A-to-Z Index

GHUM 250

Foundations of Western Culture: The Greeks

Fall 2013

Required Procedures:

1) Choose one of the objects below. 

2) Carefully look at the photograph and read the information.

3) Research any unfamiliar words or imagery.

4) Make an appointment with Dr. Stevens via email (stevenke@jmu.edu) to view your object. 

* Include in your email all the names of those in your group and each object that they wish to view.

5) You will be able to view your object ONLY at your appointed time in Festival room 1010, the Charles Lisanby Center.  Please bring a pencil with which to take notes and your camera if you wish to take additional photographs.

6) All images and information below may be used for scholastic purposes by citing this website as your source.  If you have further questions about your selected object, please email Dr. Kate Stevens (stevenke@jmu.edu).

Coin of Athens

Athenian Tetradrachm

Greek: Classical Period, c. 450 BCE

Silver, 16.8 gm

Obverse: Helmeted head of Athena facing right

Reverse: Owl standing facing right with olive sprig and crescent moon behind

The Greek “owls” were the most easily recognizable and most accepted coin of its time.  Countries around Mediterranean knew the coins for their authority and would accept them in payment for whatever was desired. 

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Coin of Alexander the Great

Tetradrachm of Alexander III (the Great)

Greek: Hellenistic Period, c. 330 BCE

Silver, 17.0 gm

Obverse: Head of Herakles, clad with lionskin

Reverse: Zeus on throne, legs crossed, eagle in right hand, scepter in left hand

Alexander III began circulation of these coins in his lifetime, and they lasted long afterwards.  These coins began to take on the same authority the “owls” held, and soon overtook them as the most authoritative coin of antiquity. 

The portrait of Alexander as Herakles alludes to the story of his divine birth (to Zeus and thus a brother to Herakles) as does the image of the sculpture of Zeus from Olympia (by the great artist Phidas) that is featured on the reverse.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Oil lamp from ancient Crete

76.1.505 Oil Lamp

Greek (Crete): Greco-Roman Period, c. 200 CE

Ceramic, 6.2 cm tall

This press-molded clay oil lamp has a discus that features a sculptor carving a medusa-type head, perhaps for the facade of a temple.  The discus also has a small hole for pouring olive oil into the lamp.  The three nozzles have been decorated to resemble feathers, complimenting the curvilinear pattern surrounding the discus.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Kylix

Greek Kylix Reverse

76.1.563 Greek Kylix with Satyrs and Maenads (obverse and reverse)

Greek: Classical Period, c. 450 BCE

Red-figure ceramic, 23 cm tall

This kylix features three scenes of satyrs and maenads dancing (two on the bottom and one in the discus of the bowl).  The kylix is a communal wine cup specifically used at the ancient Greek symposium.  Serious issues of ethics and morality were often the topic at these events, frequently interspersed with games, music, and other frivolity.  The kylix features a shallow bowl specifically shaped to play the game kottabos in which participants swirled the wine dregs in the cup, flinging them at a target.

The subject matter of this work addresses the more serious side of the symposium, the issues of ethics and morality.  Satyrs (half-men half-goat mythological creatures) frolic with maenads (female followers of the wine god Dionysus).  These priestesses were famous for breaking the stringent codes governing female behavior in ancient Greek society, causing great anxiety among a patriarchal society.   Because the drinking of wine frequently leads to intoxication and less than ideal behavior, these scenes were a warning to those who drank from the kylix that they too could become less than human if they drank to excess.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Funerary Minature Krater

76.1.595 Funerary Minature Krater

Greek: Late Classical, c. 350 BCE

Campanian ware ceramic, 4.7 cm tall

This miniature krater was part of the funerary goods for a Greek colonist who lived in southern Italy.  It represented the more expensive large krater that was used to mix wine for rituals and celebrations that the deceased was expected to require in the next world. 

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Askos

76.1.603 Askos

Greek: Late Geometric Period, c. 700 BCE

Daunian ware ceramic, 15 cm tall

This askos is typically decorated in the linear style that is characteristic of the geometric period.  It was found in southern Italy in Apulia, most probably in a funerary context where it was used to hold oil. 

This askos was purchased by the Sawhills at a Parke-Bernet Gallery auction on February 2th, 1974.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Wine Pitcher

76.1.610 Oinochoe with Eros

Greek: Hellenistic Period, c. 330 BCE

Red-figure ceramic, 27 cm tall

This red figure oinochoe (wine pitcher) was created in a Greek colony in southern Italy.  Similar to the fine china given to a modern bride on her wedding day, this pitcher was created as a gift to an ancient Greek bride.  Its slender small proportions indicate the primary user was a woman, and its imagery was meant to reassure a woman who might never have seen her husband before their wedding. 

The central figure is the god Eros, the son of Aphrodite and the god of love (also known as Cupid) who would inspire love at first sight between the couple.  In his hand is a casket (jewelry box) that would hold fine pieces such as the strands of pearls that adorn his body.  Eros also has a pair of wings that indicate he is a minor deity. 

A careful examination of the oinochoe reveals two impressed faces, each at the terminus of the handle.  These probably allude to the Italian deity Janus, the god of openings and closings.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Wine Pitcher with Mask

76.1.611 Oinochoe with Theater Mask

Greek: Classical Period, c. 400 BCE

Gnathian ware ceramic, 20 cm tall

This oinochoe (wine pitcher) is typical poly-chrome work found in south-eastern Italy by Greek colonists who settled in Apulia.  It features a female theater mask centrally placed for optimal viewing by a guest when the wine was served.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Funerary Headband

76.1.619 Greek Funerary Diadem

Greek: Classical Period, c. 400 BCE

Gold, 22.5 cm long

This lozenge shaped diadem was made from a thin sheet of gold to decorate a deceased person of high status.  The holes at each end would attach a chain that would hold the object in place.

The diadem was found on the eastern shore of the Black Sea and was purchased by the Sawhills at an auction of ancient art in New York City by Schulman Coin and Mint in the fall of 1971.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Theater Mask

76.1.653 Greek Comic Mask

Greek: Late Classical Period, c. 350 BCE

Ceramic, 13 cm tall

This molded theater mask represents comedy.  The two small holes at the top probably allowed it to be displayed in the home.

The mask is believed to have been found at Tarentum (Taras, Taranto), an Italian colony founded by the Spartans.  It was purchased by the Sawhills at a Parke-Bernet auction on February 25th, 1971.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Greek Toy Boar

76.1.670 Toy Boar

Greek: Classical Period, c. 450 BCE

Ceramic, 5.9 cm tall

This press-molded ceramic boar was found in the Boeotian region of Greece.  It was probably used as a toy to encourage young boys to become brave hunters (as evidenced in the many stories of boar hunts in Greek mythology).

This boar was purchased by the Sawhills from Jacques Schulman in Amsterdam.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Pedimental Sculpture Fragment

76.1.673 Ichthyocentaur Pediment Sculpture Fragment

Greek: Greco-Roman, 200 CE

Grey schist, 22 cm tall

An ichthyocentaur has the upper half of a man, the forelegs of a horse (or lion) and the tail of a dolphin.  Greek mythological creatures such as this were introduced as far east as India by Alexander the Great.  The resulting classical style, the Gandhara School, was primarily located in modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This relief sculpture was purchased by the Sawhills at a Parke-Bernet Auction on April 3rd, 1971.  It had been the property of a private New Jersey collector.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill

Archaic Priestess

76.1.681 Kore

Greek: Archaic Period, c. 500 BCE

Ceramic, 18.5 cm tall

This molded ceramic piece probably was an offering from a young girl when she achieved menarche.  Called a Kore, she was associated with the divine young girl, Persephone.  The object that she holds in her raised right hand was probably a pomegranate that represented the transitional period between puberty and marriage.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill


76.1.706 Aphrodite

Greek: Classical Style, c. 450 BCE

Bronze, 8.5 cm tall

This bronze statue of the goddess of love and beauty shows her in association with bathing.  The bridal bath was a traditional component of the marriage ritual and so appropriate imagery for this statue.  It is most likely that it was an offering to Aphrodite from a bride in hopes of a happy marriage.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill


76.1.780 Astragalus

Greek: Hellenistic Period, c. 330 BCE

Bronze, 1.65 cm tall

Known today as knucklebones, the game of dice had its origins in ancient Greece with the knucklebones of sheep or goats.  More elaborate dice were made from metal, stone, or glass, such as this bronze piece.

The Sawhills purchased this astragalus from an ancient art auction in New York City by Schulman Coin & Mint in the fall of 1971.

Gift of Drs. John and Bessie Sawhill