The lustrous black gloss of this vessel indicates that it is from the Apulian region of southern Italy. From the 8th century BC onwards, southern Italy was populated by a vast number of Greek colonies, so much so that the Romans referred to the area as Magna Graecia – ‘Great Greece’. These Greek colonies were instrumental in bringing Greek culture to Italy, greatly influencing Roman literature, philosophy, and material culture in turn. Items from Apulia are characterised by the glossy black glaze covering the dish and by polychromatic pigments of white, ochre, and maroon. Pieces as this fine example are attributed to the Xenon group, a variety of Apulian pottery identifiable by their shape, such as the karanthos, and the decorative motifs rendered in a matte pinkish colour.
‘Kantharoi’ (κάνθαροι) were an ancient Greek drinking vessel, used to hold wine or ritual offerings. They were an attribute of the god of wine, Dionysus, who was also associated with vegetation and fertility. Miniature vessels such as this piece were perhaps meant as votive offerings and are prevalent within the Xenon group.
To find out more about different types of Greek vessel please see our relevant blog post: Collecting Greek Vases.