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Sesklo cup in cream with a pattern of red squares

Greek pottery: A vase from Neolithic Sesklo, in Greece (5000 BC)

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.

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Pottery, even if it gets broken, can be put back together, and a lot of it has even survived whole, mostly in Etruscan tombs in Italy.

Traders sold Greek pottery to other places

a red figure vase showing a woman sitting and working on a large clay pot. Smaller pots hang from the ceiling over her head

A woman making a large pot, in a pottery workshop (Caputi hydria, by the Leningrad painter. Athens, about 490-470 BC)

That’s because for Greek people, pottery wasn’t just something to eat out of. From the Stone Age onward, Greek people made clay pots and bowls to sell to their neighbors. Sometimes they sold the pots empty, for wine jugs or table dishes.

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Sometimes they sold beautiful little bottles of perfume, or big storage jars full of wine.

People bought Greek dishes and jugs (and Greek perfume and wine) in Italy, in North Africa, in Northern Europe, in Central Asia, and in West Asia.

Greek pottery: A boy rolls a hoop on a vase by the Berlin Painter

Time periods of Greek pottery

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 Pottery
Early Bronze Age Pottery
Late Bronze Age Pottery
Sub-Mycenean Pottery
Geometric Pottery
Black-Figure Pottery
Red-Figure 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).

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