A Greek theatre mask

A bigger picture

Greek painted pots provide important evidence about aspects of Greek theatre such as masks, costumes, stages and acting. Scenes showing comedy are easy to recognise because the artists make it clear that the figures are actors by showing their masks; scenes from tragedy are less explicitly theatrical. Theatre was popular throughout the Greek world and most of the pots showing performances come not from mainland Greece, but from the Greek cities in southern Italy. Here is a selection of pots showing scenes from plays.

Wine jug from Athens


510 – 490 BC. A chorus of actors dressed as birds with a flute-player on the left; probably from a comedy.

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Wine mixing bowl


From Paestum, South Italy; 360 – 340 BC. An old man climbs a ladder to his girlfriend’s room. A slave stands nearby with a torch and wine vessel. This may be a skit on Zeus visiting Alkmene.

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Wine mixing bowl


From South Italy; about 380 – 370 BC. A scene from a comic play.

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Water jar


​Made in Paestum, South Italy; 360 – 320 BC. It probably shows a scene from a Greek tragedy: the villain has been captured and tied up on an altar by the hero; the old king, led by his daughter, returns to take revenge; an avenging Fury waits near the altar.

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Wine mixing bowl


From South Italy; about 370 – 350 BC. A scene inspired by the tragedy Iphigeneia in Tauris by Euripides showing the sacrifice of Iphigeneia by her father Agamemnon and her rescue by the goddess Artemis (top right) who changes her into a deer.

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A Greek theatre mask