Friday, October 12, 2012

PBP: Urns, amphorae, and vases

It's time for another Pagan Blog Project post, and we're starting the 'U's. Great, except for the fact that there is no letter 'U' in the Greek alphabet. So, I have done some creative scrabbling and this is the result, a non-exhaustive listing of the various pottery shapes as used in ancient Greece. None of them is actually called an urn, but who cares, right?

Because of its durability, pottery fragments are one of the few things that have survived from all ages of ancient Hellas. They are a staple of archeological finds and provide us with some of the most wholesome information on ancient Hellenic life. Yet, today, the focus will not be on the images on these vases, but on the shapes and types of vases, because all had a specific purpose, and many of them tied into religious ceremonies, important life events and Hellenic ethics.

Amphoreus (ἀμφορεύς): basic amphorae were the bread and butter of the pottery world. They were used throughout the whole of the Hellenic reign for transporting and storing grapes, olive oil, wine, oil, olives, grain, fish, and other commodities during transport, at stores and at home. The basic amphoreus shape is called a 'belly amphoreus', because of the oval body with a continuous profile from the lip to the foot and two handles.

The neck amphoreus is a variation of the belly amphoreus which has an oval body, a offset neck with a thick mouth, two vertical handles and a heavy stand. The main difference between the 'belly' amphoreus and the 'neck' amphoreus, is that on the neck amphoreus, the handles are attached to the neck, which is separated from the belly by an angular carination.

There are many types of amphorae, including a two pointed versions, which need a stand to remain upright; a 'belly' amphoreus type and the 'neck' transport amphoreus, which doesn't have a foot, but a little ball on the underside. It was easy to stack them for long sea or cart voyages. Alternatively, they could be buried in the ground.

Another special shape is the Panathenaic amphoreus. This amphoreus is a 'neck' amphoreus, used solely as a price for winning the Panathenaic games. It contained olive oil from Athena's sacred grove at Akademia. The inscription read: 'τον αθενεθεν αθλον' (one of the prizes from Athens). The Panathenaia ta Megala, which was held every four years, added games to the yearly Panathenaia ta Mika, so the panathenaic amphorae were only given out once every four years.

Pelike (πελίκη): the pelike is a special type of belly amphoreus, with the belly placed lower, so that the widest point of the vessel is near its bottom.

Volute krater ( krater = κρατήρ): As I have mentioned before, in the post about taboos, drinking pure wine was considered a barbaric act by the ancient Hellens. As a result, they usually drank wine mixed with water. All 'kraters' are mixing bowls. The name comes from the word 'kerannmi': 'to mix'. The krater is named after the shape of the handles, which--for the volute--are in the form of a spiral with flanged sides rising from loops on the shoulder to above to the rim.

Drinking was usually done by men at a symposion (συμπόσιον). At the beginning of each symposion, someone was put in charge of mixing the wine and keeping an eye on the servants who served it to the participants. Keeping track of the level of inebriation, and adjusting the wine mixture accordingly was a fine art, and a good symposiarch (συμποσίαρχος) was invaluable and highly respected.

Calyx krater: A calyx krater differs from the basic krater shape, but not in its purpose. It has a deep body, with the lower part convex, and the upper part slightly concave. It rests on a heavy stand and has handles which are set at the top of the lower part, which curve upward. It's the only basic krater shape where the handles don't reach, or top, the rim.

Column krater: the column krater has a round body, a offset neck with a thick lip and a heavy stand. Each handle consists of a pair of cylindrical stems ending in a horizontal block joined to the rim. In short, the handles look like the tops of the columns holding up ancient Hellenic temples.

Bell krater: bell kraters, obviously, have a bell shaped body. They have loop handles placed high on the body, which curve slightly upward. The krater rests on a heavy stand. 

Loutrophoros (λουτροφόρος): a type of belly amphoreus which is characterized by an elongated neck with two handles. It was used to hold water during marriage and funeral rituals, and was placed in the tombs of the unmarried.

Stamnos: a stamnos is a bit of a mix between an amphoreus and a krater. It is much squatter than an amphoreus and has two stubby handles relatively high on its sides. It was used to store liquids, which were usually already mixed. From what I can tell, the stamnos wasn't a shape that was used much.

Psykter (ψυκτήρ): a psykter has a bulbous body set on a high, narrow foot. It was filled with (mixed) wine and placed inside a krater, in which is was created to fit. The krater was filled with cold water. In essence, a psykter served as a cooler, and was aptly named after the word 'psyko': 'cool'.

Hydria: hydriai were water carriers; their name is taken from the word 'hydor': 'water'. A regular hydria has an oval body, offset neck with round mouth, a vertical handle at the back, used for carrying, and two horizontal handles at the sides, used for lifting. Interestingly enough, they often depicted scenes out of Greek mythology that reflected moral and social obligations. 

A variation of the hydria is called the kalpis. It has a round body, three handles, like the hydria, and a continuous curve from the lip to the foot. The name 'kalpis' was used interchangeably with 'hydria' and modern scholars applied them with either shapes. The difference lies in the 'neck' and 'belly' issue, like with the amphoreus. The Hydria has the 'neck' and the kalpis the 'belly'.

Lebes gamikos: in form, it has a large bowl-like body and a stand that can be long or short. It has an M-shaped handle on either side, and a lid with a knob. It was used in marriage processions and rituals, most likely to sprinkle water on the bride before the wedding. I suspect this was also the type of vessel used as a khernibeionas.

Lebes: A lebes is a large bowl, without a foot, and without handles. It needed a tripod to stand on. The name can be translated as 'cauldron'. It was used mostly as a mixing bowl in food preparation. Herodotos describes a lebes made of bronze which was given out as a prize for athletic accomplishments during competitions.

Lekythos (λήκυθος): lekythoi were used for storing oil. It has a narrow body and one handle attached to the neck of the vessel. They were used for anointing dead bodies of unmarried men and many lekythoi are found in tombs.

Squat lekythos: squat lekythoi served the same purpose as the regular lekythos, but were of a different size. It has round, squat, body and offset neck with a heavy mouth and a handle. In later times, these squat lekythoi were preferred over the larger, regular, lekythoi, because they were easier to handle.

A variation of the squat lekythos is the acorn lekythos. It has a tall, slightly squat, body with a relief dot ornament on the lower part, which makes the jug look like an acorn. It has a tall neck with heavy mouth, a vertical handle and a heavy stand.

Oinochoe (οἰνοχόη): a oinochoe is a jug, used to pour pretty much anything, but was mostly used for wine. There are ten basic types, four which vary in handles (one with a curly pouring handle, attached to the rim, one with a short handle, attached to the rim, one with a low handle, which was called a 'chous'--which was given to the children who joined in 'Anthesteria' festival, which celebrated the harvest of wine--and one with a high handle), two slender ones (one with  a short handle and one with a high handle), two with a protruding sprout (one with an elongated sprout and one with an upwards sprout), one with a squat body, and one a circle ornament on the either side of the mouth. An older form of the oinochoe is the olpe (ὀλπή) and has an S-shaped profile from head to foot.

There are also oinochoe which look more like mugs, either with a handle and sprout, or without either. There is also a version with a slightly higher body than the other two mugs, but without a handle and sprout.

Kantharos (κάνθαρος): a kantharos is a drinking cup with two, high, ears. Like their similarly shaped brothers kylixes (see below), they are heavily decorated, most notably on the inside of the cup. As these drinking cups were usually used at symposion, the scenes portrayed on these cups were usually decorated with scenes of a humorous, light-hearted, or sexual nature that would only become visible when the cup was drained.

Kylix (κύλιξ): a kylix is a drinking cup for wine, and there are a lot of different shapes. The kind I put up yesterday is one of two best known types, a 'type b', meaning that the cup and the foot are continuous, instead of the 'type a' cup, where there is a small divide between the cup and the stem.

There are several other types of kylixes with a foot. The komast cup, for example, is deeper than the standard kylix, and has a shorter stand. The siana cup has a higher lip than the komast cup, but is equally deep. The little master cup has a concave lip, and the gordion cup has a regular lip but is a little deeper than a little master cup, leaving it somewhere between a saina cup and a little master cup. The droop cup is a shallower version of the little master cup but with a thicker lip, the chalkidizing cup doesn't have a stem, and the merrythought cup has handles that are shaped like wishbones.

Stemless kylix: besides all these many forms, there is also a completely stemless kylix, which sits on a short stand. 

Skyphos (σκύφος): a skyphos is another drinking cup. There are two standards, the 'type a', with two horizontal handles, and a 'type b', with one horizontal handle and a vertical handle. Both types are stemless. There is only one 'type b' shape, but many 'type a' shapes. The korinthian skyphos comes from Korinth and has a handle on either side below the lip that doesn't curve upwards. The hermogenian skyphos is deeper and has two horizontal handles that curve upwards slightly. The heron skyphos is equally deep as the hermogenian skyphos, with equally curved handles, but the lip also extends a little outwards. The last type is the cup skyphos, which is a squatter, and shorter variant which is a hybrid between the skyphos and the kylix.

Aryballos (αρύβαλλο): after bathing, it was customary to rub the body with oil, which was then scraped off. In leu of a bath, the oil was still applied and scraped off, taking the sweat with it. For men, the oil that was used for this practice was saved in an aryballos, a small jug with a round body, a disk-shaped mouth and one or two handles.

Alabastron (ἀλάβαστρον): what the aryballos was to men, the alabastron was to women. It was a small jug, with a tall body, a round bottom and a small mouth. Most often, they have no handle, though it may have loops or ears made of string.

Pyxis (πυξίς): a pyxis is a box-shaped piece of pottery with a lid that is used for ointments and cosmetics. Its name was used by Greeks in Roman time for a box-shaped container, though there is no evidence to prove it was used in Classical period. There are various forms, some with tripods or a stand, other with a flat surface to stand on. What unifies them is the lid, which very few Hellenic pottery shapes have, and their purpose.

There are many other types of pottery from ancient Hellas, but this should give you a good idea of the various uses of certain types of items which could be found inside any Hellenic home. This post will mostly be used as a reference guide, and will be updated as new information come up about the use of these various shapes in religious or mundane rituals.

Image taken from: here.


2 comments:

Memory Walker said...

I love that we just covered 'Everyday Life in Ancient Greece' as a lecture topic yesterday, so I knew exactly what a symposion is as I came into reading this. :) And I'd read your previous post right before lecture, so I was thinking "Kylix! I know what that is!" as he talked. Once again, you've covered nearly the same material and in ten times the detail.
Is it reassuring that a highly educated professor agrees with pretty much everything you say? ;)

Elani Temperance said...

Actually, it totally is XD I'd love to look at your notes again, for inspiration, btw!