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by Archaeology Newsroom

Pyrrhic female dances in Ancient Greek iconography

The pyrrhic dance was an ancient Greek martial dance. It was the national dance of Sparta and a game of the Great and Minor Panathenaea in Athens, where it was performed by young male dancers and accompanied by music. It is a magnificent and impressive dance with an educational character. According to ancient written sources, the goddess Athena was the only deity who performed the pyrrhic dance.

However, in certain very interesting representations on pottery the pyrrhic dance is also performed by women but in different places and for a different purpose. The main period of representation of the pyrrhic dance performed by women is the twenty years between 440 and 420 BC, although the women’s dance is less often mentioned in written sources than the pyrrhic dance performed by men. The pyrrhic theme decorates ten shapes of pottery, mainly those in use during symposia and also used by women in their everyday life. The pyrrhic female dance appears on pottery in three variations; that of the exercising of dancers,the entertainment of men at symposia or of women in their quarters,and performance of the dance in context of the cult of the goddess Artemis. In all three variations it is a “mimic” dance. The women dancers try to represent a battle in its various phases. Their weapons are not always real ones, the dance performance is clearly individual and the existence of the adversary is purely intellectual- As far as the connection of the dance with the cult of Artemis is concerned, the pyrrhic dance is probably the revival of an older martial dance that was performed in the sanctuaries of the goddess, who is related to battles.