Object in Focus: Francois Vase

Francois Vase

In an effort to share more of our favourite ancient objects from around the world, Ancient History Encyclopedia staff have taken a closer look at some really amazing objects or structures. Today’s Object in Focus is the Francois Vase.

Pottery is history’s great survivor. Only relatively recently given any value, this fragile material may have been tossed down a well, smashed or buried in antiquity but vessels can eventually be reconstructed by museum experts to regain much of their former glory. The Francois Vase is one such object which has suffered more than its fair share of mishaps – including being deliberately shattered into 638 pieces by a museum guard in 1900 CE – but it now stands proudly in the archaeological museum of Florence to be admired, once again, 2,500 years after its original manufacture in Greece c. 570 BCE

Francois Vase

Francois Vase. Image © Fiona Willis.

This Attic black-figure volute krater (used for serving wine) is 66 cm (26 inches) high and signed in two places: “Ergotimos made me; Kleitias painted me”. What makes the vase really special is not its incredible survival story but its spectacular decoration. The krater is covered with no fewer than 270 human and animal figures along with several objects such as altars, columns, fountains, and furniture. They display many of the most famous episodes of Greek mythology from the Calydonian boar hunt to Theseus’ triumphant return to Athens after slaying the Minotaur. There are scenes from the Trojan War, the centaurs getting rowdy at the wedding of Peirithoos, the Olympian gods, and a few monsters thrown in for good measure such as griffins and gorgons. It is almost like a visual dictionary of Greek myths.

Handily, many of the 121 images on the Francois Vase are labelled for ease of recognition. Even more significantly, many of the images and particular incidents of the myths are only present on this vase. Once again, pottery proves its value by illustrating – literally – that what we know of mythology from ancient texts is by no means the whole story. For the ancients, oral tradition and such easy visuals as pottery scenes would have been by far the most common way to learn the stories of the past and the Francois Vase is the greatest such example we have from ancient Greece.

Vase Details

Type: Vase
Culture: Greek
Production place: Greece
Materials: Clay
Height: 66 cm


Filed under: Education


Mark studied Greek philosophy with a particular focus on Plato but has since widened his interests to include all things ancient Greek. Special interests are the Minoan civilization and 5th century Classical Athens. He is also interested in ancient pottery and what these everyday objects can reveal about past lives and traditions. He is a great believer in Jacques-Yves Cousteau's maxim: "Il Faut aller voir" - we must go and look for ourselves - and hopes his photos will inspire visitors to AHE to do the same.