When you’re in a museum or glance at an antiquities catalogue the descriptions for Greek pottery can be confusing. What is an Oinochoe or a Krater? Do you know your Daunian from your South Apulian? Here at Pax Romana we want to guide you through some of the different types of Greek pots and some of the common terms that you might need defining.
TYPES OF POT
The Amphora is probably the largest and most famous of the Greek pot. Generally tall and slim, they have two handles and a tapered bottom. Their prime purpose was the transport of foodstuffs like oil and wine between cities and communities.
The style of the Greek amphora could change dependent on where it came from. Indeed, each island that was known for its wine production had its own style. They could also be plain or heavily decorated with figures and patterns. This could be to identify the contents, the owner or just to prove wealth!
Alongside the Amphora, the Krater is possible the most impressive of the Greek pots. Essentially a large bowl, they were used for mixing wine with water and other elements for banquets and parties. They often have detailed imagery on them as they would have been a centrepiece on a table and indeed often show the parties (or Symposium) they would have been used at.
However, this wasn’t their only use. In certain parts of the Greek world – especially in south Italy – they were used in funerary practices. They were used to hold ashes, and this can be reflected in the religious scenes depicted on them.
This type of Greek pot is perhaps one of the most common in the ancient world. These jugs were used for various religious and everyday purposes. For example, they would have been used daily for the serving of drinks such as wine and water. However, they were also used in the Greek act of ‘libation.’ This was a religious practice of prayer where prayers were recited as wine, honey or oil was poured from an Oinochoe to a Patera.
Kylix, Skyphos and Kantharos
These two vessels were designed for drinking wine – as you might have noticed wine is a fairly common aspect of Greek pottery production! The Kylix is flat and wide with two handles whereas the Kantharos is taller and narrower. The Skyphos is often found in Corinth, and in terms of size is somewhere between these two!
The Kylix especially was designed with scenes on bottom of the bowl so that they would be revealed as you drank. These scenes were often intended to be humorous and to make the drinker laugh. Additionally, on the bottom of the Kylix there could be patterns like eyes or genitals painted to make those sitting across from the drinker laugh too!
Lastly, the Pyxis is a small lidded vessel that was used for storing cosmetics, jewellery or trinkets. These could be in all manner of sizes from large to very small with examples being found in not only pottery but also wood, metal and stone.
These pyxis often depict women and could be an important item of property for Greek women. Sometimes they show a marriage scene being taken place and could be gifted to a daughter from her family upon her marriage.
The pottery from ancient region of Attica was some of the finest pottery that Ancient Greeks could buy. They have high-Iron clay there which gave their pieces a desirable strong orange colour. In fact, one of the reasons for Attic domination of the ceramics world was that they were one of the first regions to resume pottery production after the ‘Greek Dark Age.’ Many places like Crete and Corinth worked hard to replicate and make work inspired by the Attic Style.
Red Figure Ware/Black Figure Ware
Red Figure and Black Figure ware are almost self-explanatory – they are the classic Greek designs of red figures on a black background or vice versa. Both developed in Athens, black figure ware came first to be generally replaced by red figure ware from around 520 BC. Both were achieved using a three step firing process and the centre of production was Attica.
Apulian, Gnathian and Daunian
Apulia is a region of south Italy that was heavily influenced by Greek pottery in the Classical and Hellenistic period. They saw the Greek style and took it on themselves to recreate the designs and shapes for their own use. Indeed, of the approximately 20,000 pieces of red figure ware pottery found in Italy, half of it is Apulian.
Daunian pottery was an early movement within the Apulian region. This pottery was simpler and nearly all built by hand without the wheel. The designs are normally geometric and don’t contain figures. Gnathian pottery was being created slightly later in the region. Alongside red figure ware, this was pottery that usually had a black slip base that was glazed, and then multiple coloured decorations were applied on top. These were prized and traded all over the Mediterranean.
Want to know more about Ancient Greece and the Classical world? Why not check out our book recommendations on further reading for these subjects.