Greek Vases

Greek pottery as evident through their magnificent and elaborately designed vases was a vast realm of art for the early civilization. This art was used by all individuals in the society and fulfilled basic and luxurious needs in ceremonies and the day to day lives.  Pottery for Greece more so than any other civilization of its time broke into all aspects of life, and become a huge economic empire. Greek vases show up vastly in their funerary practices, their utilization in the burial process is a dynamic one, which changed significantly throughout Ancient Greece history, some uses included, containers holding offerings, amphora urns held the remains of the cremated deceased and large krater or amphora vases were used as grave markers. The depictions on these masterpieces also shifted with the transformation of Greek culture, beginning with shapes and patterns in the protogeometric/geometric period, and then developing its classical purpose as a story telling tool aspect in the late geometric period, with this new storytelling ability it becomes key in displaying the gods and their stories during the black and red figure periods that develop later. This subsection looks specifically at the vases used as grave markers as mediums for storytelling using a functionalist archaeologist approach to tell us how society was for the Ancient Greeks and illuminate some of the their beliefs about death and the afterlife, specifically the art that depicts the deceased.

Taking a look across cultures we see pottery used similarly in the ancient Egyptian funerary cult. Many offerings such as wine, food, and oils were buried with the decease to ensure a safe travel to the afterlife. Other pottery buried with the deceased displayed day to day occurrences, and things of importance to the deceased. In both societies they were an art form that provided a necessary use as a container. Although in Greece is where they become elaborate enormous, and serve a luxurious purpose possibly similar to the Egyptian palettes, more so in Greece they began to display them as grave markers for everyone to admire, becoming a presented art form not just for the dead. It is the Greek vases that pay testament to the wealth and prestige of the family that displays them.

Vases used as grave markers shows up briefly in Athens during the geometric period of pottery. The timing is aligned with the end of the dark ages and the emergence of the archaic period.  This period is of some archaeological debate, many associating this time with the emergence of new beliefs about death and the afterlife, which is argued in Sourvinou-Inwood’s paper. The new beliefs associated death with fear and the need for an individual mortality. Therefore it seems simple to view these large vases obviously built to be admired as a concrete representation of immortality. In other words these large structures brought with them a lasting familial legacy able to transcend death. These vases which are meant to stand above the grave as beautiful displays of the deceases life can be seen as a way to immortalize them, to keep their legacy/story alive. This seems to stand in odds with the ancient Egyptians use of pottery in funerary practices. Where the grave marker was used as a storytelling mechanism it was meant to be viewed by the living as a testament to the dead’s life, in Egypt we have only the pottery buried with the dead, and while they may display the day to day occurrences they are not meant as a testament to the dead’s life, but offerings to carry the dead to the next world.

Geometric Amphora

Geometric Amphora from the Dipylon

This geometric amphora seen above is a perfect example of the grandisimo spectacle of wealth and privilege chosen to be displayed as a grave marker for the deceased. The amphora as shown has a spherical large base with a neck cylindrical piece connected; this type of vase is reserved for female tombs. This is a double handled amphora with the two handles attached to the sides, created around 750 b.c. This amphora is anointed with the typical geometric straight lines, repeating patterns; the main belly part shows a beautiful display of the funerary process. In this part the deceased is displayed dead on their side for our ample viewing pleasure, during the cleansing of the body ceremony. Around the deceased you can see lamentation occurring with women pulling out their hair grieving in honor of the dead, by the number of individuals lamenting you can tell that this individual was of importance, possibly displaying the success of their ancestry, which was able to secure such and elaborate funeral tradition, and wealth. Standing at 5ft 1in this model of pottery mastery, is a testament to the familial wealth and importance, which will be remembered for ages based on how elaborate and significant the grave marker is, therefore through remembrance in death the deceased gain immortality. Although this vase also cost a significant amount, with the amount of material and effort to design it consuming a lot of time, therefore reserved for only those in the elite, which brings up a point of contention, meaning that this new art only displays the beliefs of those with wealth in a society, so we must be careful not the generalize all the beliefs.

Geometric Krater

Terracotta Krater

Terracotta krater: Attributed to the Hirschfeld Workshop

This second grave marker is of a similar time period although as clearly evident the vase is different. This is a krater vase, which is meant as a grave marker for the male deceased, displaying a clear distinction between male and female burials. The krater in some ways looks like the amphora turned upside down, with an open top, and a narrow cylindrical base. Similar to the female tombs grave marker the krater vase shows the funerary procession, and the standard geometric patterns.

Close up of Krater Vase

The upper middle shows the cleansing of the body and females lamenting yet again. Although looking lower we are shown huge scenes of a horse drawn chariots, and men that appear to be soldiers, possibly implying that this man was a solider. Evidently it shows that warrior combat and participation was of importance to this society with men with experience honored in death. Again the great wealth and prestige of the family is displayed in a monument to the deceases, displaying his funeral procession and societal status.   By having this as a grave marker you are able to live on as someone highly regarded and respected for what they have given to the Greek state.

Both these two grave markers depict a new importance placed on the funerary process, by displaying them for all to see you have created a competition on the funerary process, possibly leading to the mystery cults that develop later. The idea of sustaining immortality through remembrance is evident in the elaborate detail and workmanship of the vases. These vases later turn to the stone structures and stele erected later, which becomes a more individualistic representation of the dead.


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