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Trading with the Enemy: Greek Pottery in the Persian World

Kathleen Lynch, University of Cincinatti

April 6, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · Green Hall 3-S-15

Archaeological Institute of America (AIA); Program in Archaeology


Gordion, in central Turkey, was the capital of the Phrygian empire in Anatolia until about 600 B.C. By the mid 6th century, it came under Persian control as the Medes expanded their territory westward from their Iranian heartland. During the over 200 years of Persian control, the residents of Gordion imported a surprising amount of high quality Athenian fine ware pottery. The presence of Athenian pottery at Gordion prompts a number of questions that we will examine in this talk: HOW did it get there? Gordion lies 500 km from the Aegean and Black Sea coasts, which is unusual because exported Athenian pottery usually clings to the coasts in the Eastern Mediterranean. WHY did the residents of Gordion want Athenian pottery? At the height of importation in the late 6th and early 5th centuries B.C. weren’t the Persians and Athenians archenemies?

In this talk, I will also demonstrate how a misguided research question can lead to unexpected answers. The mistake, it turns out, was to assume that the consumers and users of imported Athenian pottery were the Persians. In fact, actual Persians probably had little interest ceramic pots, which they deemed far inferior to metal vessels. Instead, throughout the Persian world, the pattern is clear: consumption of imported Athenian pottery continues at sites that had already been importing Athenian pottery before the shift to Persian control. In other words, it is not the Persian newcomers using the Athenian pottery but the indigenous Anatolian cultures. Connecting themselves to the Greeks (if not the Athenians, specifically) signaled a desire to maintain their existing cultural identities, and perhaps, a little resistance to the Persians.

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