Archaeological Museum of Bologna

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A pair of Attic Panathenaic amphorae

These large ceramic amphorae were prizes given to the winners of athletic competitions in the Great Panathenaic Games. The Games were only part of a larger religious occasion, the Great Panathenaea, held every four years in Athens, in Ancient Greece, in honour of Athena, the name-sake of the event and patron goddess of the city. The Great Panathenaea incorporated a religious festival, a ceremony – including prize giving – sport competitions, and cultural events hosted within a stadium. The prize of the Athenian games, however, wasn’t the vessels themselves, but, more exactly, their content: the choicest olive oil of Attic production.
Athena always appears on the front side of these vessels, which were only decorated using the black figure technique; she would carry her helmet, spear and shield, standing between two little Doric pillars, surmounted by roosters. On the example preserved at the Archaeological Museum of Bologna, there is also a Greek inscription depicted by the side of the left pillar: “ton Athenethen athlon” (“(one) of the prizes from the games in Athens”). On the other hand, the award ceremony of the winners, who excelled at a certain discipline, is represented on the opposite side. In this case, the amphora is given as the prize for a race competition between two youngsters, while a third lad, which has already been crowned a winner, is conversing with a back judge.

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It is still difficult to ascertain the reason why these Panathenaic amphorae were discovered so frequently inside Etruscan tombs. They might imply, in fact, that Etruscan athletes participated in Greek sport competitions, or they might simply be consumer goods, purchasable like any other, possibly connected with the trade of Athenian oil, which was considerably appreciated in Etruria. Both of these amphorae, attributed to the “Painter of Achilles”, were part of a sumptuous female’s interment, in which grave goods comprised several references to Greek athletic ideals.

Provenance: Bologna, Arnoaldi Necropolis, tomb 110, also known as “Tomb of Panathenaic Amphorae”
Datation: 440 – 435 B.C.
Material: Ceramic
Dimensions: Height: 63 cm
Inventory #: 18039-18040

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