Student Reader

Corinth

The rich and powerful city of Corinth was ruled by tyrants or benevolent dictators until ~585 BC, when the government was usurped by an oligarchy of landowners and wealthy merchants. Corinth's strategic site between two seas made her a natural trading center, and around the Mediterranean she had established numerous colonies, which sent a steady flow of wealth back to their parent city.

For much of the seventh century, Protocorinthian pottery had dominated the markets of the Mediterranean. Around 625 BC, Corinthian potters and painters began to produce new shapes of vase, and a new decorative style. At first they painted animals and a few human figures; lions were their favorites, but they also tried exotic hybrids like sphinxes, panther-birds and sirens. These animals prowled nose-to-tail around the vases through dense thickets of filling ornament, chiefly large rosettes.

As time went on, the original spontaneity of the style was lost, and the animals and floral patterns became larger and more carelessly painted, perhaps in an attempt to speed up production. By ~570-560 BC Athenian vases were taking over the markets previously monopolized by Corinth. Some Corinthian artists responded to the challenge by coloring the backgrounds of their scenes red, in imitation of the redder clay of Athens. But even their best efforts did not match Athenian standards and eventually they stopped trying to compete.

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