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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Exploring Mediterranean Pottery

I must admit that investigating pots from all around the Mediterranean is an exciting but challenging process. The task I had been challenged with was to “decode” a great collection of ancient Mediterranean vases dating from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age (BC 2500-30) that had mysteriously ended up in Bath. After one visit, three books, and countless articles and museum’s websites I have just about cracked it.

Here is a brief introduction to just some of the objects and their fascinating history.

The first one is a bottle-shaped vase called unguentarium or also known as spindle-shape unguentarium. This pot is a pinkish-grey bottle with a rounded biconical body, a tapering base and an uneven concave neck. Dating ito the Hellenistic Period (BC 325-30) and made in Cyprus, this small narrow-necked flask was made in order to store perfumed oils. Unguentaria were used throughout the Ancient Hellenistic and Roman World and it was common that they would not stand. These types of vessels were placed in tombs as grave offerings.

Unguentarium - BATRM1986.27.5
The next pot is a jug, and more specifically an oinochoe (οινοχόη in Greek). The name reveals that this jug was made to contain wine (οίνος in Greek). This vase is a Mycenaean style ware dating to the Late Bronze Age (BC 1650-1050) and was probably imported into Cyprus from the Aegean. It is made of a cream slipped decorated bichrome fabric and has a flat rim sloping outwards, a globular body, one vertical handle and a spherical ring base. It was decorated with lines and bands of concentric circles in purplish-red and dark brown paint, placed vertically on either side of the body. Vases of this type are found in two types of context either as an indication of high quality tableware (domestic) or as grave offerings (ritual).

Jug - BATRM1986.26.9
The last object is a black figure Attic lekythos (λήκυθος in Greek) and dates to between late 5th century and 6th century BC. This pot was made in Greece and depicts standing figures including Orpheus. Vases of this type were originally made to contain oil; however, the ones made in Attica are a bit different. They are called Attic white lekythoi (the background is white and the figures normally black) and were used as grave offerings. After the construction of the Parthenon, the ancient pot-makers were inspired by the beauty and perfection of the monument’s sculptures, and therefore they started making a new type of lekythos with both white background and figures (imitating the marbles).

Vase - 1985.293
Mystery objects: Among the collection, two objects found in Carthage were really hard to identify. After many hours of research the mystery was finally solved and the result was far more exciting than expected. The first object is a syringe-shaped pipe quite common in North Africa. The second one is an ancient rattle which was used in order to help young children fall asleep, and at the same time drive away evil spirits.

Pipe - BATRM1986.23.1
Rattle - BATRM1986.23.2


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