National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Kathleen Lynch

Affiliation: University of Cincinnati

Kathleen Lynch is Professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati, and has also taught at Washington University in St. Louis, Southern Illinois University, and the University of Missouri. She is a specialist in Greek pottery, particularly vase-painting and the social aspects of pottery, and has completed fieldwork in Albania, Greece, and Turkey. She earned her Ph.D. and her M.A. at the University of Virginia, after completing her undergraduate work at Boston University. She has published widely, and has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships for her work. One of Professor Lynch’s main publications is The Symposium in Context: Pottery from a Late Archaic House near the Athenian Agora, published as Hesperia supplement 46, 2011, and the recipient of the 2013 AIA James R. Wiseman Book Award. This volume addresses for the first time a collection of pottery used at symposia that has been found in a domestic context in Athens (rather than a funerary context, which is more usual for such pottery). In the volume Professor Lynch discusses form, function, and context without ignoring the social aspects of Athenian drinking parties as well as other household activities. Prof. Lynch is one of the AIA’s 2022/2023 Norton Lecturers.


This lecture will explore how the foreign market for Athenian vases impacted production choices of the Athenian potters. In order to provide a vivid example of the problem, we will first examine erotic images of heterosexual couples on Athenian black-figure and red-figure vases produced from about 525-450 B.C. While these pots are certainly made in Athens, they are found only in Etruria. We will consider why the Athenians marketed these images to the Etruscans, and in turn why the Etruscans may have appreciated them. No clear answers exist, but considering intention and reception of the images does underscore that the Athenian potters were businessmen who aimed to sell pots.

In order to understand how the export market differed from the domestic pottery market, we will also examine pottery found in genuine Athenian houses. It turns out that pottery used by Athenians had simple, “genre” scenes. There is no sign of heterosexual intercourse and very few examples of mythological scenes.

Finally, we will review some famous Athenian vases that were found in Italy, mainly in Etruscan tombs.

It seems that the Etruscan consumers wanted Athenian pottery with suitably “Greek” decoration, a kind of “Hellenisme” to which the Athenian potters responded by producing vases with culturally characteristic scenes. The erotic scenes and complex mythological scenes may have sold because they reflected Etruscan impressions of the Athenians. Parallels for a complex relationship between the producer and the consumer will be sought in the production of Chinese porcelain for Europeans and sexualized postcard images of Arab women produced for French colonizers.

NB: Lecture will contain vase painting images of explicit sexual scenes.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Kilmer, Martin (1993). Greek Erotica on Attic Red-Figured Vases, London.

Lewis, Sian (2002). The Athenian Woman: An Iconographic Handbook, London.

Lynch, K. M. (2009) “Erotic Images on Attic Pottery: Markets and Meanings,” Athenian Painters and Potters II, ed. J. Oakley and O. Palagia, Oxford, pp. 159-165.

The symposium was a small, all-male drinking party held in a private home, and it was most popular from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period with some significant changes in form and meaning along the way.

The symposium focused on the shared consumption of wine. Men gathered in a small room, reclined on their left elbows, and participated equally in both the drinking and activities. All men were expected to speak on topics of philosophy and politics in turn or contribute to songs and stories. The wine loosened inhibitions and made it easier for the drinkers to form bonds.

Sympotic drinking required specialized ceramic equipment, designed only for use in the symposium. This paper will discuss the sympotic set from an Athenian house near the Classical Agora. It is the first well-preserved sympotic set from an individual house, so it provides the first evidence for the importance of the symposium in a real Athenian house. In fact, the sympotic pottery accounted for nearly 50% of this house’s crockery. The iconography on the sympotic pottery tells us something about the homeowner who chose the pots: he had a sense of humor, and he had an interest in cattle.

*This is the subject of the author’s AIA 2013 Wiseman Award publication, The Symposium in Context.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

J.McK. Camp, “Excavations in the Athenian Agora 1994 and 1995.” Hesperia 65 (1996): 231-61.

A. Dalby, Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece, Routledge, 1996.

J. Davidson, Courtesans and Fischakes: Consuming Passions of Classical Athens, Fontana Press, 1998.

K. Lynch, The Symposium in Context, Hesperia Supplement 46, Princeton: ASCSA, 2011.

B. Sparkes, Greek Pottery: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, 1991.

B. Sparkes, The Red and the Black: studies in Greek Pottery, Routledge, 1996.

In early modern times, Chinese potters produced figure decorated porcelain in a range of shapes specifically tailored to export markets. The design, production, and export of these vessels is well-documented with contemporary literary accounts—both Chinese and foreign—and even contemporary drawings of the production process. In the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., Athenian potters produced figure-decorated pottery, some of which seems to be tailored to export markets. In this talk, we will explore how the model of Chinese export pottery may help us understand Athenian vase production for export. In contrast, we know little about the logistics or organization of Athenian pottery production and its trade beyond what we can glean from the pots themselves. Chinese porcelain and its export, then, provides some valuable parallels that may help explain Athenian export strategies.

In particular, we will examine the impact of the consumer’s tastes on Chinese porcelain production. European customers, for example, wanted practical western forms that featured authentically “Chinese” imagery. As a result, potters made export porcelain in shapes and with decoration that would never have been used domestically in China. Similarly, there is evidence that the Athenians also modified shapes and imagers to suit the tastes of their consumers. We will explore the possibility that the export market shaped Athenian vase imagery more than previous noticed and consider what this means for our study of Greek vases.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Emerson, J., J. Chen, M. Gardner Gates. 2000. Porcelain Stories: From China to Europe, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Sargent, William. 2012. Treasures of Chinese Export Ceramics from the Peabody Essex Museum, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gordion, in central Turkey, was the capital of the Phrygian empire in Anatolia until about 600 B.C. By the mid 6th century, it came under Persian control as the Medes expanded their territory westward from their Iranian heartland. During the over 200 years of Persian control, the residents of Gordion imported a surprising amount of high quality Athenian fine ware pottery. The presence of Athenian pottery at Gordion prompts a number of questions that we will examine in this talk: HOW did it get there? Gordion lies 500 km from the Aegean and Black Sea coasts, which is unusual because exported Athenian pottery usually clings to the coasts in the Eastern Mediterranean. WHY did the residents of Gordion want Athenian pottery? At the height of importation in the late 6th and early 5th centuries B.C. weren’t the Persians and Athenians archenemies? In this talk, I will also demonstrate how a misguided research question can lead to unexpected answers. The mistake, it turns out, was to assume that the consumers and users of imported Athenian pottery were the Persians. In fact, actual Persians probably had little interest ceramic pots, which they deemed far inferior to metal vessels. Instead, throughout the Persian world, the pattern is clear: consumption of imported Athenian pottery continues at sites that had already been importing Athenian pottery before the shift to Persian control. In other words, it is not the Persian newcomers using the Athenian pottery but the indigenous Anatolian cultures. Connecting themselves to the Greeks (if not the Athenians, specifically) signaled a desire to maintain their existing cultural identities, and perhaps, a little resistance to the Persians.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Dusinberre, E. 2013. Empire, Authority, and Autonomy in Achaemenid Anatolia, Cambridge UP, New York.

Canepa, M. 2018. The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE-642 CE, University of California Press, Oakland.

Miller, M. 1997. Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century B.C.: A Study in Cultural Receptivity, Cambridge UP, New York.

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