Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

The pyxis (πυξίς,pl. pyxides) is usually a cylindrical box with a separate lid, probably used for storing trinkets, ointments or cosmetics. The type can be traced back to Geometric examples, which are often topped by horses, but the most common black-figure shape seems to have been borrowed from Corinth. In red-figure, pyxides are regularly decorated with scenes of female activity, and the shape is shown in feminine contexts. 

Originally mostly used by women to hold cosmetics, trinkets or jewellery, surviving pyxides are mostly Greek pottery, but especially in later periods may be in wood, metal, ivory, or other materials. The name derived from Corinthian boxes made of wood from the tree puksos (boxwood), that also came with covers. The shape of the vessel can be traced in pottery back to the Protogeometric period in Athens, however the Athenian pyxis has various shapes itself. At first, the two varieties of pyxis included the pointed and the flat-bottomed. The pointed pyxis didn't last much longer than the ninth century BCE, while the flat-bottomed continued into the late Geometric. It also continued to grow larger and more squat in proportions. The cover often depicts elaborately sculpted handles and the walls tend to be somewhat convex. During the sixth century BCE, however, Athens began producing boxes with concave walls that enabled them to be grasped easily when ranged close together on a shelf. Compare the waisted shape of the medieval and Early Modern albarello. Images on the pyxis usually depict the marriage procession from a young girl's house to that of her new husband.

Pyx is a term for a specifically liturgical box, usually cylindrical, but of variable design, still used for holding and transporting consecrated hosts in the traditional Christian churches, a use to which the church began to put these boxes at a very early date.


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis
Like the aryballos, in that it has a narrow neck and a single handle, the lekythos (pl. lekythoi) is generally a taller vessel with a small, deep mouth. The Greek word lekythos was undoubtedly used for the various forms considered here, although it does appear that it was used for oil-vessels in general.

A lekythos is a type of Ancient Greek vessel used for storing oil (Greek λήκυθος), especially olive oil. It has a narrow body and one handle attached to the neck of the vessel, and is thus a narrow type of jug, with no pouring lip; the oinochoe is more like a modern jug. In the "shoulder" and "cylindrical" types which became the most common, especially the latter, the sides of the body are usually vertical by the shoulder, and there is then a sharp change of direction as the neck curves in; the base and lip are normally prominent and flared. However, there are a number of varieties, and the word seems to have been used even more widely in ancient times than by modern archeologists. They are normally in pottery, but there are also carved stone examples.

Lekythoi were especially associated with funerary rites, and with the white ground technique of vase painting, which was too fragile for most items in regular use. Because of their handle they were normally only decorated with one image, on the other side from the handle; they are often photographed with the handle hidden, to show the painted image.

The lekythos was used for anointing dead bodies of unmarried women and many lekythoi are found in tombs. The images on lekythoi were often depictions of daily activities or rituals. Because they are so often used in funerary situations, they may also depict funerary rites, a scene of loss, or a sense of departure as a form of funerary art. These drawings are usually outline drawings that are quite expressionless and somber in appearance. The decoration of these ceramic vessels consists of a dull red and black paint. These colors may have been derived from the Bronze Age, but were not used until 530 BC in Athens. Many artists of these vessels attempted to add more color to the figures, but later abandoned the idea, which provides more of a contrast. These vessels were very popular during the 5th century BC, however there are many that have been found dating all the way back to 700 BC.

They contained a perfumed oil which was offered either to the dead person or to the gods of the underworld. Some lekythoi were fitted with a small, inner chamber so that they might appear full, while in reality they contained only a small amount of the expensive oil. The Lekythos was used to smear perfumed oil on a woman's skin prior to getting married and were often placed in tombs of unmarried women to allow them to prepare for a wedding in the afterlife.

Lekythoi can be divided into 5 types:

the standard or cylindrical lekythos, which measures between 30 and 50 cm though there are much larger "huge lekythoi", up to 1 m, which may have been used to replace funerary stele,
the Deianeria lekythos which originates from Corinth, this form has an oval profile and a round shoulder and is generally of a small size (20 cm), it was produced from the beginning of the black figure period until the late 6th century,

the shoulder or secondary lekythos, a variation on the standard type produced from the mid 5th century on. These have a fuller, swelling body; most are decorated with the white ground technique and measure around 20 cm,
the squat lekythos, usually less than 20 cm in height with a rounded belly and a flat base,
the acorn lekythos, a rarer form, which has an oval profile and at the bottom of the body a raised cup with protrusions, like an the cup of an acorn.
There are also "plastic" lekythoi, with bodies formed in the shape of a head, animal, or other form.


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

A small flask with a narrow neck and a broad disc-shaped mouth with a narrow aperture.
An aryballos (Greek: ἀρύβαλλος; plural aryballoi) was a small spherical or globular flask with a narrow neck used in Ancient Greece. It was used to contain perfume or oil, and is often depicted in vase paintings being used by athletes during bathing. In these depictions, the vessel is at times attached by a strap to the athlete's wrist, or hung by a strap from a peg on the wall.

The shape of the aryballos originally came from the oinochoe of the Geometric period of the 9th century BCE, a globe-shaped wine jar. By the Proto-Corinthian period of the following century, it had attained its definitive shape, going from spherical to ovoid to conical, and finally back to spherical. This definitive form has a wide, flat mouth, and a single small handle. Some later variations have bell-shaped mouths, a second handle, and/or a flat base. Potters also created inventive shapes for aryballoi.

History: The earliest Protocorinthian round aryballos may be a descendent of the Mycenaean stirrup-vase. The Corinthian evolution of the aryballos can be followed clearly from the round through the ovoid to the pointed. By the end of the seventh century, the shape had been standardized and a new round form was the convention until the fifth century B.C.

The Corinthian version has a round body and generally one handle reaching from the shoulder to the edge of the flattened disc-shaped lip. This shape is rare in Athens, and a fine example of this spherical aryballos carries the signature of Nearchos. The Attic potters develop a different type of aryballos in the last quarter of the sixth century with a bell-shaped mouth, much like that of the later lekythos, and normally two handles reaching from the shoulder to the edge of the lip. In later examples there are no handles. Sometimes rather than having a spherical body, there is a flat bottom. This vessel is often shown in Attic vase painting as being suspended from the wrist of an athlete, or looped by a string and hung on the wall.

Aristoph. Kn. 1094: used to describe a vase from which Athena pours ambrosia on the head of Demos.
Antiphanes in Pollux 10.152: to describe a draw purse.


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

First recorded in 1840-50, alabastron is from the Greek word alábastron alabaster vase.

An elongated, narrow-necked flask with a rounded bottom, used to contain oil which was often perfumed.
The shape occurs in many materials including clay, glass and stone. Sometimes there are small lugs or ears on the shoulder, which are pierced and through which a string could be passed to suspend the vessel. It has a narrow aperture which is ideally suited for pouring oil.

An alabastron (from Greek ἀλάβαστρον; plural: alabastra or alabastrons) is a small type of pottery or glass vessel used in the ancient world for holding oil, especially perfume or massage oils. They originated around the 11th century BC in ancient Egypt as containers carved from alabaster – hence the name – but spread via ancient Greece to other parts of the classical world.

Most types of alabastron have a narrow body with a rounded end, a narrow neck and a broad, splayed mouth. They were often left without handles, but some types were equipped with ear-shaped projections or lugs into which holes were punched. Strings were then put through these holes for easy mobility.

The design of the first Egyptian alabastra was inspired by the palm tree,[citation needed] with a columnar shape, a palm capital and a stand. Later designs were made from glass decorated with various patterns, such as scallops, festoons or abstract patterns of rings or zigzags.

Around the 7th century BC, alabastra spread to Greece and became an important element of ancient Greek pottery. There were three distinct types of Greek alabastron:[citation needed]

A basic Corinthian bulbous shape standing about 3–4 inches (76–102 mm) tall; a popular design found throughout Greece.
A long and pointed version commonly seen in eastern Greek, Etruscan, and Italo-Corinthian pottery.
An Attic type about 4–8 inches (10–20 cm) long with a rounded base and lugs for carrying purposes.
Alabastra also appeared in many other places in the ancient world, notably Assyria, Syria and Palestine, all having presumably been inspired by or exported from Greece or Egypt.

Within a hundred years after arriving in the area,[which?] Greek artisans were producing elaborately decorated silver alabastra, long and narrow and 12–16 centimeters (4.7–6.3 in) in height. The decoration usually involved dividing the body of the vase into four horizontal zones by ornamental bands around it.


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

One of the more unusual painted pottery shapes, the epinetron (pl. epinetra) is not a pot, but was placed over the thigh during the preparation of wool for weaving.
The epinetron (Greek: ἐπίνητρον, plural: epinetra, ἐπίνητρα; "distaff"); Beazley also called them onoi, singular: onos) was a shape of Attic pottery worn on the thighs of women during the preparation of wool, not unlike a thimble for the thigh. Decorated epinetra were placed on the graves of unmarried girls, or dedicated at temples of female deities.

Because of the strong association between wool-working and the ideal woman and wife — as in the case of Penelope weaving in the Odyssey — it is a shape associated with the wedding. Its decoration was not exclusively related to its own use, though it often was.


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

The Loutrophoros (loutron phero) means bring a bath is a tall vase with a high, funnel-shaped neck, a slender body and a flaring mouth. It was used for carrying water for a bride's ceremonial bath. It was placed in the grave of an individual who died before marriage.

A loutrophoros (Ancient Greek: λουτροφόρος; Greek etymology: λουτρόν/loutron and φέρω/pherō, English translation: "bathwater" and "carry") is a distinctive type of Greek pottery vessel characterized by an elongated neck with two handles. The loutrophoros was used to carry water for a bride's pre-nuptial ritual bath, and in funeral rituals, and was placed in the tombs of the unmarried. The loutrophoros itself is a motif for Greek tombstones, either as a relief (for instance, the lekythos on the Stele of Panaetius) or as a stone vessel. There are many in the funeral area at the Kerameikon in Athens, some of which are now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

It is a tall, slender-bodied variety of neck amphora used for ritual purposes.
Shape: It is a very tall vessel with a funnel-shaped neck, set on a slender, elongated body. The foot is spreading and sometimes has no bottom. The handles reach from the shoulder to just below the lip, forming a large loop. These handles may be filled and pierced or just a plain strap. This vessel also appears in a hydria form with a third handle also reaching from the shoulder to the lip zone.

History: This vase recalls both Late Geometric amphorae and the Early Protoattic vases by the Analatos Painter. A steady series continues from the late sixth century until the late fourth century B.C. It becomes very spindly as time progresses. It is a shape that is confined to Attic and South-Italian red-figure.

In the early black-figure it is a shape reserved for funerary purposes, being used mainly as a grave marker. During the fifth century its purpose seems to have been confined to ritual uses, such as weddings (where it was frequently used to carry the water for the bridal bath) or the funeral of an unmarried person. Vases of this shape are commonly decorated with scenes of mourners or wedding processions.

For a depiction of a loutrophoros on a pyxis : British Museum no. E. 774

Term: The name may be convincingly applied to vessels of this shape.

Dem. 44.18: "Archiades died unmarried. And the proof? A loutrophoros stands on his tomb."
Harpokration defines the loutrophoros: "It was the custom at marriage to send for a bath on the wedding day, for this purpose they sent the boy who was the nearest relative and these boys brought the bath. And it was the custom to put the loutrophoros on the tomb of those who died unwed."


Pottery of Ancient Greece

Lebes Gamikos | Loutrophoros | Epinetron | Alabastron | Aryballos | Lekythos | Pyxis

The lebes gamikos, or "nuptial lebes," is a form of ancient Greek Pottery used in marriage ceremonies. It was probably used in the ritual sprinkling of the bride with water before the wedding. In form, it has a large bowl-like body and a stand that can be long or short. Painted scenes are placed on either the body of the vessel or the stand.

It is a a bowl, with handles and lid, attached to a stand and used to carry the bridal bath.

Shape: It has the shape of a small lebes, on a stand. The bowl is small and deep, curving in sharply at the shoulder, and has a distinct neck with an overhanging lip. It is joined (forming one piece) to a tall flaring stand. There are a pair of high, upright handles on the shoulder, and the bowl usually has a domed cover topped by a tall stemmed handle. The canonical lebes gamikos described above is characterized by Beazley as Type 1. A variant of this vase, the Type 2 lebes gamikos, has a low foot instead of a stand and no neck.

History: Sometimes called the nuptial lebes, it served the same purpose as the loutrophoros in wedding rituals, to bring the bridal bath. It appears in the first quarter of the sixth century and in Attic red-figure it continues down to the middle of the fourth century B.C. It appears in South-Italian wares until the end of the fourth century B.C.

Beazley believed that the artist Sophilos (580-570 B.C.) decorated the first lebes gamikos, bearing the wedding procession of Helen and Menelaos. It has been suggested that the kotyle krater, also a lidded vessel on an attached stand, is this vessel's predecessor.

Term: Also known as a nuptial lebes, the Greek name means "marriage bowl." Literary evidence justifies correctly calling a vessel with this shape lebes gamikos.

Inscriptiones Graecae II-III, 1544, 63, Berlin, 1929 (2nd ed.): A temple inventory at Eleusis records the lebes gamikoi
For a depiction of lebes gamikoi on a pyxis see: British Museum no. E 774.
Type 2 lebes gamikos

A bowl with handles and lid, no neck, and low foot and used to carry the bridal bath.
Shape: It has the shape of a small lebes with handles and a low foot. The bowl is small and deep, curving in sharply at the shoulder. There are a pair of high, upright handles on the shoulder, and the bowl usually has a domed cover topped by a tall stemmed handle.

History: Sometimes called the nuptial lebes, it served the same purpose as the loutrophoros in wedding rituals, to bring the bridal bath.

Term: Also known as a nuptial lebes, the Greek name means "marriage bowl." Literary evidence justifies correctly calling a vessel with this shape lebes gamikos.

Lebes Gamikos


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