Episodes recalling Homeric events are part of the imagery of ancient pottery. Greek myths were known and appreciated not only by the Greeks but also by the other ancient indigenous people of the Apulia region. This is testified by the decoration of Apulian red-figure pottery. The earliest red-figure pottery production in Southern Italy started in Lucania, in the city of Metapontum, followed by more expansive production in Apulia.
The imagery of Apulian red-figure pottery shows ideological models deriving from Greek culture which were adopted by members of the Apulian aristocracy. Modern scholars have stressed that some native centres of Apulia had strong trade and cultural relations with Athens. This is the case with the settlement of Ruvo di Puglia, located in the central area of Apulia, where the tribes named Peuceti were settled. These cultural exchanges are shown by a large number of red-figure vases which were found in funerary contexts in the Peucetian necropolis of Ruvo di Puglia. An example of this cultural interaction between indigenous aristocracy, and models deriving from Greek culture, is an image depicted on one side of a red-figure column-krater, attributed to the Painter of York and dated to ca. 380-360 BC.
|Detail of the Apulian red-figure column-krater attributed to the painter of York, 380-360 BC, Ruvo di Puglia, National Archaeologilca Museum Jatta inv. 36724 (From Riccardi (2015) Tav. 58 .1)|
On one side of the vase three draped young people are depicted. The two people on the right both hold a distaff in their right hands. This iconography is common on Apulian vases and its interpretation is the subject of debate. Some scholars have argued that these people could be interpreted as spectators talking to each other about the scene depicted on the other side of the vase.
|Detail of the Apulian red-figure column-krater attributed to the painter of York, 380-360 BC, Ruvo di Puglia, National Archaeologilca Museum Jatta inv. 36724 (From Riccardi (2015) Tav. 58 .2)|
On the other side of the vase a scene is depicted which is interpreted as the departure of a warrior: two warriors wear patterned draperies which are related to the costume of the indigenous people of Apulia. In the middle of the composition is a woman wearing a chiton and a richly decorated himation, seated on a chair, holding a child on her knee. The child is depicted wearing a patterned a short tunic.
The infant and the warrior on the right are depicted as interacting: the child stretches his left arm to the warrior on the right, who holds a crested hemispherical helmet in his right hand. The helmet is also decorated with a pattern testifying the high status of the warrior.
This image can be interpreted as an elaboration of an episode described in the Iliad of Homer. During the fight under the walls of Troy a family meeting took place at the Scaean Gates, between Hector, his wife Andromache and their son Astyanax. Hector, Andromache and Astyanax were important members of the Trojan royal family: Hector was the heir of Priam, King of Troy, and the military leader of the armed forces of the city of Troy. Andromache was one of the most prominent Trojan women and Astyanax would have been the next ruler of Troy after his father.
At the Scaean Gates Andromache and Hector spoke each other about the still ongoing war and then:
|‘So saying, glorious Hector stretched out his arms to his boy, but back into the bosom of his fair-girdled nurse shrank the child crying, affrighted at the aspect of his dear father, and seized with dread of the bronze and the crest of horse-hair, as he marked it waving dreadfully from the topmost helm. Aloud then laughed his dear father and queenly mother; and forthwith glorious Hector took the helm from his head and laid it all-gleaming upon the ground. But he kissed his dear son, and fondled him in his arms.’|
(Hom. Il. 6.466-474)
The comparison between the Homeric text and the vase shows some similarities. The people represented are shown wearing elaborate costumes and weaponry displaying their wealth and their high social status. The scene is interpreted as the departure of the warrior for the battle and the warrior on the right is shown bareheaded.
Hence, the image on the Apulian red-figure column krater shows the elaboration of the Homeric episode by representing Hector and Andromache as members of the Peucetian aristocracy, showing a scene not explicitly described by Homer, but one which is certainly plausible and tender: after ‘Hector’ takes off is helmet and ‘Astyanax’ recognizes his father and stretches his left arm to him.
In conclusion, the evidence testifies the cultural background and the values and ideologies of the members of the Peucetian aristocracy: the elites of Ruvo aimed to show both their knowledge and adoption of the Greek cultural models and their indigenous identity. This noteworthy iconographic synthesis provides a valuable example of the interaction of different cultures in the context of central Apulia.
Bottini, A. and Torelli, M. (2006) Iliade (Milano, Electa).
Homer, The Iliad, trans. A.T. Murray, (Harvard University Press: London 1924).
Herring E. (2018) Patterns in the Production of Apulian Red-Figure Pottery (Cambridge Scholars Publishing).
Montanaro, A. C. (2018) ‘Death is not for me. Funerary contexts of warrior-chiefs from preroman Apulia’ in Inszenierung von Identitäten. Unteritalische Vasenmalerei zwischen Griechen und Indigenen, Proceedings of the International Conference (Kolloquium, Berlin, Bodemuseum, 26-28 Oktober 2016), CVA Supplements, 8, eds. U. Kästner and S. Schmidt (München: München: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften): 25-38.
Riccardi, A. (2015) Ceramica a figure rosse protoitaliota, lucana e apula antica (CVA, Italy, 79, Ruvo di Puglia, Museo nazionale Jatta.1) (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider)
Carpenter, T. H. (2009) ‘Prolegomenon to the study of Apulian red-figure pottery’, American Journal of Archaeology 113(1): 27–38.
Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. II Inquadramento, (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider).
This post was written by Carlo Lualdi, full-time PhD researcher of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Carlo’s research interests are in the representation of warfare from the late classical to the Hellenistic period and in Classical reception studies. He is currently writing his thesis about combat scenes in Messapia dating between the end of the fourth and the beginning of the third century BC.