An Apulian Tomb Group

About this Cluster

An Apulian Tomb Group

Introduction by J.R. Green

In 1965 the University acquired a group of vases reported to have been found in a tomb at Altamura (although there is of course no documentary evidence). The group consists of twenty vases: three oinochoai, three mugs, four rhyta, three kantharoi, a cup, a dish, a lebes gamikos, a squat lekythos, a guttus, a lekanis and a polychrome flask. All but the last three are in the red-figure technique. Functionally they form a fairly typical tomb-group, vessels for pouring and drinking wine, containers for oil and/or oil-based perfumes, a lekanis which was possibly used for offerings of food, and a lebes gamikos, a vase which, as the name implies, was a ritual vessel used in wedding ceremonies and would therefore have been suitable for inclusion in the tomb of an unmarried girl. The scenes on many of the vases, especially the women and Erotes with offerings, also make them suitable for the grave.

For ease of discussion it is perhaps simplest to divide these vases into three sub-groups on the basis of their chronology. The first comprises the bull-head rhyton (1965.33) and the squat lekythos (1965.22). They belong to about the middle of the fourth century and are attributed to the school of the Painter of Athens 1714. The latter was an important figure in Apulian vase-painting of the second quarter of the fourth century and a follower of the Iliupersis Painter (compare the pelike 1976.13 which is in another tradition stemming from the Iliupersis Painter). It is noteworthy that these two vases are less well preserved than the others and have needed more reconstruction. The second sub-group, which can be dated ca 340-320 BC, comprises the bulk of the vases and is on the whole remarkably well preserved. At least seven and possibly ten of them are by a single painter who has been named the Menzies Painter. (From 1966 until 1976, when it was transferred to the Classics Department, the group was displayed in the Menzies Library of the University.) The seven pieces firmly attributed to him are the oinochoai 1965.19-21, the mugs 1965.24-26 and the lebes gamikos 1965.27. The detail illustrations of women from these vases show the painter’s style quite clearly. The standing women leaning on pillars are remarkably similar to each other. We may note the treatment of the breasts, one frontal one profile, round and angular, the semi-circular lines for the drapery on the belly below the girdle, and the outlining of the nearer (bent) leg.

The stemless cup 1965.23 is closely related to the Menzies Painter in style as may be seen in the drawing of the seated woman. The three kantharoi 1965.28-30 are evidently by a single hand. They differ a little from the work of the Menzies Painter as represented by the other pieces in the group, most obviously in the treatment of the lower part of the women’s drapery (see the details in the entries for the relevant catalogue items) which has a lighter, more elaborate effect that links them to the circle of the Darius Painter. At the same time other aspects of the drawing are so close to the work of the Menzies Painter that it is difficult to believe they are not early works from his hand. (See the discussion of these vases in RVAp ii chapter 26.) The Menzies Painter and his Group fall within the workshop of the Patera and Ganymede Painters, a workshop that was responsible for a large proportion of the known Apulian production at this period, and our vases may be taken as typical. Also from the Menzies Group are the two interesting rhyta 1965.34-35 with their fine modelling. The dish 1965.36 must also belong in this same general area but on the early side. It shows more clearly the influence of the Darius Painter. The guttus 1965.37 should also be placed in this sub-group although it is not possible to relate it stylistically.

The latest vases are the lekanis 1965.31 and the flask 1965.38. Vases are given ribs only occasionally before the end of the fourth century, and then carefully and for special effect. The treatment on the lid of the lekanis is simple and produced merely by scoring the surface. We may also note that the design on the top of the handle is done in added colour that imitates red figure. The polychrome flask is the most important and unusual single item in the group. Not only are vases of this type rare, but the preservation of the relief work and of the colour is remarkable. As is noted below, the style of the relief is extremely close to that of Tarentine relief sculpture of about 300 BC and as such it forms an important document.

The site of Altamura lies in the Apulian uplands, about halfway between Taranto and Canosa. It seems to have been a prosperous centre and was certainly importing Attic red-figure pottery from at least the middle of the fifth century BC.

More recent finds there have much the same character as ours. The tomb-group and its pattern of imports, first from Taranto and then from Canosa, reflects the changing distribution of wealth and power in Apulia in the course of the fourth century. During the first sixty years or so, Taranto was clearly the dominant power economically, but the same period also saw the growing strength of native culture in a process which included increasing urbanisation in the various local areas. This is reflected in the move, about 330 BC, of a small group of Tarentine potters and painters to Ruvo near the northern coast of Apulia, a town which had had independent contact with Greece over a long period, and then, in the middle and third quarter of the fourth century, an increasing volume of imports from Taranto. These artisans must have seen a future there in terms of an expanding market. They only seem to have stayed in Ruvo for a generation before moving further north to Canosa. There they seem to have developed a substantial workshop producing red-figure and other Greek-style pottery in some quantity, with diminishing reliance on or contact with Taranto. By the end of the century they had established close trade links with the opposite coast of the Adriatic as well as through much of the uplands of Apulia and the Basilicata, as we see in this tomb-group.

At the same time, the Greeks of Taranto found themselves in growing difficulties with the native peoples. Canosa (as well as other centres) looked for support from Rome which, by the end of the century, was emerging as a major power, and the two concluded a foedus in 318 BC. Taranto sought help from Epirus and in particular armed support from Pyrrhus, but he (with his elephants) suffered a major defeat in a battle at Benevento in 275 BC at the hands of the Romans. Taranto itself was sacked by the Romans three years later.

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