Corinthian Pottery

About this Cluster

Corinthian Pottery

Introduction by J.R. Green

In the second half of the eighth century Corinthian pottery steadily began to dominate the markets of the Greek world and it continued to do so throughout the seventh century. In Protocorinthian (to soon after the middle of the seventh century) one finds both linear ornament and a neat, lively figure style, mostly with animals, which is inspired to some extent by eastern motifs such as lions and panthers. In Ripe Corinthian of the later seventh and first half of the sixth centuries, animal friezes became even more popular but the drawing more sloppy and hasty. By the stage of the kotyle 1971.05, the bodies of the animals were extended to cover more and more of the surface of the vase.

Most decorated Corinthian vases are small and are either drinking vessels (especially the kotyle) or oil vessels (pointed and round aryballoi, alabastra). The clay used at this period is usually a pale cream colour, sometimes with a slight tendency to pale green, particularly by contrast with the pronounced orange of Attic. It is always very fine, smooth and well-levigated. The Corinthians also exported some categories of coarse-ware, notably amphorae and hydriai and such objects as mortars, but they are rarely found in museum collections.

The fundamental work on Corinthian pottery of this period is H.G. Payne, Necrocorinthia (Oxford 1931), but D.A. Amyx, Corinthian Vase-Painting of the Archaic Period (Berkeley 1988) presents a detailed study of vase-painters together with a great deal of background information, e.g. in ii, 355-361, a modest and careful history of the study of the subject, and in ii, 363-395, a well-judged outline of the development of Corinthian decorated pottery during this period. One should at the same time be aware of C.W. Neeft, Addenda et Corrigenda to D.A. Amyx, Corinthian Vase Painting... (Allard Pierson Series, Scripta Minora, 3, Amsterdam 1991). For an interesting discussion of the place of the cheap, hasty work of the later periods, see J.L. Benson, “Mass Production and the Competitive Edge in Corinthian Pottery”, Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu 1983-) 2, 1985, 17-20.

On the other hand, despite the considerable efforts both by these scholars and by others, it remains difficult to isolate any substantial bodies of work by individual hands in any way parallel to what we see in Attic black-figure or even Attic Geometric. The reason may in part lie in the nature of the material, but Seeberg has made an important case for the vase-painters’ work having been seasonal, so that they developed little consistency of style, of the kind learned through working in the studio the year round: MeditArch 17, 2004 [2006], 79-85.

For a useful discussion of the perils of dating Corinthian pottery, important though it is, especially for the chronology of the Greek colonies in South Italy and Sicily, see C.W. Neeft, “Absolute Chronology and Corinthian Pottery”, in: R. Panvini and L. Sole (eds), La Sicilia in età arcaica. Dalle apoikiai al 480 a.C. (Caltanissetta 2012) 485-496.

Many of the Corinthian vessels published here were designed to hold oils and perfumes and one may ask if they were exported for their own sake or, rather, for their  contents. For important work on determining the contents of such vases, see W.R. Biers and P.E. McGovern, Organic Contents of Ancient Vessels. Materials Analysis and Archaeological Investigation (MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology 7, Philadelphia 1990). (See also the similar work being done on the contents of glass vessels mentioned in the section on Greek and Roman Glass, below.) For discussion, see for example H. Parko, “Small Corinthian Oil-Containers: Evidence of the Archaic Perfume Trade?”, in: C. Scheffer (ed.), Ceramics in Context: Proceedings of the Internordic Colloquium on Ancient Pottery, held at Stockholm, 13-15 June 1997 (Stockholm Studies in Classical Archaeology 12, Stockholm 2001) 55-60; A. Verbanck and N. Massar, “Follow the scent... Marketing perfume vases in the Greek World”, in: A. Tsingarida and D. Viviers (eds), Pottery Markets in the Ancient Greek World (8th - 1st Centuries B.C.). Proceedings of the International Symposium held at the Université libre de Bruxelles 19-21 June 2008 (Brussels 2013) 273-298; M. D’Acunto, “I profumi nella Grecia alto-arcaica e arcaica: produzione, commercio, comportamenti sociali”, in: A. Carannante and M D’Acunto (eds), I profumi nelle società antiche. Produzione, commercio, usi, valori simbolici (Paestum 2012) 191-233.

It is interesting to compare a tomb-group from the island of Rhodes that contained a good number of small Corinthian vases, the contents of which have now been analysed: they provide important results for aromatic and medicinal materials: A. Coulié et al., “Le tombeau A de Camiros : les vases archaïques et leurs contenus. L’apport de l’étude chronologique et des analyses chimiques des résidus”, Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 141.2, 2017, 553-621.

For an excellent assessment of Corinth and the nature of Corinthian society on the basis of the archaeological evidence, see E.G. Pemberton, “Wealthy Corinth: The Archaeology of a Classical City”, The Australian Academy of the Humanities. Proceedings 1998 (Canberra 1999) 138-165.


Corinthian Red-Figure

Athenian red-figure dominated the markets throughout the later sixth and much of the fifth century, but in the last thirty years or so of the fifth century a number of Athenian potters and painters migrated from Athens to set up shop in regional centres.

While each case is in some respect different, it is worth looking for some common factors as reflecting the situation at the time. We from our perspective probably tend to over-emphasise the importance of the Peloponnesian War since we are conscious of the economic embargos brought to bear nowadays between hostile states; this was much less the case in antiquity. On the other hand, the war can hardly have helped trade, and the deprivations suffered by Athenians through the Plague and being closed off from their countryside (and possibly, for some potters, the loss of constant access to clay-beds) during the Spartan invasions may well have tipped the balance for those thinking of the prospects elsewhere. Other factors must have included the perceived value of these potters and painters as skilled practitioners of the red-figure technique, their knowledge of a range of mythological iconographies, and the opportunities they had for developing a local trade.

The most successful, patently, were those who went to Taranto, Metaponto and Syracuse (although there is also some evidence, slightly earlier, for the less successful: a single generation of work from a man who set up near Rutigliano on the Adriatic coast of Apulia). On them, see below, but it is worth noting that not all these states were on the Athenian side in the War. The case of Boeotia (see also below) is a complex one, in part because it was a bordering state, and there was also a level of local imitation there, but it is interesting that there is not much red-figure there before the later years of the fifth century. The case of Euboea is again particular, and there was of course an Athenian cleruchy at Eretria, which is probably reflected in the massive importation of Athenian pottery, especially white-ground lekythoi and other types of primary significance to Athenians (see for example Green and Sinclair, Historia 19, 1970, 515-527, with references). There was also production very close to Attic in style in Eretria about 430 bc and probably in Chalkis nearer the end of the century (K. Gex-Morgenthaler, Antike Kunst 29, 1986, 115-125; Gex and McPhee, Antike Kunst 38, 1995, 3-10).

The recognition of other regional production has largely been led by Ian McPhee of La Trobe University. A potter/vase-painter seems to have gone to Olympia in Elis, probably in train with Pheidias when he went to construct the Zeus of Olympia after his completion of the Athena Parthenos, and he seems to have established a continuing tradition (Trendall and McPhee, in: M.L. Gualandi , L. Massei and S. Settis (eds.), Aparchai: Nuove ricerche e studi sulla Magna Grecia e la Sicilia antica in onore di Paolo Enrico Arias (Pisa 1982) 471-472; Trendall and McPhee, Numismatica ed Antichità Classica. Quaderni Ticinesi 15, 1986, 155-177; McPhee, Jahreshefte des Oesterreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 60, 1990 (Beiblatt) 20-51; J. Schilbach, Elische Keramik des 5. und 4. Jahrhunderts (Olympische Forschungen, 23, Berlin 1995). Local red-figures also developed from the late fifth century onwards in Euboea (Gex and McPhee, Antike Kunst 38, 1995, 3-10; Gex, in: The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria [Aarhus 2014] 121-135), Laconia (Karouzou, Archaiologike Ephemeris 124, 1985, 33-44; McPhee, Annual of the British School at Athens 81, 1986, 153-166; Stroszeck, Archäologischer Anzeiger 2006, 101-120; Stroszeck, in: The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria [Aarhus 2014] 137-155), western Crete (B.F. Cook, Annual of the British School at Athens 85, 1990, 69-70, with mention of others), Agrinion in northwest Greece (McPhee, Annual of the British School at Athens 74, 1979, 159-162; Aggeli, in M. Yannopoulos and Ch. Kallinis [eds], ’Ηχάδιν τιμητικός τόμος για τη Στέλλα Δρούγου [Athens 2016] 52-76 and in The Regional Production of Red-Figure Pottery: Greece, Magna Graecia and Etruria [Aarhus 2014] 157-175; Paleothodoros, in: Θ΄ Επιστημονική Συνάντηση για την Ελληνιστική Κεραμική [Athens 2018] 379-387; widely distributed), the Chalkidike (McPhee, Annual of the British School at Athens 76, 1981, 297-308), and Pella in Macedonia (Akamatis, Annual of the British School at Athens 109, 2014, 223-249; id., Ερυθρόμορφη κεραμική από την Πέλλατο τοπικό εργαστήριο [Thessaloniki 2013] with English summary at pp. 183-87). There was also production, probably by an Athenian, of black-glaze vessels at Marion in north-west Cyprus.

Corinth, as a wealthy trading centre, was not unnaturally conscious of developments in Athenian pottery. In the middle years of the fifth century there were local imitations of Attic white-ground and plain-ground pattern lekythoi (F. Eichler, Archäologischer Anzeiger 1941, 63-70; Corinth XIII 141-143; A. Steiner, Hesperia 61, 1992, 385-408). Then, in the later fifth century, a number of painters developed red-figure, including, for a while, the Athenian Suessula Painter. There is a good and relatively early characterisation by P.E. Corbett in T.J. Dunbabin et al., Perachora ii (Oxford 1962) 286-289. For a substantial collection of material, see also S. Herbert, Corinth VII.4. The Red-Figure Pottery (Princeton 1977). There is an authoritative publication of further material by McPhee, “Local Red Figure from Corinth”, Hesperia 32, 1983, 137-153, and further, “A Corinthian Red-Figured Calyx-Krater and the Dombrena Painter”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 10, 1991, 325-334, and “Classical Vases in Ancient Corinth”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 47, 2004, 1-21; by McPhee and Trendall, “Six Corinthian Red-Figure Vases”, in: M.A. Del Chiaro and W.R. Biers (eds), Corinthiaca. Studies in Honor of Darrell A. Amyx (Columbia MO, 1986) 160-167.

For atticising black-glaze, see E.G. Pemberton, “Athens and Corinth: Workshop Relations in Stamped Black Glaze”, in: J.H. Oakley, W.D.E. Coulson and O. Palagia (eds.), Athenian Potters and Painters: The Conference Proceedings (Oxford 1997) 407-421, and more recently her valuable observations in “Classical and Hellenistic Pottery from Corinth and its Athenian Connections”, in: C.K. Williams, II, and N. Bookides (eds), Corinth, The Centenary, 1896-1996 (Corinth xx, Princeton 2003) 167-179.

On the general background, see B.R. MacDonald, “The Emigration of Potters from Athens in the Late 5th Century B.C. and its Effect on the Attic Pottery Industry”, American Journal of Archaeology 85, 1981, 159-168, and “The Import of Attic Pottery to Corinth and the Question of Trade during the Peloponnesian War”, Journal of Hellenic Studies 102, 1982, 113-123. There are also useful remarks by K. Arafat and C. Morgan, “Pots and Potters in Athens and Corinth: a Review”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 18, 1989, 311-346. 

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