Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.25

Charlotte Scheffer (ed.), Ceramics in context. Proceedings of the Internordic Colloquium on Ancient Pottery held at Stockholm 13-15 June 1997. Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis/Stockholm Studies in Classical Archaeology 12.   Stockholm:  Almqvist and Wiksell International, 2001.  Pp. 172; figs. 63.  ISBN 91-22-01913-8.  SEK 223.  

Reviewed by Jenifer Neils, Case Western Reserve University (
Word count: 1369 words

From Mycenaean chariot kraters to Gianni Versace's Medusa china, this collection of conference papers is wide-ranging in subject matter, methodologically diverse, and, as often with such collections, somewhat variable in quality. The purpose of the colloquium, held in Stockholm in 1997, was to bring together scholars of ancient Mediterranean ceramics from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, to present papers in their native languages about "the role of pottery in society." Of the twenty-two papers read at the conference, seventeen are published here -- fortunately in English -- and Charlotte Scheffer has done an excellent job of arranging and editing the volume. Each paper is preceded by an abstract, includes illustrations in the text, and concludes with its own bibliography, making it particularly easy to track down references.

The first three papers deal with pottery from the eastern Mediterranean. Lise Hannestad's contribution "Greek Pottery and Greek Identity" examines imported Greek pottery in two regions (Crimea and Near East) after the conquest by Alexander. She notes the not surprising fact that the number of Greek imports varies with distance, and that in these late Classical and Hellenistic colonies Greek shapes were reproduced in the local wares, concluding that shape and function were more relevant to Greek ethnicity than fabric. However, one cannot always be certain who used these vessels, Greek immigrants or local elites, and so to draw conclusions about ethnicity is problematic. The second paper "Pottery and Plate used in Iron-Age Cyprus" by Lone Wriedt Sórensen surveys Cypriot metal vessels and their ceramic counterparts. It is clear that the Cypriot potters drew their inspiration from a wide range of sources: Bronze Age prototypes, local Iron Age shapes, Near Eastern and Greek imports. These varied influences support the characterization of Iron Age Cyprus as a cultural mix of different ethnic groups making up the island's population. Paavo Roos's paper "The Distribution of West Slope Ware" consists primarily of a lament over the fact that his discovery of calyx-krater fragments in the rock-cut chamber tombs at Caunus in Caria in 1965 has not entered the literature on West Slope ware.

The next two papers are concerned with pottery in Italy. Charlotte Malmgren examines the Protovillanovan pottery from the Latin settlement of Ficana on the south bank of the Tiber near the coast. She finds close comparanda from southern Etruria for the hand-made impasto bowls and jars found at Ficana. The paper of Margit von Mehren looks at two groups of Attic amphoras as export pottery for Etruria: Tyrrhenians and Nikosthenics. She suggests that the subject matter of Tyrrhenian amphoras was selective and often unique for the period (e.g. slaughter of the Niobids, murder of Eriphyle, sacrifice of Polyxena) and so may have been specifically adapted to Etruscan taste. Also certain Herakles themes (Lernaean hydra, Kerynitian hind, Amazonomachy, freeing of Prometheus) were favorite Tyrrhenian subjects, and the author notes their presence in Etruscan art. However, it should be noted that the earliest instance of the hind labor appears on an Italo-Geometric askos.1 The Nikosthenic amphoras, by contrast, are decorated with scenes such as Herakles and the lion, long a staple of Attic black-figure.

Corinthian pottery is the subject of the next two papers. Heini Parko sees the extensive trade in Corinthian oil flasks which lasted from 720-550 B.C. not necessarily as evidence for the export of perfume but rather as a specialization in votive ceramics. In her quantitative study of Protocorinthian pottery in Greek sanctuaries Rikke Kristensen concludes that ritual meals can be attested only on the Greek mainland. While drinking vessels are extremely common at the sanctuaries of Hera at Perachora and Argos, they are rare or non-existent in sanctuaries on Aegina, in the Cyclades, and in East Greece. Moving to Sicilian ceramics, Ingrid Edlund-Berry provides a brief overview of the votive lamps and miniature vases (bowls and cups) from the bothros of the central sanctuary of Hellenistic Morgantina. This area endured as a cult site for an unnamed female deity for four hundred years and involved the deposition of over one thousand vases. Helle Horsnaes's paper is also concerned with miniature pottery, in this case with its relevance to domestic cult in Lucania. Her paper first points out the need for more precise terminology when defining "miniature" pottery and "cultic" contexts. Then she examines various possible domestic cult sites in Lucania and compares them to the well defined votive deposit at Roccagloriosa. A functional analysis of grave goods is the subject of Anne Marie Carstens's paper on the Müsgebi necropolis, a Mycenaean cemetery on the Halikarnassos peninsula. Her quantitative study of the drinking vessels (jugs and cups) indicates the practice of libations, also common to Hittite royal funerary rites, and she concludes that there was fairly intense contact between the Hittites and the Bronze Age Aegeans.

Greek iconography is the subject of the next five papers. Some twenty-three years after his first article "Archaeologia Panathenaica I",2 J. Rasmus Brandt revisits the Panathenaia, this time examining two Attic black-figure vases depicting a trittys sacrifice to Athena: one a fragment of a dinos by Lydos found on the Acropolis, the other a Little Master cup in a private collection. Based on the imagery of these vases, he comes to the intriguing conclusion that the original ritual for Athena involved the sacrifice of a sheep, pig, and ox. Since a trittys was usually reserved for male gods, he postulates that this sacrifice was offered jointly to Athena and Erechtheus. Later when Athena emerged as the patron deity of the city, Erechtheus was relegated to an inferior role, and the hecatomb was instituted for Athena alone. Unfortunately the vases offer little evidence for this joint cult of Athena-Erechtheus for Athena is shown as the sole object of worship. In her thorough examination of altars on Attic vases, Gunnel Ekroth offers a convincing new interpretation of the eschara, namely that it constitutes the upper part or fire tray on top of an altar or bomos, rather than a different type of altar (low and mound-like in the vase-paintings). Her numerous drawings offer a virtual compendium of altar types in Attic vase-painting. The volume's editor Charlotte Scheffer offers a useful statistical study of divinities on some 1,900 Attic vases. She concludes that the attitude towards the gods, as indicated by their presence on vases, had nothing to do with state religion since the most important deities like Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and Demeter are rare. Perhaps this conclusion is not so surprising when dealing with vessels used for the symposium where Dionysos and his retinue are more appropriate as subject matter. In her paper on the mass-produced Haimonian white-ground lekythoi that depict a goddess mounting a chariot, Tiina Tuukkanen maintains that they should be understood in the funerary context in which they are often found. Therefore, she would like to identify the charioteer as Ariadne or Semele, mortal women who became divine, and the kithara-player in these scenes, not as Apollo, but rather a maenad. Using a chronologically diverse set of vase-paintings of religious procession (Mycenaean and Attic black-figure), Eva Rystedt seeks to demonstrate that pictorial forms dominates over historic reality. Concrete images are gradually abstracted by reducing the number of pictorial elements, by repetition, and by changing asymmetrical compositions into symmetrical ones. Consideration of the concrete versus the abstract also figures in Anna Waern-Sperner's paper on scenes of metamorphosis in Greek vase-painting. In her examination of scenes of Circe and Actaion, she concludes that in temporal terms the imagery becomes less abstract and more concrete due to the influence of the theater.

The last paper in this diverse volume is perhaps the farthest afield in that it considers the influence of South Italian vase-painting on the imagery of Gianni Versace, who was born in Reggio di Calabria. Vinnie Nórskov's paper demonstrates the eclectic nature of this contemporary Italian designer's appropriation of the past in his china patterns and villa decoration.

Like many other recent vase conferences, the Internordic Colloquium managed to present a wide range of wares from Protovillanovan to West Slope, to confront diverse iconographical problems, and to consider the many roles of ancient pottery in cult, trade, and the afterlife. As such it is a very useful addition to the corpus of ancient ceramic studies.


1.   See Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Cleveland 2 (USA 35) pl. 82-83.
2.   ActaAArtHist 8, 1978, 1-23.

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