Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.03.27 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.03.27

Dimitris Paléothodoros (ed.), The Contexts of Painted Pottery in the Ancient Mediterranean World (seventh - fourth Centuries BCE). BAR International Series, S2364.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2012.  Pp. iv, 116.  ISBN 9781407309514.  £26.00.  

Reviewed by Laura Puritani, Philipps-Universität Marburg (

Table of contents

This publication, edited by Dimitris Paleothodoros, presents the proceedings of a session of the 15th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (15-20 September 2009, Riva del Garda) as well as two additional studies by Alexandra Alexandridou and Manolis Manoledakis.1 The session’s contributions, all by specialists on Greek or Western Greek pottery, deal with different groups of material dating from the seventh to the fourth century B.C. and have in common the purpose of bringing the context (or contexts) of painted pottery into the focus of their research questions.

In a brief introduction, Paleothodoros offers an overview of the studies in Greek pottery that value contextual approaches and elucidates the advantages and limits of contextual analysis.

In the first paper, Alexandridou deals with the distribution of Attic black-figured pottery in the late seventh and the first quarter of the sixth century B.C. First, the scholar reviews the different trade trends in these two periods: while for the first quarter of the seventh century statistics indicate that the production was predominantly meant for the internal, Attic market, a new “dynamic trade of Attic black-figured vases” (p. 7) begins from the early sixth century, with export peaks to Asia Minor, Naukratis and Kyrenaica. Furthermore, she investigates in detail which vase shapes of the early sixth century were produced especially for export, such as the kantharos, and which ones, such as loutrophoroi, louteria or plates, had a strong connection with Attic ritual traditions and were seldom attested outside Attika. As Michalis Tiverios before her, but on a new basis, Alexandridou recognises a Corinthianizing trend in early Attic black-figured pottery, interpreting it as a specific strategy of Attic workshops to establish their products in the Mediterranean markets. She observes that the costal markets of Asia Minor, Naukratis and the Black Sea, where the most significant amount of Attic black-figured vases dating from the early sixth century were found, were dominated not by Corinthian, but by East Greek Wares. A detailed analysis of the most significant workshops deepens the questions connected with the organisation of pottery production. Unfortunately, these statistical data about the distribution of Attic pottery provide no indication about the attested overall production: this information could have been useful for verifying the relationship between pottery from known contexts and material without them. This criticism does not, however, alter the fact that Alexandridou’s study offers a rich contribution to our understanding of ancient pottery trade and organisation.2

In a paper on erotic images involving women, Paleothodoros investigates whether female members of Athenian society “might have developed subjective readings of those images that we normally consider to target a male audience” (p. 21). In the introductory part he gives a clear overview of the studies on ancient sexuality based on archaeological material and, in particular, vase painting.3 Furthermore, he offers a definition of “erotic image” that not only includes traditional erotica or heterosexual and homosexual courtship scenes, but also representations of pursuits and abductions, scenes of “praise of beauty” and of women at their toilet (pp. 23-24). With an original approach, he focuses on four Athenian female tomb contexts, in which vases with erotic images involving women were found. Paleothodoros considers only burials that could be confirmed as belonging to women on the basis of skeletal analysis or of objects with female connotations found in the grave (a clear example is the lebes gamikos from tomb HTR 499: p. 28). Paleothodoros shows that erotic images traditionally connected with the male sphere of life—such as scenes of heterosexual intercourse (e.g., an askos from tomb HTR 499 in the Ceramicus: p. 28 fig. 6) or representations of a spinning woman (often interpreted as a hetaira) with a boy offering her a hare (e.g., an alabastron from tomb HW 198 in the Ceramicus: p. 24 figs. 3-5)—could be placed in a woman’s or even female child’s tomb, through a conception of sexuality as a precondition for procreation within the marital household. With this contribution, Paleothodoros makes a very interesting case for rethinking some communes opiniones about the use and reception of Attic vases with erotic scenes.

The third paper, by Manoledakis, presents unpublished Archaic and Classical red-figured pottery from Minoa on the Cycladic isle of Amorgos. The study focuses on 147 small fragments found between 1981 and 2003, offering a brief overview of the locations in which red-figured pottery was found, a detailed catalogue of each fragment, and observations about shapes, decoration and chronology. Ninety-nine of the 147 sherds can be identified as krater fragments: on the basis of the find spots (no fragment was found in a tomb) and on the attested presence of three temples in Minoa, Manoledakis suggests that this shape probably had a votive function. Most of the sherds date from the middle of the fifth to the middle of the fourth century: Manoledakis attributes this trend and the general increase of Attic red-figured pottery on Amorgos to its membership in the Delian League (“at least by 434 B.C”) and “the association of the island’s cities with the Second Athenian Confederacy (…) and the establishment of an Athenian garrison on Amorgos during the Social war” (p. 77).

In the fourth paper, Vincenzo Baldoni deepens an aspect of his fundamental study of Attic pottery from the nineteen- century excavations in Marzabotto by investigating in detail those Attic vases found in well documented tomb contexts from the necropolis.4 He analyses each Attic vase taking into account the composition of the funerary goods, the characteristics of the tomb and the gender of the deceased: this procedure leads him to draw significant conclusions about the cults and rituals connected with the use of Attic pottery in Marzabotto. For instance, an Attic black-figured stamnos from the end of the sixth century and used as a cinerary vase in a female “tomba a pozzetto” from the eastern necropolis shows two Dionysiac scenes which Baldoni convincingly interprets as alluding to the role of the deceased woman as a follower of the god’s cult (pp.83-85). It is not possible to summarize here the other case studies investigated by Baldoni: suffice it to say that this rich paper considerably increases our knowledge about the reception of Attic vases from funerary contexts in Marzabotto.

Federica Wiel-Marin compares available data about Attic red-figured pottery from the settlements of Adria and Forcello. While the ceramic material from Adria was the subject of an exhaustive study by Wiel-Marin,5 her research on the red-figured pottery from Forcello is not as advanced (in 2009 she had investigated about 1/10 of the overall material: p. 94). Wiel-Marin gives an overview of the attested vase shapes, iconographic themes (when the fragments are big enough to allow it) and painters of the pottery from both sites, warning that the results concerning Forcello are still preliminary (but, in the reviewer’s opinion, well worth having been made available for further investigations). Wiel-Marin is conducting a thorough and useful study of the red-figured pottery not only from the settlement at Forcello, but also from the old excavations at Spina; therefore her observations about the distribution of vase shapes at these three sites of the Etruria Padana are particularly interesting (p. 99). Although drinking shapes predominate at all three sites, the scholar notes specific tendencies — for instance, the predilection in Spina for skyphoi and kylikes, while in Adria and Forcello kylikes prevail (p. 99).

The last paper, by Diego Elia, with an appendix by Marco Serino, deals with the earliest red-figure production in Sicily. Elia summarizes the state of research on the much debated chronology of Sicilian red-figured pottery and its relation to red-figure productions in Southern Italy, re-examining its earliest phase, by the Chequer Painter and his Group, the Himera Group, and the Locri Group. He deals not only with the stylistic influence among these painters and single Attic workshops, but also with the distribution of the vases by each painter or group, offering a useful table (by Serino) with the proveniences and the essential bibliography of the vases. Furthermore, the scholar considers all known contexts that allow some conclusions about the chronology of each group. On this contextual basis—and adding to contributions by Spigo, Denoyelle and Iozzo— 6 he convincingly states that these groups “seem also to belong to the same chronological horizon” as the Chequer Painter, “even perhaps a bit earlier” (p. 106). This important theory implies a revision of the traditional chronology offered in Trendall’s pioneer study of Sicilian and South Italian red-figure productions.7 In the last two parts of the paper, Elia delves into the interesting case of the Locri Group (subject of several studies by himself), and the relationship among vase shapes, workshops, and local market, illuminating specialization tendencies in the production of specific shapes.

This publication is carefully edited: the photos are mostly of good quality, almost no typos could be found, and only very few publication references are missing in two bibliography lists. The papers, which cover a broad spectrum of figured pottery, show how the study of contexts, with quite different research approaches, can profitably contribute to the study of ancient vases. The authors and the editor are to be congratulated on presenting a collection of significant studies which advance our knowledge of different groups of painted pottery.


1.   I would like to express my gratitude to Annemarie Catania and the editors for improving my English text and to Zoi Kotitsa for helpful discussions on some of the topics covered in this review.
2.   On the material basis of Alexandridou’s statistical study, readers will find more information in her doctoral dissertation: The Early Black-figured Pottery of Attika in Context (ca. 630 - 570 BCE) (Leiden 2011).
3.   Add contributions mostly published after the 2009 conference: U. Kreilinger, Anständige Nacktheit: Körperpflege, Reinigungriten und das Phänomen weiblicher Nacktheit im archaisch-klassischen Athen (Rahden 2007); A. Stähli, „Nackte Frauen,“ in: S. Schmidt, A. Stähli (ed.), Hermeneutik der Bilder. Beiträge zur Ikonographie und Interpretation griechischer Vasenmalerei , Corpus vasorum antiquorum Beih. IV (München 2009) 43-51.
4.   V. Baldoni, La ceramica attica dagli scavi ottocenteschi di Marzabotto (Bologna 2009).
5.   F. Wiel-Marin, La ceramica attica a figure rosse di Adria. La famiglia Bocchi e l’archeologia (Padova 2005).
6.   U. Spigo, « Brevi considerazioni sui caratteri figurativi delle officine di ceramica siceliota della prima metà del IV secolo a.C. e alcuni nuovi dati, » in: N. Bonacasa, L. Braccesi, E. De Miro (ed.), La Sicilia dei due Dionisi (Roma 2002) 265-293; M. Denoyelle, M. Iozzo, La céramique grecque d’Italie méridionale et de Sicile (Paris 2009) 166-171.
7.   On this theory see also D. Elia, « La diffusione della ceramica figurate a Locri Epizefiri nella prima metà del IV secolo: problemi di stile, produzione e cronologia, » in M. Denoyelle, E. Lippolis, M. Mazzei, C. Pouzadoux (ed.), La céramique apulienne. Bilan et perspectives. Actes de la table ronde (Napoli 2000) 155-162; D. Elia, Locri Epizefiri VI. Nelle case di Ade. La necropoli in contrada Lucifero. Nuovi documenti (Alessandria 2010).

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