Aeginetan Matt Painted Pottery at Middle Helladic Aspis Argos

Anna Philippa-Touchais*


The pottery of Aeginetan provenance at Aspis in Argos belongs chiefly to two ceramic categories, matt-painted and coarse ware.1 In the present paper we will examine the matt-painted Aeginetan pottery, one of the most characteristic and most attractive groups in the Aeginetan repertoire.

Toward the end of the 1970s, during conversation with Carol Zerner about the identification of Aeginetan matt-painted pottery, Gilles Touchais and I were quite puzzled to learn that a huge quantity of this ware had been found at Lerna. Our initial skepticism yielded shortly thereafter to surprise as we realized, during the course of the study of the material, that Aeginetan matt-painted pottery was present at Aspis in quite substantial amounts as well. In addition, a series of influential papers published in the early 1990s revealed that this phenomenon was not local in character: the presence of Aeginetan imported pottery was considerable not only in the northeast Peloponnese but also in most Middle Helladic (MH) sites of Mainland Greece and of several islands.2 However, some of our initial questions remained: How was it possible to have such quantities of imported pottery outside Aegina? Was there on MH Aegina a ceramic production and exportation center of such large scale? And what meaning, or meanings, for a settlement are implied by this mass import of ceramics? Concerning the Aspis settlement in particular, a further question later arose, in the course of the study campaigns: Why do Aeginetan matt-painted ceramics appear with a greater frequency in the layer of the first MH occupation and decrease gradually there-after,3 contrary to what happens at other MH sites?

Based upon examination of the Aspis Aeginetan matt-painted material, we will propose some answers to these questions and will lay the basis for a discussion. First we shall look at the quantitative analysis of this pottery and its temporal distribution; next we shall discuss in more detail the range of shapes that are best represented. In the second part of the presentation an attempt will be made to interpret the reasons behind this impressive ceramic presence from Aegina as well as its quantitative variations through time. on the basis of the observed limited range of shapes and its physical characteristics, it is suggested that this pottery had a special function, perhaps with some symbolic connotations. It will also be argued that its abundance at the beginning of the period, as well as its gradual decrease, should be explained in socioeconomic terms.

The data

1. Quantitative analysis

It is unfortunately not possible to obtain precise data on the exact percentage of the Aeginetan matt-painted pottery recovered at Aspis. This is so for two main reasons. First, following practices that were current when the excavation began, the pottery was not conserved in its entirety; of the total number of matt-painted pottery fragments, approximately 7.5 percent have been conserved.4 Second, the presence of Aeginetan pottery was not recognized in the very early stages of excavation, with the result that a distinction between local and Aeginetan matt-painted wares was not made prior to the quantification of the entire ceramic assemblage5 and the selection of the material to be conserved. Therefore, all observations concerning the quantitative analysis refer exclusively to the registered material and consequently have no absolute value. The situation is not, however, entirely desperate since all diagnostic sherds (rims, handles,

* I am grateful to the A.G. Leventis Foundation for its generous support as well as to the organizers of the workshop for their invitation, hospitality and support, which enabled me to complete this study and present its results.

1 G. TOUCHAIS, in the present volume.

2 Dietz 1991, 303-5, fig. 91; Zerner 1993, 49-50, esp. n. 63;

Rutter 1993b, 777, fig. 12; for a more recent study, see

Lindblom 2001, 42-4, table 9.

3 Philippa-Touchais 2002, esp. 37-40.

4 Philippa-Touchais 2002, 4.

5 Ceramic fragments intended to be thrown were counted, in accordance with an initial classification.

Thrown Clay Profile

bases) have been preserved, allowing some approximate estimates regarding the number and the typology of vessels in the sample. On the basis of the catalogued material from the southeast sector, we may therefore suggest that Aeginetan wares comprise about 35 to 40 percent of the total matt-painted pottery. Apart from Lerna, where considerable amounts of Aeginetan matt-painted ware have been found,6 this is quite a notable quantity in comparison with that of other MH sites of the Peloponnese (e.g., Asine,7 Tsoungiza,8 Magoula Galata Troizinias9), Attica (e.g., Athens,10 Kiapha Thiti11), Boeotia12 and the Cyclades.13

Another element complicating the quantitative analysis of this pottery is connected with its technol-ogy.14 Although very characteristic in its gritty and semigritty version (porous clay, friable, yellowish or reddish colour, frequent appearance of gold mica), this pottery is not easy to differentiate macroscopi-cally when dealing with fineware vessels made from well-levigated and well-fired clay. This difficulty is due mainly to the fact that the technological characteristics of this fine matt-painted class have not been precisedly determined - for instance, the possibly different treatments of the vessels' surface.

2. Temporal distribution

The study of the ceramic material has revealed that Aeginetan matt-painted pottery is present throughout the three main occupation phases of the settle-ment.15 It is interesting to note however that this presence does not remain constant, but rather displays significant variation through time. in the earliest settlement phase of the MH period (Aspis phase ii), corresponding to MH i-ii, the number of Aeginetan matt-painted vessels seems to be, if not equal to, just slightly lower than that of the locally produced matt-painted vessels (roughly 1:1.5). Thereafter this percentage decreases dramatically: in the second MH phase of the settlement (Aspis phase

Although there are no precise data on percentages, it is estimated that imported vessels, a large part of which comprises wares from Aegina, make up perhaps as much as 40 percent of the total ceramic assemblage (ZERNER 1993, 45, 53 n. 28).

7 Gold mica matt-painted fabrics make up ca. 19 percent of the total material from the Barbouna area and somewhat less of the material from the levels of House B in the lower town (Nordquist 1987, 49-51; see also Zerner 1993, 53 n. 28).

8 Very few Aeginetan sherds have been identified (Rutter 1990, 421, 454).

9 Konsolaki-Giannopoulou 2003, 162-4.

  1. , dated to MH iiiA, the ratio is about 1:4, while in the final MH phase (Aspis phase IV), dated to MH IIIB-LH IA, it falls even further, to about 1:8. Thus, there is a strong presence of Aeginetan wares in the first settlement phase at Aspis. After that, Aeginetan vessels not only decrease numerically, but also in percentage, as local production of pottery increases noticeably. We may compare, for example, the number of 35 rim fragments from Aeginetan matt-painted vessels and 55 locally produced rim fragments in the oldest MH level, as opposed to the 30 Aeginetan and some 280 rims of local manufacture in the third and final phases.
  2. Typological analysis

We will now present an overview of the most common shapes of Aeginetan matt-painted vessels discovered at Aspis. It is chiefly based on the pottery from the southeast sector of the site, which has been fully catalogued (for the plan, see G. Touchais, in the present volume, fig. 1.IV).

A. Table ware Bowl

Bowls (Figs. 1, 2) make up about one-third of the Aeginetan matt-painted vessels recovered in the southeast sector. They are mainly of large or medium size (rim diam. 40+ and ±30 cm, respectively), and rarely smaller (rim diam. ±20 cm). The shoulder is usually rounded, with a slightly inturned rim, and more rarely carinated with an everted rim.

Rounded profile. Among the large-sized bowls, a specimen with a fully extant profile and tall cylindrical foot stands out (Fig. 1.1, Pl. 1).16 Additional fragments of cylindrical bases make it apparent that this was not the only example of this type at Aspis (Fig. 1.2, 3). The decoration covers almost the entire surface of the vessel, being quite elaborate, and supplemented by stars, known from the early barrel-shaped

10 Classes I and IV (IMMERWAHR 1971, 62-3, 64-6) are very probably of Aeginetan origin.

11 Maran 1992, 188-95.

12 See K. SARRI in the present volume.

13 See J. Overbeck and I. Nikolakopoulou in this volume.

14 The technological aspects of this pottery will not be treated in detail here. On this topic see ZERNER 1978, 156-8; 1986, 64-6; 1993, 48-9; Siedentopf 1991, 10-3; Maran 1992, 188-9; Rutter 1993, 73; Cosmopoulos et al. 1999; Lindblom 2001, 34-5, 38-40; Kilikoglou et al. 2003, 134.

15 On the habitation phases of Aspis, see PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS 2002, 3.

16 Philippa-Touchais 2002, 7-10, no. 5.

pithoi of Kolonna Stadt VII17 and Stadt IX.18 This bowl came to light in the earliest MH phase of the settlement (phase II), containing MH I and II material. Exact parallels from Lerna date to MH I,19 while published examples of cylindrical bases from Kolonna all come from Stadt IX.20

Another large Aeginetan bowl with a largely extant profile (Figs. 1.4, Pl. 2) has a more angular shoulder, upon which there appears the classical metope decoration.21 This bowl, as well as quite a few fragments from similar vessels (Fig. 1.5-7), also dates to the earliest MH phase of the settlement. It should be noted that similar bowls, greater still in size, well preserved and of outstanding quality, have come to light in a MH grave recently excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service on the eastern foot of the hill of Aspis (Thanou property).22 At Kolonna, bowls of this type are already known in Stadt VII-VIII23 but they become particularly popular in Stadt IX.24

Deep bowls with channel or tubular spout were not common at Aspis, as only two fragments of spouts have been found. One of them (Fig. 1.8) belongs to the earliest MH phase (phase II), the other to the latest (phase IV). A rim fragment (Fig. 1.9) could also come from a bowl of this type. At Kolonna, spouted bowls are known from both the earliest phases (Stadt VII-VIII)25 and the later ones (Stadt IX-X).26 At Lerna, similar examples date to MH II.27 Among the smaller-sized bowls of note is a group bowl with rounded shoulder and inturned rim, decorated with groups of small vertical lines hanging from two or three bands along the rim (Fig. 1.10, 11). The better preserved example (Fig. 1.11),28 which retains an almost complete profile, has a potter's mark close to the base (Pl. 3). It belongs to phase II, along with the rest of bowls of the same type. Quite a few examples of this type have been published from Kolonna, dated to Stadt IX,29 as well as from Lerna, dated to MH I-II.30 Bowls with rounded shoulder and everted rim are rather rare at Aspis (Fig. 2.13 [phase II]), 14 [phase III]).

Carinated profile. Bowls with an angular shoulder and outturned rim are generally small to medium in

17 Siedentopf 1991, pl. 2.

18 Siedentopf 1991, pl. 6.

20 Siedentopf 1991, 35 and pls. 87, 88 (Ständer grosser Schüsseln).

21 Philippa-Touchais 2002, 7-10, no. 8.

22 PAPPI (forthcoming).

23 SIEDENTOPF 1991, 33-5, pls. 79, 80. At Lerna they also appear as early as MH I: ZERNER 1988, figs. 5.14, 6.15.

24 SIEDENTOPF 1991, 33-5, pls. 80-5 (Grosse Schüsseln mit abgesetztem Rand).

26 Siedentopf 1991, pls. 74-7.

28 Philippa-Touchais 2002, 7-10, no. 3.

29 SIEDENTOPF 1991, 32, pl. 78.409-12.

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