Red Earthenware Bowls with Charioteer and Heracles

Bowl with Triumphant Charioteer 
North Africa (?), 4th century 
Red earthenware, diameter 19 cm


A late pottery workshop in North Africa produced a large number of burnished earthenware vessels to which various motifs in low relief were applied and subsequently fused with the body of the vessel on firing. These motifs represented scenes from ancient mythology, especially the exploits of Heracles, the pagan cults of Isis and of Mithras, as well as the Bible. Lacking distinctions of pottery-type or technique or style, apparently the same workshop served a clientele of diverse religious persuasions, but the vessels themselves were probably used as sepulchral offerings, since many have been discovered in the excavation of cemeteries. This shallow bowl conforms to form "A" as defined by Salomonson and others. It is primarily decorated by the near-frontal figure of a triumphant charioteer, standing in his quadriga and brandishing the attributes of victory, a crown in his right hand, a palm branch in his left. The reiterative form of a palm tree appears beneath the quadriga, thus reconfirming the motif of victory. This imagery has its counterpart in Roman contorniates of about 400, while a similar application of victorious imagery to funerary contexts is evident in the use of comparable gold-glass pieces in late Roman cemeteries. 

Bowl with Heracles and the Nemean Lion 
North Africa (?), 4th century 
Red earthenware, Diameter 17 cm


The shallow bowl represents the contest between Heracles and the Nemean lion in a composition ultimately derived from Lysippus in the fourth century BC. The potter has emphasized the helplessness of the lion, caught in the grasp of the powerful nude Heracles, who has left his club and quiver on the ground below, his cape on the tree beside. The scene itself has a very long history in Greco-Roman art  and forms an essential part of the labors of Heracles individually represented on a number of other similar redware bowls of the period, and on silver plates as well.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016