Over 220 red-figured ceramic vessels dating back to the 4th century BC were unearthed at the necropolis of the Dauta, Kokomani and Spitalle hills, in Durres.
These vessels are believed to be products from Illyrian tribes that inhabited that area of Durres.
The ceramic with red figures is essential in understanding the cultural reality and mundane life of the Illyrian tribes.
It appears the Illyrians inhabited areas from the 5th century BC until the 4th century BC. This presence is a testimony of the ancient and continuous trade relations between the Illyrian tribes and Mediterranean cultures, especially in the Adriatic coast.
The first evidence refers to imports with symposium scenes, toilette, etc., and regarding to mythological themes, Gods and heroes are figured, especially Hercules. Other themes include the epos, the everyday civic life, athletics, meetings, etc..
The Durres made vessels with red figures differ from the imported products by the colors of the rose-ocher clay and the high quality refined decorations, assumed to be inspired by Apulian images. The extraction of the used clay is proved by chemical analyses made from the Currila hill’s deposited layers, located at city’s north along the shore. To this result is attributed the importance of trade relations that Epidamnus (ancient Durres) had with the Helenian cities and Adriatic coast states, characterized by the cultural relations with the Illyrian world.
The geographic characteristics and the city’s position at the entry of eastern Adriatic as an historical harbor for trade paths has helped in the economic relations between the city and other Mediterranean realities, especially with southern Italy. This has created conditions for relationships with schools of the period’s painters, particularly with the 5th and ending 4th centuries BCE masters. The historical connections in terms of trade and culture with southern Italy, Illyrian realities and Helenian world, strengthened new ceramic technics in the city, especially the Attican style.
The Attican imitations of ceramics produced in Durres wouldn’t achieve its standards, but nevertheless the Durres stylistic characteristics faced an appraisal by the local inhabitants. The local production was intensified from years 350 to 300 BCE, marking thus a production end.
Some of these productions belong to luxury ceramic due to its refined aesthetical aspects, which were much requested by the local elite. There is a lack of kraters from the discovered containers in Durres. these discoveries have allowed the identification of trade partners such as Apulia, Calabrians, Lukans, Campanians, etc.. Many vessels display stylistic affinities with Apulians’ world (the Dauns, Yapiges, Messapians). It is worth stressing that each center of antiquity has its own characteristics.
The first Attican imports date from the 5th century BCE, which are exhibited at the Durres Archeology Museum. The imported works of Brygos painter as amphoras with goddess Nike refiguration, the oenochoe with Athens, and Hercules, linked with the city’s establishment according to Appiani.
This last scene is also present in other works dating in the 5th century BCE. The Attican influence phase ends by year 350 BC with the local productions of great amphora with an Amazonian scene.
Local amphoras depict scenes from the Trojan war, where Amazonian queen Penthesilea on a horse opposite shielded Achilles on his feet, and another Amazonian warrior seated nearby are refigured. This scene representation allows us to see the painter’s perspective. Complementary motifs of the Attican style of 5th century BC are leaves, mints or crosses.
In this period the Durres ceramics is enriched and inspired by the Apulian style, which are influenced in the local works of the Durres masters. Such an instance is in fruition of the ceramic mosaics subjects, especially the Durres Beauty.
The high demand for products by the Illyrian domestic market pushed the local masters to intensify their production by 330 BCE. This high production period turned Durres as the main center of the Illyrian market. The local production of the red-figure vessels in Durres for the Illyrian tribes led to a decline of imports from Apulia and other Mediterranean centers, and it is assumed that the year 330 BCE marks the dominance of local production in durres and in whole Illyria.
The names of local painters are unknown because they didn’t leave any personal notes or names in their works. Nevertheless, this doesn’t create an issue in distinguishing the hand of specialized masters, for example the Master of Venus and Eros; the Master of goddess Nike, who prefers Dionysus scenes. Eros and Nike are typical refigurations of the 4th century BC.
The cultural-economic development of Durres is also evident by the enriched funerary objects, in which by the of 4th century BC we find the presence of lekythos with reliefs and decorations. The scenes refer to duels, abductions of nymphs or Amazons. On the figures it is used a white paste depicting rosette-shaped flowers over their shoulders. By the end of the century a black color with mild luster on a rosey background with line intersections is used, with white-colored painted drops and elements. The general tendency of the masters seemed to be the crossing from a rich-on-elements scenography, to a more modest one with silhouette technique. This allows us to classify the subjects in two developmental categories.
The first category belongs to the 5th up to 4th centuries BC which follows the Attican and Apulian tradition of scenes and decorative elements refiguration. The second category includes the 4th century BC with local productions with refiguration of Venus, who is oftenly painted with Nike and Eros; the refiguration of Dionysus or Silenians, Maenads, Trojan war scenes, the return of Odyssey, etc..
The preferred scenes from civilians were mainly those concerning the everyday life, from home, city, athletics, reconstructions of Phebes, women, men, etc.. Present are also the animals linked with the Gods or everyday life, like owls, bulls, doves, panthers, horses, dogs, swans and rabbits.
The scenes are enriched by floral motifs with palmette and spiral flowers, whereas the lip and neck of the vessels are decorated by various models, such as bay leaves, olives, sea waves, etc.. In some cases the scenes are decorated in the lower part with mint motifs, angles, and crosses in the center.
By the end of the 4th century BC there is generally a lack of dye quality in the red-figured ceramics. It is usually passed from a complex scene with three or more figures, to one figure, which is less reckoned. In this period of ending 330 BC, the red-figured lekythos with the silhouette technique are the main Durres products, which are exported both to other Illyrian and Mediterranean centers. It is worth stressing that these products seized the Illyrian markets during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.
Supporting this evidence are the kraters discovered in Belsh and the amphoras discovered in Klos, which are produced by Durres masters and exhibited at the National History Museum. In Durres are also discovered Gnathia vases from beginning 3rd century BC. The majority of the red-figures ceramics comes from discovered burial objects, mainly with women or athletes, of various kinds, like amphoras, pelikes, oenochoe, hydrias, nuptial lebes, lekanes, skyphoses, lekythos, situlas, etc..
These vases are exhibited at the Durres Archeology Museum, the Tirana Archeology Museum, and the National History Museum. Owing to its predominant role in the Illyrian markets, Durres can be attributed the alias ‘’cultural beacon,’’ because it actually signaled the access of ships at Illyrian culture areas.