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Friday, April 10, 2015

The Chigi Vase

The end of the 8th century (ca. 700 BC) saw a change that has been called the “Orientalizing Revolution”: material prosperity led to population growth, which led to trading and colonization, which led to a new openness to influences from other cultures (especially those to the east of Greece), which led to borrowing and emulation in the arts.  The great pioneer in this revolution was not Athens, but Corinth, which became the center of pottery production.  The Corinthians used motifs borrowed from the Near East; they invented the black-figure technique, characterized by the use of dark figures against a light background.  The figures are painted in a slip (a mixture of refined clay and water) and details are incised, that is, carved into the clay with a very sharp instrument.  Red, yellow, and white paint are used for other details.  Shown here is a Protocorinthian olpe or wine jug, the Chigi vase.

There are three registers.  In the lowest we see men, dogs, and hares; in the middle register, a procession and a lion hunt on one side, and a myth, the Judgment of Paris, on the other; in the upper register, armed warriors, led by a pipes-player, meeting in battle.  The warriors are heavily armed footsoldiers (hoplites).  They wear crested helmets with cheek plates, bronze cuirasses (breastplates), and greaves (shin guards).  They carry spears and emblazoned shields. 
This vase is justly famous for its technical virtuosity.  But historians regard it as the earliest evidence for hoplite warfare.  “Each side forms a hoplite phalanx, pure and unadulterated; every article of hoplite equipment is plainly represented and nothing alien to it, and the tactics—hand-to-hand fighting with the spear—are purely hoplite. Of the ranks on the point of engaging each man holds his spear above his head, nearly horizontal but with a slight downward tilt, poised ready, not for a throw, but for a thrust at the exposed throat of an opponent” (H. L. Lorimer, “The Hoplite Phalanx,” The Annual of the British School at Athens, 42 (1947) 82-83).  Oswyn Murray once called it "the most successful portrayal of hoplite tactics which has survived" (Early Greece [1980] 125).

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