Terracotta chariot krater

Period: Late Helladic IIIA:1

Date: ca. 1375–1350 B.C.

Culture: Helladic, Mycenaean

Medium: Terracotta

Dimensions: H. 14 7/16 in. (36.7 cm)
diameter 10 11/16 in. (27.2 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.964


The scene depicted on both sides of this krater follows the tradition of Mycenaean chariot representations from the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C. Two tall figures wearing long, spotted robes stand in a chariot drawn by a pair of horses. Flecks of paint on the box of the chariot may indicate that it was covered with the hide of an ox. The horses follow the convention of Mycenaean vase painting: when two horses are meant to be represented, the painter, in an attempt to show perspective, depicts only one body, with two tails, two pairs of hindlegs and forelegs, and two heads.
Stylized, high-stemmed flowers or abstract motifs decorate the background of the scene. To the right of the chariot, a female figure wearing a long robe stands with both arms raised and fingers splayed in what must be a meaningful gesture. Her breasts are rendered as two spirals and the features of her face resemble those of the figures in the chariot. Most likely she is bidding goodbye to departing warriors, a familiar scene on earlier chariot kraters.
Large numbers of Mycenaean vases began to inundate the Cypriot market at the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C., perhaps as a result of intensive trade relations between the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean regions. Some of these luxury wares may have been exchanged for Cypriot copper. The krater was a popular form in the repertoire of Mycenaean vases, found almost exclusively in tombs on Cyprus and usually decorated in the pictorial style, with human and animal figures notably in chariot scenes, such as on this krater.
Mycenaean vases in general, and pictorially decorated kraters in particular, had great appeal among wealthy Cypriots and other Near Easterners. Sometimes as many as half of the gifts in fourteenth- and thirteenth-century B.C. tombs consist of Mycenaean pottery. Pictorial vases continued to be placed in tombs on Cyprus and the Levantine coast as late as about 1200 B.C., when trade relations between the Aegean and the Near East became restricted as the result of political turmoil.
Several scholars have suggested that Cypriots were involved in the creation of the Mycenaean pictorial style. This theory is based on the extraordinarily large number of such vases found on the island and the Levantine coast. Recent scientific research, however, has demonstrated that the clay used for the manufacture of the vases comes from the Argolid in the Greek Peloponnese. Nonetheless, it cannot be ruled out that Mycenaean potters working on Cyprus made some of the vases, especially those from the thirteenth century B.C. That clay was traded in antiquity is now well documented. Cypriots might have been responsible for regulating the trade in Mycenaean pictorial vases destined for the eastern Mediterranean market, for many of them bear Cypro-Minoan signs engraved or painted on the bases or handles.