Sherd from a Mycenaean Kylix

Object 872
JIAAW, Couch Collection

The kylix is a drinking vessel, favored by the Mycenaeans. Its main typological characteristics are its round base and the tall cylindrical stem ending to a bowled cup with two handles. It was not only favored by Mycenaeans but also from archaeologists, as its typological evolution helps define the chronological subperiods of Late Helladic III (ca. 1420/ 10-1075/50 BC). Even more conveniently, kylixes are to be found in all types of contexts; domestic, ritual, and funerary.  Usually, kylikes bear painted decoration of parallel bands, from the base up to the stem, until the beginning of the bowled cup or the handles. Normally, the bowled cup carries a decoration zone with a variety of motifs, such as running spiral, Argonauts, scale pattern, whorl-shell, flower, or octopus. Nevertheless, unpainted, plain kylikes also occur. Lastly, the kylix is extremely haptic; the tall stem, the wide bowled cup, and the two handles suggest many different ways of holding the vessel.  

The sherd of the JIAAW collection is a typical base, decorated with reddish concentric circles. The base is rather flat with curved edges, thus placing the sherd in Late Helladic IIIA2 or IIIB1 (ca. 1390/70 –1200/1190 BC).

Current research has associated the kylix with feasting. Feasting is being researched not as a biological act, as the mere consumption of food and drink, but as a constructed and contextual social act, which constructs social identities, shared experiences of consumption, and shared memory. Feasts are differentiated from household consumption as they have to be associated with a specific location, a specific use of foods and drinks, and associated paraphernalia. Meat from animal bones, conical cups, and kylikes, probably for serving and drinking wine, consists of a usual assemblage of Mycenaean feasting. Evidence like this has been excavated in many sites, such as Asine, Phylakopi, Tiryns, and Iklaina. In Pylos, miniature kylikes have been found alongside other related artifacts. Moreover, feasting and its logistics are probably attested in Linear B tablets from Thebes, Pylos, and Knossos.

Who is holding the feast? If feasts are organized by the central administration, this should involve complicated logistics, as it would be necessary to gather resources and mobilize labor, thus having an impact on the organization of society. However, feasts could be community celebrations and organized by the community. And even though logistics would be the same, the social impact would be rather different.   

Whatever the context, feasting is a social act with a powerful agency, in which material culture, such as the kylix, had a very important role to play.

-Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

Terracotta kylix (drinking cup) | Mycenaean | Late Helladic III | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Mycenaean Civilization | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Mycenaean is the term applied to the art and culture of Greece from ca. 1600 to 1100 B.C. The name derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnesos, where once stood a great Mycenaean fortified palace. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Stemmed Drinking Cup (Kylix) | RISD Museum

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Kylix | Museum of Cycladic Art

The Museum of Cycladic Art is dedicated to the study and promotion of ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on Cycladic Art of the 3rd millennium BC