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Strategic flicking was the name of this game, known as kottabos. BY JIM CLARKE FEBRUARY 19, 2018

Original Article:

atlasobscura.com

Spilling red wine may be the ultimate party foul, especially if it lands on the host’s couch or carpet. But for the ancient Greeks, a party wasn’t good unless the wine flowed freely. The Greeks didn’t just fling their glasses of wine about willy-nilly, though. This game of wine-slinging—known as kottabos—had a discernible target, and both pride and prizes were on the line.

Kottabos had two iterations. The preferred way to play, which is the iteration often depicted in plays and especially on pieces of pottery, involved a pole. Players would balance a small bronze disk, called a plastinx, on top of it. The goal was to flick dregs of one’s wine at the plastinx so that it would fall, making a clattering crash as it hit the manes, a metal plate or domed pan that lay roughly two-thirds down the pole. The competitors reclined on their couches, arranged in a square or circle around the pole a couple of yards away. Each then took turns launching their wine from their kylix, a shallow, circular vessel with a looping handle on each side.

A less common version of the game featured players aiming at a number of small bowls, which floated in water within a larger basin. In this case, the object of the game was to sink as many of the small bowls as possible with the same arcing shots. Since it lacked the resounding clang of the plastinx striking the manes, this version of kottabos has been regarded as the quieter, more civilized way to play.

Technique was essential to maintain elegant form, accuracy, and to avoid spilling on oneself. The player, sprawling on a drinking couch and propped up on their left elbow, placed two fingers through the loop of one handle and cast the wine dregs in a high arc toward the target. The technique has been likened to the motion of throwing a javelin, due to the way the player threaded their fingers through the handle the same way one held the leather strap used to throw the spear.

A woman plays kottabos, and holds the kylix in her hand.
A woman plays kottabos, and holds the kylix in her hand. Public Domain

Critias, the 5th century academic and writer, wrote about this “glorious invention” stemming from Sicily, “where we put up a target to shoot at with drops from our wine-cup whenever we drink it.” While a handful of modern academics question the game’s Sicilian origins, kottabos definitely spread throughout parts of Italy (as the Etruscans played it) and Greece, too. The kottabos craze even resulted in industrious people building special round rooms where it could be played, so all competitors could be equidistant from the target.

Naturally, kottabos made a frequent appearance at drinking parties known as symposia. But a few years ago, Dr. Heather Sharpe, the Associate Professor of Art History at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, brought the game into a sphere that’s perhaps more evocative of how we use the word “symposium” today: academia. Having seen the game portrayed in so many of the pots they were studying, she and her students decided to play a few rounds of kottabos using kylixes that a colleague, Andrew Snyder, made for them using a 3-D printer.

Doing the kottabos recline.
Doing the kottabos recline. W. Klein / Public Domain

Since they were on campus, Dr. Sharpe and her students used diluted grape juice rather than wine. “Within about half an hour there was diluted grape juice everywhere, which made me realize it must have gotten pretty messy,” she says. “You’re aiming at the target, but the funny thing is these symposia were typically held in a more-or-less square room, and you had participants on 3 ½ sides. So if you missed the target it wouldn’t have been surprising if you hit someone across the room.”

Emily Moore and Mara Jean O’Hara, two West Chester University students, play kottabos in Dr. Sharpe’s class. Dr. Heather Sharpe

The recreation also proved that the temptation to take a shot at a rival across the room must have been strong. In fact, in Aeschylus’s play Ostologoi (The Bone Collectors), Odysseus describes how during a game of kottabos, Eurymachus, one of Penelope’s suitors, repeatedly aimed his wine at Odysseus’s head, rather than at the plastinx, to humiliate him. And it seems that players took the game seriously, too, in spite of their casual reclining poses. “It’s funny because they did seem to be pretty competitive about this,” says Dr. Sharpe. “The Greeks, in a strange way, loved competing against each other, whether in the symposium or out in the gymnasium.”

Nonetheless, these were not high stakes contests. A winner might typically receive a sweet as a prize. Playing for kisses or other favors from attending courtesans (hetairai, as they were called) was also a possibility. Vases portraying kottabos reveal that women played the game as hetairai, too.

But eroticism didn’t just stop at prizes. It was customary to dedicate one’s throw to a lover, with the implication that success at kottabos augured success in one’s love life. Others didn’t mince words. In one poem, Cratinus recalls a hetaira dedicating her shot to the Corinthian male organ: “It would kill her to drink wine with water in it. Instead she drinks down two pitchers of strong stuff, mixed one-to-one, and she calls out his name and tosses her wine lees from her ankule [kylix] in honor of the Corinthian dick.”

It seems that kottabos’s free-wheeling nature and prizes weren’t enough to sustain it as a game, though. It eventually disappeared from artwork and plays, which suggests that it faded from popularity in the 4th century BC. The experiments of Dr. Sharpe and others aside, it seems unlikely to see a revival. Part of that might be due to how difficult it is to play, which doesn’t get any easier after players have had more than a few glasses of wine. The inevitable cleanup afterwards is a deterrent, too.

Just ask Hugh Johnson, the wine expert and author, who once tried his hand at the game. “I have had a kottabos stand made, and practiced assiduously,” Johnson recalls in The Story of Wine. “From personal experience I can say it is not all easy … and it makes a terrible mess on the floor.”

 

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Ancient Greeks may have enjoyed beer too (file photo)

 

Original article:

greece-greekreporter.co

 

Greeks are known for loving wine but it seems their ancient ancestors were not only wine makers but also fond of brewing and drinking beer, a new study suggests.
Evidence found at two ancient settlement sites — Archontiko and Argissa — reveals beer was being brewed as far back as the Bronze Age.
The findings were reported in a recent article by Sultana-Maria Valamoti, Associate Professor of the Department of History and Archeology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
“The new data, presented here for the first time, show strong indications that the inhabitants of prehistoric Greece, besides wine, also produced and consumed beer,” it states.
The finds — including remains of ground cereal grains — date back to a time between the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 2nd century BC.
In the case of Archontiko, along with rich cereal residues, a concentration of germinated cereal grains, ground cereal masses and fragments of milled cereals were found inside the remains of two houses.
Their condition is put down to malting and charring, claim researchers.
The practice of brewing could have reached the Aegean region and northern Greece through contacts with the eastern Mediterranean where it was widespread, it is also suggested.

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Detail of the Alexander Mosaic, Naples National Archaeological
Museum [Credit: Ruthven/WikiCommons]


An Otago University scientist may have unravelled a 2,000-year-old mystery of what killed Alexander the Great.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep thinks the culprit could be poisonous wine made from an innocuous-looking plant.

Classical scholars have been deeply divided about what killed the Macedonian leader, who built a massive empire before his death, aged 32, in June of 323BC. Some accounts say he died of natural causes but others suggested members of his inner circle conspired to poison him at a celebratory banquet.

Dr Schep, who has been researching the toxicological evidence for a decade, said some of the poisoning theories – including arsenic and strychnine – were laughable.

Death would have come far too fast, he said.

His research, co-authored by Otago University classics expert Dr Pat Wheatley and published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology, found the most plausible culprit was Veratrum album, known as white hellebore.

The white-flowered plant, which can be fermented into a poisonous wine, was well-known to the Greeks as a herbal treatment for inducing vomiting. Crucially, it could have accounted for the 12 torturous days that Alexander took to die, speechless and unable to walk. Other suggested poisons – including hemlock, aconite, wormwood, henbane and autumn crocus – would likely have killed him far more quickly.

Dr Schep began looking into the mystery in 2003 when he was approached by a company working on a BBC documentary.

“They asked me to look into it for them and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give it a go, I like a challenge’ – thinking I wasn’t going to find anything. And to my utter surprise, and their surprise, we found something that could fit the bill.”

Dr Schep’s theory was that Veratrum album could have been fermented as a wine that was given to the leader. It would have tasted “very bitter” but it could have been sweetened with wine – and Alexander was likely to have been very drunk at the banquet.

But whether Alexander was poisoned is still a mystery. “We’ll never know really … ”

Original article:

archaeologynewsnetwork

Posted by Tann

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Cooking experiments suggest that Mycenaean souvlaki trays would have been portable.
Credit: Julie Hruby

Topic Ancient Grilling, professional cooks also

This one is for you Rita

CHICAGO — The ancient Mycenaeans have a reputation as palace-builders and warriors, but they were also quite sophisticated cooks. More than 3,000 years ago, they used portable grill pits to make souvlaki and non-stick pans to make bread, new cooking experiments suggest.

The Mycenaean civilization, which was the backdrop for Homer’s “Odyssey” and “Iliad,” thrived in Greece during the late Bronze Age from around 1700 B.C. until the society mysteriously collapsed around 1200 B.C. The Mycenaeans left behind amazing palaces and gold-littered tombs at sites like Pylos and Mycenae, but in these places, archaeologists also have found less glamorous artifacts, such as souvlaki trays and griddles made from gritty clays.

It wasn’t clear how these two types of pans were used, said Julie Hruby of Dartmouth College, presenting her research at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting here on Saturday (Jan. 4).

“We don’t have any recipes,” Hruby told LiveScience. “What we do have are tablets that talk about provisions for feasts, so we have some idea of what the ingredients might have been, but in terms of understanding how people cooked, the cooking pots are really our best bet.”

The souvlaki trays were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat. Scientists weren’t sure whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire, catching fat drippings from the meat, or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbeque pit. The round griddles, meanwhile, had one smooth side and one side covered with tiny holes, and archaeologists have debated which side would have been facing up during cooking.

To solve these culinary mysteries, Hruby and ceramicist Connie Podleski, of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, mixed American clays to mimic Mycenaean clay and created two griddles and two souvlaki trays in the ancient style. With their replica coarsewares, they tried to cook meat and bread.

Hruby and Podleski found that the souvlaki trays were too thick to transfer heat when placed over a fire pit, resulting in a pretty raw meal; placing the coals inside the tray was a much more effective cooking method.

“We should probably envision these as portable cooking devices — perhaps used during Mycenaean picnics,” Hruby said.

As for the griddles, bread was more likely to stick when it was cooked on the smooth side of the pan. The holes, however, seemed to be an ancient non-sticking technology, ensuring that oil spread quite evenly over the griddle.

Lowly cooking pots were often overlooked, or even thrown out, during early excavations at Mycenaean sites in the 20th century, but researchers are starting to pay more attention to these vessels to glean a full picture of ancient lifestyles.

As for who was using the souvlaki trays and griddles, Hruby says it was likely chefs cooking for the Mycenaean ruling class.

“They’re coming from elite structures, but I doubt very much that the elites were doing their own cooking,” Hruby told LiveScience. “There are cooks mentioned in the Linear B [a Mycenaean syllabic script] record who have that as a profession — that’s their job — so we should envision professional cooks using these.”

Original article:
livescience
By Megan Gannon, News Editor | January 08, 2014

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Title: Ancient Wine

Conventional wisdom agrees that a fine wine generally gets better with age — good news for the 6,200-year-old wine samples unearthed in Greece, huh?

Researchers working at an ongoing dig site in northern Greece recently announced that the final results of residue analysis from ancient ceramics showed evidence of wine dating back to 4200 B.C., according to the Greek Reporter. The excavation, located at a prehistoric settlement known as Dikili Tash, is situated 1.2 miles from the ancient city of Philippi and has been inhabited since 6500 B.C., according to the researchers’ website.

The analysis was not conducted on liquid wine, though. The passing millennia have erased nearly all tangible evidence of the drink, Dimitra Malamidou, a co-director of the most recent excavation, told The Huffington Post in an email.

“All [that] is left from the liquid part is the residue in the surface of the ceramic vases,” she said. “Recent residue analysis on ceramics attested [to] the presence of tartaric acid, indicating fermentation.”

Malamidou is part of a joint Greek-French excavation that began in 2008. The team recently wrapped up excavation of a neolithic house from around 4500 B.C. This is where they found wine traces in the form of “some thousands of carbonized grape pips together with the skins indicating grape pressing,” Malamidou said.

Radiocarbon dating was used to pinpoint the age of the finds.

Dikili Tash researchers believe they have found the oldest known traces of wine in Europe. Previous studies have unearthed a 6,100-year-old Armenian winery, as well as traces of a 9,000-year-old Chinese alcohol made from rice, honey and fruit.

“The find is highly significant for the European prehistory, because it is for the moment the oldest indication for vinification in Europe,” Malamidou said. “The historical meaning of our discovery is important for the Aegean and the European prehistory, as it gives evidence of early developments of the agricultural and diet practices, affecting social processes.”

The societal changes that may have been influenced by the consumption of alcoholic beverages is currently an issue of debate among researchers, Malamidou said. Evidence of wine during this early time period will “shed new light” on these discussions, she said.

Original Article:

Huffington Post

By meredith-bennettsmith

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Topic: ancient feast

A metric ton of cattle bones found in an abandoned theater in the ancient city of Corinth may mark years of lavish feasting, a new study finds.

The huge amount of bones — more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) — likely represent only a tenth of those tossed out at the site in Peloponnese, Greece, said study researcher Michael MacKinnon, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg.

“What I think that they’re related to are episodes of big feasting in which the theater was reused to process carcasses of hundreds of cattle,” MacKinnon told LiveScience. He presented his research Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

From theater to butcher shop

A theater may seem an odd place for a butchery operation, MacKinnon said, but this particular structure fell into disuse between A.D. 300 A.D. and A.D. 400. Once the theater was no longer being used for shows, it was a large empty space that could have been easily repurposed, he said.

The cattle bones were unearthed in an excavation directed by Charles Williams of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. They’d been discarded in that spot and rested there until they were found, rather than being dragged to the theater later with other trash, MacKinnon said.

“Some of the skeletal materials were even partially articulated [connected], suggesting bulk processing and discard,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon and his colleagues analyzed and catalogued more than 100,000 individual bones, most cattle with some goat and sheep. The bones of at least 516 individual cows were pulled from the theater. Most were adults, and maturity patterns in the bones and wear patterns on the teeth showed them all to have been culled in the fall or early winter.

“These do not appear to be tired old work cattle, but quality prime stock,” MacKinnon said.

Annual feasting?

It’s impossible to say how quickly the butchering episodes took place, MacKinnon said, though it could be on the order of days or months. The bones were discarded in layers, likely over a period of 50 to 100 years, he said.

The periodic way the bones were discarded plus the hurried cut marks on some of the bones suggest a large-scale, recurring event, MacKinnon said. He suspects the cattle were slaughtered for annual large-scale feasts. Without refrigeration, it would have been difficult to keep meat fresh for long, so may have been more efficient for cities to take a communal approach.

“What goes around comes around, so maybe we’ll do it this year and next year, it’s the neighbor’s turn to do it,” MacKinnon speculated. “Neighborhoods might sponsor these kinds of things, so people do it to curry favor.”

The next step, MacKinnon said, is to look for other possible signs of ancient feasting at different sites.

“Maybe there are some special pots, or maybe we’ll find big communal cauldrons or something,” he said. “Something that gives a material record of a celebration.”

Original article:
livescience.com

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 09 January 2013

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Topic: Eating with the Ancient Greeks

In the beginning there was acorn. Then, ancient Greeks said “let there be bread and wine.” But this wasn’t enough and so, the ingredients became fruitful and multiplied – pulse, meat, bread and oil. And the situation continued like this until now, when our kitchen table is full of fats.

This could be the brief history of Mediterranean nutrition. But this history, or to be more precise, this experiment started 4,000 years ago in ancient Greece and keeps evolving.

According to a substitute professor of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, this way of alimentation is not the intelligent invention of some clever Mediterranean people, but came as a result of the constant interaction between inhabitants of this region and the surrounding natural environment.

In the years before Homer, the situation was dramatic, the professor claims. Homeric period is defined as an important moment for the Mediterraneans, since this is the time when they began cultivating grain.

Ancient Arcades fed mostly on acorn. Later on, in the Mycenean Age, began a nutrition revolution – people introduced bread into their daily meals. Grain was the most important source of proteins and carbohydrates for both people and animals of the time.

Homer wrote that the main substances of the meals were bread, meat and wine. He never made reference to vegetables, despite the fact he often included details of the ancient Greek nutrition in his writings.

The reason why Mediterraneans used to consume great amounts of meat may have been the need for fats, which they could not get from another substance.

As for olive oil, which was already known in Homer’s Greece, they used it only as part of ancient Greek rituals – for example, in the Olympic Games athletes anointed oil to their body before entering the arena.

Oil was not included in the “Mediterranean trio” until the classical times.

Historian Herodotus reports that Athens was the center of olive tree cultivation. Scientists estimate that every adult Athenian consumed, on average, 55 litres of olive oil per year.

Original article:

greekreporter.com

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Topic: A Toast to History

Terracotta kylix (drinking cup), Ancient Greece

Greek drinking cup

 

How commonly used items — like wine drinking cups — change through time can tell us a lot about those times, according to University of Cincinnati research being presented Jan. 7 by Kathleen Lynch, UC associate professor of classics, at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Lynch will present the research at the event’s Gold Medal Session, when archaeology’s most distinguished honor will be bestowed on her mentor, Susan Rotroff of Washington University.

UC’s Lynch will present a timeline of wine drinking cups used in ancient Athens from 800 B.C. to 323 B.C. and will discuss how changes to the drinking cups marked political, social and economic shifts.

Background

Lynch’s specific area of study, which will result in a forthcoming book, is what’s known as the “symposium” in ancient Athens. These were gatherings held for nearly a millennia where communal drinking of wine was a means for cementing cultural norms and social bonds that carried over into the world of politics and business.

Think of these symposia as the ancient world’s ultimate cocktail parties, with established rituals and rules. An important aspect of any symposium was the wine cup, and the form of and the imagery on the cups reflected the shared culture of participants, as well as the larger social realities and changes in their world during the following periods:

  • Iron Age (1,100-700 B.C.)
  • The Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.)
  • The Late Archaic Period (525-480 B.C.)
  • The High Classical Period (480-400 B.C.)
  • The Late Classical Period (400-323 B.C.)
  • The Hellenistic Period (323-31 B.C)

Basic rules of Athenian symposia:

  • Couches or mattresses used by reclining participants were set in a circle or square. So, there was no formal position of status or group “head.”
  • Drinkers imbibed in rounds, so consumption of wine (mixed with water) was equitable. In other words, everyone got drunk at about the same rate. No teetotalers permitted.
  • Said Lynch, “The focus was on drinking communally and in equal amounts. Inhibitions were lost. In-group bonds were formed. “

Why study these items?

“Because,” stated Lynch, “People’s things tell you about those people and their times. In the same way that the coffee mug with ‘World’s Greatest Golfer’ in your kitchen cabinet speaks to your values and your culture, so too do the commonly used objects of the past tell us about that past. And, often, by studying the past, we learn about ourselves.”

IRON AGE SYMPOSIA AND DRINKING CUPS (1,100-700 B.C.)

  • The drinking gatherings (symposia) were reserved for the elite, probably allowing political factions to consolidate power and set themselves apart from the population at large. In other words, the drinking gatherings were for the “in” crowd.
  • At this time, even grave markers for the very wealthy came in the form of the mixing bowls (kraters) used to blend wine with water during symposia. In other words, the ability to sponsor these drinking events was what people wanted to be remembered for.
  • The drinking cups during this period were simply decorated and rested directly on a base (no stem).

THE ARCHAIC PERIOD (700-480 B.C.)

  • After the turn of the 6th century B.C., changes in the fashion of drinking cups began, corresponding with Athens’ rising political power and rising dominance in the ceramic market. Variety and quality were high during this period. It was the beginning of black-figured pottery production as well as plain, black-glazed versions. Stemmed cups became more popular, probably because they were easier to hold while reclining.
  • The middle of the 6th century B.C. saw a rapid proliferation of cup types: Komast cups, Siana cups, Gordion cups, Lip cups, Band cups, Droop cups, Merry-thought cups and Cassel cups — last only a few decades in terms of popularity. Some of these remain popular for only a few decades.
  • Explained Lynch, “Possessing what was newest in terms of mode and style of drinking cups was likely equated with knowledge and status. The elites may have been seeking cohesion and self definition in the face of factional rivalries and populist movements. This hypothesis underscores how the drinking symposia — and specific cup forms identified with specific factions — might have been used by aristocratic blocs to cement group bonds in the politically charged environment of the time.”

LATE ARCHAIC PERIOD (525-480 B.C.)

  • The overall number of wine-drinking vessels increased dramatically during this period, pointing to the democratization of the symposium, as well as the democratization of the political and social arenas. The masses had become the political, if not the social, equals of the elites, and these masses were now enjoying symposia of their own.
  • It’s estimated that drinking vessels for symposia comprised up to 60 percent of the terra cotta fineware (collection of dishes) in the typical Athenian home of this period. “The typical home had few useful dishes for eating in contrast to many vessels designed for drinking wine in communal settings,” explained Lynch.
  • This period ends with the devastating Persian Wars, which Greece won. The proliferation of cup types fell, with red-figured drinking cups, introduced around 525 B.C., becoming the most popular.

HIGH CLASSICAL PERIOD (480-400 B.C.)

  • Red-figured cups (cups decorated with red figures vs. black) remain popular through the first part of this period of cultural development in Athens, but the cups grow taller and shallower.
  • By the end of the 5th century B.C., Athens was weathering the Peloponnesian Wars and plague, and people were searching for an escape. This came in the form of an aesthetic restlessness. Fads in drinking cups came and went, but few developed into long-lived styles.
  • These new cup innovations tended to emulate the fineness commonly found in silver work at the time. For instance, there were many more plain, black clay cups with shiny surfaces. And delicate stamped and incised designs in clay cup interiors imitated metal prototypes on the cheap. In other words, the common terra cotta cups were “designer knock-offs” of the “high-end” designs found on silver cups.
  • Stemmed cups had finally run their course, being 200 years old at this point, and a stemless form became more popular.
  • Said Lynch, “People may have been seeking a visual antidote to the struggles of the period and a yearning for luxury at odds with daily conditions.”

LATE CLASSICAL PERIOD (400-323 B.C.)

  • Trends toward pseudo luxury (designer knock-offs) in drinking cups continued; however, the variety of these “silver-inspired” clay cup designs diminished after the turn of the 4th century B.C., probably because the forms were impractical. For instance, one clay cup — modeled on a silver drinking vessel — featured delicate high-swung handles that served no useful purpose in clay.
  • Also “running out of steam” in this period was the tradition of decorating cups with human figures. A decorative innovation, called West Slope, became popular at this time. It consisted of colored clay applied atop black-glazed surfaces to create the effects of garlands and wreaths. Human figures were no longer depicted.
  • Finally, as Athens fell under the sway of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great, the symposium came full circle. It began in the Iron Age as a practice of the elite. Then, with the movement toward democratization in Athens, participation in symposia broadened. Now, in Athens’ Hellenistic period, the practice was again the prerogative of the elites as a luxury and display of ostentatious consumption. Equality was no longer important in a state that was no longer democratic but monarchical.

Lynch’s research on symposia of ancient Greece received funding from the Louise Taft Semple Fund of the Department of Classics at UC; the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; and the Sheldon H. Solow Foundation, Inc.

Original Article:

sciencedaily.com

Jan/2011

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