Tripod cauldrons were one of a type of bronze vessels produced and used in ancient Greece. These vessels had a variety of functions. They could be used for practical purposes, including warming and cooking food. They were often votive, dedicated to gods and goddesses at religious sanctuaries. Finally, they were trophies, presented to victors at theatrical and athletic events. There are two main styles of tripods, called Geometric or Orientalizing.
Geometric tripod cauldrons were developed in Greece during the Geometric period, which lasted from about 900 to 700 B.C.E. These vessels consisted of a large bowl with three attached legs that allowed the vessel to be stood over a fire. Orientalizing tripod cauldrons began to appear during the Orientalizing period, that is, from about 750 to 650 B.C.E. These consisted of a large bowl and a separate or detached stand with three legs on which the bowl would be set. This detached model was more functional, as the bowl could be moved while the stand remained in place (1). This new form grew in popularity and was used into and through the Roman period, although the older Geometric-style tripod cauldrons continued to be produced (2). Examples of both, however, are rare because they were usually made of bronze, which could be melted down and reused.
Geometric tripod cauldrons, such as an example from the site of Delphi, were made of beaten bronze and, as above, consisted of a bowl with three attached legs and large, upright, circular handles. Both legs and handles were attached to the bowl with rivets. Their form may be related to cauldrons from Minoan Crete and dating to as early as 1,600 B.C.E. (3). Smaller versions of these Geometric tripod cauldrons are thought to have had a domestic function, while larger and monumental versions may have been votive or symbolic. Eventually, these tripod cauldrons were used exclusively as votive offerings to gods and goddesses and large quantities of them have been found in religious sanctuaries like Olympia dating back to the Geometric period (4).
Orientalizing tripod cauldrons were also made of bronze, but their appearance was influenced by Near Eastern vessels. In the Orientalizing model, the cauldron's bronze bowl was separate from the bronze tripod stand. Often the bowl was decorated with griffin protomes and other projecting sculptural elements. Terracotta versions could be adorned with attachments, like the siren attachment in the CU Art Museum's collection. Examples of these tripod cauldrons have been found throughout Greece and the Near East and, importantly, on the island of Cyprus, which provided a crucial link in the trade between Greece and the Near East (6).
- Athanasia Yalouris, Olympia: The Museum and the Sanctuary (Athens: Ekdotikē Athēnōn, 1993): 57.
- Jean Charbonneaux, Greek Bronzes (New York: Viking Press, 1962): 58.
- Charbonneaux, Greek Bronzes: 52-53.
- Yalouris, Olympia: The Museum and the Sanctuary: 48-49.
- Charbonneaux, Greek Bronzes: 54-57.
- Vassos Karageorghis, The Ancient Civilization of Cyprus (New York: Cowles Education Corporation, 1969): 155.