Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Ethiopians or Nubians: Pottery from Athens and Greek cities of Italy depicting a darker-skinned youth devoured by a crocodile (fifth-fourth centuries BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 14, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=8153.
Conical vase for liquid (rhyton) depicting a youth being attacked by a crocodile, from Athens and attributed to the “Sodates painter” (ca. 460-450 BCE; now in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, inv. 6203):
Conical vase depicting a youth being attacked by a crocodile from Apulia, Italy (ca. 300-350 BCE; now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art):
Conical vase depicting a crocodile attacking a youth, from Capua, Apulia, Italy (ca. 340 BCE; now in the British Museum, inv. 1873,0820.268):
Comments: The motif of a youth (with skin depicted as black) devoured by a crocodile which you see replicated over time here may have been initiated by an Athenian potter and painter of the mid-fifth century BCE known as Sodates. The representations of this Ethiopian or Nubian figure combined with a very foreign (to Greeks) animal point to the exoticizing purpose of these vases. The pieces picture Egypt or Ethiopia or Nubia as a far-off and dangerous land very different from Athens or Greek cities of Italy where these items were found. The Greeks who used these vessels in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE were not likely to ever see a crocodile or darker-skinned person from that far-off land, but they were imagining some wild things going on there.
Works consulted: H. Hoffmann, Sotades: Symbols of Immortality on Greek Vases (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); F. Lissarrague, “The Athenian Image of the Foreigner,” in Greeks and Barbarians, ed. A. Nevill and T. Harrison (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), 101–24 (link).
Source of images: Photos by Bibi Saint-Polvase (public domain), by the Met (public domain) and by Jastrow (public domain).