The early Greek world 3200–450 BC

Case 2: The Greek world 900–500 BC

Image["A new beginning: Geometric Athens 900-700 BC"]

A new beginning: Geometric Athens 900-700 BC

Some of the richest evidence for this period comes from the cemeteries of Athens. Here, people began to display their wealth and status by putting pottery and metal objects in burials and setting up huge, intricately decorated pots as grave markers. The pottery, with its distinctive linear (geometric) patterns, has led to the age becoming known as the ‘Geometric’ period. These developments took place about four hundred years after the end of the Mycenaean civilisation. Relatively little is known about the intervening centuries because archaeological evidence is scarce.

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Extremes of size

The shape of a pot usually gives an indication of what it was used for, but how does that use change with its size? Most of these are miniature pots too small to be used in the same way as the full-sized versions. Are they children’s toys? Or are they meant as substitutes for larger versions, when given as dedications to a god, or when placed in a grave? Their size might make them less expensive to produce, or better able to fit in small spaces. By contrast, GR.7.1925 is an over-sized bowl for mixing wine – too large for any ordinary party. This may have been a marker to stand on top of a grave, or may even have held the bones of the dead person.

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Inspiration and influence: Greek pottery 700-500 BC

After about 700 BC Greek pottery decoration was transformed by ideas from the Near East. Eastern metal work inspired a new technique of Greek pottery decoration, known as black-figure, and exotic eastern subjects such as monsters started to be used. Different areas of Greece used these inspirations in different ways, creating regional styles. Pottery from Corinth was particularly popular and widely traded, influencing pottery in other areas of Greece and abroad.

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Movement and trade 700-500 BC

Greek pottery is distinctive both in fabric and decoration and, since it is also hard to destroy, it is one of the best sources of evidence for the movement of objects around the Mediterranean. It survives when other more perishable items, such as food or textiles do not. Greek pottery of this period has been found all over the Mediterranean world in large enough quantities to make it certain that it was being traded. What is often unclear is whether the pottery was valued for itself, or for its contents. Nor is it known who was actually doing the trading - Greeks or non-Greeks.

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Perfume bottles

These small bottles are believed to have held perfumed oil because of their size and shape. Perfume was expensive and so the container would be small. The narrow opening meant that only a little of the contents could be poured out at a time, and the perfume was less likely to deteriorate from coming into contact with air.

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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Early Greek world3200-450 BC

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