delos 27.14) remains a fundamental handbook for the field.

She has also been at pains to make the stamped handles and jars themselves accessible, most strikingly in the large study collection she arranged at the Agora, which includes handles ordered in cabinets for convenient reference, ranks of whole jars in the basement of the Stoa of Attalos, and a display of jars and stamped handles in Shop IV of the public museum in the Stoa. In an analogous way, she thoughtfully laid out in Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade (Picture Book 6 in the series of the Agora Excavations), for the pleasure of the non-specialist and for the edification of the scholar, the story of how these jars were used to store and ship wine and oil in antiquity and how the archaeologist mines information from them today.

Her excellent relations with archaeologists of many nationalities have resulted in notable collaborations such as the corpus of stamped handles found at Thasos (Etudes thasiennes IV), which she wrote with M. and Mme. Bon of the French School at Athens. A measure of her impact upon the profession was the international colloquium on amphoras held at the French School in 1984. She has helped and encouraged many with an interest in antiquity, not least students at the American School, and has played no little part in creating a sense of community among scholars in Athens. Because of her broad interests her cordial connections extend beyond the archaeological world as well. The Greeks among whom she has lived for so long regard her as one of their own and esteem her highly.

With good reason Virginia Grace has been called "die 'Nestorin' der Amphorenforschung." We honor her for her vision in articulating the significance of this special class of artifacts for students of classical antiquity, her acuity in extracting conclusions from the mass of material she collected, and her perseverance through difficult years. The Archaeological Institute of America is proud to award its Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement to Virginia Randolph Grace.


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