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Handmade, Terracotta Animal Figurines from the Athenian Acropolis

Vassiliki D. Georgaka

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Introduction

  • 1 Jacky Kozlowski, Les figurines animals dans les sanctuaires de Demeter Thesmophoros, Anthropozoolog (...)

1A group of 61 handmade, terracotta animal figurines was unpacked from the Acropolis storerooms, inventoried at the Acropolis Ephorate archives during the years 1989-1991, and subsequently put on display in the Acropolis Museum (1st floor, display case 21). They were part of a larger terracotta group of handmade figurines lacking excavation reports but believed to have been found at the same place on the Acropolis during the major archaeological excavations of the 19th century. They represent 14 % of the total number of the handmade terracotta figurines discovered on the Acropolis, a common, but not a surprising, percentage for the handmade terracotta figurines of animals during the Archaic period (Fig. 1).1

Fig.1 — The north wing of the Periklean Propylaia, the “Pinakotheke” was used as a storeroom during the first years after Independence and it housed all the finds from the first archaeological excavations.

Fig.1 — The north wing of the Periklean Propylaia, the “Pinakotheke” was used as a storeroom during the first years after Independence and it housed all the finds from the first archaeological excavations.

Photo : James Robertson, 1853-4

Provenance

  • 2 V. Georgaka, “Handmade terracotta archaic figurines from the Athenian Acropolis and the Nymph Sanct (...)
  • 3 Hmerologion Ypiresias (1863-1883) (i.e. Archaeological Diaries of Panagiotis Efstratiades 1863–1883 (...)

2Unfortunately no excavation reports or any kind of archaeological information was found regarding the specific find spot of these figurines, as well as the associated place of worship or dedication. However, continuity in the registration numbering of the animal figurines in the Acropolis archives (MA 14…) gives us some evidence of a common provenance with 430 handmade terracottas figurines depicting human figures that were found inside an apothete-bothros north east of the monumental gateway of the Acropolis, the Propylaia.2 Consequently, the animal figurines were most probably found during the same excavation period and therefore they came from the area north east of the Propylaia. The general Ephor of Antiquities in 1864-1884 Panagiotis Efstratiades excavated the aforementioned place prior to the proposed erection of a museum in 1864. It was here that he found unexpected archaeological finds : “the foundations of a significant construction,” as well as votive terracotta figurines.3 The works for the erection of the new museum were abandoned due to the exposure of the architectural remains. All the finds were hurriedly housed at various places on the Acropolis that were used as storerooms during the first years after the Greek War of Independence, one being the north wing of the Propylaia, the so called “Pinakotheke” (i.e. Picture gallery).

Description-Technique

3The majority of these animal figurines depict horses and horsemen (Figs. 2, 3, 4),

Fig. 2, 3, 4 — Handmade terracotta figurines depicting horsemen and horses were popular offerings during the Archaic period in Athens. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, nos 21¬-23).

Fig. 2, 3, 4 — Handmade terracotta figurines depicting horsemen and horses were popular offerings during the Archaic period in Athens. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, nos 21¬-23).

© Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.

as well as some dogs (Figs. 5, 6),

Fig.5, 6 — Handmade dog figurines.

Fig.5, 6 — Handmade dog figurines.

© Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.

birds, possibly doves (Fig. 7),

Fig.7 — Handmade bird figurine. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 13 and 12).

Fig.7 — Handmade bird figurine. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 13 and 12).

© Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.

and bovines (Fig. 8).

Fig.8 — A typical type of Archaic handmade bovine figurine from the Acropolis. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 14a).

Fig.8 — A typical type of Archaic handmade bovine figurine from the Acropolis. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 14a).

© Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.

  • 4 The Μunsell Soil Color Charts, Maryland 1975 was used for describing the clay and the reddish brown (...)
  • 5 J. V. Noble, The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery, New York-London 1966.
  • 6 P. Knoblauch, Studien zur archaisch-griechischen Tonbildnerei in Kreta, Rhodos, Athen und Boeotien, (...)
  • 7 Χ. Βλασσο,πούλου, Αττικοί ανάγλυφοι πίνακες της Αρχαϊκής εποχής, Αθήνα 2003, σ. 31–32.

4Pigs and goats have also been found among them. These figurines were handmade using the characteristic attic clay (5 YR 7/4)4 and covered with a white, fine-grained, thick, kaolin suspension. After firing, they were mostly decorated with red and black paint, known in archaeological literature as “red/black on white technique.”5 This is a very common technique of finish, polychrome painted decoration that applies colored clay suspensions on a white slip. This technique was also commonly used on other coroplastic works,6on Attic relief plaques, “pinakes,”7as well as on the decoration of Protoattic vases of this period. The colors used for the decoration of the figurines are water-based, mat and derive from organic and inorganic combinations. They are limited to the following :

  1. Reddish brown paint (Munsell SCC 10 R 4/6 και 4/8- Red) is red ochre. It is the most commonly used and consists of lead oxide (minium).

    • 8 R.A. Higgins, “The polychrome decoration of Greek Terracottas,” Studies in Conservation,15 (1970), (...)

    Black dye (soot).8

Their Interpretation - The Comparanda

  • 9 W. H. D. Rouse, Greek Votive Offerings. An Essay in the History of Greek Religion, Cambridge 1902, (...)
  • 10 B. Alroth, The Positioning of Greek Votive Figurines, in R.Hägg et al. (eds.), Early Greek Cult Pra (...)

5Attic, handmade, terracotta animal figurines from the Acropolis were dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, as well as to various other deities worshipped on the Hill.9 In many sanctuaries, apart from the worship of the honored deity, that of other deities is also attested.10 On the Acropolis for example, apart from the principal worship of Athena, the worship of other deities was also practiced, including Artemis Vravroneia, Cybele, and others.

  • 11 O. Broneer, “Excavations on the North Slope of the Acropolis,” 1937, Hesperia 7.2 (1938), p. 201.
  • 12 J. K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus—The Early Iron Age Potter’s Field in the Area of the Classi (...)
  • 13 Κ. Κόκκου–Βυριδή, Ελευσίς, Πρώιμες Πυρές θυσιών στο Τελεστήριο της Ελευσίνος, Αθήνα 1999, σ. 212–3, (...)
  • 14 Λ. Παλαιοκρασσά, Το ιερό της Αρτέμιδος Μουνιχίας, Αθήνα 1991, σ. 61, 125-6, πίν. 24.
  • 15 V. Mitsopoulos-Leon, ΒΡΑΥΡΩΝ, Die Tonstatuetten aus dem Heiligtum der Artemis- Die frühen Statuette (...)
  • 16 I thank Dr. Z.Theodoropoulou Polychroniadis for sharing information on the terracotta figurines of (...)
  • 17 M. Spathi, Studien zur Koroplastik Äginas, 2007, pp. 135–137, pl. 41, cat. nos. 281–283, 402, 403, (...)

6These figurines represent a typical kind of common offering during the Archaic period and the early 5th century B.C. in places located within the wider area of archaic Athens and Attica : the Acropolis and its slopes,11 the Agora,12 Eleusis,13 Piraeus,14 Brauron,15 Sounion,16Aegina17and many more Archaic sites, the finds of which still remain unpublished. They are also typologically related to examples from other sites on the Greek mainland (Boeotia, Laconia, and the Argolid), as well as Greek islands (Rhodes, Samos).

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Notes

1 Jacky Kozlowski, Les figurines animals dans les sanctuaires de Demeter Thesmophoros, Anthropozoologica 2003, no 38, pp. 105–118.

2 V. Georgaka, “Handmade terracotta archaic figurines from the Athenian Acropolis and the Nymph Sanctuary at the South Slope of the Acropolis”, CSIG News, no. 5, Jan. 2011, p. 12–13 (http://coroplasticstudies.univ-lille3.fr/fichiers/fichierspdf/flash/newsletters/2014_11/index.html) and V. Georgaka, “Typological Classification of the Archaic, Handmade Figurines of the Athenian Acropolis,” CSIG News, no. 9 Jan. 2013, p. 5–6 (http://coroplasticstudies.univ-lille3.fr/fichiers/fichierspdf/flash/newsletters/2013_10/index.html).

3 Hmerologion Ypiresias (1863-1883) (i.e. Archaeological Diaries of Panagiotis Efstratiades 1863–1883), 4 May 1865, p. 29.

4 The Μunsell Soil Color Charts, Maryland 1975 was used for describing the clay and the reddish brown paint used on the figurines.

5 J. V. Noble, The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery, New York-London 1966.

6 P. Knoblauch, Studien zur archaisch-griechischen Tonbildnerei in Kreta, Rhodos, Athen und Boeotien, Halle 1937, pp.174–6, 187.

7 Χ. Βλασσο,πούλου, Αττικοί ανάγλυφοι πίνακες της Αρχαϊκής εποχής, Αθήνα 2003, σ. 31–32.

8 R.A. Higgins, “The polychrome decoration of Greek Terracottas,” Studies in Conservation,15 (1970), p. 273.

9 W. H. D. Rouse, Greek Votive Offerings. An Essay in the History of Greek Religion, Cambridge 1902, p. 357.

10 B. Alroth, The Positioning of Greek Votive Figurines, in R.Hägg et al. (eds.), Early Greek Cult Practice, Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium at the Swedish Institute at Athens 1986, pp. 88–90, pp. 108–113.

11 O. Broneer, “Excavations on the North Slope of the Acropolis,” 1937, Hesperia 7.2 (1938), p. 201.

12 J. K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus—The Early Iron Age Potter’s Field in the Area of the Classical Athenian Agora, Hesperia Suppl. 31, 2003, pp. 180–181, fig. 2.113, 2.115, 2.116, 2.117.

13 Κ. Κόκκου–Βυριδή, Ελευσίς, Πρώιμες Πυρές θυσιών στο Τελεστήριο της Ελευσίνος, Αθήνα 1999, σ. 212–3, πίν. 18. 19.

14 Λ. Παλαιοκρασσά, Το ιερό της Αρτέμιδος Μουνιχίας, Αθήνα 1991, σ. 61, 125-6, πίν. 24.

15 V. Mitsopoulos-Leon, ΒΡΑΥΡΩΝ, Die Tonstatuetten aus dem Heiligtum der Artemis- Die frühen Statuetten, Athen 2009, pp. 33–37, pl.1, nos 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 and K. Kalogeropoulos, “Terracotta figurines from the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron,” Attica, CSIG News, no. 2, 2009, p. 10.

16 I thank Dr. Z.Theodoropoulou Polychroniadis for sharing information on the terracotta figurines of animals from Sounion.

17 M. Spathi, Studien zur Koroplastik Äginas, 2007, pp. 135–137, pl. 41, cat. nos. 281–283, 402, 403, pl. 42, cat. no. 400.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 — The north wing of the Periklean Propylaia, the “Pinakotheke” was used as a storeroom during the first years after Independence and it housed all the finds from the first archaeological excavations.
Credits Photo : James Robertson, 1853-4
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/435/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 704k
Title Fig. 2, 3, 4 — Handmade terracotta figurines depicting horsemen and horses were popular offerings during the Archaic period in Athens. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, nos 21¬-23).
Credits © Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/435/img-2.png
File image/png, 2.7M
Title Fig.5, 6 — Handmade dog figurines.
Credits © Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/435/img-3.png
File image/png, 1.3M
Title Fig.7 — Handmade bird figurine. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 13 and 12).
Credits © Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/435/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 84k
Title Fig.8 — A typical type of Archaic handmade bovine figurine from the Acropolis. (Acropolis Museum, 1st floor-showcase 21, no 14a).
Credits © Acropolis Museum. Photo : V. Tsiamis.
URL http://acost.revues.org/docannexe/image/435/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 34k
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References

Electronic reference

Vassiliki D. Georgaka, « Handmade, Terracotta Animal Figurines from the Athenian Acropolis », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 11 | 2014, Online since 13 July 2015, connection on 28 June 2017. URL : http://acost.revues.org/435 ; DOI : 10.4000/acost.435

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About the author

Vassiliki D. Georgaka

Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 1st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
vgeorgaka@culture.gr

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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