Greek Vase Shapes

 

Scholars today classify ancient Greek vases by shape, of which there are about 100 different types, many with several sub-types. Here are some examples of the major types arranged by predominant (but not exclusive) function.

Vases used for storing and transporting wine and foodstuffs
Amphora

The amphora was a two-handled vase used for storage and transport.

Stamnos

Stamnos is probably another name for a large amphora.

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Vases used for mixing and cooling wine

Krater

The word krater means "mixing-bowl," and the vase was used for mixing wine with water. (The Greeks did not drink their wine "neat".)

Psykter

The word psykter means "cooler," and it was used for cooling wine:
the psykter was placed in a krater which had been filled with cooled water, and the cooling liquid would surround the psykter and cool the wine.

Vases used for drinking or pouring (wine or water)

Kantharos

This type of drinking-cup is often seen held by Dionysus in representations on vases.

Kylix

This drinking-cup is sometimes called the "symposium-vase," since it appears often in vase-representations of symposia

Oinochoe

This vase is a kind of ladle or small pitcher used for pouring wine from the krater into a drinking-cup. The word oinochoe means "wine-pourer."

Vases used for drawing water

Hydria

The name of this three-handled vase is derived from the Greek word for water. Hydriai were used for drawing water, as ballot-boxes, and also as urns to hold the ashes of the dead. They are commonly seen in vase-representations of women drawing water at the fountain-house.

Loutrophoros

The name of this vase means "carrier of washing-water", and the vase was used only in ritual contexts: at weddings, to carry the water for the bridal bath; in funerals, to carry the water for washing the corpse of unmarried persons and to mark their graves. Vases of this shape are commonly decorated with scenes of mourners or wedding processions.

Lebes Gamikos

This vase-type has three pieces: a bowl with handles, a lid (not shown here), and a stand. The term means "marriage bowl," and the vase was used for the same purpose as the loutrophoros in wedding rituals--to bring water for the bridal bath. Many of these vases are decorated with scenes depicting wedding preparations or wedding processions.

Vases used for cosmetics

Pyxis

This vase was a round box with a cover used to hold cosmetics.

Lekythos

This vase was a flask used for toilet oils, perfume, or condiments, and also appears in funerary contexts, where it was used to pour libations for the dead or was left on the grave as an offering.

Vases used for athletics

Aryballos
This vase was a small flask with a narrow neck used to hold and pour oil; it is often shown in Attic vase painting as being suspended from the wrist of an athlete, or looped by a string and hung on the wall.  
Alabastron
This vase was an elongated flask with a narrow neck used to contain oil. Like the aryballos, it was sometimes suspended from an athlete's wrist or from a peg on the wall.

last updated 28 January 2000