Ancient statuette of ‘ferryman of dead’ on show for 1st time in Izmir


A 2,400-year-old statuette depicting the ferryman of the dead, Charon, has been put on display for the first time at the Izmir Archaeological Museum.

As part of the museum’s initiative to showcase rare artifacts from its collection usually kept from the public, the statuette will be exhibited in the treasury room for one month under the theme for November: “Cult of the Dead.” As part of the theme, artifacts from thousands of years ago describing ancient funeral ceremonies that were discovered in cemeteries during excavations have been put on display.


A 2,400-year-old statuette depicting the ferryman of the dead, Charon, displayed for the first time at the Izmir Archeology Museum, Türkiye, Nov. 15, 2022. (AA Photo)
A 2,400-year-old statuette depicting the ferryman of the dead, Charon, displayed for the first time at the Izmir Archeology Museum, Türkiye, Nov. 15, 2022. (AA Photo)

The statuette, which was found in the ancient city of Klazomenai in Izmir’s Urla in 2014, was one of the striking pieces of the exhibition. Depicting Charon, who was believed to have transported dead souls through the River Styx by boat and brought them to Hades, the ruler of the underworld in Greek mythology, the terracotta statuette went through a restoration period before its display.

“In mythology, the ferryman Charon and the multi-headed hound Cerberus were believed to accompany the soul of the dead. We know that some rituals performed thousands of years ago are still practiced today. For example, it was believed that the passage to the other world was by boat. We can compare the coffin to a stylized boat. We can see a coffin hovering over the shoulders, advancing like a raft crossing a river,” museum assistant manager Elif Erginer said.


Izmir Archeology Museum assistant manager Elif Erginer shows the 2,400-year-old statuette depicting the ferryman of the dead, Charon, Izmir, Türkiye, Nov. 15, 2022. (AA Photo)
Izmir Archeology Museum assistant manager Elif Erginer shows the 2,400-year-old statuette depicting the ferryman of the dead, Charon, Izmir, Türkiye, Nov. 15, 2022. (AA Photo)

“In addition to this, a coin was placed on the eyes, mouth and hands of dead people as a toll for Charon along with cookies as well as gifts. This was considered as a bribe for the ferryman’s hound Charon. It was also a gift to make the transition to the other side easier,” she added.

Erginer also stated that they usually find funeral scenes from the ancient age depicted on vases called “lekythos” and added: “Perhaps for the first time, we can see the depiction of Charon as a figurine that we can take in our hands. In this sense, this work is unique.”

Emphasizing that the ferryman is depicted as a monkey in the work, Erginer stated that the mouth and nose of the deceased were also covered so that the soul would not reenter the body during the last voyage.

Among the artifacts on show at the exhibition, there is the statuette of Leda, the queen of Sparta, which was discovered in the ancient city of Kyme in Izmir’s Aliağa district, depicted with a swan.

Two 11-centimeter-long (4.3-inch-long) terracotta figurines from the archaic period unearthed from the necropolis area in the Teos region of Izmir’s Seferihisar district were also featured in the exhibition. It is estimated that the statues of the crouching bald men with big eyes, arched noses and protruding bellies are 2,600 years old.

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