Minyan ware


Minyan amphora from Mycenae, Middle Helladic III period, 1700–1600 BC.

Minyan ware is a broad archaeological term describing varieties of a particular style of Aegean burnished pottery associated with the Middle Helladic period (c. 2000/1900–1550 BC). The term was coined in the 19th century by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann after discovering the pottery in Orchomenos, Greece. Excavations conducted during the 1960s confirmed that Minyan ware evolved from the burnished pottery developed by the Tiryns culture of the Early Helladic III period (c. 2200/2150–2000/1900 BC).


In the history of Aegean prehistoric archaeology, Heinrich Schliemann was the first person to coin the term "Minyan" after he discovered a distinct variety of dark-burnished pottery at Orchomenos (the mythical home of King Minyas).[1] Some of his contemporaries referred to the pottery as "Orchomenos Ware".[2] However, the term "Minyan Ware" ultimately prevailed since it romantically recalled the glorious (though tenuous) Minyans of Greek mythology.[2]


At first, Alan Wace and Carl Blegen did not yet associate Minyan Ware with the "advent of the Greeks".[3] Both archaeologists regarded the sudden appearance of Minyan Ware as one of two interruptions in the unbroken evolution of Greek pottery from the Neolithic up until the Mycenean era.[3] Ultimately, they concluded that "Minyan Ware indicates the introduction of a new cultural strain."[3]

Prior to 1960, Minyan Ware was often associated with northern invaders having destroyed Early Helladic culture (1900 BC) and introducing Middle Helladic culture into the Greek peninsula. However, John L. Caskey conducted excavations in Greece (i.e. Lerna) and definitively stated that Minyan Ware was in fact the direct descendant of the fine gray burnished pottery of Early Helladic III Tiryns culture. Caskey also found that the Black or Argive variety of Minyan Ware was an evolved version of the Early Helladic III "Dark slipped and burnished" pottery class.[4][5] Therefore, Minyan Ware was present in Greece since between 2200 and 2150 BC. There is nothing particularly "northern" regarding the ceramic progenitors of Minyan Ware. The exception, however, entails the spread of Minyan Ware from central Greece to northeastern Peloponnese, which can be seen as "coming from the north" with respect to the Peloponnese. Currently, there is uncertainty as to how Minyan Ware arrived in central Greece or how it was indigenously developed.[4]

Forms and styles

Amphora, MHIII, c. 1700-1600 BC

Minyan Ware is a form of monochrome burnished pottery produced from extremely fine or moderately fine clay. Varieties of Minyan Ware entail Yellow, Red, Gray, and Black (or Argive).[6] Open forms such as goblets and kantharoi are the most common shapes in all types of Minyan Ware. Goblets and kantharoi are technically evolved versions of the Bass bowl and kantharos of the Early Helladic III Tiryns culture.[6]

Gray Minyan Ware, specifically, has angular forms that may reflect copies of metallic prototypes.[7] However, such a theory is difficult to substantiate given the fact that metallic objects from the Middle Helladic period are rare and metallic vessels are almost non-existent.[7] Yet, the angular forms of this particular pottery style may in fact be derived from the common use of the fast potter's wheel.[7] "Ring stems" (or highly ribbed pedestal feet) are an important characteristic of Middle Helladic II and Middle Helladic III Gray Minyan Ware in central Greece.[7] Of course, this characteristic is also present on Middle Helladic III Yellow Minyan Ware goblets from Corinth and the Argolid. During the final phase of the Middle Helladic period, shallowly incised rings more or less replaced goblet feet and "ring stems" in northeastern Peloponnese.[7]

Minyan Ware from the Middle Helladic I period is decorated in the form of grooves on the upper shoulder of kantharoi and bowls.[8] During the Middle Helladic II period, stamped concentric circles and "festoons" (or parallel semicircles) became a common characteristic of decoration especially on Black (or Argive) Minyan Ware.[8]

Areas of production

Gray Minyan Ware is mostly found in central Greece and is also common in the Peloponnese during the Middle Helladic I and Middle Helladic II periods.[9] Black (or Argive) Minyan Ware is common in northern Peloponnese and is mostly decorated with stamped and incised ornaments.[9] Red Minyan Ware is commonly found in Aegina, Attica, the northern Cyclades and Boeotia.[9] Yellow Minyan Ware first appears during the Middle Helladic II and Middle Helladic III periods.[9] Due to its light surface color, this particular variety of pottery is decorated with dark matt-paint.[9] This has led archaeologists to regard Yellow Minyan Ware as "Matt-Painted" instead of "Minyan".[9]

Anatolian Grey Ware

Pottery very similar to Grey Minyan Ware is known in Anatolia, dated around 14th–13th centuries BC.[10] It has been suggested that "North-West Anatolian Grey Ware" should be used for this type of pottery.[10] Around 2002, the term "Anatolian Grey Ware" was used by scholars.[10]

See also



  1. ^ Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "The term "Minyan" was originally coined by Schliemann very early in the history of Aegean prehistoric archaeology and applied to a distinctive variety of dark-burnished pottery which he had found at Orchomenos, the home of the mythical king Minyas."
  2. ^ a b Drews 1994, p. 12: "Although some of his contemporaries referred to it prosaically as "Orchomenos Ware," the name that prevailed was Schliemann's more romantic Minyan Ware, which recalled the glorious but tenuous Minyans of Greek mythology."
  3. ^ a b c Drews 1994, pp. 12–13: "In their 1918 article, Blegen and Wace did not yet associate Minyan Ware with "the coming of the Greeks." They did observe, however, that the sudden appearance of Minyan Ware at the beginning of the Middle Helladic period was one of only two interruptions in the otherwise unbroken evolution of pottery on the Greek mainland from neolithic times to the Mycenaean Age. The only other interruption, they found, was the advent of Minoan and Minoanizing pottery at the beginning of the period they called Late Helladic. Wace and Blegen concluded that "Minyan Ware indicates the introduction of a new cultural strain," but they did not yet identify this new strain with the Greeks. However, since there were only two interruptions in the Bronze Age pottery sequence, and since the second of these had to do with the Minoans, the only alternative was to tie the Greeks' arrival in Greece to the appearance of Minyan Ware."
  4. ^ a b Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "Until about 1960, Gray Minyan was often identified as the pottery of northern invaders who destroyed EH civilization ca. 1900 B.C. and introduced MH material culture into the Greek peninsula. However, Caskey's excavations at Lerna as well as more recently excavated sequences at several other sites have made it abundantly clear that Gray Minyan, rather than being new in the MH period, is the direct descendant of the fine gray burnished pottery of the EH III Tiryns culture. Moreover, it seems likely that the Black/Argive variety of Minyan is nothing other than an evolved version of the EH III "Dark slipped and burnished" class. Thus Minyan pottery, if it is to be associated with an intrusive population element at all, must be connected with an EH III "invasion" ca. 2200/2150 B.C. and not with a MH one ca. 1900 B.C. Furthermore, there is nothing particularly "northern" about the ancestry of the EH III progenitors of MH Minyan except that they almost certainly came to the northeastern Peloponnese from central Greece (i.e. from the north with respect to the Peloponnese). How they arrived, or alternatively developed indigenously, in central Greece is a question which has yet to be resolved."
  5. ^ Caskey 1960, pp. 285–303.
  6. ^ a b Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "The monochrome burnished pottery manufactured from moderately to extremely fine clays which is presently described as "{Minyan ware}" can occur in Gray, Black (or Argive), Red, and Yellow varieties. The most common shapes in all varieties of Minyan are open forms, for the most part goblets and kantharoi which are clearly recognizable as evolved forms of the Bass bowl and kantharos of the EH III Tiryns culture."
  7. ^ a b c d e Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "The crisply articulated, angular forms of Gray Minyan vases in particular have given rise to the theory that they are copies of metallic prototypes, despite the fact that metal objects of any kind are relatively rare during the MH period and metal vessels are virtually non-existent. The angular profiles of Gray Minyan vases are in fact probably due simply to the common utilization of the fast wheel in their production. High, ribbed pedestal feet ("ring stems") are particularly characteristic of MH II-III Gray Minyan in central Greece, although they are also attested on MH III Yellow Minyan goblets in the Argolid and Corinthia. In the final phase of the MH period in the northeastern Peloponnese, goblet feet become considerably lower and the ribs disappear in favor of shallowly incised rings."
  8. ^ a b Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "Decoration of Minyan during MH I usually takes the form of grooving on the upper shoulder of bowls and kantharoi. During MH II, incised parallel semicircles ("festoons") and stamped concentric circles also become quite common, especially on Black/Argive Minyan."
  9. ^ a b c d e f Rutter, Lesson 9: Middle Helladic Greece: "Gray Minyan is most common in central Greece, but is also frequent, especially in MH I–II, in the Peloponnese. Black/Argive Minyan is above all characteristic of the northern Peloponnese and is the variety of Minyan most commonly decorated with incised and stamped ornament. Red Minyan is most commonly found in Attica, Boeotia, Aegina, and the northern Cyclades. Yellow Minyan first appears in later MH II or in MH III. Because of its light surface color, this last variety is often decorated with dark, matt paint, in which case it is treated by archaeologists as Matt-painted rather than as Minyan."
  10. ^ a b c Pavúk 2007.


  • Caskey, John L. (1960). "The Early Helladic Period in the Argolid". Hesperia. 29 (3): 285–303. doi:10.2307/147199. JSTOR 147199.
  • Drews, Robert (1994). The Coming of the Greeks: Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02951-2.
  • Pavúk, Peter (12 June 2007). "Grey Wares as a Phenomenon". Aegeo-Balkan Prehistory. Archived from the original on 25 December 2008.
  • Rutter, Jeremy B. "Prehistoric Archeology of the Aegean". Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College. Archived from the original on 2009-01-01.

External links

  • Pavúk, Peter; Horejs, Barbara (2007). "Articles about Grey Ware". Aegeo-Balkan Prehistory.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica (9 July 2008). "Minyan ware". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.