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Mediterranean Chronology

Archaic Pottery and Greek Pottery 


Attic Black Figure Amphora 
530 -525 BC

Pottery in Archaic Greece was used for ornamental purposes as well as every day and practical uses.  Pottery in the archaic age of Greece went through major changes in response to increased trading with the Eastern civilizations.

In the 8th century, Archaic pottery only had abstract ornamentation.  Then in the 7th century, orientalizing began as a result of trading with the east which included images of animals from the Far East as well as foliage and  the invention of new animals; for example, the combinations of a tiger and a bird.  Beginning in Corinth, and then spreading to Athens,  it also led to including more than one animal or plant and eventually made way for human figures. Some of these figures included scenes of warfare.  Soon after, potters and painters began to put mythological narration on the pottery, including scenes from the Iliad and other famous legends or myths.  These narratives began as mainly violent in nature, but as they progressed they became calmer and involved other scenarios besides warfare. 

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    There were two major techniques for applying color to the pottery.  The first and main technique was called black-figure.  Black-figure pottery was named because the figures themselves were silhouetted in black against the red of the clay.  The black color was applied in layers and, depending on the amount of time a pottery piece was fired, the shade of black varied.  The second technique used was red-figure.  In this technique, the figure was outlined in the black glaze, then  black glaze was apainted over the background instead of the figure.  This gave more color, as the figure was left red, and also left more options for detail and fine outlines.  The third technique used was called white ground.  It was discovered in the 6th century and was simply another type of clay.  This was not used as much as the red-figure or black-figure techniques. 

    Through the time of Archaic Greece, some pottery decoration involved text or some kind of inscription.  Sometimes the inscriptions were for aesthetic reasons, as in a mythological story.  Another reason for inscriptions would be to tell the potter or the painter's name.  It also may be the name of the person who commissioned it.

    There are a couple of different ways in which the pottery was assembled.  The first method used was a pinching or a shaping method to first form the pottery.  The next method was the coil method, which consisted of rolling the clay into a long, snake-like object, then coiling it around in order to make the piece.  Lastly, there was wheel-made pottery which made pottery pieces easier to complete.  

    All these different pieces of pottery had a variety of size, shape and use.  The sizes ranged from small storage jars for oils, cosmetics and perfumes, to wine jugs and mixing bowls.  Each piece usually had a distinctive shape which would relate to its different uses.  For example, a wine jug was tall and had handles at the top which was the distinctive shape for a wine jug.  The Greeks often used anatomical terms to relate to the shapes and parts of the pottery.  For example, the body, foot, ears, and neck were some of the body parts used in shaping the pottery.  Pottery sizes also included smaller kitchenware, as well as fancy cups and bowls for serving.  These ceramics were used for domestic uses, funerary, marketing, and ceremonial as well as for fashion and art.  Another main use for pottery included storing items in bulk such as liquids and food as well as items for domestic and cosmetic purposes.  Pottery was also useful for funerary aspects such as a tombstone with  figures or texts painted on it.  In Archaic Greece, pottery was not an uncommon item and it served many purposes for the people of this society.      

Attic Red Figure Stamnos

     The main places where pottery was made and sold was in Athens and Corinth. Only certain people were potters such as city dwellers.  The pottery itself rarely represented the social status of its maker.  These potters could range from slaves working for a potter to potters working for wealthy men in a pottery workplace.  Some potters were commissioned by the wealthy to make personal pieces, which may have included family stories or certain myths.

    Pottery was a very common art in the Archaic Greece period.  Many people enjoyed buying different pieces as well as making them.  Many potters have special meanings and put a lot of thought into each of their different pottery pieces.  Each ceramic is a carefully hand constructed form of art which was then sold for all to share the beauty and significance of Archaic Pottery.    


Images were found on the University of Pennsylvania's Museum Homepage's online exhibit titled World Cultures: Ancient and Modern under the category of The Ancient Greek World greek pottery


1. Cotterell, Arthur, ed. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations. New York: Mayflower Books, 1980: 221-222.

2. Hornblower, Simon,  and Antony Spawforth, eds.  The Oxford Classical Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996: 1235-1236.

3. Turner, Jane, ed.  The Dictionary of Art. V13.  New York: Grove Dictionaries Inc. 1996: 471-485.

4.  www.museum.upenn.edu 

Edited by: Jenny Wallgren
Researched by: Julie Kadera
Written by: Melissa Koster
March 21, 2000

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