Antique ceramics and weapons


Very often the painting depicted the heroes of the Trojan War. For example, Menelaus, dressed in armor of scales and with a large round hoplon shield (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

And the vessel that the potter made of clay …
The book of the prophet Jeremiah, 18: 4)

Ancient civilization. In our cycle of acquaintance with ancient culture, three materials have already appeared: “Croatian Apoxyomenus from under the water. Ancient civilization. Part 2 ”,“ Homer’s Poems as a Historical Source. Ancient civilization. Part 1 “and” Gold for war, the fourth wonder of the world and Ephesian marble. ” Today we again turn to the topic of ancient culture, but let’s talk about completely prosaic things, namely … dishes.

For example, ancient Greek ceramic vessels have come down to us: amphorae, cilicas, kiafs … Some of the figures are black, and the background is red. On others, the opposite is true! And they have a secret, which is that they do not fade, that is, the painting on them is so persistent that it is not afraid of millennia. How did the ancient masters achieve this? And, of course, we are also interested in the drawings themselves. The themes of the painting are very different: from mythical scenes to the everyday life of the neighboring blacksmiths. And, of course, many of the pottery of the ancient Greeks depicts fighting warriors. Well, the finds of artifacts (swords, armor, helmets) only confirm that those who painted all this saw it all with their own eyes. So ancient Greek pottery is also an encyclopedia of weapons of the ancient Greeks!


Stamnos VI c. BC. On it we see a variety of crests on the helmets of Greek soldiers and an equally varied painting of their shields, including the notorious image of the swastika. In fact, we have before us a ready-made set of figurines of soldiers and a ready-made packaging for them, or rather – an image on this packaging, which proves that you have not come up with anything

Historical detective

Ancient ceramics is nothing more than a historical detective story: we ask “witnesses”, that is, broken shards or whole vessels, and they are silent or … answer. But, fortunately, the ceramic vessels of the ancient Greeks are so informative that we learn a lot of interesting things from them, just by carefully examining them. However, first, before we get into this, let’s find out the most important thing: from what and how the Greeks made their dishes, namely: bowls, cups, dishes, their famous ampforms, etc.


But this find is very interesting, even though there is no warrior on it. Here is a kilik from the archaeological museum in Cerveteri. It is an ancient city in central Italy, in the Lazio region. In ancient times it was the city-state of the Etruscans and was called Kaisra, then Cere, or Kere. He was a member of the Etruscan union. The necropolis of Cerveteri are famous for their rich burials and are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As you can see, even then there were “substitutes for men”, which the warriors left to their wives, leaving for a long time on campaigns. Only the material was clearly not silicone.

Clay is the head of everything!

So from what? Most often from clay (although dishes were also made from metals: bronze, silver or gold; and later even from glass). Clay was everywhere in Greece, and everywhere it was a little different – from light red, almost yellow, to dark brown. Very good quality clay was mined in Attica, near Athens. In Greek, clay is keramos, and it is easy to guess that clay products were called (and are still called so) ceramics, and the craftsmen who made and do them were ceramists. Even the quarter in Athens where they worked was called Ceramic.

However, this material, that is, clay, needed preparation. It was so easy to dig up clay in a hole, knead it and make pots! First of all, it was soaked in larger containers, or even small stone basins. At the same time, all sorts of light impurities floated up and were removed. The clay was then dried to remove excess water.

Who could spin a potter’s wheel?

After that, the clay was collected, dried again and, using a potter’s wheel, which could be both stone and wood, one or another vessel was made. Since the circle was heavy, it was twisted by a slave or an apprentice, and the master himself paid attention exclusively to the creative process. Only later did they come up with a device in order to twist it with their feet. And labor productivity immediately rose sharply. If the vessel consisted of several parts, then they were made separately and connected until they were dry. They tried to make the surface of the vessel smooth, for which they wiped it with a damp cloth or a sea sponge, and again polished the dried surface, rubbing it with pieces of bone, stone or wood. An amphora or vase was more beautiful if the potter made the color of the clay itself brighter. For example, he covered the surface with red ocher diluted in water, and it was absorbed into the clay. Then the vessels were dried in the shade so that they would not crack under the direct rays of the sun from uneven heating. Drafts were avoided for the same reason. So the workshop of the Greek potter had to be quite spacious … “home ownership”.


Classic black-figure amphora with two fighting warriors (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The birth of one vessel is the work of many hands!

Now it was possible to proceed directly to the painting of the finished vessel. But it was no longer a potter who was doing this, but a vase painter, to whom he transferred his product. He made a sketch of the future drawing with a sharpened stick, with a lead pencil, on the still completely dry surface of the vessel, so that it still needed not to dry out. That is, the state of the vessels had to be monitored continuously, and as some vessels dried and painted, others should be immediately done so that the drying and painting process was coordinated. The contour of the figures was outlined with a thin brush, and a compass was used to draw a round shield for the warrior.


The simplest red clay jug from the Archaeological Museum in Larnaca, Cyprus

Black and red, red and black …

Interestingly, most Greek vessels were painted with only two colors – red and black, although white and pink were also used. Moreover, the red paint was the same red clay, but the black one, although it seems this amazing, was also red clay, but only it was slightly different in quality. And it turned black only during firing in the oven. So, the painter applied to it the paint, which in reality was just clay, only a slightly darker shade compared to the one from which the vessel itself was made, and this was another important skill of his – it is good to distinguish minor shades in the color of the clay, becoming only after firing either black or red. Hence the name of the ceramics: black-figure and red-figure. The first means that the figures on the vase are painted over with “black paint”, the second means that the space around the figures is covered with black paint, and they themselves are left in the color of red clay. The vase painter either scooped out small details with a special sharp instrument, or painted with a thin brush. They used magenta, white, gray, pink and some other colors.


A jug for grain and … was it worth painting it beautifully? (Archaeological Museum in Larnaca, Cyprus)

Accordingly, they were also obtained by mixing white, red and black clays. The craftsmen knew that if you make the black paint a little more liquid, then during firing it will be possible to get a rich brownish tint that well reflects the color of the hair. Well, the dried painting was again polished, and the work was completed by writing inscriptions, for example, the names of the characters depicted.


Ancient household ceramics were very diverse. Here, for example, the Etruscan askos – a vessel for storing oils and refueling oil lamps (Archaeological and Art Museum of Maremma, city of Grosseto, Italy)

The most important secret is in the oven!

Now almost the most important thing remained – firing. For this, there was a special oven in the workshop, where the painted dishes were placed, and where free access for air was open, and the temperature gradually increased to 800 °. In this case, all products that were in the oven turned red. But then the stove was closed so that air did not get into it, wet firewood or wet straw was added to the fuel, and the temperature was raised to 950 °. Now the dishes, on the contrary, turned black, but not entirely, but only in those places that were painted with “black paint”. Now it was necessary to preserve this color, for which they put more wood in the stove, kept the same temperature for some time, and then opened it for air. The temperature dropped a little. But if the master accidentally shifted the wood, and the temperature in the oven rose to 1050 °, then the black color again turned red. These are the most complex chemical processes that took place at that time with iron oxide contained in clay, when it reacted with carbon dioxide released during the combustion of raw firewood. And here’s the question: how did the ancient Greek potters determine the desired temperature? Most likely by eye, by the shade of the flame. In any case, one thing is clear: they were professionals of a very high class and had vast experience. Well, they also relied on the help of gods, for example, the goddess Athena, the patroness of crafts. Although we know one thing for sure: they needed … a lot of firewood! Just really!


And here, on the contrary, we see a red-figure vessel, where there are horsemen, and infantrymen, and chariots … Take it, Angus McBride or Giuseppe Rava, and … draw your soldiers on it

Whose skill was higher?

Naturally, the craftsmen were proud of their products, and therefore they signed them. However, looking at the amazing black and red-figure vases, we more often admire the talent of the vase painters, rather than remember how difficult it was to sculpt and burn them. Apparently, anticipating this, it was the potters, as a rule (namely, they were the owners of the workshops), who more often left their names on the items, although many of them have not survived. They have not survived because they have come down to us … in tiny fragments.


Etruscan amphora, Louvre. Here, too, we see some obscenity. Obviously, this was their life. Rich in all sorts of sexual fantasies …

Nothing lasts forever, especially the earthenware, which sometimes, when dedicated to the gods, was deliberately broken. The vase could be preserved in its entirety, if only it was honored to accompany a person to the afterlife and if the grave was not robbed by ancient or later treasure hunters. So, in the XIX century. in the tombs of one of the most ancient peoples of Italy – the Etruscans, who believed in the afterlife and sought to equip it in the best and most pleasant way, they found a huge number of whole painted vases brought back in the 6th-5th centuries. BC e. from Greece. And although most of them were made in Attica, in Athens, they are still in the 19th century. called “Etruscan” because most of them were found in Etruscan tombs.


Another depiction of an antique warrior with a painted shield at the bottom of the kilik. (“Old Museum” – Art Museum in Berlin on Museum Island)

By the way, the Etruscan pottery itself is quite different from the Greek one, so they cannot be confused in any way. Greek is more complete, “perfect”, so to speak, but Etruscan vessels are painted as if their creators were in a hurry somewhere. In addition, many of the vessels are completely black, and the drawings on them are scratched!


A cracked but glued red-figure kilik depicting an Olympic runner. There was a competition – a race in armor, which was a shield and a helmet. Typical Attic red-figure pottery, 480-470 BC BC. (Archaeological and Art Museum of Maremma, city of Grosseto, Italy)

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