Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Naval combat scene

Cat. No.



c. 675-650 B.C.


tomb context at Caere, Etruria.


H: 36 cm; max. diameter: 40 cm; foot diameter: 18 cm


Krater of probable western Greek manufacture, very fine red-brown slip.

Accession Number

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. CA 172


CVA Italia 39. Roma, Musei Capitolini 2: 3-5, no. 172, pls. 4-9; Basch 1987: 233, no. 482; Cherici 2006: 356, fig. 6; Dougherty 2003: 35-56, fig. 1; Gianni 2007: V-XV, figs. 1-5; Hagy 1986: 227, 229, fig. 18; Kirk 1949:120-21(c); Izzet 2004: 191-210; Morrison-Williams 1968: 74-75, Arch. 5, pl. 9a-c; Wedde 1996: 135-36, figs. 25, 26; 1999a: 512-13, figs. 10-11

Left ship: Single-levelled decked galley facing right. Medium thick flat hull, massive triangular bow with a large realistic eye and a concave stempost. The ram extends straight from the keel-line; it is very thick and does not taper into a sharp point as on Geometric depictions. Very high curving stern, with the helmsman partially protected by a large shield, operating a single steering oar with a rectangular oar blade. Immediately below the gunwale is a row of six circular ports depicted as reserved circles with a dot inside. Five rowers of diminutive stature face left. Their torsos are upright and their arms are extended, touching the gunwale at the point of an oar port. Five oars appear below the hull. Immediately above the rowers' heads is a thin line representing the deck on which the warriors stand. The three spears stored at the stern partially disappear behind the shield.

Right ship: Single-levelled decked merchant ship facing left. Deep crescent shaped hull, with the bow raised out of the water and a down-pointing triangular bow projection. The stempost forms a straight uninterrupted line starting from the tip of the bow projection that inclines backwards. This line breaks abruptly at the top of the bow where it is capped by a thick vertical post. Three planks project from the stem, painted in white. Very high incurving sternpost ending in a two-pronged device and buttressed by a strut. Above the gunwale is a thin line supported by nine stanchions forming eleven rowers' rooms, on top of which stand the warriors as on the other ship. The forecastle is solid, while the aftercastle has a rail that extends beyond the stern. There are two steering oars but no helmsman. The mast is amidships, with three halyards and a crow's nest on top. The crow's nest is represented as a diminutive figure, whose body is hidden behind a shield, with his head and one hand emerging, wielding a spear.

Two scenes separated by the krater’s handles occupy the main body of the pot. There is a large crab filling the space below each handle.

Side A: a mythical scene of the blinding of Polyphemus by Odysseus and four of his companions. The figures are naked and all in the same position except for the last man, whose body is turned backwards as he pushes off the wall of the cave with his right leg. Polyphemus is on the floor, his right hand trying to pull the stake out. Behind him is a cheese rack, while single staring eyes fill the background. The signature of the artist (“Aristonothos epoisen”) begins in a straight line above the cheese rack, but then takes a sharp bend to insert itself between the first figure holding the stake and Polyphemus, highlighting the moment of the blinding. The letter forms have been attributed to Cumae (Euboean) but could be equally consistent with the alphabet of Caere itself.

Side B: a sea battle between two distinct types of ships. The left ship is a galley with a ram. It has five rowers, three warriors and a helmsman. The warriors carry round shields, spears and crested helmets. There are three spears stored at the stern. The right ship is a merchantman, with three warriors and an additional diminutive figure inside a crow’s nest. All the warriors wear the same equipment, except for the fact that each shield has a unique motif.

The right ship is the earliest depiction by an Aegean artist of oar ports which constitutes an important innovation. It is very clear that the painter intended to depict two different types of ships, despite the fact that both are used in a similar way during their engagement, providing a firing platform for the warriors. The left ship is a galley, with a realistic eye and a ram resembling the boar's snout that becomes a hallmark of later archaic depictions. The right ship has a highly rockered keel and a much deeper hull, suggesting a merchant ship. Although both ships could be propelled by either rowing or sail, the depiction emphasizes the mode of propulsion for which their respective designs were best suited. The two vessels furthermore show different approaches to representing a deck. On the left ship, the stanchions are omitted for the sake of clarity due to the presence of the rowers, while the right ship showcases an empty open rowers' gallery. Both the overall composition of the sea battle, and the contrast between the two different types of ships is very similar to an earlier 8th century fibula from Sparta.

The krater is one of the most discussed objects on the topic of cultural encounters between Greeks and others (possibly Etruscans in this case) in a Western Mediterranean context. Many scholars have attempted to assign each ship to a particular group of people, reading it as a confrontation between Greeks and non-Greeks. Such reasoning is fraught with problems, especially considering that the warriors on both ships are identical. The unusual shape of the right ship which is often identified as belonging to the non-Greek party is furthermore attested from the Sparta fibula but also from Etruscan depictions. This fact cautions against assigning this ship type to a specific culture or region.

Basch, L. 1987. Le musée imaginaire de la marine antique. Athens: Institut Hellénique pour la preservation de la tradition nautique.

Cherici, A. 2006. “Talassocrazia: aspetti tecnici, economici, politici con un brevissimo cenno a Novilara, Nesazio e ai Feaci,” Annali della Fondazione per il Museo “Claudio Faina” 13: 439-482.

Dougherty, C. 2003. “The Aristonothos Krater: competing stories of Conflict and Collaboration,” in C. Dougherty and L. Kurk (eds.) The Culture within Ancient Greek Culture: Contact, Conflict, Collaboration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gianni, B. G. 2007. “Aristonothos. Il vaso,” in F. Cordano, G. Bagnasco Gianni () Aristonothos. Scritti per il Mediterraneo Antico 1: V-XVI.

Giglioli, G.Q. and V. Bianco (eds.) 1965. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Italy 39. Roma. Musei Capitolini 2. Rome: Instituto poligrafico dello stato, libreria dello stato.

Hagy, J. W. 1986. “800 Years of Etruscan Ships,” IJNA 15: 221-250.

Izzet, V. 2004. “Purloined Letters: the Aristonothos Inscription and Krater.” in K. Lomas (ed.) Greek Identity in the Western Mediterranean: Papers in Honour of Brian Shefton. Leiden: Brill, pp. 191-210.

Kirk, G.S. 1949. “Ships on Geometric Vases.” BSA 44: 93-153, pls. 38-40.

Morrison, J.S. and R.T. Williams. 1968. Greek Oared Ships: 900-322 B.C. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wedde, M. 1996. “From Classification to Narrative: The contribution of Iconography towards writing a History of Early Aegean Shipbuilding,” MHR 11.2: 117-164.

―――. 1999a. “Decked Vessels in Early Greek Ship Architecture,” in H.E. Tzalas (ed.) Tropis V: 5th International Symposium on Ship Construction in Antiquity. Nauplia, 26, 27, 28 August 1993. (Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition). Athens: Hellenic Institute for the Preservation of Nautical Tradition, pp. 505-526.

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