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by Archaeology Newsroom

Panathenaic amphorae

Panathenaic Amphorae, the Attic vases offered as a prize to the winners of athletic competitions held during the Great Panathenaea, form a distinct group, which, for almost ten centuries (6th century BC to 4th century AD), has been enriched with hundreds of samples. They are decorated with black painted figures on a light background while the details are rendered with incision and red and white paint. This technique remains in use until the mid 5th century BC, when its rival, the red-figured style, is definitely adopted. However, the black – figured decoration will exceptionally continue to be used on the Panathenaic amphorae, the “official vases”, a tradition that will prevail even in the Hellenistic period. The decoration themes are strictly prescribed and their arrangement on the vase becomes typical. The goddess Athena, in a warrior’s pose, is depicted on the front side, while on the back is represented the athletic game in which the athlete has won. While, however, the rendering of the goddess is dry and stylized, that of the athlete is free and natural and expresses the contemporary art of the times. In the evolution of iconography it can be observed that in early works (6th century B.C.) Athena is represented in a warrior’s pose turning to the left, while later, at the end of the 6th century, she is flanked by two Doric columns. The 5th century amphorae have been decorated by great artists of the red-figured style, who are distinguished by their personal style in design. The 4th century introduces a number of innovations, most important of which is the inscription of the name of the so-called “Eponymos Archon” on the front face of the vase, which serves as an indisputable chronological evidence. Along with the name of the archon also appear his symbols and attributes. From 360 BC to 50 BC, the figure of the goddess turns to the right. At the end of the century the attribute towards athletics and their content is changed – the result of the game counts more than the competition itself – and consequently the representation of the athletic games is altered: the ideal athlete image is gone, the old vigor and grace are lost. During the Hellenistic and roman period the overall appearance of Panathenaic amphorae degenerates reflecting the decay of the times they belong to.