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The term properly includes all objects made of fired clay; commonly, pots and household vessels are treated separately. Fabricants (κοροπλάθοι‎‎, κοροπλάσται‎‎) were originally potters; later they were specialists who occasionally inscribed workshop or personal names. Earlier terracottas were modelled free-hand; after the 6th cent. bce they were usually made in moulds. Decoration at first resembled that of pots; from the 6th cent. figurative work was covered with a white slip (perhaps to evoke ivory?) and details painted. The relative status of terracotta was low; cf. Apollonius(12) of Tyana who preferred ‘to find an image of gold and ivory in a small shrine, than a big shrine with nothing but a rubbishy terracotta thing in it’ (Philostr.VA 5. 2).


Terracotta was used for: sarcophagi (Crete, Clazomenae, Etruria; see etruscans), ash-urns (Etruria), altars (arulae), incense burners (thymiatēria), and roofing. Revetment adorned all buildings in Archaic times; metal and stone have usually been robbed, but clay being intrinsically valueless has often survived. Roof tiles (κεραμίδες‎‎, tegulae) were commonly of terracotta, constructed on two systems: Laconian (curvilinear), Corinthian (rectilinear). Western colonies copied the system of mother cities. Ornamental elements, simas, metopes, antefixes, acroteria, etc., were decorated with geometric and floral designs. In Italy and Sicily especially, architectural sculpture was made in terracotta. Large tiles were employed in Roman heating systems (see baths) to support the floor and to permit hot air to circulate through walls (t. mammatae). Large moulded relief plaques survive from Roman houses.


Representational terracottas of large size were sometimes made in Greece as votives (Olympia); in Etruria they were common. Corinth in Greece, and Veii in Etruria seem to have been especially productive. The Etruscan repertory was largely religious, but also included sarcophagi with life-size figures reclining on the lid. In Sicily large busts of the Eleusinian deities were favoured. Small scale representational terracottas—masks, reliefs, and figurines—were made as votives for sanctuaries, graves, and house-shrines. Crude human figures appear in Greece in neolithic times, steatopygous females, a few males, and animals. Rare in the early bronze age, female figures, numerous horses, and riders characterize the terracottas of the late iron age. In the 7th cent. orientalizing types (first with moulded heads), masks, and horses were made in Cyprus, Rhodes, and Crete, and subsequently all over the classical world. Archaic local production centres developed, particularly in Asia Minor, Boeotia, Corinth, Laconia, Argos (1), Magna Graecia, and Etruria. Relatively few and chiefly hieratic types were made in the 5th cent. bce. Votive plaques (Locrian, Melian) were popular. In the 4th cent. the craft flourished, especially in Athens and Boeotia (Tanagra). The repertory contained few religious types (Aphrodite and Eros), and many of theatrical genre (actors and comic figures). Cemeteries near Tanagra supplied so many charming figures in the 1870s that Greek figurines became a craze in Europe under the name ‘Tanagras’. During the 3rd cent. these types spread everywhere. Accomplished local workshops developed in Alexandria(1), Sicily, south Italy (Tarentum). Later Hellenistic types were varied, including new religious themes, imaginative genre, and echoes of sculpture. The most active centres were in Asia Minor: Amisus, Ilium, Pergamum, Priene, Myrina, Smyrna, Tarsus. Roman workshops continued the Hellenistic repertory with local additions. Prolific centres were established in the Rhône and Rhine valleys during the first two Christian centuries. Figurines were also produced in the rest of the empire, often adapting Mediterranean types to local cults, until c. ce 200. Thereafter they died out in the north, continuing in the south for another two centuries, particularly in Athens, Corinth, the Fayūm, Jordan, Mesopotamia. With the establishment of Christianity, the craft ended completely in the 5th cent. ce.


Many minor objects were made in terracotta, often as substitutes for more expensive materials. These include ornaments applied to wooden furniture and sarcophagi. Relief decoration was used for vases imitating metalwork. It consisted of moulded figures affixed to the body or modelled vases in the form of animals or figures (plaquette ware, plastic vases). Cheap votives include miniatures of all sorts; jewellery, wreaths and flowers, furniture, implements, armour, vehicles, theatrical masks. Toys are numerous, particularly rattles and dolls. Categories that have been well classified are: lamps, loom-weights, spindle-whorls, stamps, sealings, tokens, metal impressions, moulds. Excavators find these useful for dating stratification. See votive offerings.



Real-encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, “tegula”.Find this resource:

    Å. Åkerstrom, Die Architektonischen terrakotten Kleinasiens (1966).Find this resource:

      R. R. Knoop, Antefixa Satricana (1987).Find this resource:

        N. Winter, Greek Architectural Terracottas from the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period (1994).Find this resource:


          Technical: R. V. Nicholls, Annual of the British School at Athens 1952.Find this resource:

            B. Neutsch, Studien zur vortanagräisch-attischen Koroplastik (1952).Find this resource:

              General: F. Winter, Die Typen der figürlichen Terrakotten (1903).Find this resource:

                S. Mollard-Besques, Les Terres cuites grecques (1963).Find this resource:

                  L. Burn and R. A. Higgins, Greek Terracottas (1968),Find this resource:

                    R. A. Higgins, Tanagra and the Figurines (1987).Find this resource:

                      Museum Catalogues: R. A. Higgins, Catalogue of the Terracottas in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum (1954– ).Find this resource:

                        S. Mollard-Besques, Catalogue raisonné des figurines et reliefs en terre cuite grecs, étrusques et romains, Musée du Louvre (1954– ).Find this resource:

                          P. Pensabene and M. R. Sanzi do Mino, Il Museo Nazionale Romano, Le Terrecotte (1983– ).Find this resource:

                            P. G. Leyenaar-Plaisier, Les terres cuites grecques et romaines : catalogue de la collection du Musée national des antiquités à Leiden (1979).Find this resource:


                              Excavation publications, esp. of Alexandria, the Athenian Agora, Capua, Delos, Corinth, Olynthus, Perachora, Priene, Pergamum, Samos, Thebes.

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