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Gnathia Lekanai from Tell Atrib



The luxurious Hellenistic Gnathia tableware continues to be the object of numerous

studies.1 It is a black-glazed pottery with ribbing and painted decoration, where the design
is usually overpainted with cream and yellow, and occasionally red or blue paint. Ribbing
is usually found on the lower part of the body and is sometimes separated from the upper
section of ribbing by a register with painted decoration on a smooth surface.
This kind of pottery was first identified in Italian Apulia. The name comes from the
town of Gnathia where a large deposit of this pottery was found. Another large deposit
of similar ware was found on the west slope of the Acropolis in Athens and was dubbed
the West Slope Ware. Both names refer in fact to the same kind of tableware which was
produced in the fourth and third centuries BC in different places, including Asia Minor (e.g.
Pergamon, Ephesus), Palestine and others. The only way of ascertaining where a specific
vessel was made is by examining the fabric and decoration, because on the face of it the
pottery is very similar.
Professor Karol Myliwiec, the director of excavations in Tell Atrib (Nile Delta) from
1985 to 1995,2 first drew my attention to this pottery. The site produced an assemblage of
more than 80 fragmentarily preserved vessels, which is a large group by any standards.
The present article is but a sample of the finds, a complete study being now in preparation for publication in a volume on the Hellenistic and Roman ceramics from Tell Atrib.3
Skyphoi constituted the most numerous group of Gnathia ware from the excavations,
altogether 35 vessels, followed by large and small vases 21, plates 10, and a few
unguentaria, bowls and other forms. An examination of the clay and the decoration left
no doubt that the ceramics came from different production centres. In this paper, however,
I would like to concentrate on just one kind of vessels, namely:
C. WATZINGER, Vasenfunde aus Athen, AM 26, 1901, pp. 50102, Pls IIIV; H.A. THOMPSON, Two centuries
of Hellenistic pottery, Hesperia 3, 1934, pp. 310480, Pl. III; L. FORTI, La Ceramica di Gnathia, Napoli 1965;
J.W. HAYES, Greek and Italian Black-Gloss Wares and Related Wares in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
1984; S.I. ROTROFF, Attic West Slope vase painting, Hesperia 60, 1991, pp. 59102, Pls 1446; and many others.
K. MYLIWIEC, Polish-Egyptian excavations at Tell Atrib in 1989, PAM I (Reports 19881989), 1990,
pp. 59; ID., Polish-Egyptian excavations at Tell Atrib in 1990, PAM II (Reports 19891990), 1991, pp. 2530;
ID., Polish-Egyptian excavations at Tell Atrib in 1991, PAM III (Reports 1991), 1992, pp. 2428; ID., Excavations
at Tell Atrib in 1985, EtudTrav XVI, 1992, pp. 383392; K. MYLIWIEC, M. ABDEL HAQ, Fouilles polonogyptiennes Tell Atrib en 19861990, EtudTrav XVI, 1992, pp. 393416; K. MYLIWIEC, Tell Atrib 1992,
PAM IV (Reports 1992), 1993, pp. 3239; ID., Tell Atrib 1993, PAM V (Reports 1993), 1994, pp. 4047; ID., Tell
Atrib/Benha 19911993, BCE 18, 1994, pp. 3336; ID., S.A. SENNA, Polish-Egyptian Excavations at Tell Atrib
in 19911993, EtudTrav XVII, 1995, pp. 205240; K. MYLIWIEC, Tell Atrib 1994, PAM VI (Reports 1994),
1995, pp. 3747; ID., Tell Atrib Excavations 1995, PAM VII (Reports 1995), 1996, pp. 5360; ID., M. BAKR SAID,
Polish-Egyptian Excavations at Tell Atrib in 19941995, EtudTrav XVIII, 1998, pp. 179219; K. MYLIWIEC,
Rescue excavations, [in:] ID., Z. SZTETYO, Tell Atrib 19851995 I, TCAM 34, Varsovie 2000, pp. 749;
K. MYLIWIEC, A. POUDNIKIEWICZ, A center of ceramic production in Ptolemaic Athribis, [in:] C.A. Redmount,
C.A. Keller (Eds), Egyptian Pottery. Proceedings of the 1990 Pottery Symposium at the University of California,
Archaeological Research Facility, University of California, Berkeley 2003, pp. 133152; K. MYLIWIEC,
Contexte archologique, [in:] ID., A. KRZYANOWSKA, Tell Atrib 19851995 II, Varsovie 2009 [= Contexte
archologique], pp. 772, Pls IXXIV.
I dedicate this work to Professor Myliwiec in gratitude for his generous support and inspiring mentorship
over the years.



5 cm

1. Lekane, cat. No. 1 (Drawing A. Poudnikiewicz, digitizing M. Momot, Phot. G. Wyrzykowski).

The lekane is a broad shallow bowl with wide outturned rim.4 The rim is slightly everted,
and the body of the bowl is almost hemispherical, with plain walls. It has a flaring ogee
ring base. Two horizontal handles are attached under the rim, either arched or shaped like
an upside-down U. True to the ware, it is coated with black glaze. The decoration consists
of a band on the rim, painted between either one or two grooves, both inside and outside
of the bowl. Our examples also have a two-coloured rosette, also surrounded by a groove.
The grooves are not painted, but incised, revealing the colour of the clay.
1. LEKANE (Fig. 1)
Dia. rim 30cm, H. 13cm, Dia. ring base 12cm.
Fragmentary preserved, clay light olive brown (2.5YR5/4). The fabric in the break is
compact, the glaze a dull black. Tiny mica pieces and rare lime particles are present. Under
the glaze, the colour of the clay is a light reddish brown 2.5YR6/4. The painted decoration
is in light reddish brown (2.5YR6/3) and light pink (7.5R8/2). On the bottom of the bowl
there is a rosette with twelve petals, painted alternately beige and cream. This rosette is
encircled by a double groove. On the rim, in the space between the first double groove
and the second one, there is a schematic laurel wreath. The stem is painted in beige and
For the Greek names of diverse pottery forms, see G.M.A. RICHTER, M.J. MILNE, Shapes and names of
Athenian vases, New York 1935, pp. 2324, Figs 149150.



5 cm

2. Lekane, cat. No. 2 (Drawing P. Mieliwodzki, digitizing M. Momot, Phot. W. Jerke).

there are small perpendicular leaves of the same colour across the stem, while the parallel
leaves are creamy in color. In one place the artisan missed a pair of perpendicular leaves.
Archaeological context: end of the third first half of the second century BC, as indicated
by pottery stamps,5 coins,6 terracottas,7 and terracotta oil lamps.8
Parallels: M.L. BERNHARD, La cramique hllnistique de Mirmeki, [in:] Atti del Settimo
Congresso Internazionale di Archeologia Classica III, Roma 1961 [= Cramique hllnistique], p. 76, Pl. II.1-3, Asia Minor, Pergamon. Fragments found together with coins
of the third and second centuries BC; J. SCHFER, Hellenistische Keramik aus Pergamon,
Pergamenische Forschungen 2, Berlin 1968 [= Hellenistische Keramik], pp. 4849,
Pls 1314.
2. LEKANE (Fig. 2)
Dia. rim 32cm, Dia. ring base 14cm.
Fragmentary preserved, clay compact, light red (2.5YR5/6), with tiny particles of mica,
rare lime particles. Black metallic glaze; some brown spots only on the rim border.
Z. SZTETYO, Pottery stamps, [in:] EAD., K. MYLIWIEC, Tell Atrib 19851995 I, TCAM 34, Varsovie 2000
[= Pottery stamps], No. 126.
A. KRZYANOWSKA, Les monnaies, [in:] EAD., K. MYLIWIEC, Tell Atrib 19851995 II, Varsovie 2009 [= Les
monnaies], Nos 8 (Ptolemy II), 20 (Ptolemy III), 53, 54, 56, 57, 58 (Ptolemy VI).
H. SZYMASKA, Terres cuites dAthribis, MRE 12, Turnhout 2005 [= Terrres cuites], Nos 4, 14, 144, 229.
J. MYNARCZYK, Terracotta Oil Lamps, Tell Atrib 19851995 III, Varsovie 2012 [= Terracotta Oil Lamps],
Nos 12, 124, 151, 156.



5 cm

3. Lekane, cat. No. 3 (Drawing P. Mieliwodzki, digitizing M. Momot, Phot. W. Jerke).

Several fragments of rim, bowl and foot. Trace of a handle, probably similar in shape to
the one in the bowl described above, observed under the rim. The bottom of the bowl
was decorated with a six-petalled rosette, the petals being alternately beige and white, the
ornament surrounded by a single groove. The decoration of the rim consisted of alternately
light brown (7.5YR6/4) and white spots, separated by a double groove. A single groove
ran along the edge of the rim. Traces of white paint can be observed on these fragments.
Archaeological context: end of the third first half of the second century BC, as indicated
by pottery stamps,9 coins,10 terracotta oil lamps.11
Parallels: BERNHARD, Cramique hllnistique, p. 76, Pl. II.1-3, Asia Minor, Pergamon.
Fragments found together with coins of the third and second centuries BC; SCHFER, Hellenistische Keramik, pp. 4849, Pls 1314; . ,
( 131 4984), ArchDelt 38, 1983, pp. 105210.
3. LEKANE (Fig. 3)
Dia. rim: 32cm.
Clay reddish yellow (5YR7/6), compact, well fired, with some mica. Black glaze with
some brown spots under the rim (7.5R4/6).

SZTETYO, Pottery stamps, Nos 46, 86, 109, 130.

KRZYANOWSKA, Les monnaies, Nos 26, 39, 41, 43 (Ptolemy IV), (Ptolemy VI, 3 coins).
MYNARCZYK, Terracotta Oil Lamps, Nos 28, 121, 336.




Rim decorated with an incised, schematic band of decoration featuring ivy scroll; at the
end of each tendril there is a painted leaf (the paint is no longer visible: only a negative
impression remains).
Archaeological context: second century
terracotta oil lamps.14


as indicated by pottery stamps,12 coins,13

Parallels: L. GHALI-KAHIL, La cramique grecque (Fouilles 19111956), EtudThas VII,

Paris 1960, p. 136, Pl. LXII.43, third century BC; V. MITSOPOULOS-LEON, Die Basilika am
Staatsmarkt in Ephesos Kleinfunde, Forschungen in Ephesos IX 2/2, Wien 1991, p. 51,
Pls 49, 50.
Publication: K. MYLIWIEC, Contexte archologique, [in:] Z. SZTETYO, ID., Tell Atrib
19851995 II, Varsovie 2009, Pl. XXIII.4.
Vessels of Gnathia ware found in Tell Atrib did not originate from one production
centre and the sherds discussed in this article demonstrate characteristics of products
made in Asia Minor (fragments 1 and 2) and perhaps Italy (fragment 3). The ware
constitutes therefore important evidence of commercial exchange between ancient
Athribis and other regions around the Mediterranean Sea in the third and second
centuries BC.
These luxurious products are indicative of a lifestyle of the inhabitants of Athribis reflecting
their social status and ethnic structure. The relations between the specific demographical
structure of the Athribians and their commercial exchange have already been discussed
by H. Szymaska.15
The Gnathia ware assemblage from Tell Atrib testifies to a fondness for luxury within
a particular group of its inhabitants. This group may have been made up of Greeks
arriving in numbers at a certain time, carrying with them cultural traditions from the
Classical world. One should keep in mind the Greek colonization of Athribis and the role
in it of veterans from the army of Alexander the Great.16 This could have stimulated the
production of local imitations of Greek pottery, abundantly exemplified by finds from
the site.17

SZTETYO, Pottery stamps, Nos 8, 34, 48.

KRZYANOWSKA, Les monnaies, (Ptolemy VI, 5 coins).
MYNARCZYK, Terracotta Oil Lamps, Nos 5, 6, 21, 80, 101, 104, 147, 169, 188.
H. SZYMASKA, Terrres cuites, pp. 15, 145158.
K. MYLIWIEC, Les ateliers dAthribis ptolmaque, Archeologia (V) XLVII, 1996, p. 13; ID., Isis, Hathor
ou Clopatre? propos dune figurine trouve Tell Atrib, EtudTrav XIX, 2001, p. 264.
A. POUDNIKIEWICZ, Local imitations of Greek pottery found in Tell Atrib, CCE 3, 1992, pp. 95101.



Since the presence of Gnathia type pottery is an important element in the determination of the character of colonization in any studied region, it is worth pointing out that the
presence of Gnathia ware in Egypt has been noted in Alexandria,18 Buto19 and Tebtynis
(not published).

Anna Poudnikiewicz
Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology
University of Warsaw

J.W. HAYES, C. HARLAUT, Ptolemaic and Roman pottery deposits from Alexandria, [in:] Alexandrina 2,
EtudAlex 6, Le Caire 2002, pp. 113114, 130, 133.
P. BALLET, Les ateliers hellnistiques de Bouto (Tell el-Farain) et le dcor surpeint (overpainted), [in:]
D. Aston et al. (Eds), Under the Potters Tree. Studies on Ancient Egypt Presented to Janine Bourriau on the
Occasion of Her 70th Birthday, OLA 204, Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA 2011, pp. 189200.