Stirrup jar with octopus, ca. 1200–1100 b.c.; Late Helladic IIIC
A large, wide-eyed octopus stretches its tentacles across the curved body of this vessel. Flecks of paint and thin, arching lines denote the creature’s membranes, and large concentric rings represent its eyes. The spiraling ends of its tentacles lure the viewer around the sides to another, similar octopus that decorates the back of the jar. This type of vessel takes its name from the stirrup-shaped handles at the top. In antiquity, such jars—easy to carry and stow, and designed not to spill—were commonly used to transport wine and oil throughout the Mediterranean. Although this vessel is a product of the Mycenaean culture of mainland Greece, its marine imagery derives from the art of Minoan Crete. When the Mycenaeans conquered Crete (ca. 1450 B.C.), Minoan styles exerted considerable influence on the art of the mainland. The design on this vase ultimately derived from motifs that decorated marine-style vessels of the Late Minoan I period.
Control of the sea was essential to the Mycenaeans for gaining and maintaining power over their vast domain. The shape of this stirrup jar and its octopus decoration testify to the importance of the sea as an avenue of communication and source of food and wealth.