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Greek Antiquities

Reprinted by permission from "Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations"  by Alex G. Malloy, updated by Joseph Sermarini


The Neolithic Age in Greece resulted in early settlements dating from the 7th millennium B.C. in Macedonia. The earliest pottery dates from 6500-6000 B.C., from the area of Nea Nikomedia. During this early period the evidence of trade with other areas is apparent. Flint and obsidian were widely traded. With the advent of the Bronze Age came the development of metallurgy. These people were illiterate into the 3rd millennium B.C.

The first great emergence of the Greek civilization started in the islands, and specifically in Cnossus in Crete, in the 4th millennium B.C. This was the Greek civilization in its oldest form, before the Hellenistic civilization. This Bronze Age period is divided into three periods. Early Minoan (2800-2000 B.C.), Middle Minoan (2000-1550 B.C.), and Late Minoan (1550-1050 B.C.). By the 3rd millennium B.C., Crete was influencing culture far beyond its borders. The grand palace of Cnossus, along with associated buildings, covered an area of eight acres. The best pottery of the Middle Minoan period has rarely been equaled. Also, Cyclades were produced during this period, c. 2600-2500 B.C., in the form of stylized goddesses carved in marble.

While in the influence of Crete was diminishing in the 14th century B.C., Mycenae on mainland Greece was experiencing a wide spread of prosperity. Mycenaean settlements in the East developed trade as far away as Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Areas throughout Asia Minor saw Mycenaean settlements like Miletus, Samos, Halicarnassus, and Ephesus. The Heroic Age sung of by Homer, with the siege of Troy, belongs to the Mycenaean Age. The Mycenaean man was a warrior attesting to weapons and human combat scenes carved in intaglio gems.

By 800 B.C., the Dorian invasion had revolutionized the distribution of the population in the Peloponnese. This Geometric period began a new era in Greek history. The Indo-European invaders from the North brought a new religion, a new language, and the use of iron. The people of this period produced no monumental architecture or sculpture, but rather confined their work to pottery, small bronze, terracotta statuettes, and engraved seals. The designs consisted of systematized geometric patterns, and depended on the locality in which they were produced for both technique and ornamentation. This style reached its highest level of development in Attica. From 700-550 B.C. was the period of Orientalizing influence. The geometric style style was supplanted everywhere with ever new ideas, in which the Eastern Mediterranean played a major part. The Phoenicians introduced the alphabet. Monumental sculpture was being produced in Cyprus. Corinth was the great center of pottery, and the result was wide distribution in Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Crimea. It was also imitated by the Etruscans.

The Archaic period, in the 6th century B.C., is one of growth in every direction. The artist surpassed the stage of the primitive. Greek art was now heading toward the state of great artistic genius and appreciation of beauty which it would eventually realize. Bronze casting progressed to a high state of artistic expression. Pottery, terracotta, marble sculpture, and glass manufacture were all expressive of this age.

By the end of the 6th century B.C., most Greek states throughout the Mediterranean world had rejected their tyrants, and accepted the principles of democratic government. For most of the Classical stage in art, Greek history is taken up by the powerful struggles between Sparta and Athens, and then by the Persian invasions. Under these influences the stimulus in art was rapid. In a small stretch of time, less than half a century, every trace of Archaism was discarded, A new concept, idealism, was pursued, along with an expression of spirituality. Each medium of artistic work was transformed. Red figure painted vases reached splendid heights, as did sculpture in stone and bronze. Terracotta figures and engraved gemstone also displayed excellent craftsmanship.

The 4th century B.C. is the epoch of great civic building of theaters, stadiums, gymnasiums, and temples out of stone. Greece entered a new stage in history with the conquest of Alexander the Great. The extension of Greece was to include the Mediterranean world, Southwestern Asia, and part of Central Asia. This Hellenistic period from the 3rd to the 1st century B.C. saw a new outlook on artistic endeavors. The aim of the artisan was no longer idealism of pure beauty, but realism. The realistic spirit was particularly strong at the new schools in Asia Minor. More attention to scientific and anatomical detail was the artist’s goal. A broadened variety of subjects were of interest, such as children and the elderly, as well as caricatures.

Roman art would be the next phase in history, stating at different times as Rome swept down with its conquering legions.

Southern Italy

Sicily and Southern Italy prospered with the vast Greek colonization. The Greek pioneers gave way to new styles developed by the Magna Graecia Greeks. Taras, Metapontum, Poseidonia, Croton, Regium, and Loci, from Southern Italy, along with the great cities of Sicily such as Syracuse, Gela, Akragas, Segesta, and Leontini, all added to the fineness of Greek civilization and art. Syracuse, an area of great prosperity, drew Greek artists from distant areas. The South Italian pottery was of exceptional quality, second only to Attic vases. Various regions developed their own signature styles. Lucanian, Campanian, and Apulian styles were all in the strong Greek tradition, while Gnatia and Daunia produced more Magna Graecia-style ware.

Etruscans

The Etruscan people settled between the Tiber and Arno Rivers. The Greek influence was very great there at certain periods. Etruscans art is a combination of elements taken from the East and from Greece, with varying degrees of originality. The early Villanovan was initially of strong influence, but gave way to the Greek presence in the south. The pottery can be closely Corinthian in style. Some of the most attractive plain-ware pottery made was the all-black Bucchero ware. Bronze development was strong, but not on a par with Athens. Jewelry workshops were of the finest quality. Exceptional gold work has come down to us today, and commonly go for high prices when offered. Terracotta figures were made of lovely style, exhibited in large human heads, burial urns, and sarcophagi.

Eastern Greeks

The Greek influence coming from Asia Minor was strong. These Eastern Greeks established themselves after the end of the Bronze Age on the coastal areas of Western Asia. Rhodes was a center of pottery terracotta manufacture from the Geometric period on. The sculpture from Asia Minor is magnificent, but can be seen in museums only. One can never forget the sculpture from Pergamum. Cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, Chios, Lesbos, Troy, Samos, Cnidus, Halicarnassus, Antioch on the Orontes, and Ba’albek attest to the greatness of Greek influence in Asia Minor and the Levant. Smaller objects from the Eastern Greek world are very often available in the marketplace.

Cyprus

Cyprus was first settled in the 7th millennium B.C., and a stone working culture slowly gave way to the Bronze Age in this area. Weapons and bronze pins were manufactured over a period ranging from 2700 to 1050 B.C. Cypriot artist in the Bronze Age used bold designs in their pottery. Red polished ware, mottled red polish, black polished ware, and the Middle Bronze Age, red on black and white painted wares were made, as were the base ring and white slip wares later on. All were exported to the mainland. By the 10th century, Greek colonizers had brought their culture to the island. During the Iron Age, Cyprus was a center for exporting fine wares to the Levant, such as wheel-made bichrome white and red ware. Terracotta fertility figurines were made in human form with unusual simplistic designs and shapes. Animal terracotta figures and vessels were made, representing bulls, deer, cattle, horses, pigs, camels, sheep, goats, dogs, birds, and snakes. The lotus was a favorite painted design on pottery.

Pottery

The earliest Minoan pottery was incised ware and painted ware with parallel lines and cross-hatching in various patterns. Early Minoan pottery has a beautiful flare spout in its pitcher and juglets. Magnificent stone carved vases are found from the Early and Middle Minoan phases. By the Middle Minoan period, many shapes were used with butterfly, double axepations, sworls, branches, and various marine designs. In the later part of this period, wonderful polychrome vessels with dolphins, crabs, and stylized octopi appear, The Late Minoan period is distinguished by finer baking. The designs become more complex with an emphasis on floral and marine patterns. A distinct two-handed goblet with a pedestal uses a single self-contained unit for decoration. All of the Cretan pottery is rarely on the market today, and commands strong prices.

The fine Greek pottery can be divided into four main groups. The Geometric wares are dated from 1000-700 B.C. The designs and origins were from many localities and were painted in brown or black monochromes. Trade contract with Egypt, Phoenicia, and inland Western Asia resulted in the Orientalizing phase of Greek pottery. The images as seen on imported textiles, ivory, and metal objects from the East inspired the introduction of human, animal, and plant forms on the new polychrome painting. Corinth was the center of this widely exported ware. Rhodes, Chios, and the Cycladic Islands were also pottery centers. The Athenian potters during the 6th century until 530 B.C. developed the mature black-figure technique. This was an expanded technique from Corinthian ware with details of black figures incised. Athens was the center, but Chalcidian ware and East Greek wares were also produced. This stage of Greek pottery grew to such an extent that the artists began singing their works. Alongside the black-figuring painting, the red-figure phase was invented around 530-520 B.C. This technique used a predominantly black gazed background with figures and designs left in red-orange. The individual artists were rapidly developing skill in human anatomy, and the results are magnificent. Professor Beazley of Oxford was able to identify by style over 500 different painters. The height of this period is in the period from 480-450 B.C., when the generation of artist created a concept of ideal beauty. During this period, different wares also competed for excellence. White-ground ware and the plastic vases were made, but not commonly found. Greek pottery declined during and after the Peloponnesian Wars. Many Attic Artists moved their craft to Magna Graecia, where red-figure painting lasted to the 3rd century B.C.

The pottery from Magna Graecia was varied and rich in quality. The red-figure pottery falls into two basic groups. One is Apulian and Lucian, and the other group is Campanian, Sicilian, and Paestan. The pottery from this area is the most collected today. A.D. Trendall estimates the total number of extant examples of Apulian pottery is more than 10,000, Campanian at over 4000, and less than 1000 each of the other wares. The function of most South Italian vases was to hold water, wine, and oil. The funerary vases were not constrained by their function, but were designed more for visual appeal. Some were so large as to be unusable for holding water. This pottery was primarily used in the locality in which it was manufactured. The black gaze wares were produced with an unbroken lustrous surface. Its fine sheen resembles metal. This classic ware was extensively made, and a large degree of examples are available today on the market. They are often collected for their various elegant shapes.

Magna Graecia Pottery

Lucian

Red-figure

430-330 B.C.

Apulian

Red-figure

430-300 B.C.

Campanian

Red-figure

430-300 B.C.

Campanian

Black-figure

330-300 B.C.

Paestan

Red-figure

360-310 B.C.

Paestan

Black-figure

340 B.C.

Sicilian

Red-figure

330-300 B.C.

Gnathia

Gnathian technique: black glaze

350-275 B.C.

Teano

Variation Gnathian technique

310-280 B.C.

Centuripe

Fugitive pastel colors

3rd cent. B.C.

Messadian

Brown on buff

7th-3rd cent. B.C.

Pevcetian

Various

700-330 B.C.

Daunian

Various

700-330 B.C.

Xenox

Red on black glaze

375-350 B.C.

Calenian

Black glaze w/relief décor

4th-3rd cent B.C.

Apulian

Black gloss

4th cent. B.C.

Campanian

Black gloss

3rd cent. B.C.

Campanian

Grey-body

2nd-1st cent B.C.

Metal Objects

Small Greek bronze antiquities are available in many shapes, sizes, and uses. They included utilitarian objects such as vessels, household implements, furniture, appliqués, tools, arms and armor, ornaments, horse trappings, mirrors, amulets, and objects used in daily life. Moat objects had some decoration. Bronze handles to vessels are attractive, and can be found in many price ranges. Bronze figurines exemplify Greek art and are available in all periods from Minoan down to Late Hellenistic.

Terracotta

Greek terracotta sculptures and figures make up on area of collecting in which fine examples of Greek art can be purchased at very reasonable values. The finest examples of terracotta found are from Tanagra. Made in the first half of the 4th century B.C., they fall into the figurative terracotta category, or statuettes and other small portable objects. The second main category is architectonic terracottas. These were made as decorations for buildings. They are usually found in areas where marble was scarce. Areas where fine examples are found include Magna Graecia and Corinth. The objects can be beam ends, rainspouts, friezes, and pediment sculptures. Figurines and reliefs follow, and exemplify the lines of stylistic development of the larger sculptures, e. g. Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. This field of collecting can be one of the most rewarding. A fine collection can be put together today.

Greek Terracotta Characteristics

AREA

COLOR CLAY

TEXTURE

COMMENTS

Attica

Orange-yellow brown

Fine

Small quantity of mica

Corinth

Cream: greenish; orange

Extremely fine

No mica

Boeotia

Yellow ochre: pale orange-brownish

Fine before 500 B.C.

Mica present

Halicarnassus

Orange: cream: purple-brown

Coarse

Large mica crystals

Ephesus

Orange

Coarse

Much mica

Crete

Pale orange cream

Very fine

Encrusted with chocolate-brown

Tarentum

Orange-yellow brown

Fine

Much mica

Sicily

Pale orange-light greenish gray

Coarse

Some mica

Cyrenaica

Most colors except greenish

Coarse

Small quantity of mica

Tools and Weapons

Bronze was the main metal in forging Greek tools and weapons. While bronze helmets and greaves appear on the market occasionally, the main objects available are spearheads and arrowheads. Bronze arrowheads are found in all areas once controlled by the Greeks.

Stone

For the most part, marble sculpture is collected by museums and a few private collectors in the world today. However, non-Classical Greek sculpture can still be collected from the Eastern Greek world. Limestone sculptures from Cyprus or Crete will bring in much less than those from Greece or Magna Graecia.

Lamps

Greek lamps are found in a much simpler form than those manufactured during the time of the Roman Empire. The earlier lamps, dating from the 7th century B.C. on, were open in the center, with closed nozzles. They were usually black glazed. As time progressed, the central portion became more enclosed. Lamps with vertical and strap handles were made. By the Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods, shoulder decoration began to be produced, and side lugs were often present. Most Greek lamps can be purchased for under $150 apiece.

Jewelry

Jewelry appeals to a wide area of collectors. While the asking prices of Greek gold jewelry is handsome, some simpler designs can bring in cheaper prices for those with a smaller budget. Even today, just as in ancient times, gold jewelry is coveted for its sheer luxury and beauty. Greek mythology tells of Eriphyle’s betrayal of her spouse because of her desires for a fine necklace, Polycrates’ defeat for a fine intaglio set into a gold ring.

Glass

The center for Hellenistic glass workshops was Alexandria, in Egypt. The vessels are all derived from Greek pottery forms. The glass was core-formatted, with colorful molded rods of various colors swirling around the shoulders. It is not until the Roman period that glass was made on a large scale.

Writing

Early writing and lettering is an area of collecting that is increasing in popularity. Greek writing is not frequently found. Usually when it is encountered, it is in the form of an inscription on an object, or a name signed on a Greek vase by its maker. Papyrus fragments with Greek writings can be found, however, and are highly sought after.