The Unseen Museum of the National Archaeological Museum presents for the first time the “stele of the twin babies”. It is a fragment of a funerary monument found in a torrent at Menidi, Attica. The fragment preserves in relief two bundled twin babies in the arms of a female figure and is probably part of a tombstone that would have been erected on the grave of a woman who died in childbirth. This is the only surviving funerary relief of the ancient Greek world depicting twin babies in the same arms, which indicates their common fate as orphans.

The “stele of the twin babies” is presented in the “Altar Hall” (no. 34) from Thursday, March 21 to Monday, May 13, 2024.

The Collections of the National Archaeological Museum are enriched for over a century now through confiscations and repatriations of antiquities coming from illegal excavations and illicit trade, as well as by handed-in and donated ones. Not rarely private individuals bring antiquities to the Museum without expecting the payment of any reward. Some stories are particularly touching and remarkable, such as this one. In November 2008, a destitute brought to the Museum, wrapped in an old cloth, a fragment of marble. He recounted that he had found it in a torrent at Menidi.

The Museum’s archaeologists were surprised to see that the marble fragment preserved in relief two bundled babies, apparently twins, in the arms of a female figure. The theme of a female figure holding a baby or an infant appears in a multitude of funerary monuments of the 4th c. BC, where the mother, the wet nurse or a female relative holds the infant tenderly in her arms. It has even been suggested that funerary reliefs depicting swaddled babies were intended for the tombs of women who died in childbirth, although this can be confirmed only when explicitly stated in the stele’s inscription.

However, the peculiarity of this sculpture, which makes it so interesting, lies in the fact that it does not depict a single baby, but twins. In vase painting, representations of twin infants are limited to mythological pairs, such as the children of Letο, or the sons of Poseidon, Dionysus and Aphrodite. Funerary monuments depicting twins are extremely rare. The National Archaeological Museum fragment, as well as a funerary statue of a woman breastfeeding twins from Sicily, are the only sculptures portraying mortal twin infants in the arms of the same woman.