Ancient Greek Pottery: Types, History & Facts

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  • 0:02 Pottery Production in…
  • 1:14 Four Pottery Types
  • 2:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Brazinski
Have you ever wondered how the ancient Greeks made pottery and why they had so many different types? In this lesson, we'll discuss the history of ancient Greek pottery and learn how to identify the different styles of vessels.

Pottery Production in Ancient Greece

Just like you and me, the ancient Greeks needed cups, dishes and cutlery for their everyday lives. However, unlike the mass-produced items many of us own, specialized craftsman called potters created most of the pots, or vessels, used by the ancient Greeks.

During the first step in production, potters collected natural clay from the ground. Then, they molded the clay into the different shapes, depending on what type of vessel they were making. Different vessels were used for different things.

Amphora, or really big jugs, were used to carry more commercial liquids like wine and fish-oil. Smaller types, like lekythos, were used as everyday oil containers. For instance, does this lekythos remind you of your olive oil container in your house?

A lekythos

After the vessels were molded, they were placed in a kiln. A kiln is a small-enclosed structure where clay pots are fired. After the clay hardened, potters collected and decorate them with stamps, paints or slips. Slips are a type of clear glaze that could be painted on a pot to give it a beautiful shine. Afterwards potters brought the vessels to the agora, or marketplace, and sold their products.

Four Pottery Styles

There were four major pottery styles of ancient Greece: geometric, Corinthian, red-figure and black-figure pottery. Geometric pottery, which utilized numerous geometric shapes, was one of the earliest ceramic styles in ancient Greece, dating approximately 900 BC - 700 BC. Do you see the stick figures and horses on this famous vessel, the Hirschfeld Krater?

The Hirschfeld Krater is an example of Greek geometric pottery.
The Hirschfeld Krater

Corinthian pottery, which demonstrated a more Asian style, dates from roughly the 8th to 7th centuries BC. Can you guess where Corinthian pottery is from? Corinth in Greece, of course, although some imitation wares were also made in other towns. Can you find any Asian motifs in the animals depicted on this vessel?

An example of Corinthian pottery
An example of Corinthian pottery

Black-figure pottery, named after the black figures that decorated the vessels, were made in Athens from 620 BC to 480 BC. Typically, potters used a red background, which stood in contrast to the black figures, such as the image of Heracles found on this pot. Heracles, was the son of the Greek god, Zeus, and was known for his many adventures and physical strength.

An example of black-figure pottery
An example of black-figure pottery

Red-figure pottery, which utilized red figures on a black background, was a shift in style most likely connected with the Persian War in 480 BC, when the Greeks defeated Xerxes' army. Most of this pottery was made in Athens from 480 AD to the Hellenistic period of the 4th century BC.

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