Black Glaze pourer (askos) in the form of an elephant
Roman, 4th-3rd century BC From Vulci (now in Lazio, Italy)
This vase would have been used at table to pour small quantities of liquids such as oil. The main body of the vase was wheel-thrown with the trunk, legs and other details added separately. Decoration in red paint was then added around the body and on the ears and eyes. The black finish on the body is not in fact a glaze, which is a liquid suspension of glass. Rather, the vessel was immersed into a thin mixture of clay and water, known as a slip, before firing.
‘Black Glaze’ or ‘Black Gloss’ ware became the standard pottery tableware of the Hellenistic and early Roman period and was widely used throughout the Mediterranean. Central and southern Italy, with its numerous Greek colonies and strong Greek influence, was no exception. At the time this piece was made, Rome had not yet conquered north Africa, where elephants still lived, nor was she yet importing wild animals for use in the arena. Instead, it is possible that the potter who made the vase was inspired by the elephants which were brought into Italy by foreign rulers such as King Pyrrhus of Epirus or, more famously, Hannibal of Carthage.
In early China, elephants were very common throughout the area. When the Han and Tang dynasties and rolled by, however, economic growth shrunk the habitat of the elephant until it was almost exclusively found near or south of the Yangtze and Qiantang rivers. After this period, the import of tamed elephants from India became a fixture for emperors, some of them boasting their incredible collection of these animals.
Differing from tradition Carthaginian coins which tended to feature images of a goddess, horse or palm tree, those issued in Spain by the Barcid family bore the image of the Carthaginian god Melqart in the guise of the hero Heracles holding a club. On the reverse a war elephant is depicted, as used by the Barcid general Hannibal in his great campaign against Rome.