Ancient Greek Pottery Facts: Types, Styles, And More

Oluwatosin Michael
Oct 30, 2023 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Dec 07, 2021
Ancient Greek pottery facts will help you understand ancient Greek customs and lifestyles.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.6 Min

In Greece, they have a history of telling stories.

The ancient Greeks would tell stories in many different ways. One way that we find very interesting is their pottery vessels.

In ancient Greece, pots were used daily. They were extremely useful but also breakable. Because of this, they were always in high demand. So pottery was used by almost everyone every day in the ancient Greek city-states.

There are a variety of pots, vases, and other utensils that the ancient Greeks used to help them in their daily activities. Some clay Greek vases have paintings painted on the side, and the paintings tell us a story.

You would find remodeled versions of these pots and vases in souvenir shops. However, you can find the real ones in some museums. The British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris house some of the greatest Greek artifacts that have been found in excavations or via other sources.

These vases can come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and they can tell us a lot about the ancient Greek culture and beliefs because they were built to last. Archaeologists and historians can find out a lot about ancient Greek culture, and they can tell us about them today by studying them.

Greek pottery, with its many constituents, served the needs of men and women in their day-to-day activities. They would use pots, jars, vases, etc., to store oil, perfume, make-up, wine, and the like. There had been so many forms of pottery.

Each had its practical purpose. Among the most common in use was the 'amphorae'. It was used to store wine.

The 'krater' was used to mix wine with water. The wine was poured into cups known as 'kylixes' by jugs called 'oinochoai'. The ware that was used to hold water had three handles and was called the 'hydra'.

Women kept their perfumes and essential oils safe inside jars known as 'lekythoi'. So it is clear to us that ancient Greeks were very particular about their wares. No wonder we are still awed by their creations!

What we find quite interesting is that these vases are guarded and kept safe in secrecy in museums and auction centers, but originally they were made to be put outside houses in Greece, where they were probably fading in the Mediterranean sun!

If you are fascinated with the Greek world already, check out ancient Greek clothing facts and ancient Greek culture facts.

Famous Ancient Greek Pottery

Pots were not just useful, they were also works of art. While poor Grecians had simple pots, wealthy Grecians could afford large, beautiful vases which they displayed in their homes.

Large pots were used to store water or wine, whereas smaller ones stored perfumes and ointments. Some were designed for mixing wine, while others were designed for drinking it. Some people were buried with pots containing food and belongings that would be needed in the afterlife!

The process of making pottery was not simple. Potters would acquire clay, called 'keramos' in Greek, from various places all over Greece and work in tandem to produce pottery, called 'kerameikos' in Greek. They generally looked for the best variant of clay for their workshop. It was known as attic clay.

The reason why potters preferred attic clay is because of its superior iron content. This property produced an orange-red hue once the pottery was heated in a fire. Vase painters employed white clay during the coloration process.

Potters made use of the potter's wheel to produce pots, jars, and vases. The different parts of pottery were made on separate horizontal sections and then merged as one using a clay slip post drying.

Once the pot was ready, the potters added decorations. This was done using more than one technique. The paint was made permanent after it spent time inside a kiln.

The more the ancient Greeks traded with and colonized distant cities and islands, the more Greek culture mixed with other cultures. This influenced pottery styles.

For example, during the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greece had strong trade links with Asia Minor in the east. Their pottery was decorated with plants and animals. Greek potters copied this oriental style, and it became the new fashion!

Closer to home, black-figured Corinthian pottery was sold all over Greece, and before long Athenian potters were copying the Corinthian style. Early Athenian pots were made of orange clay and painted with black figures. Later on, the colors were reversed. Athenian and Corinthian pottery became famous throughout the Mediterranean.

Greek Vases And Their Myths

The amazing thing about ancient Greek vase makers, the potters, and the painters, is that they took humble everyday objects and turned them into something special. You get images from daily life; you get combats between warriors. Sometimes you get very specific mythological scenes, all of which explore different aspects of Greek history and culture.

Pottery was used as a medium through which common tales of bravado were disseminated among the masses. By analyzing a vase painting, we get to see tales depicting the lives of Greek heroes and heroines.

You may have heard of the great Hercules. In the Greek language, he is known as Heracles.

His is one such example that we can find on certain existing pottery samples. Many other characters from Greek mythology, namely Perseus, Diana, Zeus, etc., have been given life through the paintings on these pottery items. Apart from the figures of gods and demigods, a vase painting would also feature human figures in a large quantity.

Sometimes one can get to see animal motifs along with human figures. In other instances, a central human figure would be surrounded by mythical creatures.

What we can assume from looking at Greek vase painting is the fact that the people living in ancient Greece were culturally conscious. Not only were the rich and influential members of the society knowledgeable about their religion and culture, but the people at the very base of the social hierarchy of ancient Greece also partook in it.

Crete, Cyprus, and Sparta produced the largest number of painted vases that would sometimes be used for holding wine.

Famous Greek Pottery Artists

Have you ever noticed artists and painters putting their signature or initials at the bottom corner of their work? It is done to make sure that people remember the creator of the work of art.

On a similar note, we find the names of several potters and pottery painters from the ancient Greek period written on the body of the vase.

At times we find the name of a single person on the same vase. For example, men named Exekias and Epiktetos have left their signatures on their works of pottery.

This could mean that the same person both crafted and then painted the vase. At other times, one single vase would carry the names of two people.

The first one is the potter and the second the painter. There were instances where only one person signed, even when more than one person was involved in the making of the vase.

Archaeologists have found that even in the absence of signatures, vases can be identified as belonging to the same person. How do they do it?

They study the stylistic features of the vases and find similarities in their production and style. On occasions when large numbers of pottery items are unearthed from the same location and which show identical features, they are clubbed under one single individual. And the person is named after the site.

For example, we have the Berlin and the Lipari painters. Archaeologists are a clever lot!

We have evidence of painters and potters working together collaboratively as well. The painter Kleitas and the potter Ergotimos worked as a team for a long time.

Ancient Pottery Designs

When it comes to the decorative styles of Greek pottery, we can divide them into four principal categories. These were proto-geometric pottery, geometric pottery, black-figure pottery, and red-figure pottery. The proto-geometric style was the first decorative pottery style to embrace ancient Greece. These decorative styles sometimes overlapped each other and existed simultaneously on several occasions.

The earliest pots were covered in neat geometric patterns of circles, wavy lines, hearts, triangles, checkers, curved lines, and swastikas. Later, artists began decorating pots with scenes from daily life and mythology. These everyday life designs would integrate the black-figure technique with black figures and the red-figure style with red figures.

There are plenty of other Greek art forms and wall painting designs. There are reports that state that the art form of Athenian pottery would often combine with Assyrian pottery to build a particular style of Greek vase portraying the daily Greek life in its outer design.

Ancient Greek pottery art not only offers insights into how people lived in the past but also what they thought and believed and what was special to them.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for ancient Greek pottery facts then why not take a look at ancient Greek food facts, or ancient Greek temples facts.

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

Oluwatosin Michael picture

Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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