Ancient Greek Pottery
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Ancient Greek Pottery

white mug with red squares
Stone Age cup from Sesklo (ca. 5000 BC)

May 2016 - Very few Greek painted pictures have survived the 2500 years since they were painted. So most of what we know about Greek art comes from the pictures they painted on fancy pottery. Pottery, even if it gets broken, can be put back together, and a lot of it has even survived whole, mostly in Etruscan tombs. That's because for Greek people, pottery wasn't just something to eat out of. From the Stone Age onward, Greek people made pottery to sell to their neighbors. Sometimes they sold it empty, for wine jugs or table dishes. Sometimes they sold beautiful little bottles of perfume, or big storage jars full of wine. People bought Greek pottery (and Greek perfume and wine) in Italy, in North Africa, in Northern Europe, in Central Asia, and in West Asia.

greek vase
Red figure Greek vase by
the Berlin Painter (Athens, ca. 500 BC)

Greek painted pottery changed a good deal over the five thousand years between the Stone Age and the Hellenistic period. For convenience, we divide it into seven different time periods. Click on each period to find out more.

Stone Age Greek Pottery
Early Bronze Age Greek Pottery
Late Bronze Age Greek Pottery
Sub-Mycenean Greek Pottery
Geometric Greek Pottery
Black-Figure Greek Pottery
Red-Figure Greek Pottery

Learn by doing: a vase-painting project
More about Greek art

Bibliography and further reading about Greek pottery:

A Greek Potter, by Giovanni Caselli (1986). A day in the life of a Greek potter, easy reading.

Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 2: Art Activities about Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, by Yvonne Merrill (2004). Has a project for making your own Greek amphora.

The History of Greek Vases, by John Boardman (2001). For adults, but clear and readable, by an expert who has written most of the main books on Greek pottery.

Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques (Getty Museum Publications 2002) by Andrew J. Clark, Maya Elston, Mary Louise Hart.

Looking at Greek Vases, by Tom Rasmussen, Nigel Spivey (1991) (each chapter is written by a different specialist, but the book as a whole is intended for non-specialists).

More about Greek Art
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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