Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Three-levelled galley

Cat. No.



Late Geometric II (last quarter of the 8th century) c. 725-700 B.C.


Eretria, apsidal building within sanctuary of Apollo


Diameter: 36 cm


middle sized krater of Euboean manufacture. Pink very fine clay, cream slip, dark glaze with motifs painted over in white

Accession Number

Eretria Museum 00396-3


Verdan 2006: 97-107, pl. 20, 1-2

Three-levelled ship to the left, with a very low flat hull and a high curving sternpost ending in an incurving device with a square extremity (aphlaston). The ship is divided longitudinally by three horizontal lines running parallel to the hull. Area AB corresponds to the hull, from the keel to the sheer. Area BC is decorated by a line of zigzags and is clearly a structural element that should be interpreted as a latticed screen/bulwark, with the tholepins for the lowest level of rowers placed on line C. Areas CD and DE in turn correspond to the lower and second levels of rowers' galleries. Line E indicates a railing at deck level, with the tholepins for the third level of rowers on it. The verticals of similar thickness are stanchions. These begin from line B and extend past line E. Finally, the tholepins are very clearly staggered, as expected for a multi banked vessel, with those on the second level placed forward of the lowest level ones and so on. The aftercastle is at the same height as line E. It is topped by a railing, which is in turn connected to a thick L-shaped device which extends beyond the sternpost where a bird with extended wings perches on it. The steering oar has a loom and a rectangular shaped oar blade decorated with a grid-like pattern. Parts of the yard are visible with a brailed sail. The two converging lines attached to the ship's upper rail and the L-shaped device of the aftercastle respectively should be read as a brace and a brailing rope. These barely fail from touching the tip of the yard but were obviously meant to do so.

The krater was found in an apsidal building which had a special significance within the zone of the sanctuary of Apollo during the Geometric period, as indicated by its prolonged period of occupation and its position in front of the altar. The fragments were recovered near a rectangular clay base on which a monumental krater once stood. The remnants of a third krater with a depiction of a horse at the manger were recovered from the same area. Together, the three vases occupied a key position at the deep end of the building facing the entrance, where they acted as a focal point directing the gaze of incoming visitors. The vessel comes in a dozen of fragments preserving the stern and partial sections amidships. The ship occupied the main panel on one of the sides under the lip. A number of details were applied in white over the dark paint. These include dots along the sternpost and all over the sterncastle which was otherwise painted solid, as well as two short zigzag lines on the hull, near the point where the keel-line begins to curve.

This depiction is highly significant and unique on several counts. The most unexpected and shocking feature of this representation is that it shows a three-levelled ship - the earliest such example in the Aegean. This reading is fairly certain given the obvious stagger and clear depictions of the tholepins, a point which is not made all that clear in other 8th century depictions of double-levelled vessels. The depiction of tholepins at multiple levels is in fact quite rare in the geometric pictorial record, with the Toronto and British Museum dieres being the only other examples. In contrast to Attic depictions, the ship does not have any lateral structures such as wales separating the two levels.

The artist was also not concerned in presenting a narrative, as neither warriors nor rowers are depicted. Given the size of the image, its placement on the krater and the great attention to detail and clarity, it becomes evident that the ship itself is the object of interest - a monument of sorts which bore testament to the technical achievement of its owners. Unlike the Euboean krater from Knossos, the ship is the central and sole motif of the entire composition. Another unusual feature is the element of liquidity which is emphasized by the decorative scheme around the ship. This includes the zigzag patterns behind the ship in the panel, as well as the zigzag decoration of the lip and the undulating lines near the bottom of the body, all of which are reminiscent of waves.

Verdan, S. 2006. “Un nouveau navire géométrique à Erétrie,” AntK 49: 97–106.

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