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Ancient Greek Ceramic Shapes

ancient greek ceramicsUnless you are a potter or an archeologist you'll be seeing a bewildering variety of ceramics in Greece. What's more they will be encountered within museums and thus out of context. Greek museums do very little to inform visitors about the importance or many uses to which were put, ancient ceramics. A lot more needs to be done in order to inform the visitor and even, to some extent, enliven the displays of smaller items, like ceramics. The word 'Ceramics' in English, comes from the ancient Greek word, Keramica as does the word 'Cemetery'. Many ancient Greeks were entombed with clay containers holding items they might find useful in the afterlife.

People, unless they actually know, will no doubt tend to conjecture as to the use of many of the ceramic shapes to be seen in Greek Museums. Much like the crockery in your cupboard or sideboard at home, most had some ancient greek ceramicsutilitarian, or decorative function. Some were only to be used ceremonially during religious festivals or for funnery offerings. The larger vessels, also known as amphora, were for the storage of liquids such as water and wine or for grain. Amphora means two handled.

Many must have read  about Amphora's found occasionally in ancient shipwrecks. Some Amphorae held grain or wine but many were shipped empty by merchants for re-sale in ports all over the Mediterranean.

Here left, are some Amphora with wine still in them, discovered when digging a new Athens metro line in 2001. The vessels below are of the 'krater' type and used for mixing wine with water and later chilling it.

clay plateClay pots and vases and their shards (or ostraka) provide archeologists and historians with the best glimpse of what life was like in the ancient past. Hundreds of thousands of fragments have been found and many painstakingly put back together to bring back to life vases, plates and pots of all kinds. The cast iron skillet was unknown, so by necessity the ancients used clay for the many purposes for which it is suited including cooking, storage, transportation, for ritual ceremony and for writing upon.

The style of decoration on these items give us our best indication of when and where the objects were manufactured. The study of vase painting and sculpture are also the two best ways to follow the progression of artistic trends in design and manufacturing as well as learning of the commercial and economic relations ship between Greece and other states in Europe, the mid-east and as far away as Britain.

black figure techniqueEventually manufacturing on a mass scale proved to be a mainstay of Greek commerce and international trade. Its safe to say that among businesses to be in ancient times, that of the potter was one of the best.You could say these were the forerunners of retail and wholesale practices today.

Because Grecian soil has many deposits of clay, usually near rivers, there was an abundance of the raw material at hand which was not available to certain others. This gave the Greek potters a strategic advantage in manufacturing material. Add to this the fact that although fired, the products were susceptible to chipping and breakage by the consumer and one had replacement customers as well.

The ancient inhabitants of Greece first discovered the usefulness of clay as early as 6,000 BC and later made made vessels in a wide spectrum of sizes and shapes. Pitchers, jugs, plates, vases, fruit stands and baby feeding bottles were for everyday use around the home. Clay was also used for the storing of liquids such as water, oil, milk, wine, honey and perfume. Larger vessels were used for long term storage and transportation. Its true that some were made of stone, metal or glass but clay is by far the most prominent. Its obvious from the many shapes and sometimes exquisite decoration, that the ancient Greeks took great pride in their creations designed for every possible purpose.

The clay shapes pictured here are only some of the many that have been discovered but will give us an indication of the uses to which they were put. These can be summarized as follows

For Mixing and cooling wine. The ancients usually mixed 3 parts water with one part wine to keep a clear head. If you visit Greece today and wish to order wine you'd ask for krasi. The root of the word krasi is 'krater' mixing and cooling wine

Drinking vesselsdrinking vessels

For pouringpouring

For cookingcooking

For perfumeperfumes

For ritual practicesrituals

For Storage and Transportationstorafe and transportation