A find unique of its kind, and a product of sophisticated metalworking of the 4th c BC, this vessel was used as a depository urn for the deceased’s ashes in Derveni Grave 2. Its original function was that of a vessel in which to mix wine and water.
Its elaborate decoration constitutes a hymn to the god Dionysus, to his omnipotence over nature and to his power in both life and death. On the vase’s obverse (main side) is depicted the sacred wedding of the god and Ariadne. The couple is seated on a rock, and the naked Dionysus has placed his leg familiarly on his wife’s thigh. Ariadne, holding her veil aloft, gazes at her husband in a characteristically bridal gesture. A panther, the animal sacred to the god, stands behind Dionysus. Surrounding the couple are the god’s followers, maenads, some carried away by their orgiastic dance, while others sit atop the shoulder of the crater. Mythical figures, tame and wild animals, vine- and ivy-branches, adorn all the vessel’s surfaces.
The gold color of the vase is owed to its particular composition: bronze and a large quantity of tin, but without a trace of gold. It was hammered out from two large sheets, joined at the point where the animals decorating the neck are placed. The statuettes on the crater’s shoulder, volute handles, and base were all cast.
On the lip of the vase an inscription in silver letters gives us the name of its owner: Astion, son of Anaxagoras, of Larissa. It is not known whether the deceased was himself the vase’s owner.
This is the only intact bronze vessel with relief decoration preserved from the period. Its creator may have been a sculptor and metalworker from one of the Ionian cities of the Chalkidiki who had served his apprenticeship in Athens.