This week I came across this great article on the Forum Ancient Coins site about vessels (storage and drinking vessels) shown on ancient coins.
Here's a short excerpt - be sure to read the complete article online and learn the difference between the amphora, the krater, the kantharos, the
rhyton, Kyme's cup, the oinochoe and a wine jug. -Editor
Many ancient Greek coins, and some Roman, show an urn, jug or cup, almost all of recognisable ancient types. In most cases they are there to serve
a particular symbolic purpose. But some important distinctions are lost on most of those who write descriptions of ancient coins. You will see many
of them described on line as "an amphora," whereas actually, the majority are kraters.
Amphorae, kraters and other vessels were quite different in design, in use, and in symbolic meaning. Knowing some basic facts about them helps to
understand the coins properly. This page goes through the various types and shows their differences, and then shows more examples of kraters, the
type most commonly found on ancient coins.
(For the other type of vessel, galleys and boats, please see my page about safe journeys and sea power.)
It's easy to find definitions of "amphora" .. "A large narrow-necked Greek or Roman jar with a handle on either side,
used for storing liquids such as wine or oil." That's from Chambers Dictionary on line.
Large numbers of amphoras have been found in shipwrecks, so we know they were stacked on galleys and used for transport.
They came in more than one design. The earliest transport amphoras had ovoid bodies and a base, like the one on the Athenian tetradrachm on the
left of the row above. The olive tree was supposed to have been the goddess Athena's gift to Athens, so that one will have been used to transport
Kraters were used in the ancient Greek world in much the same way that punch-bowls are used in more modern times. They would contain a
mixture of wine and water, to be drunk at a party called a symposium, where men would gather for an enjoyable evening of merriment, good
conversation, and perhaps some entertainment. In polite ancient Greek society, it was regarded as bad form to get too drunk too soon, though, of
course, not all society was polite!
So, kraters appeared on coins to symbolise just that sort of occasion; and sometimes more, to show an association with the god Dionysos, who was
responsible for the divine madness produced by alcoholic intoxication. Elsewhere, I have a page about coins showing Dionysos and his Roman
equivalent, Father Liber.
There were four types of standard krater design in the ancient world. The majority of vessels found on ancient coins are the type known as volute
kraters. They are so called because the curled tops of the handles resemble the curled decorations, volutes, at the top of Ionic columns, and those
curled-over handle tops are quite definitive in identifying a volute krater.
To read the complete article, see:
Ancient Vessels on Ancient Coins
Wayne Homren, Editor
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