Our Classical collection unlocks a window to a ‘birthplace of civilisation’: ancient Greece and Rome.
From scientific advances to artistic innovations, modern Western civilisation is considered to stand on the shoulders of the great Classical civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome. While they themselves were influenced by earlier civilisations and interactions with other Mediterranean cultures, the ancient Greeks and Romans set the foundations for much of today’s architecture, medicine, astronomy, literature, philosophy, drama, art, and more. The objects these civilisations left behind can help us unlock a window to the past to glimpse the lives of women and men in the Classical world, their religions, customs, and beliefs about life and death.
The National Museums Scotland Classical collection comprises around 3,000 ancient Greek, Roman, Cypriot and Etruscan objects, including about 300 Greek and Italian ceramic vases and more than 400 fine examples of ancient glass, as well as terracotta figurines, antefixes and architectural ornaments, coins, bronzes and stone sculpture.
Some of the most intriguing objects from the ancient Greek world are their painted vases. The images on the vases depict gods and heroes from Greek mythology, and aspects of ancient Greek religious life, but also notorious drinking parties. Some vases depict typically male activities, such as warfare and athletics, while others give insights into women’s domestic area of the house.
The images on the vases are not their only important element. The vases’ shapes are also of great significance. Different shapes were used for different purposes, ranging from fish plates with special compartments for sauces and condiments used during dinner parties to elaborate cups and jugs for the drinking parties that followed after dinner. Certain vases were used by women for perfumes and wedding preparations, or held perfumes offered to the tombs of the deceased.
See highlights from our collection on our Collections Search and discover for yourself how the forms of the vases and the images that decorate them are related. Through the vases, you can explore what ancient Greek gods and heroes looked like and get a glimpse of how ancient Greek men and women lived their lives.
Oenochoe of pottery with black figure decoration showing Athene between Achilles and Ajax who are playing a board game.
Lebes gamikos of pottery decorated in red figure style with two standing figures of Eros, palmettes, key meander and scrollwork.
Earthenware stamnos with red figure decoration of wrestlers, boxers, and figures with staffs.
Kylix of pottery decorated in red figure, painted with a hoplite slaying a fallen Persian inside, and a Greek and mounted Persian battle scene outside.
Lekythos of pottery decorated in black figure style on a white ground with a scene representing Achilles delivering up the body of Hector to Priam.
Rhyton of earthenware, in form of an ass's head with handle, covered with black and grey glazes and decorated with four standing figures, broken and repaired.
Header image: Lebes gamikos of pottery decorated in red figure style with two standing figures of Eros, palmettes, key meander and scrollwork.