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; 2013: vol. II, pl. 95, cat. 333

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 zone of the sanctuary of Apollo at Eretria was located close to the shore, as evidenced by the earliest EH II remains of a human presence at the site which were found on top of a layer of sand (Verdan 2013: 39). The area then evolved into a marshy environment, which explains the long gap in human habitation until the marshland was filled in (Ibid: 41, 173), heralded by a primary cremation burial (Tb20) of SPG II date in the NE border of the sanctuary zone (Ibid: 39-42). After the infilling of the marshy environment, the area nonetheless remained affected from repeated encroachments of fluvial overflow throughout the geometric period. This had an impact on the overall organization of space and building activity, with boundary walls being amongst the first structures erected, their placement suggesting a primary function of blocking floodwater incursions.

The sanctuary area of Eretria was developed from the first phase of the site’s occupation, with its various structures forming a single internally coherent zone that was enclosed and demarcated by walls. Evidence for its function as a sacred space initially manifests in the form of ritual animal sacrifices and commensal feasting, while the dedication and accumulation of non-perishable offerings emerges during its second phase (Ibid: 207-210; 212-219). Rather than having a temple in the strict sense, the area featured multiple cult buildings that hosted gatherings, most likely reserved for the elite members of the community. During phase I (MG II-early LG I), buildings were located in two adjacent sectors protected by walls. The central core area was comprised of three apsidal buildings (Ed1, Ed9, Ed150) which all served as spaces for communal feasting, as indicated by the presence of internal hearths and the nature of the faunal remains. A fourth oval structure (Ed5) was located in the central-north sector. During phase II, the sacred space was expanded to the northeast, with two new buildings being added (Ed2 and Ed17) while two previous ones were levelled (Ed1 and Ed9) and Ed150 was rebuilt. This phase is defined by the first monumental temple (Ed2) being erected, while evidence of cult practice through votive offerings is attested for the first time. According to Verdan, Ed2 had multiple functions, with the distribution of small finds as well as its alignment with the altar suggesting it was primarily used as a temple (Ibid: 201–204).

The sanctuary has provided various imports, of which Attic ceramics are the most numerous and primarily concentrated during Phase I, distinguishing themselves for providing the earliest figural representations of horses and humans from the sanctuary zone (Ibid: 96). Notable non-Greek imports include prestigious Levantine objects such as two north-Syrian bronze horse blinders of mid-9th century date (nos. 391-392) and a bronze statuette of a seated man (no. 394), while Italic objects are also attested in small numbers (Ibid: 214-215). The sanctuary has also provided one of the most important concentrations of graffiti of the geometric period in the Aegean (Kenzelmann Pfyffer et al 2005; Verdan 2013: 102-105). Byproducts of metalworking furthermore indicate that bronze, iron and gold were worked within the sanctuary zone and its immediate surroundings (Verdan 2013: 145-151).

Building 150 (Ed150) occupied a special position since it was not surrounded by walls. Located on the southern edge of the area, it marks a boundary together with wall 75 which it abuts at almost a right angle. The structure is also unusual compared to the surrounding buildings in terms of its orientation, being the only one to open facing the north-east rather than south, and thus looking directly towards the sanctuary’s altar (St 12). The likeliest explanation is that the building was therefore constructed specifically with the altar in mind, which predates it (Ibid: 46). The presence of monumental kraters indicate that Building 150 likely functioned as a banqueting hall (Ibid: 180, 200-204), while its prolonged period of occupation underlines its special significance.

The krater with a ship scene (no. 333) was found inside the apsidal space of the building, its fragments recovered near a rectangular clay base on which an Attic monumental MGII/LGI krater once stood (foot diam. 50cm; diam. c. 80 cm). This latter monumental krater was therefore much older than the rest of the occupation of phase II, and had remained in use for multiple decades.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 (Verdan 2006: 104-105). Building 150 has also possibly provided another fragment bearing a ship depiction (no. 348) from a second, distinct crater, which preserves only the tip of the bow projection (Verdan 2013: 92)

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.

Kenzelmann Pfyffer, A., T. Theurillat, and S. Verdan. 2005. "Graffiti d'époque géométrique provenant du sanctuaire d'Apollon Daphnéphoros à Erétrie," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 151: 51-83.

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

―――. 2013. Le Sanctuaire d’Apollon Daphnéphoros à l’époque géométrique. Eretria, fouilles et recherches XXII. Gollion: École Suisse d’Archéologie en Grèce.

  • 3D Model View

  • copyright icon © Verdan 2006: Pl. 20.2 Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Verdan 2006: Pl. 20.2 Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Drawing by T. Manolova Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Photograph by T. Manolova Click for fullscreen