Blackware guttos such as this would have been manufactured by a Greek community in Southern Italy – an area populated by a large number of Greek colonies from the 8th century BC onwards (so much so that the Romans referred to the area as Magna Graecia – ‘Great Greece’). These Greek colonies were instrumental in bringing Greek culture and thought to Italy, greatly influencing Roman literature, philosophy, and material culture in turn. The pottery from the area is easily recognisable by its lustrous black glaze.
In Ancient Greek mythology, Herakles was famed for his strength, as well as for his far-ranging adventures. As punishment for the frenzied killing of his family, Herakles was ordered to undertake twelve tasks. The first task was to free the inhabitants of the city of Nemea in Greece from a vicious lion – the so called Nemean lion. With his supernatural strength, Herakles strangled the lion with his bare hands, and dressed in its skin thereafter – Herakles’ own head peeking out of the lion’s gaping jaws. Thus, a lion’s skin was one of Herakles’ attributes, which makes him easily recognizable on vases and other depictions. Widely considered to be the greatest of Greek heroes, Herakles is often depicted with a heightened masculine physique.
To find out more about different types of Greek vessel please see our relevant blog post: Collecting Greek Vases.