Vase Production: Corinth, Athens, Magna Graecia; slaves, factories

After the Dark Ages, it seems that pottery was the first of the arts to revive. It is clear that the basic firing and molding techniques were supplemented with a need for a potter’s wheel and a compass to create the neatly banded style of geometric pottery.

The importance of Mediterranean trade for the development of vase production in Greece cannot be underestimated. It is no coincidence that it was at Corinth, an important trading center and colonial power, which began to develop its own innovative pottery style during the seventh century BCE. Influenced by the Near East this city-state also recognized a market for high quality, decorated vases. Thus their workshops began to develop small decorated pots, notably the perfume jars (aryballoi) for export to colonies in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor.

The other major center of pottery production was, of course, Athens which began to produce vases in great quantity during the sixth century BCE. In part this was facilitated by the encouragement and incentives offered to artists to settle in Athens by Solon, the tyrant Pisistratus, and the democratic leader Cleisthenes.

Potters and schools begin to be more easily identifiable from around 570 BCE as artists signed their vases and claimed ownership of their artwork.

In the Classical period the mass-production of vases became big business. Vases were being produced for enormous domestic and foreign markets. Pots were created in factories with large numbers of workers responsible for different aspects of the production. For example, there would be slave workers for digging and refining the clay. More skilled jobs involved, throwing, molding, and decorating the pottery. The existence of pre-set pottery shapes increased the speed of production and could be finely finished in the lathe. Overall production would have been overseen by the potter and, where he was not the same, the painter. They would have been self-employed artisans, relying on servile support. Both could achieve some considerable renown, and earn considerable sums of money. However, for the slave workers it seems likely that the conditions in potteries were dirty, hard, and dangerous. Potteries were often confined to a specific quarter of the city and ghettoized. In Athens the pottery quarter lay between the Agora and the Dipylon Gate. As with other factories, the evidence attests to large numbers of non-Athenian craftsmen, resident aliens (metics), seeking to make their fame and fortune in the competitive Athenian economy.

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