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Roman Antique Ceramic Vases

Roman Antique Ceramic Vase
Roman Antique Ceramic Vase
When we talk about ceramics some of the best examples of ceramics come from ancient Greece. As you may have guessed I am interested in Greek Roman ceramics and any archaeological surveys that have to do with discovering how ceramics were made and used in ancient times. As an artist this knowledge helps to serve as an inspiration for higher creativity in my artwork.

All around the world there are many archaeological surveys being conducted. In archeology, a survey or field survey is a method of field research by which archeologists look for archeological sites and gather information on the location, distribution and structure of past human societies across a wide area. Archeologists perform surveys to look for unique archeological sites or types of sites, identify anomalies in the spread of culture material across continents. This allows us to generalize or test hypotheses on past cultures and of course assess the risks that development projects may have had thus adversely affecting our heritage.

Most of the archaeological surveys I am familiar with are intrusive as they involve massive digging and unearthing thus exposing our past heritage. Whether or not the survey is intrusive or not depends on the needs of the survey team and research questions being asked.

The particular survey I would like to take note of here in this paper is the Roman Sikyon project in the Mediterranean region. Roman Sikyon project was started back in 2004 by the University of Thessaly in collaboration with the University of York, UK. I am especially interested in this project because this is a systematic unearthing of ceramics and clay from rise and fall of this industry during the ancient Roman time period. What is explored is the scale, clay uses and economic impacts and key findings of artifacts.

Sikyon or also known as Sicyon is an ancient Greek city state located between Corinth and Achaea in the northern Peloponnesus on the territory of the present regional area of Corinth. It was an ancient monarchy at the time of the Trojan War. And what is interesting is during the Archaic and Classical period the city was ruled by a number of tyrants, but eventually became a democracy in the 3rd century BC. Sicyon was praised for contributions to ancient Greek art. Xenokrates of Sicyon an ancient Greek sculptor and writer, and one of the world's first art historians published his history of art which contributed to spread the fame of Sicyion as the undisputed capital of ancient art. He was one person who greatly influenced the Romans taste for art. He was a very astute art critic during 280 BC.

And this is an important note because as a result many prominent paintings, ceramic and clay artifacts were made. It was also the birthplace of Aratus of Sicyon, the leader of the Achaean League during Hellenistic times.

julius caesar
Julius Caesar

Sikyon has a fascinating and colorful history and is the site of many important monuments such as the Temple of Apollo, Theater of Sikyon and the Palaestra to mention a few. So naturally it’s a great place for an archaeological survey and on-going research to study human activity within and around the chora. The main project site information is located here for further reading: http://extras.ha.uth.gr/sikyon/en/.

Ancient Greek Vessel

One amazing unearthing is what is called a lekythos or plural is called lekythoi. This is an ancient Greek vessel used for storing oil. Most likely scented olive oil. Photos of the one found at Sikyon can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/60030427@N07/47748810701 and here https://hiveminer.com/Tags/greece,sikyon. As you can see by looking at the vessel it has a long neck and a handle attached from the body of the ceramic vessel that goes up to its neck. At first glance I find it a bit odd the ceramic vessel does not really have a lip and thus so it would seem to make it impractical for use a ceramic pouring vessel. When comparing a lekythos to a oinochoe you can readily see the difference between the two as the oinochoe clearly has a pouring lip.

Ceramic Vessel

A lekythos does not resemble a modern day pottery jug. So as one would conclude a lekythos would not be readily associated with cooking but associated with funerals and rites. The type of white ground vase painting used on the ceramic vessel is a clue as to its usage. This is a type of painting used on ancient Greek pottery in where figures are painted on a white background. In most white ground pottery, the vase is normally covered in a light slip. A light coat of white kaolinite slip is used and thus makes the painted surface more fragile than some of the other techniques used in that time period.

Roman Vase Painting Styles

Many studies have come to the conclusion that the use of a white clay slip was most likely used to make the ceramic vessel appear more valuable by emulating the appearance of marble or ivory. This lends itself to being used as a votive and grave ceramic vessel. This as it seems, then became the style. The other type of pottery painting used is what's called red-figure vase painting. The red-figure or otherwise also known as black-figure painting is much more durable than a white ground vase painting.

Roman Chalice

The red-figure pottery is the most important Greek vase painting styles. And is closely associated with a kylix in which is a common type of wine ceramic cup. The English word you will instantly recognize associated with kylix is “chalice”.

So in conclusion a lekythos as you can now come to understand and see was a very important discovery and important ceramic vessel in ancient Greek times. It’s primary use was to anoint dead bodies and thus many were found in tombs during the 5th century BC and maybe even beyond.

Most pottery vessels were found contained a perfumed oil in which was used to anoint unmarried dead women. In addition, a lekythos was also used to apply the perfumed oil prior to a woman being married. They were also placed in tombs so that unmarried women would be able to prepare for their wedding in the afterlife.

What is interesting to me is that many of the ceramic vessels found had a small inner chamber and thus only contained a very small amount of product or scented oil. So by looking at the outer ceramic vessel one would naturally come to the conclusion that the container was full but in reality it was not. The packaging technique seems to closely imitate modern day packaging where giant boxes contain minimal product. Large bags of chips mainly contain air. Looks as though in some ways we have come full circle back to our ancient past.

Why did the Romans make pottery?

Pottery was an integral part of the daily life of ancient Rome. As Roman used earthenware for most purposes, they produced a huge quantity of utensils, cooking pots, amphorae, and fine wares. Many have been discovered in excavation since. Such papers provide a remarkable glimpse into Roman life and society.

What was Roman pottery used for?

Pottery has always been used for pots, cups and dishes, you might think, but Roman people like other ancient people also used pottery to make lots of other things. There were pottery braziers, potty chairs, ovens, water pipes, barrels for transport, toys, whorls for spindles and all sorts of other things.

What are Greek vases called?

Made of terracotta or fired clay, ancient Greek pots and cups, or vases as they are commonly called, have been shaped into a variety of shapes and sizes and very often the form of a vessel coincides with its intended function. The vase known as a hydria, for example, was used to catch, hold and pour water.

Did Romans use plates?

As sophisticated one might think Romans were when it came time to eat they simply ate with thier hands. They did not use eating utensils like forks an knives due to they were very expensive. Rome's rich people ate on metal plates made of tin, bronze, and pewter.

How was pottery made in ancient times?

The pottery had been produced in open fires. In the Near East, however, special ovens used to parch cereal grains and bake bread were being constructed during the Early Neolithic period, around 8,000 BCE, which enabled people to control fire and produce high temperatures in enclosed facilities.

Where does ceramic clay come from?

Clay is a smooth, loose, earthy material which contains particles of less than 4 micrometers in grain size. This occurs as a result of the weathering and oxidation of rocks comprising the mineral group feldspar over long periods of time. Feldspar is known as the "Mother of Clay."

What kind of clay is used for ceramics?

Typically stoneware clay is used in pottery with practical uses such as plates, bowls, and vases. Kaolin clay, also known as white clay, is used for producing porcelain. It also goes by numerous other names, including China clay and white cosmetic clay.

How many Greek vases survive?

No one really knows however the red-figure form prevails from about 530 to 480, the time called the high point of Greek ceramic achievement. Greek vases are pretty much realistic items with practical uses.

Why are Greek vases valuable sources of information to archaeologists?

The Greeks tell what's being drawn on the vase and archeologists find out what's going on in the picture using that information. For example the Greeks wanted support from the gods with war, food, crops etc. Archeologists know by studying the drawings on the Greek artifacts.

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Image by Couleur from Pixabay
Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

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