Pottery in ancient Greece, as elsewhere, was fired in a specially-made ceramic kiln. Other firing structures, including food ovens, smelting furnaces, and lime kilns, would have been unsuitable for the firing of pottery. Ancient Greek ceramic kilns were partially subterranean with two compartments: the lower compartment is sometimes referred to as the combustion chamber; the upper compartment is where the pottery is placed and is sometimes called the firing chamber (1). Typically, the combustion chamber was dug into the ground and had an oval, circular, or rectangular shape. The two compartments are separated by a perforated floor, called an eschara, which allowed the heat from the lower compartment to circulate within the firing chamber and therefore bake the pottery. This kiln arrangment, in which the hot air rises from a lower and into an upper compartment, is called a vertical or updraft kiln. The average ceramic kiln in ancient Greece had a diameter of 1.3 meters, or about 4.25 feet (2).
To fire a kiln, fuel was burned at the entrance of a stoking chamber. A channel, called a stoking channel, transferred heat from the fire to the combustion chamber. Heat collected in the combustion chamber of the kiln, which was dug into the earth, and slowly drafted upward through the perforated floor into the firing chamber, where the pottery was placed. Pottery could be stacked directly on the floor or arranged on structures or shelves inside the firing chamber. Small objects, including pyramidal supports and clay rings, helped stabilize and separate vessels during firing. The roof of the ceramic kiln was a temporary construction of bricks or pottery sherds plastered with clay. A vent in the top possibly acted as a vent for fumes and may have allowed the potter to perform visual checks on the firing. To retrieve the finished pottery, this dome was dismantled and then had to be rebuilt before each new firing.
A web atlas of ceramic kilns in ancient Greece demonstrates the distribution of kilns across time and space and is an excellent resource for researchers and students studying ancient Greek ceramic kilns.
This essay was written to accompany a collection of Greek artifacts at the CU Art Museum.
- Eleni Hasaki, "Ceramic Kilns in Ancient Greece: Technology and Organization of Ceramic Workshops." Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Cincinnati (2002): 1.
- Hasaki 2002: 84.
- Eleni Hasaki, ed. Web Atlas of Ceramic Kilns in Ancient Greece (https://atlasgreekkilns.arizona.edu/), accessed 05 February 2019.
- Eleni Hasaki, "Ceramic Kilns in Ancient Greece: Technology and Organization of Ceramic Workshops." Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Cincinnati (2002).
- J.V. Noble, "An Overview of the Technology of Greek and Related Pottery" in ed. H. A. G. Brijdger, Ancient Greek and Related Pottery: Proceedings of the International Vase Symposium in Amsterdam, 12 -15 April 1984 (Amsterdam: Allard Pierson Museum, 1984): 38.
- Susan Peterson, The Craft and Art of Clay (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996): 212.