Abbot Fourmont, the vandal (1729)
Municipality of Argos
The second deputy of Louis the 15th, the abbot Fourmont stayed in Constantinople only for two months. On the 8th of February 1729 he embarked with his nephew for Athens through the island of Chios. He had taken the firman of the sultan Ahmet the third to the mouhasil (vicegerent) of Morias and letters from the French ambassador at the city of Villeneuve to all the consuls of France in Greece. The French gownsman will travel around the country for two years, writing the darkest page of traveling and “antiquities-hunt”. His partner abbot Sevin took to amortization, bribery, sneakiness, depravation and even theft to fulfill his mission, which was assigned by his royal master and collect antiquities. The abbot Fourmont, uncontrolled due to the sultan’s firman and the diplomatic coverage, he will go about the sestymatic destruction of ancient monuments.
The last phase of “antiquities – hunting” travels of Fourmont was destructive. He demolished and ruined the archaeological monuments that had remained in Peloponnese. He carried out excavations in archaeological places and he shattered the marbles which were revealed. The violation was aforethought and extensive. Greece had not faced such brutality since the age of the Goths. But Fourmont was proud of his vandalism. Full of arrogance he describes his destructive acts in a letter to a French friend of his on the 10th of April 1730:
“I flattened and ruined everything. There is nothing left from this big city. Groups of thirty and some times forty or sixty workers have been demolishing, destroying and annihilating Sparta, for one month. The bang from the demolishing of the walls, the tumble of stones down to the banks of Evrotas is heard not only in Lakonia, but in the entire Morias and even further.
Turks, Hebrews and Greeks come here to see from fifty leagues away. But the only thing they see is thousands of written marbles.
“One day my nephew, who supervised the works, found twelve marbles, the best in the world, full of epigraphs. He immediately sent someone to inform me, not forgetting to spread the news all over the region on his way. In a while, the entire Mistras arrived at Sparta. Only three towers are standing upright at the moment. To be honest, I am surprised with this campaign myself. From what I have read no one has thought to ruin entire cities. I am occupied with the last destruction of Sparta at the moment.
“I searched for the ancient cities of this country and I ruined some of them. Among them Ermioni, Tyrintha, Trizina, half the Acropolis of Argos, Fliounta, Pheneos, and after I had travelled to Mani, as much as sound judgement permits of course, I have been occupied with the destruction of Sparta for the last two weeks.Demolishing walls and temples, not leaving a single stone over another, I will make this place unrecognizable. But at least I know how I will recognize it. And this is something. Only in this way can someone become useful to Literature. Sparta is the fifth city of Morias that has been ruined. Ermioni and Troizina had the same fortune. Neither Argos, nor Fliounta wriggled out. Now I am occupied with the destruction of the temple of Apollo in Amykles. I find magnificent things every day. I do not regret. I will destroy more temples if they let me”.
Many studies have been carried out to explain the fierce destruction of Greek archaeological places by Fourmont. He was characterized as a great counterfeiter and vandal. It seems that the epigraphs he panegyrically announced were not found in his archives, which have been placed in the library. He ruined ancient monuments without reason. This vandalism can only be explained on the basis of the spirit of religious fanaticism, which prevailed between the anchorites of Anzou. One cannot help getting angry if not furious reading his letters. He blows for ruining the temple of Apollo in Amykles.
These ruthless destructions of monuments and scraping of epigraphs on marbles are thought to be due to pietism, self exaltation to an effort to consolidate personal scientific theories.
According to other historians Fourmont’s vandalisms are placed in the framework of English-French antagonism in the field of antiquities-hunting.
Fourmont himself mentions in his reports that he is not the only foreign explorer in Peloponnese. He is also proud of managing to forestall an English collector of antiquities in Sparta. The antagonism between the two countries about the grabbing of Greek archaeological treasures had begun from the 16th century. And there was such a rivalry between them, that the loot of archeological treasures and artistic relics reached extremeness. English and French shared the head of the huge statue of Apollo in Delos in 1639 ripping it vertically from the forehead to the chin. So, it is not impossible that Fourmont reached barbarity to block the research of the English antagonists. It seems that he had got specific instructions from the French court before his departure to Greece. In his reports he mentions following royal orders, the dignity of France, for other explorers, who hanged about to profit etc.
On the other hand, his maliciousness and his craze for destruction that he expresses in his letters have puzzled many researchers about the condition of his inner psychological and spiritual balance.
Generally, it is difficult to admit that antiquities-collecting campaigns, provoked by the official governments of Powers in Greece had innocent motives, meaning the agony of the “spiritual West” for the luck of the remains of the ancient civilization. Louis 15th’s archaeologists for instance, give the impression of invading barbarians during their travels. One ineffectually searches for a scientist’s ethos, modesty, self-control any spiritual joint to the devastated ancient monuments. These characterizations cannot of course be attributed to all the European travelers, some of which were sensitive and well-intentioned lovers of antiquity, who tried to rescue ancient monuments, because the impression that the Turks systematically ruined the ancient monuments and that the Greeks were indifferent due to ignorance, so the monuments were destroyed because of the illiteracy that reigned the country, was very widespread in the West.