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A krater (in Greek: κρατήρ, kratēr, from the verb κεράννυμι, keránnymi, "to mix") was a large vase used to mix wine and water in Ancient Greece.

Form and function

At a Greek symposium, kraters were placed in the center of the room. They were quite large, so they were not easily portable when filled. Thus, the wine-water mixture would be withdrawn from the krater with other vessels. In fact, Homer's Odyssey describes a steward drawing wine from a krater at a banquet and then running to and fro pouring the wine into guests' drinking cups. An interesting sidenote to this is that the modern Greek word now used for undiluted wine, krasi ( κρασί), originates from this mixing of wine and water in kraters. Kraters were glazed on the interior to make the surface of the clay more suitable for holding water, and possibly for aesthetic reasons, since the interior could easily be seen.


At the beginning of each symposium a symposiarch, or "lord of the common drink", was elected by the participants. He would then assume control of the wine servants, and thus of the degree of wine dilution and how it changed during the party, and the rate of cup refills. The krater and how it was filled and emptied was thus the centerpiece of the symposiarch's authority. An astute symposiarch should be able to diagnose the degree of inebriation of his fellow symposiasts and make sure that the symposium progressed smoothly and without drunken excess.

Wine dilution

Drinking ákratos (undiluted) wine was considered a severe faux pas in ancient Greece, enough to characterize the drinker as a drunkard and someone who lacked restraint and principle. Ancient writers prescribed that a mixing ratio of 1:3 (wine to water) was optimal for long conversation, a ratio of 1:2 when fun was to be had, and 1:1 was really only suited for orgiastic revelry, to be indulged in very rarely, if at all. Since it is well-known that such mixtures would nowadays produce a rather unpalatable, watery drink, this certain practice of the ancients has led to speculation that ancient wines might have been vinified to a high alcoholic degree and sugar content, e.g. by using dehydrated grapes, and could withstand dilution with water better. Such wines would have also withstood time and the vagaries of transportation much better. Nevertheless the ancient writers offer scant details of ancient vinification methods, and therefore this theory, though plausible, remains unsupported by evidence.

Forms of kraters

The column krater

This form was invented in Corinthmarker, but was taken over by the Atheniansmarker, where it is typically black-figure.

The calyx krater

Probably invented by Exekias in about 525 BC, this form remembers the calyx of flowers, with low handles protruding from the base of the bowl.

The volute krater

An Atticmarker shape (whose handles look like the volute of a capital) that lasted through the 4th century BC.

The bell krater

This form looks like an inverted bell. All bell kraters are red-figure.

Image:Column-krater Louvre E628.jpg|A column kraterImage:Calyx-krater Louvre CA929.jpg|A calyx kraterImage:Volute-krater woman BM GR1985.10-9.1.jpg|A volute kraterImage:Bell-krater hare BM F547.jpg|A bell krater

Metal kraters

According to many scholars the ceramic kraters imitated shapes designed initially for metal exemplars. Among the largest and most famous metal craters in antiquity were one in the possession of the Samianmarker tyrant Polycrates, and another one dedicated by Croesus to the Delphic oraclemarker. There are a few extant Archaic bronze kraters (or often only their handles), almost exclusively of the volute-type. Their main production centres were Spartamarker, Argosmarker and Corinthmarker, in Peloponnesus. During the Classical period the Volute-type continued to be very popular along with the calyx-type, and beside the Corinthian workshop an Attic one was probably active. Exquisite exemplars of both volute- and calyx-kraters come from Macedonian 4th century BC graves. Among them the Derveni krater represents an exceptional chef d’œvre of the Greek toreutics.


  1. IX.10
  2. Barr-Sharrar B., The Derveni krater: masterpiece of classical Greek metalwork, ASCSA 2008

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