1. Home
  2. Lexicalia
  3. Containers
  4. κάδος

var.dim. κάδιον, καδίσκος

lat. cadus


Name of vessels used in the Greek and Roman world primarily to store and transport wine, as well as to draw water from the well. The sources mention κάδος / cadus also in connection with other contents such as foodstuffs, sauces and ointments, or as a ‘basin’ in the context of the bath. Finally, the κάδος also represents a measure of capacity for liquids.

The word is attested in Greek medical literature only with the meaning ‘bucket’ or ‘basin’ for water, but a κάδιον containing salve appears in a papyrus from the Roman period.


1. Etymology

The Semitic origin of the Greek noun κάδος, passed as a loanword into Latin in the second half of the third century BCE,[1] is generally admitted by modern etymological dictionaries.[2] The root of the word is kd/kad in the northwestern Semitic dialects (Ugaritic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician).[3] In all likelihood the term was transmitted to the Greek through Phoenician merchants, who exported the container – object and word – together with its content, the Phoenician wine.[4]

Ancient Greek grammarians (paretymologically) connected κάδος with the verb χαδῶ, aorist root of χανδάνω «to contain» (LSJ9 1976 s.v.).[5]


2. General linguistic commentary

The only forms derived from κάδος occurring in passages of medical context (or related to medical contents) are the diminutives καδίσκος ([3]), attested in Greek literature and inscriptions starting from the fifth century BCE, and κάδιον ([5]), which has the oldest attestations in papyri and inscriptions dating back to the middle of the third century BCE.[6]

The word lives on in the vocabulary of some Romance languages such as in Romaniancadă, Aragonese cado and in some southern Italian dialects, like in the Calabrese katu with the meaning of ‘bucket’.[7]

The Greek term was borrowed into Coptic. The forms ⲅⲁⲧⲟⲥ, ⲕⲁⲇ-, ⲕⲁⲧ-, ⲕⲇ occur in several Coptic papyri.[8]

The word was exported into Arabic (ḳādūs) from the Latin, not directly from Greek.[9]

The lexical and functional continuity of the word in Greek is confirmed by the permanence of κάδος in modern Greek, denoting the ‘bucket’.[10]


3. Abbreviation(s) in the papyri

κάδ( ): e.g. BGU XIX 2834,12; O.Sarga 126,2-4 and 210,4; P.Coll.Youtie I 54,19; SPP XX 213,5-7; P.Lond. III 1177,75.

κάδω(ν):  P.Lond. III 1177,215.      

The abbreviated form does not occur in passages of medical relevance.

[1]  See BONATI 2014 s.v. 1[1].

[2] Cf. BOISACQ, DELG 389 s.v.; CHANTRAINE, DELGI 478 s.v.; FRISK, GEW I 752 s.v.; BEEKES, EDG I 614 s.v.; ERNOUT-MEILLET, DELL 82 s.v.; WALDE-HOFMANN, LEW 128 s.v. See also ThGL IV 753C s.v.

[3] On the etymological history of the term, see especially ASPESI 1983, 51-7.

[4] For further details and bibliographical references, see BONATI 2014 s.v. 2[2].

[5] Cf. e.g. Orion κ 89, 23-6 Sturz s.v. κάδος· σκεῦός τι, παρὰ τὸ χαδῶ ῥῆμα περισπώμενον. ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ χαδῶ γίνεται ὁ μέλλων χαδήσω, καὶ διπλασιασμὸς ἐκάδησω (l. κεχαδήσω), ὄνομα ῥηματικὸν χάδος, καὶ τροπῇ τοῦ <χ> εἰς <κ>, κάδος and Et.M. 482, 54-6 Kallierges κάδος· σκεῦός τι, παρὰ τὸ χαδῶ χαδήσω, ὃ δηλοῖ τὸ χωρῶ, ῥηματικὸν ὄνομα χάδος, καὶ κάδος, τὸ χωρητικὸν ἀγγεῖον.

[6] On the forms of the word in Greek and Latin sources in general, such as graphic variants and compounds, see BONATI 2014 s.v. 2[1].

[7] Cf. MEYER-LÜBKE, REW 135 no. 1456 s.v. See also DEVOTO-GIACOMELLI 1972, 140.

[8] Cf. CHERIX, IGC 77 s.v. κάδιον and especially FÖRSTER, WGW 357-8 s.v.

[9] Cf. LOKOTSCH 1927, no. 988. See also ASPESI 1983, 54-5.

[10] Cf. DIMITRAKOS, ΜΛ VII 3498 and ΝΛ 717 s.vv.; STAMATAKOS, ΛΝΕΓ II 1490-1 s.vv.; BABINIOTIS, ΛΝΕΓ 798 s.vv. For the meaning of κάδος / κάδιν as ‘pail’ for water in Byzantine sources see KOUKOULÈS 1948, 110. Even a neuter form κάδι (< κάδιον) is recorded by the dictionaries. 

B. TESTIMONIA - A selection of representative sources

1. Plin. Nat. XIV 77, 1-7 – I CE

Apud Graecos cura clarissimum nomen accepit quod appellaverunt bion, ad plurimos valitudinum usus excogitatum, ut docebimus in parte medicinae. fit autem hoc modo: uvae paulum ante maturitatem decerptae siccantur acri sole, ter die versatae per triduum, quarto exprimuntur, dein in cadis sole inveterantur.

Among the Greeks, the wine called “bion” has justly received the most distinguished name, having been devised for the treatment of several maladies, as we shall illustrate in the part [of this work] about medicine. It is made in the following way: the grapes are plucked a little before they are ripe and are dried in scorching sun, being turned three times a day for three days, and on the fourth day they are pressed and then left in jars to mature in the sun.


2. Id. XXXII 89, 2-4

Ad parotidas utuntur […] testis cadi salsamentarii tusis cum axungia vetere.

For parotid swellings sherds of earthenware for the storage of salt fish are used, smeared with stale axle-grease.


3.  Gal. De simpl. med. fac. III 8 (XI 555, 5-11 K.) II CE

ἔξεστι δέ σοι πείρας ἕνεκα τοῦ λελεγμένου καδίσκον τινὰ χλιαροῦ μετρίως ὕδατος, ἐπειδὴ ἱκανῶς ἤδη τεθερμασμένος ᾖς, λουόμενος εἰσενεχθῆναι κελεύσαντι καὶ θεῖναι τὰς χεῖρας ἢ τοὺς πόδας εἰς αὐτό. φανεῖται γάρ σοι τὸ ὕδωρ οὐ χλιαρὸν, ἀλλ' ἱκανῶς ψυχρόν. εἰ δὲ εὐθὺς εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὸ βαλανεῖον ἅπτοιο τοῦ κατὰ τὸν καδίσκον ὕδατος, ἧττόν σοι φανεῖται ψυχρόν.

It is possible to you, in order to test what has been said, to request a small basin of moderately warm water after you have already warmed yourself up sufficiently in a bath, and to put your hands or your feet into it. In this case, it will seem to you that the water is not warm, but rather cold. But if you touch the water in the small basin as soon as you enter the bath, you will have the impression that the water is less cold.


4.   Sor. Gyn. II 24, 4,1-5,1 (CMG IV, 71, 21-8 Ilberg) – II CE

<δεῖ> δὲ καὶ τοῖς γυμνασίοις ἐκείνοις (scil. τὴν τιτθὴν) διαπονεῖν τὸν ὄγκον, οἷς δύναται μὲν σαλευθῆναι πάντα τὰ μέρη, ἐπὶ πλεῖον δὲ τὰ περὶ τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τοὺς ὤμους […]. ἐκ δὲ τού<των> ἐστὶν […] καὶ ἀνιμᾶν κάδον καὶ τὸ πτίσσειν καὶ ἀλήθειν καὶ σιτοποιεῖν καὶ στρωννύναι κοίτην καὶ ὅσα κατ' ἐπίκυψιν ποσὴν ἐπιτελεῖται τοῦ σώματος.

The nurse should exercise her body with those workouts which train all the parts, especially the ones around the arms and the shoulders […]. These include […] to draw up the bucket, to winnow and grind the grain, to make bread, to spread the bed and what is made for a certain bending forward of the body.


5.  P.Mich. VIII 508r,20-1 II-III CE

κάδιόν μοι | πέμψατε κ̣ο̣[λ]ο̣υ̣ρίου (l. κολλουρίου)

Send me a small jar of salve.


6.  Orib. Coll. Inc. 31, 20,1-21,2 (CMG VI 2.2, 123, 20-3 Raeder) – IV CE

πονείτω δ' ἡ τιτθὴ ἀπὸ τῶν χειρῶν καὶ τῶν ὤμων, εἰ μέλλει τι τὸ παιδίον ὠφελεῖν. […] ἀρκεῖ δέ που καὶ ἀνιμῆσαι κάδῳ καὶ σφαῖραν βαλεῖν κτλ.

The nurse should take exercise training arms and shoulders if she is destined to mind a young child. […] It is sufficient that she draws water up with the bucket, throws the ball etc.


7.  Id. Eun. I 1, 2,2 (CMG VI 3, 320, 2-5 Raeder)

τῷ νεογενεῖ παιδίῳ κατ' ἀρχὰς ἡ τροφὸς διαιτάσθω, πόνοις τε καὶ σιτίοις τοῖς ἁρμόττουσιν εὐγαλακτοτάτην ἑαυτὴν παρασκευάζουσα. πονείτω μὲν οὖν εἰς τοὺς ἐναντίους τόπους βαδίζουσα καὶ ὑφαίνουσα καὶ πτίσσουσα καὶ κάδῳ ἱμῶσα.

The nurse should live with the newborn baby in the beginning, and prepare her own body to produce the best milk with proper exercises and food. So, she has to work out walking in ascending places, and weaving and winnowing grain and drawing water up with the bucket.


1. κάδος and its medical sources

The noun κάδος is attested in Greek literature from the seventh century BCE (Archilochus, etc.). The primary function of the vessel is that of vas vinarius. The other main meaning of κάδος, as ‘bucket’ for drawing water up from the well, surfaces in the sources as early as the fifth century BCE. The earliest occurrences of the loanword cadus in Latin date back to the second half of the third century BCE (Plautus), where it denotes the ‘wine-jar’. A wide range of products (such as fruit, must, vegetables, oil, salt fish) stored in cadi, are mentioned in the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder.[1]

In medical writers and other passages of medical content, the κάδος has its common meaning, a container for water or wine, never a container of medicamenta. It does not therefore represent a technical term. The only genuine medical use of the word and related container is represented by the κάδιον [5]. The female author of the letter, Thaisarion, asks her brothers and her sister Serapous to send her a kadion («small jar»?) of salve: it is in fact the only attestation where a container so named is destined for a medicament.

The other usages of the κάδος / cadus in texts related to medical topics are peripheral. In [4], [6] and [7], passages concerning the healthy lifestyle of a nurse, drawing water up with the κάδος (‘bucket’) is one of the exercises recommended to train the body of the nurse, strengthening the muscles of her arms and shoulders. Galen ([3]) mentions the object when he proposes an experiment – to pour moderately warm water in a καδίσκος, i.e. a ‘small basin’ – illustrative of how the perception of the temperature of a liquid changes when the body comes into contact with another, warmer or colder, liquid. In [1] the cadi are simple storage containers used to hold the dried grapes during the preparation of a medicinal wine, whereas in [2], a passage dealing with the therapeutic properties of some types of fish and of products prepared with fish, it is recommended to apply broken pieces of a cadus salsamentarius, i.e. previously used to salt fish and therefore still soaked with residues of its prime-use content, onto a swollen parotid gland. This is a case of reuse of the cadus for a medical purpose.[2]


2. κάδος word and object

The passages of medical content (see [B]) do not provide information about the physical appearance of the vessel.

Dimensions and other features   A wide range of dimensions is attested in other sources,[3] probably depending on the use of the object. The κάδος is also described as «round», «globular» (στρογγύλος in Men. fr. 229 K.-A.), as well as «hollow» (κοῖλος in Archil. fr. 4, 7 W.2). These descriptions point to a broad-bellied, roundish vessel.[4]  The vessel can be closed by a lid (cf. Archil. fr. 4, 7 W.2) or by cork (cf. Plin. Nat. Hist. XVI 34, 3-5) and be furnished with handles (see [Anticl.] FGrHist 140 F22 = Autocl. FGrHist 353 F*1 (ap. Athen. XI 473b-c) καδίσκον καινὸν δίωτον ἐπιθηματοῦντα).                  

Shape   The analysis of the written sources suggests that the noun was not applied to a specific form of vessel but was employed with a generic-functional value, so that it may have referred to a wide range of containers. [5] As a consequence, the shape of the object is not always clearly identifiable.

In the particular case of [5], which testifies the only genuine medical use of the κάδιον, the shape might be supposed similar to the miniature ointment jars yielded by the excavations,[6] which are sometimes fairly wide-mouthed and roughly resembling a small version of the ceramic ‘pail’,[7] such as when the κάδιον / cadus is mentioned as a container for μύρον (cf. Nic. Chon. Hist. 306, 1-2 von Dieten) and balsama (cf. Claud. Carm. min. XXV 121-2 [MGH X 306 Birt]).

The other containers called κάδος / cadus in [B] are to be traced back to different categories of vases.The general shape of ‘buckets’ used for drawing water from the well (see [4], [6] and [7]), which may be justifiably named κάδοι, can be identified with confidence. [8] The variations (e.g. taller or fatter specimens) do not imply a difference of shape. In general, these ‘pails’ tend to be broad-bellied and wide-mouthed, with or without a small distinct foot and a sharply spreading lip. They could be of metal, especially bronze, with a metal bail handle,[9] whereas their clay counterpart was smaller and furnished with two ear-like vertical handles set on the shoulder.[10]

The κάδος / cadus used as a ‘storage vessel’ (see [1] and [2]) seems to be connected with the (functional category of the) amphorae both for its use and for its general appearance,[11] i.e. a certain range of medium-sized vessels for the storage, the transport and the commercialization of wine and other products. [12] The impression is that κάδος / cadus corresponds to the more broad-necked among the amphorae. [13]

[1] For references and further functions of the κάδος in Greek and Latin literary sources, see BONATI 2016 s.v. 1[1].

[2] The topic of the reuse of storage containers is discussed in detail by PEÑA 2007, 61-192.

[3]  Cf. e.g. P.Hamb. I 10,35 (II CE, Theadelphia) κ[ά]δ̣ον μέγαν̣ and P.Tebt. II 406,23 (ca. 226 CE) κάδος μικρός. But the κάδοι mentioned by Philippid. fr. 28, 4 K.A. (ap. Athen. Epit. 781f) are bigger than a man (κάδοι μείζους ἐμοῦ), with comic exaggeration.

[4] Further details on the features of the κάδος in Greek and Latin written sources in BONATI 2015 s.v. 4.

[5] For this aspect see BONATI 2016 s.v. 4 with references. For example WHITE 1975, 128 states that «it seems clear from the evidence that the term cadus, like its parent κάδος, was used with an extremely wide range of meanings, both general and specific».

[6] The juxtaposition of κάδοι / κάδια with terms denoting ointment vessels (μυροθήκη, λήκυθος and ὑδρίσκιον) in some papyri containing lists of paraphernal goods (cf. P.Oxy. VII 1026,20-1 [V CE]; P.Strasb. IV 237r,16-7 [142 CE, Ptolemais Euergetis]; SPP XX 46,17 [II-III CE, ?]; SPP IV pag. 115-6,10-2 [169-176 CE, Oxyrhynchus]) might suggest miniature jars for unguents and cosmetics also in these cases. See BONATI 2016 s.v. 1[2] and4. For an overview of the main types of ointment vessels, cf. IŞIN 2002, 85-96.

[7] See the specimens from the Athenian Agora at the address http://www.agathe.gr/id/agora/image/2000.06.0205.

[8] Cf. BONATI 2016 s.v. 1[4]. Among the bibliographical references, see especially AMYX 1958, 187-9 and SPARKES-TALCOTT 1970, 201-3.

[9] An elegant example of the archaic period (ca. 520 BCE) with an engraved decoration and inscribed with a dedication to Athena Alalkomenia was found in Mantinea, see LEHMANN 1959, 153-61.

[10] Two examples of the fifth century BCE from the Athenian Agora are: http://www.agathe.gr/id/agora/object/p%2012556 and http://www.agathe.gr/id/agora/object/p%2012550.

[11] Cf. BONATI 2016 s.v. 4. Among the bibliographical references, see especially AMYX 1958, 186-7 with n. 3, who says «by a natural extension of usage, the term may have been applied to any sort of amphora-like vessel»; SAGLIO, DA 778 s.v.; WHITE 1975, 128-9; THURMOND 2006, 157.

[12] On the ἀμφορεύς / amphora, see e.g. AMYX 1958, 174-86; WHITE 1975, 122-7; PEÑA 2007, 20 and 47-56.

[13] Cf. BONATI 2016 s.v. 4.

  1. Lexicon entries

ThGL IV 751B-D s.vv. κάδιον and καδίσκος and p. 753B-D s.v. κάδος; FORCELLINI I 354 s.v.; TLL III 37,23-38,24 s.v.; LSJ9 848 s.v. A; CHANTRAINE, DELG 478 s.v.; FRISK, GEW I 751-2 s.v.; BEEKES, EDG I 614 s.v. 1; WALDE-HOFMANN, LEW 128 s.v.; ERNOUT-MEILLET, DELL 82 s.v.; BABINIOTIS, ΛΝΕΓ 798 s.vv.; DIMITRAKOS, ΜΛ VII 3498 and ΝΛ 717 s.vv.; STAMATAKOS, ΛΝΕΓ II 1490-1 s.vv.; SAGLIO, DA I/2 777-8 s.v.; PREISIGKE, Wb I 706,55-7 s.v. κάδιον and p. 707,3-16 s.v. κάδος.


  1. Secondary literature

BLÜMΝER 1911, 151-22; VIEDEBANTT 1919, 1477 s.v.; FRΑNKENSTEIN 1924a, 801-3 and 1924b, 803-5 s.vv. καδίσκος and κάδος; KOUKOULÈS 1948, 11; AMYX 1958, 186-90; MASSON 1967, 42-4; CHANTRAINE 1969, 42-3 ; SPARKES-TALCOTT 1970, 201-3; WHITE 1975, 127-30; ALONI 1983, 43-9; ASPESI 1983, 51-7; BONATI 2016, 59-85 s.v.

E. DDbDP reference(s)

P.Mich. VIII 508,20


Isabella Bonati

Accepted term: 20-Ago-2014