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Old Screeds

Ancient Greek Taurs

I have been looking for Greek wemics for a very long time. There's this one, which I found in 2005, but I was never very happy with it. Too ambiguous, maybe Roman, likely a relatively modern thing. And there's this one, which I found last year, a beautiful, unambiguous lion-centaur of established Greek provenance. But there have always been a lot of ambiguous ones that I've found, uniformly described as "centaurs" by scholars, but they COULD be lion-centaurs if you squint. I figured I would take the opportunity to highlight these taurs ... whether centaurs or liontaurs, you be the judge. I'll tackle them in chronological order.

1. Two Mycenaean terracotta centaurs. I do not have any details or art; just this abstract of a scholarly paper. (The Journal of Hellenic Studies , Volume 122 , November 2002 , pp. 147 - 153, DOI: But since these are "Mycenaean," that means we're talking, like, 1,500 years before the common era. Some day I'll get access to this paper and see if there's anything to it.

2. The Lefkandi Centaur. The Mycenaean period was a "golden age" for Greek civilization, but after it, from 1,200 to 900 years before the common era, there was a "dark age" and a sort of civilizational regression -- traditionally associated with invasion by the "Sea Peoples." The Lefkandi Centaur, from the necropolis of Toumba, dating to about 800 years before the common era, represents the end of that dark age and a rebirth of culture and art. Here, take a look (click on each image to go to the source):


Here's what a modern artist imagines it looked like before the arm was broken. And here's an academic journal article about it.

For more info, here's what the GJCL Classical Art History blog says about the piece:

Foreshadowing this renaissance is the famous centaur found in Lefkandi, Euboea, in 1969. The excavators considered their find to be "the most remarkable work of Greek sculpture yet known from that Dark Age that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization and that preceded the artistic revival of the eighth and seventh centuries BC" (V. R. Desborough, R. V. Nicholls, and M. Popham, “A Euboean Centaur,” The Annual of the British School at Athens, 65 (1970) 24). Made of terracotta, it is about fourteen inches tall. The artist used the potter’s wheel to make the hollow, cylindrical body but formed the human torso and the legs by hand. The hole in front is one of two vents to insure proper firing in the kiln. .... Was this a figure from myth? Can we call it a centaur? If so, was it a generic centaur? Or was it perhaps Chiron, tutor to numerous heroes?
Well, I would opine that the figure has no feet, neither paws nor hooves. And IMNSHO, could as easily be a liontaur as a centaur.

3. Bronze man and centaur. This work, dating to around 800 BCE, is a curious mix -- with human forelegs! Maybe a man wearing a fetish of the hindquarters of a horse joined to his waist? Those back legs do look pretty horsey. Find out more at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click to embiggen.

And here's another Greek bronze, the Centaur of Royos, the from 550 BCE, with the forelegs of a human, or so says Wikipedia.

4. And here are three terracotta taurs, looking kind of ambiguous to me -- centaur or liontaur? Click on each for its source.


That last one has a remarkably feline head, I think.

Home | This post was started in February 2017 and completed October 14, 2022