Throughout the ancient world, vases were used in everyday life.
Used for storing oils and perfumes, wine and water, and for ritual purposes, the variety of surviving vases offers glimpses not only into their use in the home and in temples but also their role in trade and the economy.
Vases could be plain or decorated in both the classical and Roman eras but also in the earlier Minoan and Mycenaean periods. And with so many archaeological sites, various regional differences in clay are visible as well.
To many scholars, the techniques and technologies of antiquity still provide a challenge. Most painters' and potters' works remain unattributed. As trade was a large part of the Greek and Roman economies, many vases ended up far from home, including in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. The widespread trade of wine and other commodities means many vases have been found in shipwrecks, as well as in standard archaeological sites.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The Whanganui Regional Museum is lucky to have a large collection of ancient vases ranging from Cypriot ware to Attic (in Greece) Black Figure pottery and more.
One of the earlier vases in the collection is a large storage amphora from Cyprus. This vase dates from the Cypriot-Archaic Period of around 750 to 600BC.
The vase was excavated from Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus by Dr George Sleight, who donated much of the Cypriot ware collection at the museum. The decoration on this vase consists of simple bands of brown slip around the top and bottom of the body. The bands on the top enclose a band of 22 circle groups. Each of the groups consists of 10 or 11 circles. There are a further eight circles around the neck of the vase. This vase has very basic decoration, with no depictions of animals or people. It is most likely to have been used to store wine or water.
Some vases have only the natural colour of their clays for decoration.
One of the most interesting at the museum is a simple red terracotta amphora from either Greece or Rome, recovered from a shipwreck. This vase is covered in white encrustations including mud, worm castings, barnacles and shell formations. It may have contained wine or water and is a prime example of a vase being used outside the home.
These simply decorated vases have just as much to tell us about the techniques, technology and clay composition as the more famous decorated vases. Not everyone could own a large, decorated vase like those found in Canterbury University's Teece Museum or Victoria University of Wellington's Classics Museum. Through the work, however, of famous scholars like John D Beazley, John Boardman and Dietrich von Bothmer, more information can be gleaned from even the simplest of vases. As each new vase is discovered and studied, new information about the lives of those from antiquity are revealed.
* Rachael Mildenhall is the photograph collection researcher at Whanganui Regional Museum.