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Ancient Greece: Pottery

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As with most ancient civilizations, large amounts of pottery have survived from ancient Greece. Pottery is one of the most durable materials and even when broken, the pieces of a pot can usually be put together again. This means that pottery is one of the most important sources of evidence for ancient Greece, whether for contacts within the Greek world, artistic influences from other cultures or for dating archaeological sites. An added bonus of much Greek pottery is that it carries figure scenes which provide information about many aspects of Greek life.

Different city states produced different styles and types of pottery. In the seventh century BC, Corinth was the leading producer and exporter of pottery, but was overtaken by Athens in the sixth century BC. Athenian pottery is the most famous type of ancient Greek pottery and was much sought after by collectors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most of the Athenian pots in the Museum come from tombs in southern Italy and modern Tuscany - Athenian pots were extremely popular with the Etruscans.

The three most common techniques of decoration on Athenian pots are the black-figure technique (black figures on an orangey-red background - mainly sixth century BC), red-figure (orangey-red figures on a black background - from the late sixth century until the end of the fourth century BC) and white-ground (coloured figures on a white background - some sixth century examples, but mostly fifth). All three techniques used slips (refined clay) for their paint and pots were not glazed in our sense of the word - the shine comes from the nature of the clay slip..

Almost all Greek pots were made in functional shapes for particular purposes even if they were not actually used for that purpose - some pots were also made specifically to be buried in tombs and graves. There is some debate among archaeologists as to the ancient value of pots. It is certain that wealth was best demonstrated through the use of metal vessels, but there were larger and smaller and higher and lower quality pots which must have differed in price.


Of the three columns found in Greece, Doric columns are the simplest. They have a capital (the top, or crown) made of a circle topped by a square. The shaft (the tall part of the column) is plain and has 20 sides. There is no base in the Doric order. The Doric order is very plain, but powerful-looking in its design. Doric, like most Greek styles, works well horizontally on buildings, that\'s why it was so good with the long rectangular buildings made by the Greeks. The area above the column, called the frieze [pronounced "freeze"], had simple patterns. Above the columns are the metopes and triglyphs. The metope [pronounced "met-o-pee"] is a plain, smooth stone section between triglyphs. Sometimes the metopes had statues of heroes or gods on them. The triglyphs are a pattern of 3 vertical lines between the metopes.


Ionic shafts were taller than Doric ones. This makes the columns look slender. They also had flutes, which are lines carved into them from top to bottom. The shafts also had a special characteristic: entasis, which is a little bulge in the columns make the columns look straight, even at a distance [because since you would see the building from eye level, the shafts would appear to get narrower as they rise, so this bulge makes up for that - so it looks straight to your eye but it really isn\'t !] . The frieze is plain. The bases were large and looked like a set of stacked rings. Ionic capitals consist of a scrolls above the shaft. The Ionic style is a little more decorative than the Doric.

The Temple of Athena Nike in Athens, shown here, is one of the most famous Ionic buildings in the world. It is located on the Acropolis, very close to the Parthenon
  • The Corinthian order is the most decorative and is usually the one most modern people like best. Corinthian also uses entasis to make the shafts look straight. The Corinthian capitals have flowers and leaves below a small scroll. The shaft has flutes and the base is like the Ionian. Unlike the Doric and Ionian cornices, which are at a slant, the Corinthian roofs are flat.
The Temple of the Sybil in Rome is a good example of the Corinthian order. The Romans used the Corinthian order much more than did the Greeks.

Early Mycenaean Age Greek jewelry consisted of beads shaped like shells and animals. The Greeks started using gold and gems in their jewelry around 1,400 BC (late Bronze Age). By 300 BC, they had mastered the use of colored gemstones such as amethyst, pearls and emeralds in their jewelry, carving and engraving intricate patterns into the gemstones. Ivory carvings, popularized by the Minoans, were also a popular motif of the period.

The Greeks where the first to use cameos, creating them from a cream, brown, and striped pink form of agate stone called Indian Sardonyx. Early Greek jewelry employed simple designs and workmanship which made them distinct from the ornate styles of other cultures . As time progressed, their designs, techniques and range of materials grew in complexity . The laurel wreath was used as a crown of honor for heroes and scholars . The laurel leaf was sacred to Apollo, the god of intellect and light.The ancient Greeks were fond of pendant earrings adorned with the images of doves, or the gods Eros and Nike. Amphora pendants were embellished with gemstones or enamel, hanging from a rosette usually topped by the crown of Isis. Necklaces were either a broad strap chain with dangling fruits or calyxes (above), or a round chain with an animal head or dolphin shaped clasp. Gold wreaths were worn as headdresses decorated with lavish foliage, flowers, acorns, Eros and Nikes. Their rings had bezels set with seal stones or other semi-precious stones.


Image 1: Five rosettes from a diadem. They were attached to a leather or cloth band (4 of electrum and the last of gold). From Melos. 


Image 2: Gold band earrings from Sindos. (Archaeological Museum Thessaloniki, 7975). Late 6th century BC.