Whatever You Want Me to Be: The Purse, Identity, and Exchange in Ancient Greece

Zachary John Forstrom, Universty of St. Thomas


Since the 1930’s, scholars have interpreted the motif of the coin purse in Greek
pottery imagery in a variety of ways, often treating the exact same image to vastly
different iconographic readings to effectively define the purse in the world of ‘genre’
images. Not only do many of these studies often neglect chronology or distribution, they also confine themselves to a set, often repeated handful of purse-images without
considering the massive scale and repetition found in Greek vase-production. This study will utilize evidence that includes provenance, shape, and chronology, in addition to analyzing patterns of gestures and gendered interactions within a large number of purse scenes. This study will examine the “purse” as an iconographic element within Greek pottery through the construction of a catalogue of images built from the Beazley Archive Pottery Database. It is through this analysis that the image of the purse, within the data provided, does not confine itself to a singular, definite reading, but is instead a nuanced motif containing many different potential meanings. Thus, due to the ambiguity of the purse motif, a multivalent approach is necessary when interpreting the potential meaning(s) of the purse for an ancient viewer.