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Pots and Pans of Classical Athens

The pots and pans of classical Athens illustrate the contrast between the materials used in ancient households and in our own; they also show the care taken by the ancients in making the ordinary utensils for everyday needs.

These two particulars , contrast in material and care in execution, stem from the same root: in ancient times domestic equipment was a product of the potter’s craft . Modern housewives have other materials at their service-such as steel, aluminum, the Athenian housewife depended on utensils made of clay, either turned on the wheel or built up by hand, and fired in a simple kiln. This equipment included both tableware, fired to produce that shining black glaze which was the pride of the Athenian  potters, and the unglazed or partly glazed kitchen and storage pots- saucepans,ovens, frying pans, stoves, casseroles, braziers. Even bath-tubs and other toilet fixtures, water pipes, pails and light fittings in classical times were made of pottery.

Black glazed amphorae

Ancient Greek Black glazed Amphorae

The rivalry of potters was widely known; the range of shapes shows how the demand for skill and ingenuity was answered. Moreover metal was expensive, clay cheap. The householder who might own a single metal pail would possess two dozen or more clay vessels.

This disproportion is brought out clearly in Aristophanes’ comedy Wealth of 388 B.C.., when the god himself brings good fortune to an impoverished citizen .  Not only do the supply of the staples suddenly become boundless: flour, wine, oil, perfume and fruits, but even the kitchen equipment itself is affected by the dispensation.  The following photo’s are of many objects of household use, as they appeared on Athenian tables and in Athenian kitchens. As to the ways in which these vessels were used in antiquity , a wealth of evidence has been preserved in paintings on vases of the black- figured and red- figured styles  (6th-5th centuries B..C.) frequently contemporary with the pots themselves

Further evidence on objects of daily use, and in some cases for the names of household shapes, comes from Athenian literature  especially from the comic poets of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.. Intimate domestic detail, together with domestic disasters  provided the dramatists with the material for ridiculous but thoroughly recognizable scenes–acceptable entertainment in ancient Athens as in the modern day theatre.A number of short passages from these plays, naming various pots shown here, are quoted as captions to the pictures.

Figured and unfigured pots, glazed and partly glazed vases, course and fine ware- all were created on the potters simple wheel turned by an apprentice . At the time these pots were made, Athens had the monopoly of the export trade in vases and we can imagine that, both at home and abroad  people believed, as did Kritias the fifth-century philosopher  that the Athenians ‘invented the potter’s wheel and the well renowned pottery.

The drinking party Kylix

The Drinking Party  Kylix in Rome – The painter of The Drinking Party shown on this Kylix  emphasized   the equipment needed for such an occasion by representing the vases in a row, beneath the picture itself.

Water at the well

Water for the days needs is a primary concern in ancient Athens. The vase painter turns the humdrum task of fetching water into one of the most delightful subjects of his repertory; scenes at the well are adapted in the circular field of a cup interior; a procession of girls toward the fountain house decorates the wall of the water jar itself. No house is complete without its well. The well-mouth, of terracotta, is sometimes shaped like the top of a pithoi, sometimes formed like a drum. The jar most in use at the well is a kados (pail), either of metal or more usually of terracotta, a bail handle of rope may be fastened to the side handles.

Girls at the fountain

Girls at the fountain. Hydra in London.

The girls have stilled their chattering at the artists bidding. The comic poet, however, presents the scene as one of noise and bustle evidence of the daily routine.

‘Just now I filled my pitcher at the fountain;

It’s a difficult task,

and with the crowd and the din

and the clatter of pots

Aristophanes Lysistrata (411 B/C.)


Casseroles.  Preparing the mid-day meal demands a selection from among the cooking pots available in the kitchen. Eels, or lamb stew perhaps, will simmer in a covered pot; if there is fish to be fried a large flat bottom pan will serve; soup will be boiled in a  chytra (kettle)  set over a fire or cooking stand pushed up to the edge of the large hearth.Cooking pots

Frying pans and cooking pots.

‘Grinning up at me,

the casserole boils and

chatters to itself

And fishes leap up in

the frying pans’.  (Euboulos Giants ( ca, 385 B.C.)

Women bathing

Women Washing – The alabastron with its perfumed oil is a welcome essential to the bath, whether a wash basin on a stand or a deep tub. A stick dipped in the alabastron serves to perfume the hair.

But a moment ago I left her

soaping herself in the bath.

Aristophanes, The Lemnian Women. ca. 412 B.C.

Women washing.

Women perfuming clothes.

Olive harvesting

Olive harvesting.

Women washing clothes

Women washing clothes.







Posted by on July 22, 2015 in Uncategorized



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