The British Museum’s ancient Greek treasures arrive in Australia and New Zealand "Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warrior, Heroes"

Panathenaic amphora 1400

The exhibition entitled “Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors, Heroes” will take place at the West Australian State Museum in June and will head to the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra from December 17 across the Tasman Sea. Head to Auckland. , New Zealand in 2022.

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

The highly anticipated Ancient Greeks exhibition will now come to the Australasian region in 2021, 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.

Featuring some 180 objects which explore the theme of competition through sports, politics, drama, music and warfare, Ancient Greeks will open at the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip in June 2021, before moving to the National Museum in Canberra (17 December 2021 – 1 May 2022), as the show’s only east coast Australian venue. The exhibition will conclude its Australasian tour with a final stop in Auckland, New Zealand.

Opening in Perth on 20 June, just before the start of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics (23 July 2021), the exhibition highlights the theme of competition and explores its role as a force for innovation and excellence.

Chief Executive Officer of the Western Australian Museum, Alec Coles, said, ‘The WA Museum Boola Bardip is delighted to host this exquisite exhibition as the first venue in the Australasian tour, and to celebrate another significant milestone in the important relationship between our 4 museums. The themes of Ancient Greek culture shared in this exhibition, including sport, arts, politics and philosophy, are legacies that continue to permeate our everyday life. I have no doubt Western Australian audiences, and visitors to our state, will marvel at the artistry and beauty of the objects, and reflect on the profound influences of this period on our world today.’

Auckland War Memorial Museum Chief Executive, Dr David Gaimster, said, ‘To enable the tour of one of the most significant exhibitions from the British Museum to come to Australasia, a strategic trans-Tasman partnership has been established with the Western Australian Museum in Perth and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This new partnership will cement Australasia on the global cultural touring exhibition map.’

Dr Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said, ‘This exhibition presents many masterpieces from the British Museum’s world-famous collection. The objects have enlightened our understanding of the Ancient Greek world and have been brought together to tell a unique story for this exhibition. We are delighted to work alongside the National Museum of Australia, the Western Australian Museum and the Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, to share these collections for the first time across Australasia.’

Dr Peter Higgs, exhibition curator said, ‘I am so pleased that that the exhibition Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes is going to our partner museums in Perth, Canberra and Auckland. Despite the worldwide pandemic and the immense challenges it has created, we have all worked together to achieve this momentous task.

‘As with any loan from the British Museum, great care is taken to minimise any risk to the collection is absolutely minimal. It a great deal of planning and work by curators, conservators, object handlers and loans coordinators to ensure that objects can be safely and securely transported and displayed.

‘Following the pandemic, we've had to make some changes to installation practice, but we are confident all proper processes are in place. A huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with this exhibition. We hope you are able to go and see the ‘Greeks’ and immerse yourselves in the stimulating narratives and stunning ancient artefacts.’

Artistic, physical and intellectual competition pervaded Ancient Greek society, which in turn influenced language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the arts around the world.

Key objects in the show include iconic black and red figured ceramics featuring finely drawn depictions of athletes, gods and citizens; stunning marble and terracotta, statues and reliefs including many fine nudes; bronze figurines; weapons and armour; toys and games; fine gold jewellery; and coins.

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A girl playing a red-figure Aulos or double flute in a vase around 480 BC. Fletcher Foundation, Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Marie Lan Nguyen / CC-BY 2.5)

Ancient Greek society is considered one of the roots of Western society, which has influenced modern language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and art around the world

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“Siren Vase”, 5th century BC, Siren Painter, Vulci, Greece. Pottery, height: 13 ¾ inches. British Museum, London. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The exhibition will be held at the following locations.

  • Western Australia Museum, Perth, June 20-November 7, 2021.
  • National Museum of Australia, Canberra, December 17-May 1, 2022.
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum, June 10-16, 2022.