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Work Mycenaean krater with chariot scene

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Mycenaean krater with chariot scene

© 2006 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Caubet Annie

This vase belongs to a category of ceremonial ware called kraters that were used for mixing and serving wine at banquets. Made in continental Greece and exported to the Levant, this ceramic piece is described as Mycenaean. The painted decoration depicts warriors on chariots, a favorite subject. Members of the social elite of Ugarit, the capital of a kingdom on the Syrian coast, were entombed with this terracotta ware.

Prominence of luxury ceramics in the export market

Specialized workshops in continental Greece manufactured fine-quality ceramics during the Late Bronze Age. This production prefigured Attic ware of the fifth century BC. From the fourteenth or thirteenth century BC, these workshops probably spread along the Anatolian coast (in the region of Miletus and Ephesus) and even to Cyprus. Their products were highly prized throughout the Levant, in Anatolia, and in Egypt. Thousands of fragments of this pottery have been found at Ugarit on the Syrian coast. It was made in various forms: drinking cups, plates, kraters for serving wine, jugs, and perfume bottles.
The form of the krater changed as time passed, becoming lower to make access to the contents easier, and gaining painted figurative decoration. The most popular scene was a procession of warriors in chariots, often followed or preceded by a lackey. Here, a waterfowl may evoke a hunting story.

A chariot-owning elite

Excavations at Ugarit, the capital of a Levantine kingdom that prospered during the second millennium BC, have yielded important remains and numerous cuneiform texts giving information about the society. Beside the king and his relations, the social elite seems to have consisted of "mariannou" - chariot owners. They had to supply troops and their chariots to the king in wartime. The very few remains of these chariots that have been found in the city suggest that they were light, two-wheeled vehicles drawn by a pair of horses. They were comparable to those used by the Greek heroes at Troy that Homer describes and those found in Egyptian royal arsenals and in Tutankhamen's tomb. This Mycenaean krater decorated with a chariot is another witness to the art of war in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age.

Princely banquets

Judging by ceramic objects and written records found at Ugarit, the sovereign and the leading warriors, who were also prominent traders, seem to have had roughly the same banqueting habits as those described in Homer's Odyssey. They ate rich meats and drank cups of wine drawn from metal or fine ceramic kraters, like this vase imported from Greece or the Anatolian coast.
The palace and private residences in Ugarit had stone family tombs below ground, to enable communication between the living and the dead. The writings found at Ugarit mention ceremonies held to commemorate the dead. The latter were entombed with valuable items reflecting their social status. Most of the tombs of Ugarit that have been found were pillaged. Practically all the gold jewelry was missing, but the banqueting ware, arms, women's objects, and toilet items that remain bear witness to a refined and prosperous society. Intact kraters and other Mycenaean vases have been found mainly in tombs. However, examination of the fragments discovered in dwellings shows that this luxurious imported ware was widely used in Ugarit.

Technical description

  • Mycenaean krater with chariot scene

    Late Bronze Age, thirteenth century BC

    Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), Syria

    Continental Greece or the Anatolian coast

  • Painted terracotta

  • Excavations by C. Schaeffer, 1936

    AO 22293

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: coastal Syria, Ugarit, and Byblos
    Room B

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