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The Bronze Age gold Vaphio cups

Vaphio is an ancient site in Laconia, Greece, on the right bank of the Eurotas, some five miles south of Sparta. It is famous for its tholos or "beehive" tomb, excavated in 1889 by Christos Tsountas. This consists of a walled approach, about 97 feet long, leading to a vaulted chamber some 33 feet in diameter, in the floor of which the actual grave was cut.[1]

Archaeological recovery[edit]

The objects found here and transferred to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens include a large number of gems and amethyst beads, together with articles in gold, silver, bronze, iron, lead, amber and crystal. Many of the seals and rings found in the tholos have such strong affinities in style and subject matter with contemporary Cretan glyptic art that J.T. Hooker found it impossible to determine whether or not they were locally made or imported from Crete.[2] By far the finest of the grave goods are a pair of golden cups decorated with scenes in relief, picturing the netting of wild bulls on one and their domestication (perhaps for the bull-leaping activities practised in Crete) on the other. The so-called "Violent Cup" showing netting of bulls, bears a remarkable resemblance to the description of the beginning of the ritual of consecration for the laws of Atlantis described in Plato's dialogue, Critias.[1] These form perhaps the most perfect works of Mycenaean-Minoan art which have survived. Of them Sir Kenneth Clark observed that even on such evolved works "the men are insignificant compared to the stupendous bulls".[3] It seems likely that these Vaphio cups do not represent a local art but were imported from Crete, which at that early period was far ahead of mainland Greece in artistic development.[4] As further support for the connection to Crete, C. Michael Hogan notes that a charging bull painting is evocative of an image extant at the Palace of Knossos on Crete.[5] However, Ellen Davis has strongly suggested that at least one of the cups was produced in Mainland Greece. Davis illustrates both the compositional and stylistic differences between the cups, demonstrating that one appears to be Minoan and the other Mycenaean.[6]

The tomb, which probably belonged to the territory of Amyclae rather than to Pharis, as is commonly stated, is now almost entirely destroyed.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 897.
  2. ^ Hooker 1967, p. 275.
  3. ^ Clark 1956.
  4. ^ Hooker 1967, p. 275 note 44, finds them "well within the tradition of Cretan art", and adduces a bull scene from Katsambas (ILN, 14 August 1965)
  5. ^ Hogan 2008.
  6. ^ Davis 1974, p. 472


  • Clark, Kenneth (1956), The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form (2 ed.), Pantheon Books, p. 233
  • Davis, E. (December 1974), "The Vapheio Cups: One Minoan and One Mycenaean?", The Art Bulletin, 56 (4): 472&ndash, 487, doi:10.2307/3049295
  • Hogan, C. Michael (14 April 2008) [2007], Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian
  • Hooker, J.T. (July 1967), "The Mycenae Siege Rhyton and the Question of Egyptian Influence", American Journal of Archaeology, 71 (3): 269&ndash, 281, doi:10.2307/501560

Coordinates: 37°01′20″N 22°27′39″E / 37.02222°N 22.46083°E / 37.02222; 22.46083