Renewing, Reusing, and Recycling in the Greek House

Barbara Tsakirgis (Vanderbilt University)

In the twenty-first century A.D. we are bombarded with the message to think green and to renew, reuse and recycle, but the concept was nothing new to the ancient Greek homeowner. Greeks routinely reused many items and recycled different materials. Metal objects including weapons, vessels, and tools were melted down to make new ones including coins; stone objects of all types were incorporated into walls and thresholds. Broken glass vessels were collected and melted down to produce new glass. Most of all, ceramics were reused, in whole or in pieces, in myriad ways.

This paper concentrates on ceramic objects and their reuse in Greek domestic and daily life; its focus is Athens but includes houses and household material from throughout the Greek world. Whole transport amphorae were built into and under floors in order to dispose of the large and unwieldy vessels and to provide insulation or drainage. Fragments of household pottery, both painted and coarse wares, were used variously for scrap paper to send messages and make lists, for children’s writing practice, and for the well known yearly ostracism in Athens. Once a year at the Adonia, Athenian women planted fast-sprouting seeds in broken vessels and left the sherds on the roof so that the fresh green shoots would wither and die. Sherds were broken further, ground down, and cut into tesserae for creating waterproof plaster, opus signinum floors, and mosaics.

This paper catalogues the known uses of reused ceramic vessels and will consider the Greek propensity for recycling broken pots. The discussion includes a consideration of the types and locations of sherds found in and around Greek houses and the possibility of there having been household scrap heaps from which sherds were taken to serve secondary functions.

Reused metal:

Assumed more than proven.

Reason why we don’t have many metal vessels surviving from Greece.

Reused glass:

Loads of broken glass in the ancient world. E.g. Serce Limani shipwreck.

Reused stone:

See e.g. Morgantina houses: reused basalt grindstones, Doric capital

Athens: city walls post 480 B.C. at the Kerameikos

Athens: Athena on her face in Omega House

Delos: wall of Triarius, to protect Delos post 69 B.C.

Removed floors:

Morgantina: H. Ganymede, prob. H. Doric Cap.

Delos: See H. Sanders p. 55

Reused ceramic:


Pots used by the living buried with the dead; containers for dead babies


Jen Sacher paper, CAMWS 2005

Jim Sickinger; Agora publications of ostraka.


shopping lists


Love, hate names

Commercial transactions

Waterproof plaster

Pavements- opus signinum and mosaic tesserae

e.g. Morgantina

wall chinking

Chimney pots- maybe

Mabel Lang, Agora XXI graffiti and dipinti.

Contrast with spolia

Reused/recycled material not for display


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Refs. on houses with amphorae under floors…houses at Thasos and Mesembria

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