Oil Vessel (alabastron) Depicting an Archer, ca. 485 BCE
Inscribed: Beautiful
Archaic Period
Greece, probably Attica
5 ¾ × 2 3/8 (diameter) in. (14.6 × 6 cm)
3-D Object/Sculpture
1979-42 DJ

1979 42 dj 20220302 v06 m
1979 42 dj 20220302 v05 m
1979 42 dj 20220302 v04 m
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1979 42 dj 20220302 v02 m
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Depicting an archer, this Archaic (600–480 BCE) Greek oil vessel (alabastron, plural alabastra) would have once held perfumed oil. It was worn around the user’s wrist with straps that attached to the (now broken) lugs on its sides and hung on a wall when not in use. The scented oil would have been used during bathing. Archaeological evidence suggests alabastra were used primarily by women.  

The vase is decorated using the white-ground technique, which involves an application of white clay to the vessel’s body before firing, to which the figural designs are added. A lone archer with bow and arrow appears on this alabastron, wearing non-Greek attire of a long-sleeved shirt, cuirass (armor), and trousers. The archer has dark skin and short curly hair, most likely representing a Black African. The scene also includes an Ionic column (identified by the volutes at the top), a Corinthian-style helmet, and a cushioned stool. An inscription in ancient Greek, the word “KALOS” meaning “beautiful,” is included twice on the vessel.

This alabastron belongs to a group of similarly decorated alabastra known as the “Group of the Negro Alabastra” (produced around 490–470 BCE). This name, problematic by modern social standards, was developed by Sir John Beazley in the early 20th century and continues to be used by scholars to identify the group. This vase belongs early in the development of the group, around 485 BCE. The Black Africans depicted on these vessels have been interpreted differently by scholars, including as attendants to the mythological Ethiopian King Memnon or as Amazons, a society of female warriors descended from Ares, the ancient Greek god of war.