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Kylix

Pottery of Ancient Greece

Krater Kylix | Oenochoe | Skyphos | Psykter | Kyathos | Rhyton | Kantharos | Ascos
Kylix, also spelled cylix , in ancient Greek pottery, wide-bowled drinking cup with horizontal handles, one of the most popular pottery forms from Mycenaean times through the classical Athenian period. There was usually a painted frieze around the outer surface, depicting a subject from mythology or everyday life, and on the bottom of the inside a painting often depicting a dancing or drinking scene.

The almost flat interior circle of the base of the cup, called the tondo, was generally the primary surface for painted decoration in the black-figure or red-figure pottery styles of the 6th and 5th century BC, and the outside was also often painted. As the representations would be covered with wine, the scenes would only be revealed in stages as the wine was drained. They were often designed with this in mind, with scenes created so that they would surprise or titillate the drinker as they were revealed.

The word comes from the Greek kylix "cup," which is cognate with Latin calix, the source of the English word "chalice" but not related to the similar Greek word calyx which means "husk" or "pod". The term seems to have been rather more generally used in ancient Greece. Individual examples and the many named sub-varieties of kylix are often called names just using "cup". Like all other types of Greek pottery vessels, they are also covered by the general term of "vase".

The primary use for the kylix was drinking wine (usually mixed with water, and sometimes other flavourings) at a symposium or male "drinking party" in the ancient Greek world, so they are often decorated with scenes of a humorous, light-hearted, or sexual nature that would only become visible when the cup was drained. Dionysos, the god of wine, and his satyrs or related komastic scenes, are common subjects. On the external surface sometimes, large eyes were depicted, probably also with humorous purposes (Eye-cup). The shape of the kylix enabled the drinker to drink whilst recumbent, as was the case in the symposia. It also enabled them to play kottabos, a game played by flinging wine lees at targets.

A typical bowl held roughly 8 oz/250ml of fluid, though this varied greatly with size and shape.

There are many sub-types of kylix, variously defined by their basic shape, the location or subject of their painting, or their main place of production, or often a combination of these. Several of these are grouped under the term of Little-Master cup.

Kylix type A
Kylix type A, no turned or "offset" lip; a "fillet" at the top of the short stem.

Kylix type B
Kylix type B, no turned or "offset" lip, nor a "fillet", so the profile runs smoothly from lip to foot

Kylix type C

Kylix, Apus


Kylix merrythought
Merrythought cup, with distinctive "wishbone" handles

Kylix Siana
Siana cup, Similar to Komast, with slightly longer stem, and painted on the inside.

Kylix Komast 
Komast cup, Athenian black-figure, with short stem, angled "offset" lip.

Kylix Droop 
Droop cups (pronounced: Drope) are a type of Little-master cup in the pottery of ancient Greece, produced about 550 to 510 BC, probably mostly in Laconia. A few examples date to the fifth century BC. They are named after John Percival Droop, an English archaeologist, who first recognised the type.

Droop cups have black concave lips, more clearly distinguished from the lower vase body than on other types of Little-master cup. The feet are high; at the upper end they bear a ridge in natural base clay colour and a similar band just below, sometimes slashed. The edge of the base is painted black. The interior of the hollow foot has a broad black band of paint. On the base interior, the black slip is usually interrupted by a stripe deep below the rim; at times a cirle at the bottom is also left free of black.

The cups of this type date to about 550 BC. The earliest specimens are completely black, a type that remains in production throughout later developments. Some early examples bear rows of bud-like decorations in the handle area. From c. 540 BC, decoration changes in so far that now the entire vase exterior below the lip and above the foot is decorated with bands, palmettes, leaves, dots, rays, or animal silhouettes. Figural decoration is rare.

Details of the post-540 decorative style are so similar to cups from Laconia that a connection must be assumed. It is likely that both regions used the same East Greek examples as inspiration. Later, decorative schemes were directly adopted from Sparta. The type goes mostly out of use around 510 BC, although black-slipped cups continue to be made for longer.

Kylix Gordian
Band cup, with the main painting in a band low on the body.

Kylix Chileote

Kylix  Teniot


Kylix Kassel
Kassel cups are a specific type of Attic Little-master cups, produced in Athens around 540 to 520 BC. Kassel cups are quite similar to Band cups, but shallower and usually rather small. The lip and body of the vase are usually decorated with simple band patterns. Normally, there are flame motifs on the lip and rays on the body. Some painters added silhouette-like figures in the handle zone. The decorations suggest a link with Siana cups. The name is derived from a piece found on Samos in 1898, and on display in Kassel until its destruction in 1945.

Kylix Chalcidian
Eye-cup is the term describing a specific cup type in ancient Greek pottery, distinguished by pairs of eyes painted on the external surface. Classified as kylikes in terms of shape, they were especially widespread in Athens and Chalkis in the second half of the sixth century BC. The bowl of the eye-cup rests on a short squat foot; both sides are dominated by large painted pairs of eyes under arched eyebrows. The eyeballs are painted in silhouette style, later often filled with white paint or painted white on black. Some eyes are “female”, i.e. almond-shaped and without tear-ducts. Often, a stylized nose is placed centrally between the eyes. While used as a drinking vessel, due to the necessary inclination of the vessel, the cup with its painted eyes, the handles looking like ears and the base of the foot like a mouth, would have resembled a mask. Many of the vases also bear dionysiac imagery. The eyes are assumed to have served an apotropaic (evil-averting) function

Kylix of Vrulia 

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