Giovanni d'Athanasi

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Giovanni d'Athanasi ( Greek Γιάννης Αθανασίου Giannis Athanasiou , also Yannis Athanasiou * 1798 in Myrina on Lemnos ; † 19th December 1854 in London ) or Dimitrios Papandriopulos ( Greek Δημήτριος Παπανδριόπουλος ) was a Greek art dealer and was often simply Yanni called. He played an important role in the archaeological discoveries in Egypt during the first half of the 19th century.



Dimitrios Papandriopulos was born in Limnos in 1798 as the son of a merchant. His father stayed mostly in Cairo and when he was ten years old Dimitrios Papandriopulos decided to go to his father. On August 7, 1809, he boarded a ship on Limnos and reached Cairo on September 11. He spent twelve months with his father and learned from him how to work as a businessman. He was named after his father Thanasis ( Greek Θανάσης ) Gianni tou Thanasi ( Greek Γιάννη του Θανάση = Giannis, the son of Thanasis); from this the Italian form Giovanni d'Athanasi was derived, under which he became known.

Giovanni d'Athanasi attended school for two years, first in Cairo and then in Alexandria . In March 1813 he joined the English Consul General Colonel Ernest Missett as an interpreter . On March 13, 1815 he went to Alexandria to meet Henry Salt , Missett's successor. Giovanni d'Athanasi decided to work for Henry Salt as a translator for Arabic and Turkish and not to accompany Missett to Italy .

First expedition

Through the Swiss Jean Louis Burckhardt , Henry Salt met the Italian Giovanni Battista Belzoni , who was to work for him in the future in order to get hold of ancient Egyptian art treasures. Since Belzoni had problems communicating on his first expedition to Upper Egypt , he received support from Giovanni d'Athanasi and Mr. Beechy. In March 1817 they set out for Luxor and found hardly anything remarkable apart from the colossal head of Ramses II in the Ramesseum . Then they went to Abu Simbel and cleared the entrance of the sand to examine the interior more closely. On the return trip to Luxor they visited Philae . During excavations in the Valley of the Kings , they finally discovered grave KV30 , in which they found an alabaster sarcophagus.

Chephren pyramid

Contrary to his instructions, Belzoni decided to dig at the pyramids of Giza on his own . So he and d'Athanasi went to the responsible Bey ; they pretended to be acting on behalf of the English consul general. They got the permit and workers and tried to find the entrance to the Chephren pyramid . After 15 days, d'Athanasi had temporarily led the excavations, they first found two pillars of the access path and then the entrance itself on March 2, 1818 Belzoni informs.

Expedition to Berenike

There were discussions between Henry Salt and Bernardino Drovetti over the alleged discovery of Berenike by the researcher Frédéric Cailliaud . An expedition led by Belzoni set out in the desert east of Esna in 1818 . An Egyptian temple was discovered in the mountains near a Ptolemaic emerald mine. In contrast to Cailliaud, the foundations that were found nearby were identified as the miners' huts. One went on to the coast of the Red Sea and d'Athanasi received the decisive hint from a local, which finally led to the finding of the correct Berenike.

Failed mission

Together with William John Bankes , Henry William Beechey, Alessandro Ricci and John Hyde, Giovanni d'Athanasi embarked on the dangerous journey to Dongola in 1819 . They received camels from the Sheikh of Nubia Hassan Kaschef as well as a letter of recommendation to his brother Mohammed Kaschef. First, the group visited the Temple of Semnis. Then they wanted to cross the Nile to get to Mohammed Kaschef. Since the camel drivers feared they would lose one of their animals while crossing it, they fled with their camels. When they finally arrived at Mohammed Kaschef's in Amara , they delivered the letter and were generously entertained. However, Kaschef demanded a firearm from John Hyde, but the latter did not give it to him because they did not want to do without it on the dangerous journey. From now on they were treated badly by Kaschef and he only granted them donkeys and a camel for the onward journey. They visited the temple of Amara and then returned to Egypt.

Own excavations

Since Henry Salt had ended his collaboration with Belzoni, d'Athanasi provided him with works of art. So he bought up numerous papyri . From grave KV11 , the grave of Ramses III. he hid the granite sarcophagus that is now in the Louvre . In 1820 he discovered the burial chapel of Nebamun . Many scenes of the well-preserved wall paintings were removed for the collection of Henry Salt von d'Athanasi, so that today they are so badly damaged that they can no longer be clearly identified. In 1821 Giannis found a Greek papyrus in a grave from Greek times and in 1824 a grave that contained mummies of three musicians with their instruments, a harp with 22 strings, a drum made of copper and a kind of mandolin. Together with Henry Salt he discovered a Nilometer on the Nile island of Elephantine .

Trip to england

Shortly before Henry Salt's death, he sent the art treasures he had collected in Egypt to Livorno to his brother-in-law Pietro Santoni. In 1827, d'Athanasi traveled there and brought her to London. In 1836 he had parts of it auctioned, and in 1837 Sotheby’s auctioned several hundred works of art in a seven-day auction. D'Athanasi kept returning to Egypt and supplied the new Consul General John Deal Barker with antique pieces. Anne Lohrli suspects that the Turkish friend of Charles Dickens , who is said to have participated in the Turkish Poems on the War , is Giovanni d'Athanasi.

D'Athanasi died impoverished on December 19, 1854 in a bed and breakfast in London. As early as 1830 he had borrowed 50 Scudi from the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen . On November 3rd, Johannes Riepenhausen wrote to Thorvaldsen that he needed a delay in order to settle the debt and offered him some antiques. He was only able to repay the sum in 1837.


Giovanni d'Athanasi lived for a while in a house in el-Qurna in the immediate vicinity of the Tomb of the Night , which at the time was still undiscovered. He befriended John Gardner Wilkinson , who also lived there. Through the close contact with the locals, he got to know their customs and had good relationships with the men he needed for his expeditions in the area.

During his excavations in Thebes-West and Abydos , he opened many graves and developed into an expert in the field of mummification , funeral rites and tomb construction. He reported that he had met Jean-François Champollion in Spain and discussed demotic papyri from graves with him . D'Athanasi complained about the behavior of some Europeans, allegedly showing Frédéric Cailliaud a grave and allowing him to make copies of the wall painting. However, this started with. to remove the frescoes from the wall with a hammer and chisel. With Joseph Bonomi he had agreed to make a copy of a wall painting for Henry Salt, which he never received.

Karl Richard Lepsius was not aware that Giovanni d'Athanasi and Dimitrios Papandriopulos were the same person, and he was surprised that a sarcophagus in the Berlin Museum was supposedly found by both people.


  • Ennio Quirino Visconti : Monumenti egiziani della raccolta del sig. Demetrio Papandriopulo. 1828.
  • Giovanni d'Athanasi: A brief account of the researches and discoveries in upper Egypt, made under the direction of Henry Salt, Esq. London 1836. ( online )
  • Giovanni d'Athanasi: Catalog of a collection of Egyptian antiquities. London 1836.
  • Giovanni d'Athanasi: Catalog of the very magnificent and extraordinary collection of Egyptian antiquities property of Giovanni d'Athanasi. London 1837.
  • Pietro Ercole Visconti : A Series of highly finished engravings, comprising a few of the principal objects in a collection of Egyptian antiquities, the property of Giovanni d'Athanasi. 1837.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Charles Dickens: Household Words . Volume 12, p. 155 ( online )
  2. ^ Graham Storey, Kathleen Tillotson, Angus Easson: The Letters of Charles Dickens: 1853-1855. Volume 7, p. 507 ( online ).
  3. The Thorvaldsen Letter Archives: 3 letters to Thorvaldsen and mentioned in one.
  4. ^ Karl Richard Lepsius: Texts of the death book from the old empire. In: Journal of Egyptian Language and Antiquity. Vol. 2, 1864, p. 88 ( online ).