Published: May 8, 2018 By

Catalogue Entry

This vase is one of a collection of Greek vases held by the CU Art Museum.Photograph of yellowish-tan-colored amphora against neutral gray background.

Gift to CU Classics Department
Transferred to CU Museum of Natural History
Transferred to CU Art Museum (2006)

Height: 30.2 cm
Diameter (max.): 15.2 cm
Date: c. 700 B.C.E.
Origin: Boeotia (central Greece)

Description: Large jug with flat base, ovoid body, tall cylindrical neck, and horizontal mouth decorated with applied snakes. Two handles on either side, connecting upper neck to shoulder, are decorated with applied snakes. Tan clay. 

Additional photos of this vessel show details of its base, mouth, handles, and decorations. 


This vase dates to the Late Geometric period (c. 700 B.C.E.) and is made of a coarse, reddish-yellow clay. The vessel seems to be typical in shape for its time: contemporary Geometric amphorae tend to be relatively slim with tall necks and high-set handles (1). The amphora shape (plural: amphorae) is best understood as a general purpose storage vessel for both dry goods, including grains, and liquids, including wine, honey, or olives. The name is probably a combination of the Greek word "amphi," meaning "on both sides," referring to the handles, and the word "phoros," meaning "carrying" (2). The name may also be a play on words meaning "an ear on each side," as the Greek word "amphôtis" refers to a protective covering for the headgear worn by boxers. 

Amphorae were produced in a large variety of types and some amphorae had specific and specialized purposes. A special type of amphora, so-called Panathenaic amphorae, were reserved for use as prizes in the athletic competitions that were part of the Panathenaic games, which were held in Athens every four years (3). Panathenaic amphorae were filled with olive oil and presented to victors in the various events. An early 5th century B.C.E. Panathenaic amphora in the Getty Villa in Malibu, for example, depicts a four-horse chariot race, representing the event for which it was given as a prize. Funerary amphorae could serve as grave markers or as urns to hold the cremated remains of the deceased.

This particular Boeotian amphora likely served as a funerary urn because of its relatively small size and its decoration. The molded snakes on its handles and rim are similar to others found associated with Photograph of side of yellowish-tan amphora against neutral gray background.funerary amphorae in the Geometric period in Greece

This amphora is likely Boeotian, or perhaps Attic, in origin, although it is difficult to determine with certainty. Boeotian graves often contained vases imported from Attica; Boeotian imitations of Attic wares are also relatively common, as Attic influence was prominent in Boeotian pottery during the late 8th century B.C.E. (4). Further complicating the identification is the similarity between Boeotian and Attic clays, although Boeotian clay is generally coarser and has a lighter color (5). Because this amphora is made of a clay that is more yellow than the characteristic orange-red of Attic clay and has a rough texture, it is likely that it is Boeotian in origin. 

Unfortunately, this vase's decoration is difficult to see in most places. This is probably due to a misfiring during the pottery production process (6). Also contributing to its poor condition is a significant amount of salt efflorescence, or crystalline deposits on the vase's surface, which indicates that the vessel was once buried in very salty soil. It is possible to distinguish, however, a monochrome, brownish-black decoration. Immediately below the rim of the vase is a band of vertical zigzag patterns bounded by horizontal lines. On either side of the neck, between the handles, are metopes, or rectangular panels, each painted with a wild goat standing on its hind legs, with plant-like filler ornamentation. Framing the goats on both sides are vertical panels of diagonal lines; below each is a band of zig-zagging lines. A thicker, solid line separates the neck from the shoulder of the vase. Barely visible on the shoulder is a band of vertical lines; interrupting the band on each side are metopes that are decorated with a wild goat crouching its head and turning its head across its ack. These goats evoke animal friezes common on vases in the so-called Orientalizing period in ancient Greece; these friezes were becoming popular at this time, especially in Corinth. The remainder of the vessel's body is decorated with bands of vertical, zigzagging lines and parallel horizontal lines. 

Perhaps the most interesting decorative details on this vase are the molded snakes, some retaining traces of brown-black slip, that are added to the handles and rim, producing a kind of pie-crust effect. This type of applied decoration is found often on contemporary funerary vases, such as on a Geometric (c. 700 B.C.E.) Attic amphora in the University of Pennsylvania Museum. In ancient Greece, snakes had many important associations because of their associations with the earth and, therefore, with autochthonous heroes and with death (7). In Athens, especially, snakes were associated with a legendary king and founder of Athens, Kekrops, who was said to be half-human, half-snake. Athenians, then, associated the animal and, by proxy, themselves with their autochthonous origins. 


  • Richard Eilmann and Kurt Gebauer, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum Deutschland, Fasc. 2 Berlin, Antiquarium (Band 1) (Munich: C.H. Beck'sche, 1938): pl. 2 (1-2).
  • J. M. Cook, "Protoattic Pottery," Annual of the British School at Athens 35 (1934-35): pls. 38b, 41, 43.
  • Deltion 20 (1965): Chronika, pl. 87
  • Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 92.2736


  1. M. G. Kanowski, Containers of Classical Greece: A Handbook of Shapes (St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1983): 20; Richard M. Cook, Greek Painted Pottery (London: Metheun, 1960): 221.
  2. Andrew J. Clark, Maya Elston, and Mary Louise Hart eds., Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002): 66; Kanowski, Containers of Classical Greece: 18.
  3. Gisela M.A. Richter, and Marjorie J. Milne, Shapes and Names of Athenian Vases (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1935): 3; Kanowski: 20; John Boardman, The History of Greek Vases: Potters, Painters, and Pictures (New York: Thames & Hudson 2001): 262; Cook: 89-90.
  4. Cook, Greek Painted Pottery: 27.
  5. Cook, Greek Painted Pottery: 28.
  6. Chara Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection (Athens: Archaiologikon Deltion, 1973): 193.
  7. Erika Simon, Festivals of Attica (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983).


  • Chara Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection (Athens: Archaiologikon Deltion, 1973): 192-197.