Charles Thomas Newton – The Successful Career of a 19th Century British Archaeologist Sir Charles Thomas Newton (1816 – 1894) was a 19th century British archaeologist who served the British government from various diplomatic posts across the Mediterranean and as the first appointed keeper of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum. His work record as an archaeologist included excavations at various sites in what is today Turkey and Greece. These excavations led to his crowning achievement, the discovery of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
His work in the British Museum was marked by the acquisition of important exhibits from across the Levant. Newton’s long and successful career was a direct result of his diplomatic status that allowed him to travel to places of archaeological interest in the East while at the same time facilitating the excavation and subsequent transport of antiquities back to Britain. Sir C. T, Newton was a diplomat in his time, and his diplomatic position gave him access to travel to the east, and can use his diplomatic position to extract and travel with objects that he perjured, that he British government would then purchase.
So in other words being a diplomat gave you access and support form the British government and her facilities, such as ships, therefore being a diplomat met that the British government would be supporting. Since the government would support the journey and later buy the pieces from these diplomats such as newton, therefore its basically the government backing without them officially supporting the removal and selling of these items.
This position was instrumental in advancing his career because, being a diplomat gave you certain advantages such as the opportunity o travel and picture items from those lands and be able to bring them back to England to sell. Sir C. T. Newton’s life can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period includes the years from the time of his birth up until the age of thirty-six. During this period he received the type of higher education that proved useful in the years that followed.
The second period started along with his career as a diplomat in 1852. In that year, Newton quit his previous post as Junior Assistant in the Department of Antiquities at the British Museum in order to ecome vice-consul at Mitylene, the capital of the Aegean island of Lesbos then under Ottoman rule. His appointment masked what was in essence an archaeological mission. The second period of Newton’s life was marked by frequent journeys in the East and discoveries of ancient artifacts and ruins.
It ended in 1861 with his return to Britain and his subsequent appointment as the head of a department in the British Museum. The period from 1861 until his demise in 1894 is characterized by his administrative work and his recognition as the “head of classical archaeology” in Britain. Newton’s devotion to the study of ancient Greek antiquities seems to have been a major theme in his life. The archaeologist was part of the Hellenic society, excavated ancient Greek ruins, and oversaw the transportation and exhibition of Greek antiquities in Britain for the better part of his adult life.
These elements seem to be a reflection of a nation-wide obsession with the ancient Greek world in 19th century Britain. Britons at the time were eager to establish a heritage link with the venerable past of the ancient Greco- Roman world. The latter was idolized to the extent that it eemed that nothing contemporary could ever live up to its achievements. The same theme was evident later in Newton’s life when, “as the keeper of the Greek and Roman antiquities, he rightly felt that, next to the duty of organizing and conserving those treasures, this first duty was to augment them.
The quote from Jebb’s memorial address on Newton reveals an interesting clue about the sense of ownership over Greek and Roman antiquity that filled the deceased keeper and many of his fellow Britons at the time. In the context of the Grand Tour and the notion of the British Empire keeping the heritage of the ncient Greco-Roman world, this ownership theme is frequently repeated. Newton’s most important discovery took place in Bodrum, Turkey. In 1855, while visiting the castle in the city, he came across fragments of ancient sculpture among the stones on its walls.
However, getting permission from the Ottoman sultan in order to conduct excavations in the area would be difficult and demanded the use of every connection at his disposal. As a British diplomat, Newton had important connections within the Foreign Office, including the British Ambassador to Constantinople at the time, Lord Stradford de Redcliffe, and Lord Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary himself. These important figures were able to secure the necessary firmans, that is the Ottoman imperial licenses, to excavate in Bodrum, while placing a warship at his disposal in order to help him with his discovery.
Work at the site begun in 1857 and led to the discovery of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The same site was the source of numerous pieces of sculpture that were shipped back to London, drawing obvious comparisons with the Elgin Marbles, on account of their importance and beauty. Even before this important discovery, Newton’s life as a diplomat allowed him to travel across the Aegean Sea and conduct excavations in important archaeological sites, such as the island of Calymnos near Rhodes.
His diplomatic status also permitted him to move his activities to the Minor Asian mainland, conducting excavations at Cnidus and Branchidae. Being a British diplomat allowed him to move freely across the countryside, hire people and set up excavation camps. Moreover, it gave him the means to carry numerous antiquities across the sea back to the British Museum, a particularly costly nterprise at the time. In the course of Newton’s 24-year tenure as head of the Department of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum in 1861, an equally important part of his career, his diplomatic connections continued to serve his career well.
During this time he published two books covering his work in the East, namely his “History of the Discoveries in Halicarnassus, Cnidus, and Branchidae”, and “Travels and Discoveries in the Levant”. Furthermore, he secured a great number of exhibits for the British Museum while at the same time he presided over the excavation efforts across the Eastern Mediterranean, exerting his influence, and helping his colleagues from London. This sort of influence would not have been possible without his experience as a member of the British consular service .
The influence of the Great Powers in the inner developments of the Ottoman Empire followed a tradition counting more than a hundred years at the time Newton became a consul of the British government in Mitylene. Lord Elgin had famously removed a significant number of sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens back in the beginning of the 19th century. Despite the fact that he used his own funds to pay for he removal of the sculptures, Elgin would have been unable to carry out this task had he not been Ambassador of Great Britain to the Sublime Porte.
Put differently, collectors of antiquities in the 19th century could profit tremendously through their appointment as diplomats in the East. This realization had not escaped Newton who had observed during his previous work in the British Museum the benefits of being a British consul in the Aegean Sea. Most of the Museum’s possession traced their origin in the hands of consuls and diplomats. The fact that the areer of a diplomat would enjoy a significant boost in case of important discoveries was easy to surmise for the man who later became head of his own department.
The competition between the Great Powers for the acquisition of antiquities should be seen in the context of their wider rivalry in the course of the 19th century. The French defeat in Egypt in 1798, for example, led to the acquisition of the Rosetta Stone by the British. The British Museum and the Louvre developed a completion that mirrored the struggle for dominance between the two Powers. After the Greek War of Independence led to a Greek ban on the excavation of antiquities by foreign states, French and British archaeological schools were created in the Greek kingdom.
Neither France nor Britain wished to remain behind in the effort to discover more about the ancient Greek past, even if that meant keeping all findings in the country of their origin. The continuing Ottoman sovereignty over lands that contained significant ancient remains provided an extra source of antiquities for the museums of France and Britain, one they were going to exploit as long as they exerted influence on the Ottoman sultan. It is exactly in this context that Newton was able to secure the sites at Calymnos, Cnidus, Branchidae, and Halicarnassus for excavations.
Of importance, France and Britain differed significantly in their way of handling this kind of expedition. While the French used their state apparatus in order to assist archaeologists with their projects, the British government remained content with buying artifact from volunteering consuls who had taken the time to oversee these expeditions themselves. However, in the course of the entire century, the British Admiralty worked closely with the British Museum and the Foreign Office in order to secure the safe and cheap transport of any antiquities retrieved by agents of British interests back to Britain.
The apparent understanding between the British government and the collectors that made the British government as encouraging as the French government is an important point of interest in the history of the period. Another point of interest is the fact that the British government was willing to eventually remove the ancient artifact from collector ownership for a fair price. Sloane, Salt, and Elgin’s collections ecame acquired in time by the British Museum, the trustees of which had earlier realized they “would have to educate the government” so that it would help them enlarge the collections of the Museum.
It seems that state officials, after an initial policy of indifference, begun slowly to appreciate the value of private collections and eventually acquiesced to the calls of collectors and the British Museum. In the four decades between 1840 and 1880, the field of archaeology underwent a number of important developments. New standards of archaeological fieldwork were created and the field became increasingly professionalized.
Furthermore, in the mid-to-late 1870s, the Ottoman authorities tightened the regulations concerning the excavation and export of antiquities, bringing such missions to an end. The discoveries made in that period, however, shaped the field of archaeology in the years that followed. Charles Thomas Newton in 1874 had already been the head of the department of classical archaeology for more than a decade. He also seems to have created a name for himself, with his review and analysis on sculptures being widely discussed, revealing the value given to his thoughts at the time.
Newton himself believed his discoveries to be a major breakthrough in the study of archaic sculpture, perhaps because they consisted of original Greek sculptures instead of the Roman copies of the latter. It should be mentioned that despite the obvious indifference of the Ottomans to the cultural heritage of the ancient Greek world, it is by no means certain that the history of excavations would have been any different had they not been in power over ancient Greek ruins for much of the 19th century.
The example of Nefertiti’s bust that was spirited away from Egypt by the Germans despite the Egyptian legislation against the exportation of antiquities illustrates the point. In other words, powerful states and nations were always able to exploit weaker state entities, such as Greece, Egypt, and the Ottoman Empire. In conclusion, Charles Thomas Newton lived in an important period for archaeology; a period during which the major international collections of western museums were assembled while the field of archaeology became a true scientific field.
Urged by his desire to accumulate ancient Greek antiquities and move up the hierarchy of the British museum, Newton embarked on a mission to discover more ancient ruins and artifacts in the Levant. His success in finding the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus helped him realize his goals, as he became the first keeper of the department of classical antiquity ever to be appointed in the British museum. His later career was marked by his fame as an authority in classical matters. Newton’s achievements can be easily traced on his choice to leave the British Museum in order to serve the Crown as a diplomat in the East.