Ancient Greece

The A to Z of Ancient Greek Pottery Terms Pt. 2

Rachel Witte 25 July 2023 min Read

And so the saga continues in our adventures of learning about Ancient Greek pottery! You will probably have noticed that I chose to skip a few letters of the alphabet in this article and the previous one on the same topic. It is not because there is a lack of terminology for these letters, but rather because I wanted to focus on those terms with correlating images of pieces of Ancient Greek pottery.


Lekythos The lekythos is an oil bottle. It is one of the most common shapes; the lekythos was used for either scented oils or household oils, such as those used in cooking.

Greek vase called ground lekythos by Diosphos Painter showing Achilles dragging the body of Hector
Diosphos Painter, Achilles dragging the body of Hector, White-ground lekythos, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

Loutrophoros (pl. Loutrophoroi) – This particular piece of pottery was used to hold water for the ceremonial bathing of either a bride or groom; as a grave marker and also in burial rites. The literal translation of the term loutrophoros is ‘bath carrier.’ Andrew Clark states, however, that it is not definite whether the term loutrophoros refers to the pottery itself or the person carrying it. While several themes and motifs decorate this particular vase, the two which stand out are weddings or funerals commemorations.

Greek potter called Protoattic loutrophoros
Analatos Painter, Protoattic loutrophoros, ca. 680 BCE. Found in Athens, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.


Mastos A mastos was a wine-shaped cup shaped like a woman’s breast. Rather than having a stem or foot, the mastos comes to a point at its bottom in a similar shape to a nipple.

Greek pottery called mastos, painted with black figure style, depicting the combat scene.
Black-figure Mastos with combat scenes, ca. 530 BC, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, United States.

Meander A meander is a design pattern that stems from the Geometric era of Ancient Greece. Also known as a ‘Greek key,’ the meander came in varying degrees of intricacy. The term comes from the Meander River in Turkey.

The bottom of the greek pottery called kylix, painted in red-figure style, depicting a boy playing yo-yo.
Boy playing yo-yo. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix with a meander pattern, ca. 440 BCE, Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany.


Oinochoe Oinochoe is probably one of the hardest terms to pronounce…for me anyway! It is a pitcher used to serve wine. Like many other pottery examples, the designs on the side of the oinochoe reflected scenes of drinking or the mythological Dionysos and the myriad of other figures. The oinochoe came in varying shapes and was used in many festivals in Ancient Greece.

Greek pottery called oinochoe made out of terracotta.
Terracotta oinochoe, mid-4th century BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.

Oon (pl. oa) – The oon is a small, egg-shaped vase. It was an uncommon shape and therefore is considered a rare style of pottery. The oon came in varying forms with either no lid at all, a lid, or a small hole at both ends.

Oon, ca. 500 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.

OrientalizingThe Orientalizing period in Ancient Greek art refers to roughly the 7th century BC (it is a sub-style, following Geometric and before Archaic). It is referred to as such because of the heavy influence of civilizations in the Near East and Egypt. Andrew Clark et al state that during this time, the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet for their own decorative uses. The introduction of new symbols, animals, and Near East motifs broadened Ancient Greek artistic vocabulary.

OrnamentOrnament refers to any of the linear patterns or floral designs that decorate vases or scenes on the sides of the vase. Examples include palmettes, meander, rays, rosettes, a net, or ivy, among others. The piece depicted below showcases several ornaments on its surface.

Attic Black-Figure Amphora, ca. 530 and 520 BCE, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Psykter This piece of Ancient Greek pottery was a mushroom-shaped vase used for the cooling of wine. There were no handles or a lid. There are several hybrids of this type of vase; likewise, it is possible that the name psykter was a general term for wine-cooling vessels.

Attributed to Oltos, Terracotts psykter, ca. 520-510 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.

Pyxis A pyxis is a small cylindrical box. It had many uses ranging from containers for incense, jewelry, or ancient cosmetics. Feminine scenes were generally painted on the sides of the vase.

Terracotta pyxis, ca. 425-450 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.


Red-Figure technique Although the black-figure technique continued alongside the new and advanced red-figure technique, the newer technique was being produced with significantly more artistry on Ancient Greek pottery.

Signed by Epiktetos as a painter, terracotta plate, ca. 520-510 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City, NY, USA.

Rhyton Used as a vase for drinking, the rhyton is a uniquely shaped vase. With one handle, this vase came in different shapes and sizes. There are examples of rhyton shaped as a bird, boar, cow, deer, bull, goat, pig, ram, and even a sphinx. The one below appears to be a fox.

Terracotta Rhyton, ca. late 4th-early 3rd BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY, USA.


Skyphos – a drinking cup with a deep bowl. They were used at the symposium.

Terracotta skyphos, ca. 460-450 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City, NY, USA.

Stamnos This broad-shouldered vase has a low foot and a low neck. Researchers do not know entirely whether these vessels were used solely for storage, as some examples were found with lids. The Classical Art Research Centre at the University of Oxford states that it also could have been used for the serving of liquids.

Attributed to the Siren Painter, The Siren Vase (Odysseus passing the Sirens), ca. 480-470 BCE, The British Museum, London, United Kingdom.


Tondo The tondo is the circular decorated portion inside the cup, at the bottom.

Kleomelos Painter, A Young Boy Holding a Discus at The Palaestra. Near him, a pick to prepare the landing ground for the long jump, and a pair of dumbbells used to maintain balance during the jump. Interior of an Attic red-figure kylix, ca. 510-500 BCE, The Louvre Museum, Paris, France.


White-Ground White-ground technique is an Ancient Greek style of pottery that shows the scenes, or figures, on a white background. More fragile than red-figure or black-figure, white-ground still maintained popularity throughout Attica.

The Brygos Painter, Woman Spinning. Detail from an Attic white-ground oinochoe, ca. 490 BCE, The British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

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