Facts About Greek Pottery

pottery image by Raimundas from Fotolia.com

The ancient Greeks favoured pottery, which they used to mix wine and hold olive oil. Often, pottery was decorated by Greek artists and given as gifts or prizes to soldiers and politicians. Today, thousands of Greek vases are spread across the world in private art collections and museums alike.


The earliest Greek pottery was painted in a geometric style. During the geometric period--1050 to 700 BCE--master potters would use a thin black paint to paint reoccurring shapes and patterns in bands across the surface of the pottery. Eventually, potters began painting people and animals on the vases, but continued using geometric shapes as bases for these figures.

Black figure vases emerged during the archaic period, approximately 600 to 480 BCE. Master potters painted these vases with a thin black paint, then used a stylus to scratch the paint away to show red underneath for details. Potters later developed the red figure technique where black paint was used to paint everything but the figures and a very thin paintbrush was used to apply the details with black paint.

Subject Matter

Greek pottery often told stories about Greek daily life such as funerals, marriages, wars and athletics. Athletics and wars were particularly popular subjects for pottery. These vases depict men wrestling, running, high jumping or throwing a discus. Another very popular subject matter for ancient Greek pottery was scenes from mythology. Erotic vases were also popular for use at men's drinking parties.


Greek pottery was used both practically and decoratively. Greeks used pottery for mixing wine with water for men's drinking parties. Pottery also held other liquids such as olive oil and ointments. Many decorative vases were buried in tombs with venerable Greek citizens.


The use of individual Greek pots is made evident by the shape of the pot. Amphorae, which were used for storage, feature a wide bulbous bottom and two handles. Kraters were large mixing bowls. Kylix vases have a wide mouth and were used as drinking cups.


Ancient Greece had large amounts of clay deposits that craftsmen quarried in order to make clay pottery. Today, enthusiasts of ancient Grecian pottery can determine where the clay was quarried simply by looking at its colour. Athens clay has a reddish-orange colour because of the large amount of iron and calcium oxide in the clay deposits. Corinthian clay was creamy white. The thin black paint that was commonly used on pots was created by heating a clay that was high in iron oxide but low in calcium oxide.