Vix krater

By Paul Cartledge

Many types of Greek manufactured goods passed from the Aegean Greek world through Massalia to the natives inland. Surely the most impressive single object by far was the so-called Vix Krater, a massive wine-mixing bowl of bronze (1.64m. tall, 208kg. in weight, capacity 1,100 liters . . .), made possibly in Sparta in about 530 BCE.

This wondrous artifact was ultimately deposited in the grave of a Celtic princess at the eponymous Vix, near the confluence of the Rhône with the Seine. It represented very likely a combination of economic, social, and political investment – a diplomatic gift from the Greeks to a local native chieftain, perhaps, but at the same time a vessel with a practical function, namely to mix wine with water for consumption at some enormous Celtic carouse.

But where did the wine itself come from? Whether or not that mixed (or not) in the Vix Krater was in fact locally produced, it certainly could have been so – but only because the Greeks of Massalia had introduced the grapevine to the Provence region for the very first time just a couple of generations or so earlier. By 600 viticulture had been an established and fundamental feature of agriculture in the Greek heartlands of the Aegean for over a millennium and a half. Much of the wine produced there, though, was probably nothing special to taste; the addition of water, though a cultural necessity for properly civilized Greeks, doubtless also had a gustatory function.

However, during the early historical period certain Greek winegrowing areas – most notably the islands of Chios and Thasos – had developed wines of superior quality that were marketed far and wide in terracotta transport amphoras of distinctive local shapes. In its turn Massalia, once established as a wine-trader as well as wine-grower, created and exported, as a key element of its more general function as a major entrepôt, its own distinctive Massaliot brand of wine-transport amphora.

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is also Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy, at New York University. He is the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of over 20 books, including his latest, Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.

IMAGE:the famous Vix krater, dated to circa 500 BCE. It is the largest known metal vessel from the Classical Antiquity period

  • librarypat

    I just discovered your site today on a link from THE BURTON REVIEW. I can tell I am going to like it here. Am going to be reading a lot of older posts to try and catch up. Sigh, I don’t get to bed early enough now.

  • Anne

    Do we happen to have the name of the Celtic princess?

  • Sarah Russo

    Hello, to answer Anne’s question (on Paul Cartledge’s behalf) we don’t know the name of the Celtic princess.
    –Sarah, OUP Publicity