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Epinētron (ἐπίνητρον‎, pl. epinētra), an implement used in the production of woolen textiles. The epinētron is a hollow, semi-cylindrical, usually terracotta, sheath for a woman’s thigh which is capped at the knee; its upper surface, incised with scales, is used for converting raw wool into rovings, that is, loose rolls of fibre, preliminary to spinning yarn.

The term is mentioned in a few ancient sources (Poll. 7.32, 10.125; EM 362.20; Hesych. v.v epinētron) and is often confused with the term onos (which probably refers to the foot support used by women, shown in textile scenes). 1 It has been suggested that epinētra once existed in wood or leather, but the extant examples are terracotta. A pair of small holes is sometimes found at the flaring rim, and was probably used for suspending the object when not in use.


Approximately 200 ceramic epinētra are extant, and most were produced in Athenian vase-painting workshops of the late 6th and 5th centuries bce. The sides are usually decorated in either the black or red-figure technique, with black-figure outnumbering red nearly 3:1. Occasionally a plastic female head is attached to the front end. The majority of the painted scenes depict women in domestic settings, often processing wool and accompanied by kalathoi (wool baskets).


Figure 1. Attic black-figure terracotta epinētron, c. 510–500 bce, with a plastic female head attached to front end and a scene of women working wool on the side. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 10.210.13. Rogers Fund, 1910.

One painted epinētron actually depicts a seated woman with an epinētron in use on her right thigh (Athens NM 2179; BAPD 865). Other scenes involving females include the visit to the fountain house, Amazons arming, and maenads. At least one scene clearly involves a hetaira (courtesan) caressing a man on a banquet couch (Eretria ME 16486). The rarer male subjects include battle scenes, cavalcades, and chariots. A number of scenes depict men and women conversing.

The most elaborate example of an epinētron is the one found in a necropolis in Eretria which gives its name to the Eretria Painter, c. 425 bce (Athens NM 1629; BAPD 216971). At its capped end is attached a bust of a nude female, possibly Aphrodite, while the sides are decorated with mythological prenuptial scenes: Alcestis with her handmaids, and Harmonia with Aphrodite and erotes. The closed end preserves a depiction of Peleus wresting with Thetis in the presence of fleeing Nereids.


Although epinētra are most commonly found in Attica and Euboea, there are examples from as far distant as Ukraine, Libya, Turkey, and Sicily. Besides funerary contexts, epinētra are regularly found in sanctuaries of female deities: those of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis and at Lindos, of Artemis in the Piraeus and at Brauron, and of Demeter and Kore in Eleusis, Corinth, Selinus, and Cyrene.

Early 4th-century bce examples with non-figurative decoration have been found in graves on Rhodes. Undecorated and unincised fragments of coarse-ware epinetra have been excavated in the Athenian Agora. Some of the more elaborate epinētra may have been made specifically for religious or funerary occasions, but many of them were certainly used by women, because they are depicted in woolworking scenes and have been found in domestic contexts. In the House of Many Colors at Olynthus in northern Greece (destroyed in 348 bce), a corner room contained forty-one loom weights, a spindle whorl, and an epinētron.2

Because many epinētra were apparently dedicated in sanctuaries of Artemis, Heinrich3 argues that they should be associated with the period of a female’s life between childhood and marriage, namely the stage of a parthenos. A miniature epinētron was found in a girl’s grave along with her toys (London, BM 1906,0314.4). The interior of a black-figure epinētron found on Lemnos uniquely depicts a palm tree inside an Ionic façade, which also favors an association with Artemis.

Links to Digital Materials

Beazley Archive Pottery Database (BAPD)


Bundrick, Sheramy. “The Fabric of the City: Imagining Textile Production in Classical Athens.” Hesperia 77 (2008): 283–334.Find this resource:

    Badinou, Panayota. La Laine et le parfum: Épinetra et alabastres; forme, iconographie et fonction. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters, 2003.Find this resource:

      Dilke, O.A.W. “A Gloss on Epinetron.” Classical Review 12 (1962): 201.Find this resource:

        Heinrich, Frauke. Das Epinetron: Aspecte der weiblichen Lebenwelt im Spiegel eines Arbeitgeräts. Radhden/Westfalen: Marie Leidorf, 2006.Find this resource:

          Kousser, Rachel. “The World of Aphrodite in the Late Fifth Century B.C.” In Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies. Edited by Clemente Marconi, 97–112. Leiden: Brill, 2004.Find this resource:

            Mercati, Chiara. Epinetron: Storia di una forma ceramica fra archeologia e cultura. Icona: Petruzzi, 2003.Find this resource:

              Radici Colace, Paola. “Epinetron.” In Lexicon Vasorum Graecorum, vol. 5, 142–145. Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2005.Find this resource:

                Robinson, David M. “A New Attic Epinetron or Onos.” Hesperia 49 (1945): 480–490.Find this resource:

                  Sparkes, Brian, and Lucy Talcott. The Athenian Agora XII: Black and Plain Pottery. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1970.Find this resource:


                    (1.) For the ancient sources quoted in full, see Paola Radici Colace, “Epinetron,” in Lexicon Vasorum Graecorum, vol. 5 (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore, 2005), 142–145.

                    (2.) See Nicholas Cahill, Household and City Organization at Olynthus (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 91, 177.

                    (3.) Frauke Heinrich, Das Epinetron: Aspecte der weiblichen Lebenwelt im Spiegel eines Arbeitgeräts (Radhden/Westfalen: Marie Leidorf, 2006), 59.

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