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EC1301(left) and EC1302(right) are fragments of braziers.




These are fragments of a pottery pot support for portable braziers. Each fragment is about 10cm high. They are both part of the Wellcome collection, but it is not known from where Wellcome collected them. They depict a figure with an upright hair style, pointed ears and a long, jutting-out beard. The beards functioned as props on which the pots could stand. Each brazier had three pot supports, or lugs.

Such braziers were used throughout the Hellenistic world from around 200-BC to AD 100. The provenance of ours remains unknown. Their style fits with those known to come from Egypt in that they have erect hairstyles rather than the pilos (a pilos is a type of conical hat worn by Hephaistos and other fire daemons; Şahin 2001, 118). Large quantities have been found at Alexandria and Naukratis, suggesting that they were made there. Petrographic examination of Egyptian examples suggests they were made of Nile silt (Rotroff 2006, 202, 218, pl.83; see also Didelot 1998). It is probable that the Egyptian made examples copy the Greek ones.

High concentrations of this type of brazier have been found around sanctuaries suggesting a possible ritual function (Şahin, M. 2003). However, many others have been found in domestic contexts. The braziers were used for cooking and heating, and possibly as portable altars. They may also have had an industrial use, such as melting resin (Thomas).

The figure depicted is usually identified as a satyr or the daemon Seilenos (Selenos), a follower of Dionysus and associated with intoxication. That they are satyrs, is suggested by the pointed ears on some examples, including ours (Rotroff 2006, 204).

It has further been suggested that the motif is derived from theatrical masks. According to Dionysios of Halikarnassos, when dancers dressed as satyrs followed Greek custom, they wore ‘fright wigs’, that is the hair stood up (Webster 1967, 15 and Mayence 1905, 398-401, cited in Rotroff 2006, 204 footnote 120. Rotroff also gives examples of satyr masks with up-standing hair). The upstanding hair may be a copy of the way hair was combed back to cover the onkos, the cone shaped projection on Greek tragic masks used to give the mask impressiveness. A good example of 2nd century Greek mask with beard and onkos, which looks very similar to our lugs is Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 01.7911.

Julius Pollux (Onom IV, 143ff), writing in the 2nd century AD, lists some 76 types of masks in his encyclopaedia of masks. Number 16 is man in prime of life and has a ‘wedge-shaped’ beard and an onkos (English translation in Csapo and Slater 1995, 399).

The pilos-wearing figures found on many lugs, it has been suggested, depict Hephaistos, or lesser fire daemons (Rotroff 2006, 204 with references). Occasionally, bulls or roses, are used as decorative elements, or even other theatrical masks (Rotroff 2006, 204 with references).

It could that these motifs were purely decorative. However, several writers have suggested that these are grotesque faces designed to ward off evil (Conze 1890, 138; Furtwängler 1891; Harrison 1903, 188-190. figs 27-29; Mayence 1905, 397-8; Siebert 1970, 275). In Greece such masks decorate ovens, though not always as pot lugs.

It may be that the idea of the theatre-derived bearded lug (possibly, like the ‘grotesque’ figures) is in the tradition of ‘grotesque’ characters such as Bes, also a performer of music and dance. Indeed, figures are known which synthesize Bes and Selenos (Barrett 2011, 278–9, with references).


Further Reading

Barrett, C. E. 2011. Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos. A Study in Hellenistic Religion. Brill.

Conze, A. 1890. Griechische Kohlenbecken, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 5, 118-141.

Csapo, E. and Slater, W.J. 1995. The context of Ancient Drama. Ann Arbor.

Dunand, F. 1990. Catalogue des terres cuites Greco-Romanines d’Egypte p.332. Paris: Ministere de la culture, de la communication et des grands travaux, Reunion des musees nationaux.

Didelot, O. 1998. Réchauds hellénistiques du Muséee gréco-romain d’Alexandrie: Importations et productions locales. In Commerce et artisinant dans l’Alexandrie hellénistque et romaine. Actes du Colloque d’Athènes organise par CNRS, le Laboratoire de céramologie de Lyon, et l’École française d’Athènes, 1112 décembre 1988 (BCH Suppl. 33) ed J-Y Empereur, Paris, 275-306.

Furtwängler, A. 1891. Zu den Köppfen der griechischen Kohlenbecken. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 6, 110–124.

Graves-Brown, C. 2018. Daemons and Spirits in Ancient Egypt, University of Wales Press. 144–145.

Harrison, J.E. 1903. The Ker as Gorgon, Prolegoma to the Study of Greek Religion.

Leonard, M.R. 1973. Braziers in the Bodrum Museum, American Journal of Archaeology, 77, 1, 19–25.

Mayence, F. 1905. Fouilles de Délos: Les Rechauds en Terre-Cuite. Bulletin de correspondence hellénique, 29, 373-404.

Nocoń, K. 2016. ‘A Hellenistic brazier from the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology collection of antiquities’, in Bodzek, J. (ed.) Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization, 20. Kracow: Jagiellonian University, 103–105.

Rotroff, S.I. 2006. Hellenistic Pottery. The Plain Wares. Vol.33 The Athenian Agora. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Şahin, M. 2001. Hellenistic Braziers in the British Museum: Trade Contacts between Ancient Mediterranean Cities, Anatolian Studies, 51, 91–132.

Şahin, M. 2003. Hellenistische Kohlenbecken mit figürlich verzierten Attaschen aus Knidos (Knidos-Studien 3), Paderborn.

Siebert, G. 1970. Les réchauds in Bruneau, Philippe, C. Vatin, U. Bezerra de Meneses, G. Donnay, E. Levy, A. Bovon, G. Siebert, V. R. Grace, M. Savvatianou-Petropoulakou, E. Lyding Will, T. Hackens L’ilôt de la Maison des Comédiens Exploration archéologique de Délos 27, Paris, 267–276.

Thomas, Ross. Portable stoves and braziers in terracotta. Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt. https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/Thomas_Stoves.pdf

Webster, T.B.L. 1967. Monuments Illustrating Tragedy and Satyr Play (BIC Suppl. 20) 2nd ed. London.