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Part 1. Introduction: Life in Miniature

The uses of small things and the semiotics of Greek miniature objects

Les usages des petites choses et la sémiotique des objets miniature grecs
Oliver Pilz
p. 15-30

Résumés

Jusqu’ici, la recherche a réduit le rôle des objets miniatures dans l’antiquité grecque en les interprétant comme des offrandes bon marché effectuées par les classes sociales inférieures ou comme des jouets d’enfants. Le fait que, selon une perspective diachronique, il existe des versions miniatures d’un grand nombre d’objets différents a obscurci le fait que, selon une perspective synchronique, le procédé de miniaturisation se confine à un nombre relativement restreint d’objets dotés d’une signification symbolique. Le sens et la fonction de ces objets, trouvés aussi bien dans des foyers domestiques que dans des sanctuaires et des tombes, ne peuvent être compris correctement qu’en tenant compte du fait qu’ils sont liés symboliquement à diverses conceptions et croyances dans la société grecque. En empruntant une approche sémiotique et examinant deux exemples précis, ce papier propose qu’il faut concevoir les objets miniatures comme des signes iconiques de leur contrepartie de grandeur nature et que le procédé de miniaturisation enrichit la signification connotative.

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Texte intégral

I wish to thank all the participants of the conference, in particular Maria Stamatopoulou, for the stimulating discussion. In addition, I am grateful to Amy C. Smith and the anonymous reviewer for their useful criticism. I would also like to thank Søren Kjørup who has read and commented on an earlier draft of this paper for his suggestions. Naturally, all errors remain my own. Finally, I am grateful to Lisa Yager and Caitlin D. Verfenstein for correcting and improving the English text.

1. Introduction

  • 1 Eco, 1976, p. 195.

1This paper is concerned with a simple question: does size matter? Admittedly, the question is essentially a rhetorical one, seeing as size is undeniably a highly relevant feature, or, as Umberto Eco put it, “[…] the difference in size between a lizard and a crocodile could matter quite a lot in everyday life […]”.1 More precisely: what does it mean when a given item occurs not only in a size that might be convenient for everyday or practical use but also on a much reduced scale? What is the whole phenomenon of miniaturisation actually about? How can the social and economic dimensions of the phenomenon be described? Before discussing these issues, however, it is worth considering what constitutes “miniature”.

  • 2 S.v. miniature, The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.), 1989.
  • 3 Rouse, 1902, p. 16.
  • 4 Rouse, 1902, p. 116, 146, 387-390.
  • 5 Rouse, 1902, p. 389.

2Just like its counterpart in other European languages, the English word “miniature” is derived from the Medieval Latin term minium meaning the bright red or orange colour pigment (lead tetroxide) that was used in illuminated manuscripts. The term “miniature” was probably transferred to the small script illustrations due to its similarity to the Latin comparative minor, “smaller”.2 In common speech, as an adjective, the use of both “miniature” and its colloquial form “mini” generally denotes the reduced scale of a given item in comparison to its normal-sized counterpart. This meaning does not at all differ from its use in current archaeological terminology. Terms such as “miniature lamp”, “miniature tripod”, “miniature helmet”, etc. are understood as replicas of their counterparts on a considerably reduced scale. As early as 1902, W.H.D. Rouse, in his comprehensive study, Greek Votive Offerings, explicitly used the term “miniature” in reference to pottery finds from a Tarentine shrine.3 Interestingly, Rouse only applied the term to small-scale clay vessels this once, as he paid greater attention to miniature metal votives dedicated in Greek sanctuaries.4 Rouse partially interpreted offerings of this type, against the backdrop of the development from an exchange of goods to a monetary economy, as a sort of “small currency”, whereas he refers to less valuable specimens as mere “simulacra” of their full-sized counterparts.5

  • 6 Pottery: Dunbabin, 1962; Hammond, 1998; Edlund-Berry, 2001; Ekroth 2003; Hammond, 2005; furniture: (...)
  • 7 For Greek house and ship models, see Schattner, 1990, and Johnston, 1985, respectively.
  • 8 Both Ekroth, 2003, p. 35, and Hammond, 2005, p. 417, 422, have noted that there are extant miniatur (...)
  • 9 Bailey, 2005, p. 29-33, esp. 29.

3In the ancient Greek world, miniature objects are known from a wide range of contexts including cultic, funerary, and domestic settings. Likewise, a considerable variety of artefacts, such as clay or metal vessels (figures 2-4), furniture (figure 5), different kinds of tools, as well as weapons and armour (figure 1), are reproduced as small-scale specimens.6 Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are not included in the following discussion because, as representations of living beings, they constitute a category in their own right. Furthermore, it is often overlooked that the so-called house and ship models should also belong to the large group of miniature objects.7 It must be clear that we are not dealing with models in a technical sense, as prototypes or templates, but with more or less accurate replicas at a much reduced scale.8 Furthermore, a strict differentiation between miniatures and models, as proposed by Douglass Bailey, is hardly applicable to the material record of ancient Greece.9 As a matter of fact, Bailey’s distinction is largely based on the modern notion of a “model” as an authentic copy, reproducing a given object at a tiny scale with a great amount of detail. Yet, we cannot readily assume that a so-called ancient Greek ship model was intended to reproduce a full-sized ship in any more detail than, say, a miniature helmet its normal-sized counterpart. At least for the realm of Greek miniature objects, it is therefore impossible to discriminate between models and miniatures.

  • 10 Allen, 2006; Cholidis, 1992; Green, 1993.
  • 11 So e.g. Boehringer, 2001, p. 92: “Der geringe Preis billiger Miniaturgefäße erlaubte der ärmeren Be (...)
  • 12 Foxhall, Stears, 2000, p. 8: “ […] substitutes for the poor or less devout”.
  • 13 See Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, p. 218; Ekroth, 2003, with regard to miniature vessels.
  • 14 Dunbabin, 1962, p. 290: “[…] substitute offerings of full-size clay or metal vases”; Caskey, Amandr (...)
  • 15 Supra, n. 6.

4The phenomenon of miniaturisation is by no means peculiar to Greek culture, since it is widely attested in the adjacent areas of the ancient eastern Mediterranean as well as in Egypt and Mesopotamia.10 Actually, the phenomenon is present in many different cultures all over the world throughout time, and it seems that the miniaturisation of mundane objects is, in fact, a recurrent pattern of human behaviour. Greek miniature objects have often been marginalised in previous archaeological research, as they were dismissed as being of low quality, mass-produced items that served as cheap votive offerings of the poor.11 This view has even been extended in a pejorative manner to the piety of the dedicators of miniature objects.12 Only rarely have such notions been challenged in favour of a more balanced evaluation of the phenomenon.13 Frequently, scholars have claimed that miniature objects are symbols or substitutes for their full-sized counterparts.14 Once again, in most cases, an underlying “economistic” model ascribing the dedication of miniature objects to the lower social strata can be detected. Yet, what is really striking is not even the untenable generalising tendency of these approaches but the widespread lack of interest in miniature objects. Studies that deal specifically with this subject are isolated and concentrate on miniature pottery in most cases.15 To date, an attempt at a discussion summarising the phenomenon has not yet been undertaken, neither for the Aegean Bronze Age nor for Classical antiquity. Only a comprehensive approach could even begin to do justice to such a complex phenomenon; it is not possible to achieve any conclusive evaluation in such a brief paper as this. Instead, I will discuss the various problems of the term “miniature” and delineate a semiotic approach to the phenomenon of miniaturisation. I will then demonstrate this approach with two brief case studies.

  • 16 The modern Greek word μικύλλος which is also employed in the sense of the term “miniature” derives (...)
  • 17 The most revealing passage is perhaps Pausanias 4.12.7-9, with the Spartan Oibalos dedicating a hun (...)
  • 18 IG II2 1456.6-7: χρυσοῦν ἀσπίδιον ὃ Φυλάρχη ἀνέθηκεν; Harris, 1995, p. 207.
  • 19 IG I3, 546; van Straten, 1981, p. 81, fig. 5; Scholl, 2006, p. 135, 158, no. 125, fig. 55. See also (...)
  • 20 Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, p. 17, fig. 3; 167-168, 272-273 (Liste 29); Martelli Cristofani, 2003, p. 4 (...)
  • 21 Prêtre, 1997, p. 674-76.
  • 22 Prêtre, 1997, p. 678-79.

5I should emphasise that the notion of “miniature” that currently prevails in archaeology portrays a theoretical construct of modern research that does not have any “emic” equivalent in the relevant ancient textual sources.16 Since literary texts only very rarely refer to small-scale objects,17 inventory lists of Greek sanctuaries are of particular interest here. The preserved inventories date to the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods and list a great variety of objects dedicated in sanctuaries. A number of suffixes such as -ιον, -ίδιον, or -ίσκος attached to the nouns denoting each dedication can have a diminutive meaning. For instance, a shield made of gold, interestingly dedicated by a woman, Phylarche, is referred to as ἀσπίδιον in a treasure list from the Athenian Acropolis.18 Another votive offering from the Acropolis, a small bronze shield (figure 1), dedicated by Phrygia, the bread seller, shows that there is nothing odd about a woman offering a miniature shield to Athena.19 Small-scale bronze and terracotta shields indeed occur as votives in several Greek sanctuaries,20 and one could also think of Phylarche’s gift as a miniature shield at first. The case is not as clear, however, as it might seem at first glance. As Clarisse Prêtre has shown, the semantic field of the suffix -ιον comprises two distinct aspects: that of a reduction in size and that of resemblance.21 Consequently, χρυσοῦν ἀσπίδιον may be translated as either “small golden shield” or “object made of gold resembling a shield”. Even in the case of the suffixes -ίδιον and -ίσκος, whose diminutive functions are more straightforward, we cannot determine whether the nouns would actually refer to any item smaller than average size or only to miniature objects in a strict sense.22

6What is actually meant by normal or standard size in this context? The term “normal size” usually indicates whether an item’s dimensions are suitable for its functionality in everyday use. In the case of the shields, one anticipates larger and smaller specimens. As soon as they fall below a certain size, however, practical use in battle would be impossible. If the dimensions of a given item are considerably below this threshold, one could refer to it as a miniature object. Yet, as we will see later on, a definition of miniature objects based on their practical functionality is somewhat arbitrary.

2. A semiotic approach to Greek miniature objects

  • 23 Eco, 1976, p. 8.
  • 24 For general information on semiotic approaches in the archaeological sciences, see Schneider et al. (...)

7Before engaging in a discussion of the semiotic character of miniature objects, it is necessary to outline some fundamentals of semiotic studies. Semiotics is the study of sign processes, that is, of the phenomena of signification and communication. The far-reaching pretensions of this unified approach are obvious. Umberto Eco, one of the most influential contemporary scholars in the field of semiotics, argues that all cultural processes can be studied as processes of communication.23 It goes without saying that any communication presupposes a signification system that is agreed upon within a given group of people. In the archaeological sciences, semiotic approaches were so far mainly used to decode complex imagery such as cave paintings or scenes in vase painting.24

  • 25 Peirce, 1931-1958, 2.228.
  • 26 Peirce, 1931-1958, 2.249.
  • 27 Peirce, 1931-1958, 1.372, 2.281, 2.299.
  • 28 A sign is an icon when it may represent its object mainly by its similarity (Peirce, 1931-1958, 2 (...)
  • 29 Eco, 1976, p. 191-217.
  • 30 For a thorough discussion and further bibliography, see Blanke, 2003.
  • 31 Eco, 1976, p. 196.
  • 32 Kyrieleis, 1988, p. 217-218, fig. 4.
  • 33 For roughly contemporary painted terracotta plaques decorated with tripods, see Kokkou-Vyridi, 1999 (...)

8According to Charles Sanders Peirce’s definition, a sign is something that stands for something to somebody.25 Peirce classified signs into three main types: symbols, indices, and icons. Whereas symbols are linked to their objects by convention, for example the word “horse” to the animal,26 an index is directly connected with its object.27 Footprints in the snow indicating the presence of a human being, is a frequently used example for an indexical sign. Finally, iconic signs, or icons, are signs with a relation of similarity to the item for which they stand.28 A painted portrait, for instance, may be regarded as an iconic sign of the person in the picture. The link between iconic signs and their objects is, however, not entirely without some arbitrary or conventional elements, since the similarity is not absolute (which would in fact imply identity), but rests on certain, more or less conventionally chosen elements. As Eco has convincingly demonstrated, the connection is neither based solely on similarity nor on conventionally established codes.29 Even though Peirce’s classification is indeed very schematic, the notion of an “iconic sign” is nevertheless useful in grasping the aspect of visual “similarity” between the sign vehicle and its referent and will thus be used here. This is not the place, however, to embark on a detailed discussion of such terms as “similarity” or “iconicity”.30 It suffices to note that in the case of miniatures, similitude means that the small-scale replica is more or less proportionally equivalent to its full-sized counterpart.31 It is important to realise that other properties such as material, texture, and colour are entirely irrelevant in the context of geometrical similitude. Yet, a unique miniature tripod found in the Samian Heraion (figure 2) clearly shows the limits of the concept of “geometric” similitude.32 Since the tripod is cut out of thin sheet bronze with both legs and handles curiously “folded” to a flat surface, this is no longer a three-dimensional replica but rather a depiction of a tripod.33 The fact that only a trained archaeologist would be able to recognise this depiction as a tripod makes it clear that, in this case, image and object are not linked by mere similarity.

  • 34 A miniature pithos containing a carbonized corn grain was found in the Minoan peak sanctuary of Tro (...)
  • 35 For miniature mirrors, see Kourouniotis, 1903, fig. 9:1-4.
  • 36 Varkivanç, 1998, p. 91.
  • 37 For lamps as votive offerings, see Parisinou, 2000, p. 139-45, 151-53, 156-57.

9What I suggest here is, simply expressed, to conceive of miniature objects as iconic signs of their normal-sized counterparts. This might seem to be a very obvious insight but it has some interesting implications, as we will see later on. We are able to perceive small-scale replicas as referring to their large-sized “models”, although they clearly do not reproduce all the properties of their counterparts. A miniature jug, for example, even when it exactly resembles the shape of its normal-sized counterpart, will have a much smaller holding capacity. To a considerable degree, the functional properties of miniature objects will differ from those of their full-sized counterparts. Even though a miniature vessel can serve as a container for, say, grains of wheat, one cannot seriously speak of a storage purpose here.34 In fact, the primary function of the tiny vessel would be that of a votive offering. This point becomes even more apparent in the case of miniature mirrors.35 A small replica of a mirror has roughly the same shape as its normal-sized counterpart, but by no means does the miniature specimen share the main functional purpose of a normal-sized mirror since it is impossible to obtain any useful reflected image in the tiny bronze disc. Let us consider a trickier case: the so-called miniature lamps. The problem here is that lamps themselves are rather small-scale items. In addition, a miniature lamp has exactly the same functional property as a normal-sized specimen, since it can be filled with oil and lit. Nevertheless, among the several thousand small-scale lamps found in the sanctuary of Demeter at Kaunos in Lykia, only some isolated specimens show traces of use.36 That is, the vast majority of the miniature lamps from this sanctuary served solely votive purposes, despite the possibility of using them for lighting.37

10As we have seen, it is rather misleading to consider miniature replicas as non-functional. In fact, miniature objects are no less functional than normal-sized items. The whole problem of functionality emerges from the ambiguous notion of “practical use”. Yet, is the use of the aforementioned miniature pithos filled with wheat grain as a votive offering in a sanctuary in any respect less practical than the use of its normal-sized counterpart as a storage vessel in the household? The answer, which might seem surprising at first, is “no”. One might object here, claiming that normal-sized items, in contrast to miniature objects, were generally produced for everyday use. Consequently, miniature objects, due to their small size, would not be suitable for any practical use in everyday life. Just as small objects might be useful, many large-sized objects are also produced exclusively for votive use. Yet, what do we mean by “practical”? The fundamental misunderstanding here is about the role of cult and religion in ancient Greece. Since Greek religion was deeply embedded in everyday life, to dedicate an item that was made for votive use was to make practical use of it, regardless of whether a miniature or a normal-sized object is concerned.

11Once we conceive of miniature objects as iconic signs, another notion frequently used in relation to them, that is, of a “substitute”, becomes untenable. In contrast to a replica, a substitute is defined by its sharing more or less the same functional properties with its counterpart. This is not generally true for miniature objects since they are—except for some cases, e.g. miniature lamps—not functional in the same way as their large-sized counterparts. In fact, the only functional property that is typically shared is that both the normal-sized items and their small-scale replicas can be used as votives and/or grave-goods. Even though in some cases the intention of the donor was to substitute a precious normal-sized votive offering with a cheaper small-scale replica, this does not affect the role of miniature objects as devices of communication, as we will see below.

  • 38 For these different orders of signification, see Schneider et al., 1979, p. 13-14.

12Two distinct levels of meaning are involved in this communication process, first the denotative meaning, and second, the connotative meaning.38 The denotation of a sign is its literal meaning, its dictionary definition. A snake, for example, is defined as an elongated, legless reptile. Connotative meaning refers to associations and feelings linked with a sign. In this sense, the connotative meaning of “snake” may include danger or evil. Connotations are culturally coded insofar as they are shaped by the social values, attitudes, and beliefs of a given culture. Consequently, to understand the connotative meaning of a sign correctly requires, even within a given culture, a certain amount of knowledge. From a semiotic perspective, a miniature object may be defined as an iconic sign that refers back to another sign, i.e. its full-sized counterpart. It must be emphasised that, in this process, the normal-sized “model” is employed not as a mere physical entity but as a sign in the first place. This relation makes the miniature object a sign expressing both the denotations and the whole array of connotative meaning of its “referent”. What is argued here, however, is that the miniature object expresses the connotations in a more direct and immediate way than the large-sized item itself. That is precisely what miniaturisation is all about: it lays additional emphasis on the connotative meaning of things. Yet, what determines the choice of specific items to be reproduced in miniature? I shall now try to investigate this issue by examining two brief case studies that deal with miniature objects dedicated in sanctuaries and deposited in graves, respectively.

3. Miniature tripods as votive offerings

  • 39 Morgan, 1990, p. 43-47, 192; Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, 216, 220.
  • 40 Bruns, 1970, p. 37-38. In addition, cauldrons were used for heating bath water; see Brommer, 1942, (...)
  • 41 For the symbolic meaning of tripod cauldrons, see Papalexandrou, 2005, p. 9-63.
  • 42 Homer, Iliad 11.699-702, 23.262-265, 700-703; Hesiod, Opera 655-56. For tripods as prizes in athlet (...)

13The first case study is concerned with small-scale replicas of bronze tripod cauldrons. During the Geometric and Early Archaic periods, large-sized tripods, vessels of considerable material value, served as prestigious votive offerings. Tripods occur in large numbers in important extra-urban sanctuaries such as Olympia, Delphi, and the Idaean Cave in Crete. Subsequently, scholars generally agree that aristocratic worshipers dedicated these tripods.39 Yet, the original function of a tripod cauldron, placed over the fireplace, is that of a cooking pot.40 It may be that some of the tripods later dedicated were originally used as cooking pots in prosperous households. It is equally possible, however, that some tripod cauldrons were employed in the sanctuary to boil the meat of slaughtered sacrificial animals. According to the rule of οὐκ ἐκφορά, these tripods would not have been taken out of the sanctuary again but dedicated to the deity. Even though they lack any military connotations, tripod cauldrons, which were already produced in the Late Bronze Age, are intrinsically linked to the heroic past.41 The Homeric and Hesiodic epics frequently refer to tripods not only as precious gifts but also as prizes in poetic or athletic contests.42

  • 43 Maaß, 1978, p. 117, n. 1, to the examples mentioned there, add three fragments from the sanctuary o (...)
  • 44 Maaß, 1978, p. 117-25, 212-25, nos. 323-426, pls. 56-63.
  • 45 See, for example, Maaß, 1978, p. 221, nos. 398, 400-401, figs. 11-12, pl. 62.
  • 46 Lamb, 1934-1935, p. 149, pl. 32, nos. 2, 5, 6.
  • 47 Sakellarakis, 1988, p. 174-177, figs. 1-3. For the dedication of full-sized gold tripods, see Herod (...)

14The most prolific source of small-scale replicas of tripod cauldrons is the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia. Whereas only a few specimens are known from other cult places,43 the sanctuary of Zeus has yielded hundreds of bronze miniature tripods.44 From a technical point of view, two varieties can be discerned: cast miniature tripods (e.g., figure 3) and specimens made of sheet bronze (e.g., figure 4). Apart from several rather clumsy replicas, there are also various masterpieces that have been meticulously worked and even imitate details of the decoration of their large-sized counterparts (figure 4).45 These latter specimens are clearly neither of low artistic quality nor mass-produced. Consequently, they must have had a certain material value as well. The conclusion that small-scale replicas of tripod cauldrons are not mere substitutes of their large-sized counterparts is strengthened by the sporadic finds of miniature tripods made of precious materials. While a fragmentary specimen made of silver was found in the sanctuary of Apollo at Kato Phana on Chios,46 the Idaean Cave yielded an intact gold miniature tripod.47 Presumably many more specimens made of silver or gold are now lost because they have been melted down.

  • 48 E.g. Kyrieleis, 1988, p. 217-18.

15The large-sized tripods, with their male elite connotations and consequent role as attributes of leadership in an aristocratic society, are thus highly suitable objects for miniaturisation. As iconic signs of their full-sized counterparts, miniature tripods assume an important role as communication devices. A miniature tripod can neither be used as a cooking pot nor does it constitute a worthy prize in a contest, but it nevertheless expresses and accentuates the connotative meaning of its large-sized counterpart. It goes without saying that a person dedicating such an item is supposed to support, at least to a certain extent, its underlying social values. Therefore, on the more abstract level of social communication, the dedication of a miniature tripod functions to promote and reinforce a specific social role model, that of the male member of aristocracy. That does not mean, however, that the donor is necessarily a male aristocrat: indeed, there might have been some cases of wishful thinking here. On the other hand, it would be equally unwise to ascribe all or most dedications of miniature bronze tripods to the lower social strata.48

4. Miniature objects from a funerary context

  • 49 Higgins, 1954, p. 172, 186-87, nos. 702-706, pl. 91; Jenkins, 1986, p. 36, fig. 43; Dasen, 2005, p. (...)
  • 50 Lēbes gamikos: Oakley, Sinos 1993, p. 6; miniature shoes: Weiß, 1995, p. 36. Generally on the use o (...)
  • 51 Pilz, 2009, p. 107-109, esp. 108, with further references.
  • 52 Heinrich, 2006, p. 59: “Das Epinetron repräsentiert […] die Lebensphase eines Mädchens zwischen Kin (...)
  • 53 Heinrich, 2006, p. 120-22, 143, 165.
  • 54 For the contexts of epinetra, see Heinrich, 2006, p. 42-70, esp. 69.

16My second case study involves an assemblage taken from a late fifth-century BCE Athenian tomb, thought to belong to a girl or young woman (figure 5).49 The miniature grave-goods include an epinetron, a pair of shoes, and a lēbes gamikos. In addition, a small-scale terracotta replica of a throne and a terracotta doll were found. It has long been recognised that not only the lēbes gamikos but also the miniature shoes have strong nuptial connotations.50 The same might be true for the terracotta doll. As idealised images of females at a nubile age, dolls may have foreshadowed the future social role of young girls as brides.51 The case of the miniature epinetron is less straightforward. Undecorated, large-sized epinetra were employed in the working of wool, whereas the well-known Attic black-figure or red-figure specimens found in sanctuaries and graves do not usually show traces of use. In her recently published study on the Greek epinetron, which examines the imagery on decorated specimens, Frauke Heinrich argued that the epinetron is associated with the period of a girl’s life between childhood and marriage rather than with the wedding itself.52 According to Heinrich, the epinetron evokes the social role model of the parthenos, the young girl in preparation for marriage.53 This view is confirmed by the fact that the majority of the normal-sized epinetra as well as two out of four published miniature epinetra were dedicated in sanctuaries of Artemis, a goddess closely linked to the maturation of young girls.54

  • 55 See Bergemann, 1997, p. 38-40.
  • 56 Clairmont, 1993, vol. 2, p. 593-95, no. 2.464; Bergemann, 1997, p. 92, 108, 174, no. 597, pl. 5:2 b (...)
  • 57 Schmaltz, 1978, p. 92-93, n. 30; Bergemann, 1997, p. 40.
  • 58 Himmelmann, 1990, p. 69-70, n. 141.
  • 59 Heinrich, 2006, p. 57.

17Interestingly, the miniature throne decorated with two female heads supporting the armrests (figure 5) has been neglected in most previous discussions of this grave assemblage. Contemporary Attic grave reliefs occasionally show women, presumably the deceased, sitting on elaborately decorated thrones.55 On the late fourth-century BCE grave stele of Demetria and Pamphile from the Athenian Kerameikos, the armrest of the throne ends in a ram’s head and is supported by a siren.56 Since thrones seem to have been part of the furnishings of the normal Athenian dwelling, they should not be interpreted as evidence for the heroisation of the figures sitting on them.57 The scenes on the grave stelai may rather betray a specific connection between thrones and mature women, that is to say, mothers.58 In this sense, the terracotta throne could loosely allude to a further stage of female life, the role as wife and mother. If this is right, the various miniature objects from the grave would not refer so much to a specific age or a particular event, but generally function as symbolic expressions of the idealised role models of an Athenian citizen’s daughter and wife. The full-sized counterparts of the miniatures from the grave context might be employed in everyday life as ritual vessels (lēbes gamikos), tools (epinetron), wedding gifts (shoes), and furniture (throne). Despite their quite different “practical” functions, the connotative meaning of each item nevertheless refers, as we have seen, to the exemplary life cycle of an Athenian female. Miniature objects such as those found in the grave are appropriate symbols to spread and strengthen the underlying patriarchal ideology. Regarding the use of miniature objects as grave goods, one could object that there is a limited moment of communication here. One must keep in mind, however, that the preparations for the burial and the burial ceremonies provide various occasions for the display of the grave goods, so that they can fulfil their communicative function.59

5. Conclusion

18As iconic signs representing the whole range of their referents’ connotations, Greek miniature objects function as devices of social communication in the larger framework of a complex sign system. In a more general way, miniaturisation can be described as a strategy that is used-although for the most part unconsciously-to further enhance and emphasise the specific symbolic meaning of already symbolically meaningful artefacts. With regard to Greek culture, this hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the objects miniaturised are those that were employed in religious rites, and/or were closely associated with social role models. While the first group includes miniatures of ritual vessels or other cult equipment, the second group comprises, for instance, small-scale replicas of tripods, mirrors, or epinetra, as well as miniature weapons and armour. Miniaturisation frequently, although not always, results in detaching a given item from its functional properties. On a cognitive level this might lead to an increasing concentration on the connotative level of meaning, whereas the denotations, which are more closely linked with the specific “practical” function of the item, become less important. Miniature objects are, so to speak, at least partially emptied of the functional properties of their normal-sized counterparts but heavily charged with their connotative meanings. As a result, miniature objects frequently play important roles in propagating and reinforcing ideologies, particularly in cases where their connotative meanings refer to social role models.

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Annexe

Figure 1. Bronze miniature votive shield from the Acropolis (after Scholl, 2006, p. 135, fig. 55).

Figure 1. Bronze miniature votive shield from the Acropolis (after Scholl, 2006, p. 135, fig. 55).

Figure 2. Miniature tripod of sheet bronze from the Samian Heraion (drawing author).

Figure 2. Miniature tripod of sheet bronze from the Samian Heraion (drawing author).

Figure 3. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3794).

Figure 3. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3794).

Figure 4. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3801).

Figure 4. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3801).

Figure 5. Grave assemblage from Athens. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Figure 5. Grave assemblage from Athens. © Trustees of the British Museum.
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Notes

1 Eco, 1976, p. 195.

2 S.v. miniature, The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.), 1989.

3 Rouse, 1902, p. 16.

4 Rouse, 1902, p. 116, 146, 387-390.

5 Rouse, 1902, p. 389.

6 Pottery: Dunbabin, 1962; Hammond, 1998; Edlund-Berry, 2001; Ekroth 2003; Hammond, 2005; furniture: Andrianou, 2007; weapons: Martelli Cristofani, 2003; see also Julia Farley’s contribution to this volume.

7 For Greek house and ship models, see Schattner, 1990, and Johnston, 1985, respectively.

8 Both Ekroth, 2003, p. 35, and Hammond, 2005, p. 417, 422, have noted that there are extant miniature vessels that do not have large-sized counterparts.

9 Bailey, 2005, p. 29-33, esp. 29.

10 Allen, 2006; Cholidis, 1992; Green, 1993.

11 So e.g. Boehringer, 2001, p. 92: “Der geringe Preis billiger Miniaturgefäße erlaubte der ärmeren Bevölkerung die Teilnahme am Kult.” Especially when they come from children’s burials, miniature objects are generally interpreted as toys; see Richter, 1904-1905, 234; Dunbabin, 1962, p. 290; Di Stefano, 2003.

12 Foxhall, Stears, 2000, p. 8: “ […] substitutes for the poor or less devout”.

13 See Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, p. 218; Ekroth, 2003, with regard to miniature vessels.

14 Dunbabin, 1962, p. 290: “[…] substitute offerings of full-size clay or metal vases”; Caskey, Amandry, 1952, p. 194; Foley, 1988, p. 111: “symbolic for the real thing”; Danninger, 1996, p. 175; Czech-Schneider, 2004, p. 109: “Ersatzgabe”.

15 Supra, n. 6.

16 The modern Greek word μικύλλος which is also employed in the sense of the term “miniature” derives from the rarely attested ancient Greek μικκύλλος (a diminutive to μικρός), which was, to my knowledge, never used to indicate small-scale replicas: s.v. μικκύλλος in LSJ. 9th ed., 1940, and in Dimitrakos, 1956.

17 The most revealing passage is perhaps Pausanias 4.12.7-9, with the Spartan Oibalos dedicating a hundred clay tripods in the sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Ithome. Since Oibalos carried all of them in his rucksack, it seems evident that we are dealing with miniature tripods; see Maaß, 1978, p. 117; Czech-Schneider, 2004, p. 100-102, 104.

18 IG II2 1456.6-7: χρυσοῦν ἀσπίδιον ὃ Φυλάρχη ἀνέθηκεν; Harris, 1995, p. 207.

19 IG I3, 546; van Straten, 1981, p. 81, fig. 5; Scholl, 2006, p. 135, 158, no. 125, fig. 55. See also Larson, 2009, p. 130-31.

20 Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, p. 17, fig. 3; 167-168, 272-273 (Liste 29); Martelli Cristofani, 2003, p. 470, n. 2; Larson, 2009, p. 132, 133.

21 Prêtre, 1997, p. 674-76.

22 Prêtre, 1997, p. 678-79.

23 Eco, 1976, p. 8.

24 For general information on semiotic approaches in the archaeological sciences, see Schneider et al., 1979; Preucel, 2006. See also the critical remarks in Hodder, 1987.

25 Peirce, 1931-1958, 2.228.

26 Peirce, 1931-1958, 2.249.

27 Peirce, 1931-1958, 1.372, 2.281, 2.299.

28 A sign is an icon when it may represent its object mainly by its similarity (Peirce, 1931-1958, 2.276). See also Schneider et al., 1979, p. 11-13.

29 Eco, 1976, p. 191-217.

30 For a thorough discussion and further bibliography, see Blanke, 2003.

31 Eco, 1976, p. 196.

32 Kyrieleis, 1988, p. 217-218, fig. 4.

33 For roughly contemporary painted terracotta plaques decorated with tripods, see Kokkou-Vyridi, 1999, p. 98-99, 202-203, nos. A51-A60, pls. 10-11.

34 A miniature pithos containing a carbonized corn grain was found in the Minoan peak sanctuary of Troastalos in East Crete: Chrysoulaki, 1995, p. 757-758, pl. 233:ε.

35 For miniature mirrors, see Kourouniotis, 1903, fig. 9:1-4.

36 Varkivanç, 1998, p. 91.

37 For lamps as votive offerings, see Parisinou, 2000, p. 139-45, 151-53, 156-57.

38 For these different orders of signification, see Schneider et al., 1979, p. 13-14.

39 Morgan, 1990, p. 43-47, 192; Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, 216, 220.

40 Bruns, 1970, p. 37-38. In addition, cauldrons were used for heating bath water; see Brommer, 1942, p. 359, 361-62.

41 For the symbolic meaning of tripod cauldrons, see Papalexandrou, 2005, p. 9-63.

42 Homer, Iliad 11.699-702, 23.262-265, 700-703; Hesiod, Opera 655-56. For tripods as prizes in athletic contests, see Papakonstantinou, 2002, p. 62-67.

43 Maaß, 1978, p. 117, n. 1, to the examples mentioned there, add three fragments from the sanctuary of Athena Itone at Philia: Kilian-Dirlmeier, 2002, p. 19-20, nos. 238-40, pl. 14, a specimen from the cult area north of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros at Eretria: Huber, 2003, vol. 1, p. 72-73; vol. 2, p. 49-50, no. O 25, pl. 42, 117, and several examples from the sanctuary of Kato Syme in Crete mentioned by Sakellarakis, 1986, p. 177, n. 24.

44 Maaß, 1978, p. 117-25, 212-25, nos. 323-426, pls. 56-63.

45 See, for example, Maaß, 1978, p. 221, nos. 398, 400-401, figs. 11-12, pl. 62.

46 Lamb, 1934-1935, p. 149, pl. 32, nos. 2, 5, 6.

47 Sakellarakis, 1988, p. 174-177, figs. 1-3. For the dedication of full-sized gold tripods, see Herodotos 1.92; Pindar, Pythian Ode 11.8.

48 E.g. Kyrieleis, 1988, p. 217-18.

49 Higgins, 1954, p. 172, 186-87, nos. 702-706, pl. 91; Jenkins, 1986, p. 36, fig. 43; Dasen, 2005, p. 70, fig. 8; Heinrich, 2006, p. 58-59.

50 Lēbes gamikos: Oakley, Sinos 1993, p. 6; miniature shoes: Weiß, 1995, p. 36. Generally on the use of vases in Athenian wedding rituals, see Smith, 2005, p. 3-9.

51 Pilz, 2009, p. 107-109, esp. 108, with further references.

52 Heinrich, 2006, p. 59: “Das Epinetron repräsentiert […] die Lebensphase eines Mädchens zwischen Kindheit und Hochzeit.”

53 Heinrich, 2006, p. 120-22, 143, 165.

54 For the contexts of epinetra, see Heinrich, 2006, p. 42-70, esp. 69.

55 See Bergemann, 1997, p. 38-40.

56 Clairmont, 1993, vol. 2, p. 593-95, no. 2.464; Bergemann, 1997, p. 92, 108, 174, no. 597, pl. 5:2 b; Himmelmann, 1999, p. 39, fig. 14.

57 Schmaltz, 1978, p. 92-93, n. 30; Bergemann, 1997, p. 40.

58 Himmelmann, 1990, p. 69-70, n. 141.

59 Heinrich, 2006, p. 57.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Bronze miniature votive shield from the Acropolis (after Scholl, 2006, p. 135, fig. 55).
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2068/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Titre Figure 2. Miniature tripod of sheet bronze from the Samian Heraion (drawing author).
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2068/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Titre Figure 3. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3794).
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2068/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 4. Miniature tripod from Olympia. Photo G. Hellner (neg. D-DAI-ATH-72.3801).
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2068/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 184k
Titre Figure 5. Grave assemblage from Athens. © Trustees of the British Museum.
URL http://pallas.revues.org/docannexe/image/2068/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 189k
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Oliver Pilz, « The uses of small things and the semiotics of Greek miniature objects », Pallas, 86 | 2011, 15-30.

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Oliver Pilz, « The uses of small things and the semiotics of Greek miniature objects », Pallas [En ligne], 86 | 2011, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2011, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL : http://pallas.revues.org/2068 ; DOI : 10.4000/pallas.2068

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Auteur

Oliver Pilz

Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter
Institut für Klassische Archäologie
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
opilz@uni-mainz.de

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