How wine glasses indicate social shifts in ancient Greece over 500yrs

Written by: Abdul Nisar
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Washington, Jan 4 (ANI): Even a seemingly small change in wine glasses can indicate social, cultural and economic changes in ancient Greece over the last 500 years, and that's exactly what a team from University of Cincinnati is analysing.

Kathleen Lynch will present a timeline of wine drinking cups used in ancient Athens from 800 B.C. to 323 B.C. and will discuss how changes to the drinking cups marked political, social and economic shifts.

Lynch will specifically talk about the ancient world's ultimate cocktail parties called 'symposium' by her. An important aspect of any symposium was the wine cup, and the form of and the imagery on the cups reflected the shared culture of participants, as well as the larger social realities and changes in their world during the following periods.

Why study these items?

"People's things tell you about those people and their times. In the same way that the coffee mug with 'World's Greatest Golfer' in your kitchen cabinet speaks to your values and your culture, so too do the commonly used objects of the past tell us about that past. And, often, by studying the past, we learn about ourselves," Lynch said.

IRON AGE SYMPOSIA AND DRINKING CUPS (1,100-700 B.C.)he drinking gatherings (symposia) were reserved for the elite. The drinking cups during this period were simply decorated and rested directly on a base (no stem).


Variety and quality were high during this period. It was the beginning of black-figured pottery production as well as plain, black-glazed versions. Stemmed cups became more popular, probably because they were easier to hold while reclining.

The middle of the 6th century B.C. saw a rapid proliferation of cup types: Komast cups, Siana cups, Gordion cups, Lip cups, Band cups, Droop cups, Merry-thought cups and Cassel cups.

"Possessing what was newest in terms of mode and style of drinking cups was likely equated with knowledge and status. The elites may have been seeking cohesion and self definition in the face of factional rivalries and populist movements," Lynch explained.


The masses had become the political, if not the social, equals of the elites, and these masses were now enjoying symposia of their own.

It's estimated that drinking vessels for symposia comprised up to 60 percent of the terra cotta fineware (collection of dishes) in the typical Athenian home of this period.nding with the devastating Persian Wars, which Greece won, the proliferation of cup types fell in this period, with red-figured drinking cups, introduced around 525 B.C., becoming the most popular.


Red-figured cups (cups decorated with red figures vs. black) remain popular but the cups grow taller and shallower.

There were many plainer, black clay cups with shiny surfaces. And delicate stamped and incised designs in clay cup interiors imitated metal prototypes on the cheap. In other words, the common terra cotta cups were "designer knock-offs" of the "high-end" designs found on silver cups.

It was created in a period of harsh economic and social realities when people sought escape by means of pseudo luxury goods.


Trends toward pseudo luxury (designer knock-offs) in drinking cups continued but the variety of these "silver-inspired" clay cup designs diminished after the turn of the 4th century B.C., probably because the forms were impractical.

A decorative innovation, called West Slope, became popular at this time. It consisted of coloured clay applied atop black-glazed surfaces to create the effects of garlands and wreaths. Human figures were no longer depicted.

With the movement toward democratization in Athens, participation in symposia broadened. Equality was no longer important in a state that was no longer democratic but monarchical.

Lynch will present the research at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. (ANI)

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