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Bill Thayer

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part 2
This webpage reproduces a section of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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Chapter 1



The Vases found in Etruscan tombs are of various forms, and served different purposes; therefore, to enable the reader to understand the frequent mention made of them under their technical names in the course of this work, I here arrange them under their respective classes.

The names of these vases are ascertained, sometimes from the descriptions of the ancients, sometimes from monumental sources, being attached to vases in ancient paintings (see vol. II., p116); but it must be confessed that in many cases they are applied conventionally.

I. Vases for holding wine, oil, or water — amphora, pelice, stamnos.
II. Vases for carrying water — hydria, calpis.
III. Vases for mixing wine and water — crater, celebe, oxybaphon.
IV. Vases for pouring wine, &c. — oenochoë, olpe, prochous.
V. Vases for drinking — cantharus, cyathus, carchesion, holcion, scyphus, cylix, lepaste, phiale, ceras, rhyton.
VI. Vases for ointments or perfumes — lecythus, alabastron, ascos, bombylios, aryballos, cotyliscos.

Class I. — Vases for holding or preserving Liquids.

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The amphora is a two-handled vase of various forms and sizes, but is generally tall and full-bellied. That in the above woodcut is one of the Panathenaic vases, which taper below more than those of the later style. The amphora represented at the head of this Introduction is of a form not usual in Etruria, as regards the width of the mouth and the elevation of the handles, though common enough in Magna Graecia. It is seen, however, in the monarch of Etruscan vases, found at Chiusi, and now in the Uffizj, at Florence. The amphorae of the south of Italy are generally more slender, and with more fanciful handles, than those of Etruria. This is perhaps the most common of all vases; it is found in connection with every style of art.

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The pelice is distinguished from the amphora by narrowing upwards to the mouth. It is of comparatively rare occurrence in Etruria, and found chiefly in connection with the Third or Perfect style.

The stamnos is principally connected with the same style, and is a very high-shouldered, short-necked, plethoric vase. By Gerhard this is referred to the class of mixing-jars.

Class II. — Water-jars.

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The characteristic of water-jars is that they have three handles, two at the shoulders, and one at the neck. Hydria is the generic term, but when used specifically this is applied to those vases with a squareness about the shoulders, as shown in the woodcut; while the calpis is a more elegant variety, with the shoulders rounded off. See Vol. II., p490. But this distinction is conventional. The hydria is generally in connection with the earlier styles, with black figures, the calpis with the later, with red figures on a black ground. These water-jars water used by females alone; for whenever men are represented carrying water, it is invariably in an amphora.

Class III. — Mixing-jars.

These are characterised by their wide mouths, for the convenience of dipping the cups or ladles; for the wine having been brought in the amphora to the banquet, was there mixed with water, and handed round to the guest.

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Crater is the generic term, its name being expressive of its use; but it is applied specifically to the elegant form shown in the woodcut, which is confined to the third style of painting. The more archaic style is generally connected in Etruria with the celebe, which is known by its peculiar pillared handles. Vases of this form are more commonly found in Sicily and Magna Graecia than in Etruria.

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The oxybaphon is another bell-shaped vase, not of frequent occurrence in Etruria, though common in Magna Graecia. By some the name has been supposed to mark it as a vinegar-cup — being derived from ὀξὺς and βάπτω; but as its form and size establish an analogy to the crater, the "sharpness" in its etymology must refer rather to time than to taste, and its name must be significant of "dipping quickly." It is found only in connection with the later styles.

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Class IV. — Jugs.

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The oenochoë, or "wine pourer," is the jug in which the wine was transferred from the crater to the goblets of the guests; but the term is used generically in reference to any pitcher or ewer. The annexed woodcut shows its ordinary form in painted pottery; varieties in the black relieved ware of Chiusi are shown, Vol. II., pp92, 352; and others of fantastic description are not uncommon, like that in bronze represented in the woodcut, Vol. II., p518.

The prochous is but a smaller variety of the oenochoë, being used for the same purpose, or as a water-jug; though some varieties of it, as the long-beaked one in the above wood-cut, seem better adapted to the pouring of oil at the palaestric exercises.

The term olpe, properly designatory of a leathern oil-flask, is conventionally applied to that description of jug which has no spout, but an even rim or lip, as shown in the above illustration. This form is generally associated with the most archaic styles of painting.

These three terms are all of generic application, and the distinction here drawn is conventional.

Class V. — Cups and Goblets.

The drinking bowls of the ancients were of various forms. The most ordinary, perhaps, is the cantharus, or two-handled cup, which was particularly sacred to Bacchus. Plin. XXXIII.53; V.21. This is rarely found with paintings, in Etruria at least, where it is generally of plain ware. The vase takes its name from some fancied resemblance in its form to that of the beetle — κάνθαρος — though some derive it from the name of its inventor. Philetaerus, ap. Athen. XI, p474.

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The cyathus has a single handle, and like the cantharus, is often represented in the hands of Bacchus on the painted vases. Unlike the cantharus, it is frequently found in painted pottery, an instance of which is given Vol. II., p507. The cyathus was also a measure among the Greeks and Romans, equal to 3340 of a pint.​a

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The carchesion much resembled the cantharus, but was larger, heavier, and compressed in the middle. It is very rarely met with. Macrobius (V.21) says it was extremely rare among the Greeks, and never found among the Latins. The finest specimen I have seen in Etruria is in the black ware of Chiusi, in the possession of Cavalier Terrosi of Cetona. It is represented below. See Micali, Mon. Ined. tav. XXXI.7.​b

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The term holcion is applied to a bowl like the cantharus, but without handles.

The scyphus was a full-bellied bowl used by the lower orders. It was the cup of Hercules, as the cantharus was that of Bacchus. Menander, ap. Macrob. V.21. It has often a pointed bottom, so that to be laid down it must be inverted. This sort of goblet, however, from the thing it resembled,​c was called mastos. Apollod. ap. Athen. XI p487.

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Holcion Scyphus

The cylix, the most elegant of all these goblets, is a wide flat bowl on a slender foot. Another illustration of this sort of vase is given, Vol. I., p397. These vases are generally painted inside as well as out; but in the more compact variety, shown in the woodcut, the paintings are mostly confined to the interior. The Romans called these vases calices, and they are now generally termed paterae, though that word applies more strictly to the phiala, or bowl without any stand, such as are shown in the banqueting scene on the celebe, at page xcvi.

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Cylix Cylix

The lepaste differs from the cylix in having a much shorter foot; it borrows its name from the limpet — λεπάς. This form is rare in Etruria. When the bowl was deeper, more like a basin than a saucer, and had a lid, it was called lecane.

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[image ALT: An engraving of a carved horn-shaped drinking vessel. It is an example of an Etruscan rhyton.]
The ceras was originally the horn of some animal adapted as a drinking cup; it was succeeded by the rhyton, a fantastic goblet terminating in some animal's head; which is more particularly described in Vol. II. p94. The rhyton is said by Athenaeus (XI p497) to have been invented by Ptolemy Philadelphus, scarcely three centuries before Christ, yet he also cites the word as used by Demosthenes (p496). But it is never found in connection with the earlier styles of vase-painting.

Class VI. — Ointment and Perfume Vases.

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Of this class the generic term is lecythus, but this is specifically applied to tall slender-necked vases of elegant forms, which are much more abundant in the tombs of Greece, Sicily, and Magna Graecia, than in those of Etruria, and present some of the most exquisite specimens of Hellenic ceramography.

Most Etruscan tombs, indeed, are without vases of this description, but in those of Greece they were always placed by the corpse. Aristoph. Eccles. 534, 988, 1024. And in the Greek sepulchres of Sicily and Italy they are found not only arranged round the body, but also laid out on the breast, while cylices were placed between the legs. See Stackelberg's Graeber der Hellenen, taf. VIII. In Sicily they are often of large size. Many beautiful lecythi from the tombs of Athens are preserved in the British Museum. Some are painted with various colours on a white ground; a description very rare in Etruria. Others retain manifest proofs of having been burnt on the funeral pyre.

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The aryballos receives its name from its resemblance to a purse. Three varieties of it are shown in the annexed wood-cut. The first is often, and not improperly, called a lecythus; it is much more abundant in Magna Graecia than in Etruria. When the second is without a handle, it is termed cymbe.

Not unlike the aryballos is the bombylios, a narrow-necked pot, so called from the gurgling sound caused by the flow of the liquid from it.

The ascos is so called from its resemblance to a leathern bottle. Pots of this form are still common in the south of Europe, especially in Spain and Portugal, where they are used for water. I have two on my table; one I brought from Cadiz, the other from an Etruscan tomb; which, though very different in size and material, are precisely alike in form, so that it is difficult to believe that more than two thousand years have intervened between the dates of their manufacture.

The cotyliscos is a small pot with a single handle, in other respects like an amphora in miniature. Panofka, however, considering the etymology of this term, would apply it to vases of the form designated above by the name of scyphus. Bull. Inst. 1832, p67.

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Bombylios Ascos Cotyliscos

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The alabastron is a name applied to those forms of ointment-vases, which have no feet; and to such as are in the shape of animals — hares, monkeys, ducks — or of heads and limbs of the human body. An instance is given in the annexed woodcut of an alabastron of stone from Chiusi, carved into female faces above,

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and having a hole in the crown for pouring out the ointment or perfume.

Another example of an alabastron in the shape of a figure of Isis is given in the cut, Vol. I, p427. The most ordinary form of this pot, especially when of glass, is shown in the small cut annexed.​d

In the nomenclature of these vases I have mostly followed Gerhard, as his system is now generally adopted by antiquaries in Germany and Italy.

Thayer's Notes:

a Dennis is mistaken. 3340 of a pint (Americans in particular should be aware that he measures in Imperial units) = 0.47 liter; but Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (mid‑19c, and thus available to Dennis) gives the value accepted as correct today, roughly 112 of a British Imperial pint, ⅒ of an American pint, or 4.5 centiliters. See Smith's article Cyathus, including my note.

b See also the useful article Carchesium of Smith's Dictionary.

c A breast. Nothing like a bit of Victorian sidestep.

d See also the article Alabastrum of Smith's Dictionary, with its added photograph of an elegant Roman banded glass exemplar.

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Page updated: 14 Dec 19