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Fragments of attic painted fish plates in the hermitage collection (K. Zimmermann)

The present article is a publication and a study of Attic painted pottery fish plates and fragments thereof, mostly coming from excavations of ancient cities on the northern Black Sea coast. Fragments of some seventy-five Attic fish plates, hitherto unpublished, are discussed, more than doubling the quantity of material collected by J. Frel. The fragments fall into three groups. The majority belong to the "pure" fish plates group having the decor which consists exclusively of fishes and marine animals. This group should include a small sub-group of four plates with pictures of marine life appearing even on the central concavity. Other fragments illustrate the group of "mythological" fish plates painted with the Rape of Europa amidst a congeries of real and fantastic sea creatures. The third group comprises plates decorated with two painted friezes, one showing creatures of the sea, and the other, land animals. Some of the fragments are too small to judge of the decor of the plates with any degree of certainty.

In describing the "pure" fish plate group, the author identifies a great variety of fishes and cephalopods.

In spite of the fact that the circumstances of their discovery are as a rule recorded, it is not always possible to give a sufficiently accurate dating of the fish plates and their fragments. The final date of the occurrence of painted fish plates is generally held to be that of the destruction of Olynthus, i.e. 349/348 B.C. Indeed, specimens of painted fish plates dating from after the mid-fourth century B.C. are not to be found even on the northern coast of the Black Sea. It follows that Attic painted fish plates existed for just over fifty years, from the end of the fifth to the middle of the fourth centuries.

The "pure" and "mythological" fish plates had different functions. The latter, particularly those with the Rape of Europa, were manufactured by a single workshop specially for the Bosporan cities (?), and were intended primarily for ritual use, Europa's voyage across the sea being regarded as symbolic of the shades of the dead crossing the river Styx and passing from the land of the living to the land of the dead. The "pure" fish plates could also be used for ritual purposes, both in the funerary cult and as votive offerings in sanctuaries, but their primary purpose was purely utilitarian. Their large numbers confirm the evidence of written sources concerning fish banquets, so popular particularly during the fourth century B.C.

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