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Olla

p827 Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp827‑828 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

OLLA, ant. AULA (Plaut. Aulul. passim), dim. OLLULA (λέβης; χύτρος, χύτρα, dim. χυτρὶς), a vessel of any material, round and plain, and having a wide mouth; a pot; a jar.

Besides being made of earthenware (Antiphanes ap. Athen. X.70; ὀστρακίνη, testacea) and bronze (χαλκῆ, aenea, Aesop. Fab. 329; Cato, de Re Rust. 81; aenum, Ov. Met. VII.318‑321; λέβης χάλκεος, Herod. I.43), the ancients also made these vessels of different kinds of stone, which were turned upon the lathe. At Pleurs, a village near Chiavenna to the north of the Lake of Como, the manufacture of vessels from the potstone found in a neighbouring mountain is still carried on,a and has probably existed there from the time of Pliny, who makes express mention of it (H. N. XXXVI.22 s44). Some of these vessels are nearly two feet in diameter, and, being adapted to bear the fire, are used for cooking (oculis observare ollam pultis, ne aduratur, Varro, ap. Non. Marcell. p543 ed. Merceri; Festus, s.v. Aulas.

An engraving of a jar with a thinner neck and two large handles. It is decorated with scenes from Greek mythology. It depicts an example in the British Museum of a pottery vessel called 'olla' in Latin.

The preceding woodcut is taken from a vase in the British Museum, which was found at Canino in Etruria. The painting upon it represents the story of Medea boiling an old ram with a view to persuade the daughters of Pelias to put him to death (Ovid, Met. VII.318‑321; Hygin. Fab. 24). The pot has a round bottom, and is supported by a tripod under which is a large fire. The ram, restored to youth, is just in the act of leaping out of the pot. Instead of being supported by a separate tripod, the vessel was sometimes made with the feet all in one piece, and it was then called in Greek τρίπους [Tripos], χυτρόπους (Hes. Op. et Dies, 748; Schol. in Soph. Aj. 1405), and πυρίστατης.

Besides being placed upon the fire in order to boil water or cook victuals, the ancientsº used pots to carry fire, just as is now done by the modern inhabitants of Greece, Italy, and Sicily (Xen. Hellen. IV.5 § 4). They also used small pots containing fire and pitch to annoy the enemy in sieges by throwing them from slings and military engines.

Ollae were also used to hold solids and keep them in store, while amphorae rendered the same service in regard to liquids. [Amphora] Thus grapes were kept in jars as at present (Columell. R. R. XII.43). Although pots were commonly made solely with a view to utility, and were therefore destitute of ornament and without handles, yet they were sometimes made with two handles (δίωτοι) like amphorae; and, when they were well turned upon the wheel, well baked, smooth and neat, and so large as to hold six congii (= 4½ gallons nearly), they were, as we learn from Plato (Hipp. Maj. pp153, 154, ed. Heindorf), considered very beautiful.

Pots were used, as with us, in gardening (Cato, de Re Rust. 51). The custom of placing flower-pots in windows is mentioned by Martial (XI.19.1, 2). A flower-pot, about six inches high and suited to this application, was found among the ruins of Aldborough, the ancient Isurium, and is p828preserved by A. Lawson Esq., the owner of that place.

Another very remarkable use of these vessels of earthenware among the Greeks was to put infants into them to be exposed (Aristoph.º Ran. 1188; Schol. ad loc.; Moeris, s.v. Ἐγκυτρισμὸς), or to be carried anywhere (Aristoph. Thesm. 512‑516; Schol. ad loc.). Hence the exposure of children was called ἐγχυτρίζειν (Hesych. s.v.), and the miserable women who practised it ἐγχυτρίστριαι (Suidas, s.v.).

In monumental inscriptions the term olla is frequently applied to the pots which were used to receive the ashes of the slaves or inferior members of a family, and which were either exposed to view in the niches of the columbariums, or immured in such a manner as to show the lid only. Some good specimens of cinerary ollae are preserved in the British Museum in a small apartment so constructed as to exhibit accurately the manner of arranging them (see above, p561; and numerous plates in Bartoli's Antichi Sepolcri).

The lid of the olla was called ἐπίθημα and operculum. It generally corresponded in the material and the style of ornament with the olla itself (Herod. I.48; Col. l.c.).


Thayer's Note:

a A peculiar statement, since by 1776, Pleurs was already an uninhabited ruin, witness an engraving (that I saw on the Web and linked here until it vanished), captioned "Ruins of the Town of Pleurs", and rightly so, too. Our author must have taken this from some secondary source before him, and not checked: students and journalists using cribs, take note.


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