Head of a Tanagra Figurine

tanagra head

Hellenistic Greece, 2nd century BCE

(HFMA# SPG90.22, gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh)

This finely molded head, probably broken off from a small statue of a standing Greek woman, is a prime example of the realistic, mold-cast terra cotta figurines of beautiful young women that were first discovered in 1873 in the necropolis of the small city of Tanagra in Boeotia. They became immediately popular with 19th-century collectors. In fact, some 10,000 graves were plundered to satisfy the great demand, and later excavations found that virtually all Hellenistic graves in the area had been robbed.

Tanagra figurines were produced both in Tanagra itself and in many other cities around the Mediterranean, such as Athens, Myrrina, and Alexandria. They served as votive gifts in temples and may have decorated upper-class houses as well. They were also popular grave goods for children and women, but only a minority of graves (4% in the necropolis of Tarent in Southern Italy) contain them.

Our example represents a young woman who wears her hair parted and drawn back in regular waves with a bun at the back in a so-called melon-coiffure; the jewel-decorated headband that she uses to tie her hair back is called a sphendone ("sling").


Higgins, R. Tanagra and the Figurines. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Kriseleit, I./Zimmer, G./Eule, J. C. , Bürgerwelten, Hellenistische Tonfiguren und Nachschöpfungen im 19. Jh. Mainz: von Zabern, 1994.
Johnson, D.M., ed., Ancient Greek Dress. Chicago: Argonaut, 1964.

Willamette University

Classical Studies

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-370-6077 voice
503-370-6944 fax

Back to Top