Studies on pottery in the ancient Mediterranean from the Early Iron Age to the Hellenistic period

Between 2004 and 2009, the CReA-Patrimoine developed an interdisciplinary and international research project on “Pottery in Ancient Societies: Production, Distribution and Functions”, which was supported by the Ministry of Research of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels by means of an ARC (Action de Recherches Concertées) grant. Keeping in line with this project, research in the field of ceramology, which is one of the Centre's major areas of focus, remains very active. A rather extensive team of researchers is interested on the one hand, in questions of production organisation, workshops and craftsmen (mobility, exchanges, influences); and on the other hand, in the modes of diffusion and consumption of vases and especially in the underlying social, economic and cultural practices. Vases are thus approached as social and economic artefacts within various geographic and chronological contexts, which extend to the whole of the Mediterranean, as well as to the eastern world, from the Early Iron Age to the Hellenistic period. 

Production: workshops and craftsmen 

The research conducted at the CReA-Patrimoine on ceramic production and workshops addresses these questions primarily through the work of potters. Although it places emphasis on the forms that appear in the Greek ceramic repertoire, it also takes into account the contribution of painters, the stylistic analysis of figural decoration, as well as issues of technological mastery. This approach, which is widely shared among the ceramologists’ team of ULB, has been allowing us to produce new knowledge about the organization of workshops and the relationships between craftsmen and their clients. In fact, the team has undertaken the morphological study of a significant number of Greek shapes, having relied primarily on the attribution of vases to specific potters. 

Pottery production of the Early Iron Age (Geometric period) is being treated through several case studies that examine important questions, such as the mobility of craftsmen, the sharing of technological and iconographic knowledge and the identification of specific centres of production (e.g. at Marathon, the Gulf of Euboea and Tenos in the Cyclades), which were established in order to meet specific needs of the market (Vicky Vlachou, CReA-Patrimoine, Belgian member of the French School of Athens) (fig. 1). 

Fig. 1: Giant jug with figural decoration (8th century), Marathon necropolis, Marathon Museum (©V. Vlachou)

With regard to the Archaic and the Classical periods, a significant part of the CReA-Patrimoine's research focuses on fine black- and red-figure pottery. Certain studies concentrate on Corinthian black-figure workshops from the 7th and the 6th centuries BC. Corinthian pottery forms the primary research area of Kees Neeft, who is now member of the CReA-Patrimoine, which has also become home to his archives. For many years now, this scholar has been carrying out research of seminal importance, basically reconstructing the organisation of pottery production in Corinth, by classifying vases on the basis of their attribution to workshops and painters. The establishment of typological and chronological sequences with regard to Corinthian shapes is also being carried out on the basis of specific assemblages from Northern Greece (V. Saripanidi). Attic black- and red-figure production forms a key theme in the research performed at the CReA-Patrimoine. The related works focus on the organization of workshops, which they examine through the analysis of forms and iconography, further addressing issues of mobility and interactions between craftsmen of different specialties (D. Williams, V. Saripanidi) (fig. 2). Several studies are devoted to specific forms, such as the alabaster (I. Algrain), the kyathos (D. Tonglet) or the phiale (A. Tsingarida), which were based on foreign prototypes adapted by and integrated within Attic workshops.  At the same time, Attic pottery studies examine the ways in which certain forms were received and adapted across different cultural contexts: within the Greek world (A. Tsingarida, V. Saripanidi, D. Tonglet); in the Etruscan world (A. Tsingarida, D. Tonglet); in the Near East and the Achaemenid Empire (A. Tsingarida). In a similar vein, some studies focus on the modes of transmission and reception of artisanal knowledge (technology, shapes, forms, decorations, images) that originated from external sources and found its way to Attic workshops in the 6th and the early 5th centuries BC (A. Attout; V. Saripanidi ; D. Williams). 

Fig. 2 : Black-figure hydria (late 6th - early 5th century), Sindos necropolis (©V. Saripanidi)

The organization of workshops in the Late Classical and the Hellenistic periods is examined on the basis of the production from certain Cretan and Apulian centres (N. Massar). 

Forms and uses, distribution, cultural and economic exchanges

Understanding vases primarily as objects of consumption, the research carried out at the CReA-Patrimoine, is of course highly interested in pottery functions. In this respect, particular emphasis is placed on archaeological contexts and material assemblages, the evidence from which can play a key role in addressing this issue. Using forms and contexts as their starting point, several projects analyse Greek pottery with relation to economic and cultural exchanges, to social organization, to funerary and other cultural practices all across the Mediterranean. Within this scope, the various related studies take into account the production of a wide range of regions, including widely distributed ceramics (Corinthian, Euboean, Boeotian, Attic, Ionian) but also less fine, locally produced, pots that were little exported, if at all. The production of all these centres is analysed on the basis of specific contexts (settlements, necropoleis, sanctuaries) that are linked to specific sites and cultural regions. Among others, these include: Attica (the Acropolis of Athens, A. Tsingarida), Northern Greece (the settlement at Karabournaki, the necropolis of Sindos - V. Saripanidi) (fig. 4), the Cyclades (the necropolis of Vardalakos, Xobourgo in Tenos, V. Vlachou; the site of Kastro in Siphnos, A. Tsingarida) (fig. 5), Eastern Crete (the graves (N. Massar) and the archaic complex of the Itanos necropolis, A. Tsingarida the Anavlochos necropolis, C. Judson); Central Etruria and Padana Etruria (the Ciancano Terme necropolis, Spina - D. Tonglet; the sanctuaries of Gravisca and Pyrgi, Marie de Wit; the necropoleis of Tarquinia, Caere, Spina, A. Tsingarida).  

It is important to note that all this research is made possible through collaborations with many foreign colleagues and institutions. We would like to thank warmly here: F. Gaignerot - Driessen (UCLouvain); E. Govi (University of Bologna); K. Kavvadias (National Museum of Athens); N. Kourou (University of Athens); G. Paolucci (Museum of Chianciano Terme, Tuscany); Z. Papadopoulou (Archaeological Service of the Cyclades); M. Tiverios (Academy of Athens); Chr. Sofianou & V. Zographaki (Archaeological Service of Eastern Crete). 


Fig. 3: Phiale decorated in the Six polychrome technique (late 6th century), Louvre Museum ((©A. Tsingarida)
Fig. 4: Set of local jugs, Karabournaki settlement (©V. Saripanidi)
Fig. 5: Ritually broken cooking pot (lopas), Necropolis of Vardalakos, Xobourgo, Tenos, Cyclades (©V. Vlachou).

Publications (a selection)

I. Algrain, L’alabastre attique. Origine, forme et usages, Bruxelles, 2014 [Études d’Archélogie, CReA-Patrimoine 7]

V. Saripanidi, “Clay, Glass and Faience Vases and Clay Lamps”, in K. Despoini et al., Sindos II, The Cemetery, Archaeological Exploration 1980-1982 (Publications of the Archaeological Society at Athens 308, Athens 2016) 31- 243 (in Greek)

D. Tonglet, Le kyathos attique de Madame Teithurnai. Échanges artisanaux et interactions culturelles entre Grecs et Étrusques en Méditerranée archaïque, Bruxelles, 2018 [Études d’Archélogie, CReA-Patrimoine 14]

A. Tsingarida (ed), Shapes and Uses of Greek Vases (7th-4th centuries B.C.), Bruxelles, 2009 [Études d’Archélogie, CReA-Patrimoine 3]

A. Tsingarida & D. Viviers, Pottery Markets in the Ancient Greek World, Bruxelles, 2013

A. Tsingarida, “Greek Vases” in M. Mauro (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Proto-Roman Italy, Oxford (sous presse). 

V. Vlachou (ed.), Pots, Workshops and Early Iron Age Society. Function and Role of Ceramics in Early Greece, Bruxelles, 2015 [Études d’Archélogie, CReA-Patrimoine 8]

D. Williams, “Beyond the Berlin Painter: Toward a Workshop View”, in M. Padget (ed.), The Berlin Painter and His World, Princeton, 2017, 144-187.

The Team 

  • A. Tsingarida (Professor, ULB) 

- PhD students

  • A. Attout (PhD candidate, Assistant in classical antiquity); M. de Wit (FNRS Doctoral fellow)

- Postdoctoral fellows

  • C. Judson (Marie-Curie COFUND Postdoctoral fellow); V. Saripanidi (FNRS Research associate); D. Tonglet (FNRS Postdoctoral researcher); V. Vlachou (Belgian member (ULB) of the French School of Athens).

- Visiting professors & scientific collaborators

  • I. Algrain (Scientific collaborator, Royal Academy of Belgium); K. Neeft (Visiting Professor); N. Massar (Scientific collaborator, Curator at MRAH-KMKG); D. Williams (Visiting Professor).

Contact information

Athena Tsingarida