Where are Lycklama’s five missing sarcophagi?

At the Musée de la Castre in Cannes, we can admire three impressive sarcophagi that Tinco Lycklama brought back from the ancient city of Sidon in the Lebanon. At Babylon, he excavated two others, and now we discover that he found three more at Sidon as well. But, these five sarcophagi are lost. In fact, we have no clue whether they ever made it to Europe.

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One of the christian-era sarcophagi from Sidon, displayed at the Musée Lycklama (at the Hôtel de Ville of Cannes) in the 1920s.

A sarcophagus is an important object in any museum collection. Sometimes it is valuable because of the ancient personality or family that the sarcophagus relates to. Sometimes it is a remarkable piece of art and craftsmanship. Sometimes, if untouched by vandals or thieves, it reveals valuable objects that the deceased were supposed to take with them to their afterlife. In any case, a sarcophagus is a delicate object that museums care for and enjoy sharing with the public.

Tinco Lycklama was proud of the three sarcophagi that he showed to the visitors of his museum in Cannes. These are christian sarcophagi made in lead, found at Sidon in the Lebanon, and they are dated to the 4th century CE. It is not clear whether Tinco unearthed these sarcophagi himself. They do not appear in the 1871 inventory of his museum in his native Beetsterzwaag (NL). On the basis of the written traces we have today, it is quite possible that he acquired them from Joseph Durighello (1822-1896), the French vice-consul at Sidon who was a passionate and reputed researcher of antiquity, who became a respected acquaintance of Tinco.

Our understanding of the vast collections of Tinco Lycklama is compounded by the fact that past inventories are confusing. Some have been lost, and others contain significant errors. During the move of the museum between Beetsterzwaag and Cannes, in 1872, some object were broken and lost their reference numbers. Beyond the 1871 inventory by Tinco’s personal secretary Ernest Massenot, we don’t have another inventory by either Lycklama or Massenot) that gives us an exact description of how the collection looked like before 1877 (when Tinco Lycklama donated his museum to the city of Cannes). Subsequent attempts at inventories by consecutive curators at the service of the museum of Cannes were haphazard, to say the least.

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Khan Antoun Bey, station of the ‘Messageries Impériales’ at Beirut (photo taken by Félix Bonfils between 1867-70 – source Lycklama photo collection)

The 1871 inventory was drawn upon the collection that was exhibited at Lycklama’s museum in Beetsterzwaag. It concerns about 600 objects, and we do know that at least as many that were acquired by Tinco in the Orient (between 1865-1870) never made it to The Netherlands. Some (if not all) were stored in Beirut because the political situation (including the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71) seriously complicated transportation to Europe. Also, at some point, the Ottoman administration that ruled over most of the Middle East prohibited the exportation of archaeological artefacts. As a result, many objects never went to The Netherlands, and were shipped directlty to Cannes later on, where Tinco officially opened his museum early 1873.

As we reported in an earlier article, Tinco Lycklama excavated two tombs from the ruins of Babylon (in modern Iraq). They were precious finds, as he found gold objects within them, an indication of the importance of the deceased. He took the tombs to Baghdad, where he left them in the care of his agents – the Swiss merchants Weber, Jaeger & Wartman. The tombs then supposedly were sent to Aleppo, from where Tinco must have sent them to Beirut – the key station on the maritime connection with Marseille.

Alphonse Durighello (1822-1896)
Alphonse Durighello, French vice-consul in Beirut (1822-1896)

After his great voyage through the Orient in 1865-68, Tinco Lycklama returned to the Lebanon in the winter of 1869-70. He stayed five months in Beirut, from where he made another expedition to Sidon. Indeed, not only had Tinco appreciated that Sidon was a very promising site for future archaeology, Joseph Durighello had also pointed him to some unexplored spots south of the town.

In the written report that Tinco’s secretary Massenot published in 1873, we see that Tinco unearthed three sarcophagi. They were not from the Christian era, and probably even predated the Roman and Greek era. These sarcophagi were handed over to the care of Antoine Joseph Sayur, a merchant in Beirut who also acted as the Dutch consul in that city.

Our next traces are as follows…

  • In 1872, the shipping company “Messageries Maritimes” in Marseille reports to the Dutch consulate that three crates from Beirut had arrived for Tinco Lycklama. We assume that these must have contained the three christian-era sarcophagi, and they were probably shipped directly to Cannes, where Tinco had just rented the Villa Escarras and where he was about to install his new museum.
  • In early 1873, Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822-1894), the pioneer in christian archaeology, publishes an article praising Tinco’s finds from Sidon – in particular the christian sarcophagi made in lead. Tinco has sent him photographs of the sarcophagi, which were at that point on display at his museum in Cannes.
  • In March 1873, Ernest Massenot publishes his report about the 1869-70 trip to Beirut, where he explains the excavation of the three sarcophagi found in Sidon. These sarcophagi were made from stone (and thus they are not related to the sarcophagi currently at the Musée de la Castre, as these are made from lead). The newly found sarcophagi were left in the care of the Dutch consul Sayur in Beirut.
  • In November 1873, the local newspapers in Cannes report Massenot’s imminent departure for Beirut. His mission was to recover the objects that Tinco Lycklama had not been able to ship to Europe because of the wars. A few months later, in February 1874, the same papers report that Ernest Massenot had returned to Cannes from a successful mission to Beirut.
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Ernest Massenot, personal secretary to Tinco Lycklama

Later in 1874, there is a fall-out between Tinco Lycklama and his secretary Ernest Massenot. From 1875 onwards, we never hear anymore about the latter. The conflict must have been very serious, and one may wonder if it has to do with the handling of Tinco’s collections, and possibly with the objects that had to be transferred from Beirut to Cannes.

The fact is, from the eight sarcophagi that had been excavated and had belonged to Tinco Lycklama, only three are accounted for and are on display today at the Musée de la Castre in Cannes. Where are the five others? Have they been destroyed for some reason? Where they sold for profit by the handlers in Beirut, perhaps with complicity of Ernest Massenot. Or, where they simply stolen?

Tinco Lycklama himself hasn’t left us any written statement about the fate of these five sarcophagi – at least not by what know today. The last volume of his series of four books about his travels in the Orient was published in 1875. It does refer to his second trip to Sidon, but doesn’t suggest that anything went wrong with the sarcophagi.

It remains a mystery. It is obvious that a collection of eight sarcophagi, including five from distant antiquity of which two from Babylon, leaves a different impression to the visitor of a museum than a set of three sarcophagi from the christian era.

What makes it even more astounding is the probability that the three subsisting sarcophagi were probably not excavated by Tinco Lycklama and rather acquired from Alphonse Durighello. The French vice-consul was a meticulous man with all the right connections, which may account for the fact that these three subsisting sarcophagi safely made it to Europe.

But, Tinco’s personal finds are lost. Did he place his trust in the wrong people? Are the results of his passion and hard work now on display in some other museum with uncertain attribution? Perhaps we’ll discover it, one day.

Searching Babylon

Between April 8 and April 17, 1867, Tinco Lycklama travels the region south of Baghdad. He explores the ruins of Babylon, the ancient city that traces back to 2300 BCE and conjures the names of Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar. One can easily understand the eagerness and curiosity of a young man to go and see for himself the place where once stood (it is rumoured) the Tower of Babel and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the Hanging Gardens. And, for the first time, Tinco also goes digging. Was Tinco’s visit to Babylon exceptional?

There is almost no mention in the history books of Tinco’s short exploration of the ruins. Also, the many finds that he took home (206, no less!) have been largely ignored by modern scientists. Or, better put: just forgotten.

In 1983, Saddam Hussein started building a dubious reconstruction of Babylon on top of the old site. The earliest scientific excavations only started under Hormuzd Rassam in 1879, and took serious shape from 1898 onwards under German archaeologist Robert Koldewey. Previous digging – including Tinco’s – merely touched the surface.

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A 1906 view of Babylon, reflecting how Tinco Lycklama must have seen it.
The excavations of Babylon by Robert Koldewey (after 1898).
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Reconstructions of Babylon under Saddam Hussein, after 1983.

One must consider the sheer size of the site to understand the challenge of undertaking excavations. The old Babylon probably covers an area of about nine square kilometers. Prior to 1898, one could only observe shapeless mounds of rubble. For centuries, it was assumed that ‘something was there’, but the knowledge about Babylon was derived from indications on objects found elsewhere. The exact location of Babylon was not known.

The 17th century traveller Pietro della Valle was one of the first to assert (in 1616) that this was the site of the famous Babylon mentioned in old scriptures. The Frenchman Joseph de Beauchamp visited the site in 1784 and offered more precision and encouraged later explorers to have a closer look at this particular site. The first to undertake some primitive digging here was Claudius James Rich in 1811.

Prior to Tinco Lycklama, only ten other people undertook archaeological explorations at Babylon, of which seven in the 1849-1854 timeframe. After 1854, Tinco was the first to visit the site again, in 1867. In his personal library, which he donated to the city of Cannes, we discovered that he had well prepared his exploration of Babylon, collecting the books published by earlier travellers such as Henry Rawlinson, Fulgence Fresnel and Julius Oppert. In fact, to undertake his digging, Tinco recruited the same people that had been working for Henry Rawlinson in 1853.

None of these earlier visitors were ‘archaeologists’, as the science as such did not exist. They were usually called ‘antiquarians’ – people studying and collecting antiquities. They brought the first artefacts from those sites to Europe and thus started the primitive collections of some of the world’s most reknown museums.

Tinco Lycklama was the only ‘private’ traveller, and he liked to call himself modestly ‘un simple touriste’. He was digging and buying artefacts for his personal collection (which, eventually, became a museum which he donated to the city of Cannes). Perhaps the fact that Tinco Lycklama was travelling on his own, without a commission from a government or other institution and paying for his own expenses, was the reason why official records and history books barely mention him.

Tinco was not equipped to carry along large objects. Keep in mind that he was on a three-and-a-half year journey through the Middle East, and that he wanted to collect ‘souvenirs’ from many places. Though he organised the temporary warehousing and subsequent shipping of objects through local merchants, he had to be practical and focused on smaller objects that were easier to handle.

Having said that, his collection of 206 objects from Babylon is significant in number, and certainly unique for a private traveller in that time period. A few objects were considered extremely rare and were studied by experts during Tinco’s lifetime. But, the vast majority of Tinco’s collection requires further research by experts.