Pottery bowls from Miletos

The German excavations at Miletos: processing finds from the new excavations.

Project leader: Alexandra Villing

Department: Greece and Rome

Project start: 1995
End date: 2008/9

External partners:
German Excavations at Miletos (Director: Prof. Dr. Volkmar von Graeve, Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/milet/

Project funded by:
The Leverhulme Trust

Fragment of an exceptional bowl from Miletos decorated in the Fikellura style, ca. 530 BC.

Description:

Miletos was one of the most powerful and influential cities of ancient Greece in the Archaic period, birthplace of the Ionian school of philosophy and founder of some 80 colonies. The German excavations at the site have recently discovered much new evidence for its period of greatest flowering, by excavating parts of the Archaic settlement, city wall and sanctuaries, thus shedding light especially on the arts, cults, trade connections and daily life of its inhabitants. The large amounts of pottery that have been found play an important role in this process.

Bowls, a fundamental shape in pottery of all ages, are a major feature also at Miletos. Several thousand examples have been found in the Archaic houses and in the sanctuaries. Often plain with little decoration, the majority were objects of daily use rather than prestige goods, and their production was largely governed by practical considerations. The rich repertoire of shapes found in Miletos is nevertheless remarkable: the many types identified include large, well-potted bowls for storage, bowls for mixing and processing foods (lekanai), small bowls for eating from, and shallow heavy bowls for grinding foods (mortaria). Most were locally produced, but some were also imported, from Corinth and especially from Cyprus. We can be sure about this because scientific clay analysis, conducted by Dr. Michela Spataro at the British Museum’s Department of Conservation and Scientific Research and Prof. Hans Mommsen at Bonn University, recently confirmed that many of the mortaria in Archaic Miletos were produced in Cyprus.

These findings indicate that Cyprus and Ionia were more closely linked in the Archaic period than previously thought. They also contradict the common belief that plain household pottery was not usually traded, and show that the quality of certain wares was appreciated even in the mundane world of food preparation at home.

Objectives:

A local pottery mortarium from Miletos, 6th century BC; the worn inside shows that it has been used for grinding foods with a pestle.The study of the bowls of Miletos aims to chart the development of the shapes, to understand their usage, to examine their relation with similar shapes elsewhere and to investigate their trade, by identifying imports in Miletos and exported Milesian bowls elsewhere. Looking at bowls in the wider context of food storage, preparation and serving in the house as well in sanctuaries, ancient Milesian food customs and dining will be brought into sharper profile. In addition, comparative studies and in particular the scientific analysis of bowls from Miletos and other sites, conducted mainly at the British Museum, shed new light on the phenomenon of trade of ‘coarse wares’ in the Archaic and Classical Mediterranean.

More information:

Homepage of the Miletos excavations (in German): www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/milet/

News:

Following six months of research in the second half of 2008, made possible by the award of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, this study of the Milesian pottery bowls is now complete.

In addition to imports, different morphological and technological traditions have become evident in the local potters’ work, including Athenian influence, local Milesian traditions, and Anatolian connections, both contemporary and going back to the Bronze Age. Miletos has emerged as a participant in a complex set of Levantine, Anatolian and Greek cultural, technological and culinary networks that involved not just elites but wide sections of the population.

Publications:

M. Spataro and A. Villing, “Scientific Investigation of Pottery Grinding Bowls in the Archaic and Classical Eastern Mediterranean”, British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 3 (forthcoming November 2009)

A. Villing, ‘Funde aus Milet I. Zwei archaische Schüsselformen’, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1999), pp. 189-202


Images (from top):

  • The German excavations at Miletos: processing finds from the new excavations.
  • Fragment of an exceptional bowl from Miletos decorated in the Fikellura style, ca. 530 BC.
  • A local pottery mortarium from Miletos, 6th century BC; the worn inside shows that it has been used for grinding foods with a pestle.