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OLLA ant. AULA (Plaut. Aulul., passim), a word used much in the same sense as our word “jar” or “pot,” and corresponding most nearly perhaps to the Greek χύτρος, χύτρα: a vase which might be of almost any shape, but which, with a view to capacity, would no doubt usually be of a somewhat bellying form.

The olla was made of various materials, according to the purpose for which it was intended: thus of ollae which were destined for cooking purposes, the material would be either bronze (aenum, Ovid, Ov. Met. 7.318) or different kinds of stone which were turned upon the lathe. At Pleurs, a village near Chiavenna to the north of the Lake of Como, the manufacture of vessels from the potstone in a neighbouring mountain is still carried on, and has probably existed there from the time of Pliny, who makes express mention of it (H. N. 36. § § 22, 44). Some of these vessels are nearly two feet in diameter, and, being adapted to bear the fire, are used for cooking. ( “Oculis observare ollam pultis, ne aduratur,” Varro, ap. Non. Marcell. p. 543, ed. Merceri; Festus, s . v. Aulas.

The most ordinary material was earthenware (testacea); and in this material the olla would be adapted to various uses, principally no doubt for holding solids or liquids and keeping them in store. Thus we read of an olla filled with denarii (Cic. Fam. 9.1. 8); with resin (Martial, Mart. 12, 32); and with oil (Plin. Nat. 37.10). Fruit was in this manner preserved (Plin. Nat. 15.22); and from this circumstance the adjective ollaris came to mean “preserved” (uvae ollares, Col. 12.43; Martial; 7.20).

The Romans as well as the Greeks used pots for holding and for growing flowers (Cato, de Re R. 51: see VAS): those which were intended for growing seeds would have the bottom perforated (Plin. Nat. 17.10, where a seed of pine is sown in such a perforated olla).

In certain sacrificial rites, hand-made ollae continued to be used down to a late period, in memory of the primitive construction of those of the old cult. They remained in an unchanged form, as is shown by the examples which were found in the sanctuary of the Fratres Arvales, which, though of a quite late epoch, are still of rough workmanship and hand-made. (See Giornale Arcadico, lviii. (Giulio, 1868, tav. iv. Nos. 1-18.)

Another very remarkable use of these vessels of earthenware among the Greeks was to put infants into them to be exposed (Aristoph. Frogs 1188, Schol. ad loc.; Moeris, s. v. ἐγχυτρισμός), or to be carried anywhere (Aristoph. Thes. 512-516; Schol. ad loc.). Hence the exposure of children was called ἐγχυτρίζειν (Hesych. sub voce), and the miserable women who practised it ἐγχτριστρίαι (Suidas, s. v.).

The term is also used to indicate both the urn (urna) in which the ashes of the dead were put, and also the niche in the tomb or columbarium in which the urn was placed. After some days, when the ashes had been dried in the sun, the nearest relatives of the deceased gathered them in an urn of clay, glass, marble, alabaster, other kinds of stone, bronze, silver, or these were called ollae. In the large public cemeteries in Rome a poor slave, or a person of limited means who could not afford a special grave, had to buy a niche called olla for his urn: these ollae were themselves objects. of presentation which the poorer classes made amongst one another, as the inscriptions show. Below the single olla was placed in this case a small inscription which contained the name of him whose bones lay in the urn, and which would be drawn up on the occasion of the gift and as a record of the gift (see C. I. L. 1.1047, &c.). A sepulchre which held several of these niches is called a schola ollarum (Reines. class. 16, n. 53).

In the year 1732 were found in a vineyard on the right of the Appian Way an extraordinary number of ollae of terracotta in a sepulchral


chamber. They were all more or less of the same size, capacity, and form. Some good specimens of cinerary ollae are preserved in the British Museum in a small apartment in the basement, so constructed as to exhibit accurately the manner of arranging them.

Sometimes the ollae were buried up to the neck within the niches, so that the only part which showed was the tile or lid (operculum, ἐπίθημα), on which the name of the person [p. 2.268]whose ashes were contained inside was engraved (see Muratori, 1756, 7, ollae quae sunt operculis et titulis marmoreis). This lid generally corresponded in the material and the style of ornament with the olla itself (Hdt. 1.48; Col. de Re Rust. 12.48). Sometimes it was so arranged as to be sliding or movable, and might be depressed or raised so as to cover exactly the contents of the vessel it belonged to, like that now used for snuff and tobacco jars; this form of lid was called operculum ambulatorium. The Romans sometimes covered their beehives with lids of this kind, in order that the size of the honeycomb and hive might be exactly proportioned to each other (Plin. Nat. 21.47; Rich, s. v.). From Olla we have the word Ollaria, another name for the niches in the columbaritum in which the cinerary urns (ollae) were placed.


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 1188
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 512
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 516
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.48
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 7.318
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15.22
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.10
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 21.47
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.10
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12
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