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The Ancient Wine Cup Belonging to Athenian Statesman Pericles

Pericles Wine cup
Of the seven names inscribed in the cup, the one that jumps out is Pericles, for that was the name of one of the most famous Athenians ever to live. Credit: Ministry of Culture

A wine cup believed to belong to ancient Greek politician Pericles discovered in 2014 is the highlight of the Epigraphical Museum in Athens.

The cup was discovered in an ancient tomb during excavations for the foundations of a new building in Kifissia in northern Athens.

Pericles was born in Athens in 495 BC. He was one of the most eminent and revered figures of ancient Greece, as he reigned during the Golden Age of Athens. He died of the plague in 429 BC during a Spartan siege.

Measuring eight centimeters in height, the cup was found broken up into twelve fragments. It was black both inside and out, had two handles, and was relatively thin.

When archaeologists pieced the fragments back together, they were astonished to see six names inscribed on the side of the cup. These names were legible but only when the cup was turned upside down.

Whoever had engraved the names onto the cup had first turned it upside down, as if it had just been washed and set aside to dry.

Pericles wine cup
Credit: Ministry of Culture

Seven names inscribed on the Pericles wine cup

That individual also enclosed the names in a box. From top to bottom, the names read: “Aristides, Diodotos, Daesimos, Arriphron, Pericles, Eukritos.” On the base is one more name, Drapetis. There are thus seven names in all.

Of the seven names, the one that jumps out at us is Pericles, for that was the name of one of the most famous Athenians to ever live.

He was an annually elected general whose oratory skills inspired and influenced Athenians until his death. This was captured most dramatically in Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. He is the one who came up with the idea of the building program on the Acropolis in Athens, which included the Parthenon and Phidias’ statue of Athena.

Nineteenth-century painting by Philipp Foltz depicting the Athenian politician Pericles delivering his famous funeral oration before the Assembly. Philipp Foltz, Public domain

Based on his family tree, we know that Pericles had an older brother and a grandfather both named Arriphron, which is otherwise quite a rare name. On this cup, Pericles and Arriphron are listed one above the other like brothers should be.

Archaeologists are “99 percent” sure that the cup was used by the Athenian politician and that Ariphron was Pericles’ elder brother.

“The name Ariphron is extremely rare,” Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society, told the newspaper Ta Nea. “Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 percent sure that these are the two brothers.”

Wine cup used in symposium

The cup was likely used in a wine symposium when Pericles was twenty years old, and the six men who drank from it engraved their names as a memento, Matthaiou said.

It is not hard to imagine that these seven men attended such a party and that one of them, perhaps Drapetis, took a cup as a souvenir when the evening came to an end.

Perhaps after the party, one of them engraved the names onto the cup as a keepsake. The men’s names within the box seem to have been written by a single individual, but the name on the bottom, Drapetis, by was likely written by someone else.

This rare and important finding is displayed at the Epigraphical Museum in Athens.

The museum is located in the Plaka district of Athens in the vicinity of the Acropolis and other major archaeological sites. It houses a vast collection of inscriptions from ancient Greece, ranging from everyday documents to monumental texts.

The Pericles cup is one of the most popular exhibits in the museum, and it offers a unique opportunity to see an object that may have been used by one of the most important figures in ancient history.

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