The letters could be the beginning of the word Σκύθα or Σκύθης, translating as Scythia and Scythian. If so, it would suggest that this perfume pot belonged to a Scythian foreigner. The Scythians were a nomadic people who lived in Central Eurasia from around the 11th century BC to the 2nd century AD.
This form was named after the archaeologist Lucy Talcott. Excavations at the Athenian Agora officially began in 1931 and continue to the present day, the findings being meticulously recorded and accompanied by a large compendium of books, each authored by different specialists in their field. Volume XII of the Athenian Agora series was written by Brian Sparkes and Lucy Talcott. They discovered a new variant of perfume pot during the excavations and, in honour of his fellow archaeologist, Sparkes designated the vase as the Talcott Class. This shape is believed to be closely modelled on a metalware form.
The ancient Greeks understood the importance of cleanliness in remaining healthy. They encouraged regular visits to the gymnasium and bath house, which doubled as a centre for socialising and entertainment. Before entering the baths, the Greeks would cleanse themselves by rubbing their wet bodies with pumice and ash, followed by olive oil, before removing the mixture with a special scraper known as a strigil. At this point they could enter the series of heated rooms and pools of water. The steam room (laconia) was heated by underfloor fires or by placing heated rocks in a large tray in the centre of the room, over which they would ladle water to create steam. Sometimes essential oils of bay, pine or juniper would be infused with the steam for their therapeutic characteristics. The process of sweating was enhanced by rubbing the body with oil. Once clean and dry, the Greeks applied perfumed oils and unguents to their skin.
Perfume pots of any shape have two things in common: they are compact in size and have a constricted mouth, which allowed the essential oils to be poured carefully. The two most common forms of pot for holding these important oils were the aryballos (pl. aryballoi) and the alabastron (pl. alabastra). The former was a small, spherical vessel with one or more handles that would be suspended from a cord or chain, carried on the wrist or hung up on a wall; evidence of this comes from scenes on figured vases showing life at the gymnasia. The alabastron was so called because of the large number that were made from cream-coloured alabaster. It was a tall, elongated vessel, without handles, but sometimes with a small pair of lugs that might be pierced with string holes.
ProvenancePrivate collection, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK; acquired in the late 19th or early 20th Century
LiteratureFor the form compare Brian A. Sparkes and Lucy Talcott, The Athenian Agora, Vol. XII, Black and Plain Pottery (Princeton, 1970), pl.39, no.1201.
Also see John Boardman and Martin Robertson, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Great Britain: Castle Ashby, Northampton (Oxford, 1979), pl.53, no.9
For a discussion on the scraffito lettering see Alan Johnston, 'Some non-Greek Ghosts', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, no.25 (Oxford, 1978), pp.79-80