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Work Panathenaic black-figure amphora

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Amphore panathénaïque

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Marmois-Sicsic Sophie

Panathenaic amphorae were made from the mid-6th century BC until the end of the Hellenistic period, for the festival of the Great Panathenaea. They contained oil from the sacred olive trees of Athena, and were commissioned by the city authorities as trophies to be presented to the winning athletes at the festival games. They are noted for their exceptional form, composition, and decoration (exclusively black-figure painting).

Panathenaic amphorae: victors' trophies

Panathenaic amphorae were presented as prizes to the winning athletes at the Panathenaic games, held in Athens every four years. From 566 BC onwards, the festival of the Great Panathenaea featured sporting events such as racing while armed, horse races, and musical competitions. At the major pan-Hellenic games, the victors were presented with woven wreaths, while winners at the Panathenaic games received amphorae containing oil from the sacred olive groves of the city's goddess, Athena. The discovery of a 4th-century BC inscription referring to the prizes has made it possible to estimate the number of vases produced for each festival at around 1,500. The quantity of amphorae awarded varied for each competition and age-group, hence the winner of the chariot race received 140 amphorae (around 5,000 liters of oil) while the winner of the horseback archery competition received only four. The vases and their contents could be re-sold by the winner - a lucrative activity, since according to Pindar, only winners of the Panathenaic games were allowed to export the sacred oil out of Attica. This may explain the widespread dissemination of these amphorae throughout the Greek world.

Panathenaic vases: products of the Attic workshops

Commissions to produce official amphorae were awarded to the workshops of the Kerameikos in Athens by the city authorities, on the basis of open competitions. The form and decoration of the amphorae were codified from the middle of the 6th century onwards, and remained unchanged until their production ceased. A great many vase-painters worked on their decoration, notably the Kleophrades Painter and the Berlin Painter, whose workshop marks often figure on Athena's shield (a gorgoneion for the Berlin Painter, for example). Panathenaic amphorae have broad, rounded bodies, slender necks and feet, and narrow, non-protruding handles. The decoration is exclusively black-figure, with one side depicting the winner's sporting discipline (in this case, the athlete was a hoplitodromos, competing in the a foot race while bearing arms). The second side always features a representation of Athena, wearing a helmet and armed with her lance and shield (the Athena Promachos, or "prepared for combat"), standing between two narrow pillars surmounted by cocks or - from the late 5th century BC - statues, often representing the victory goddess Nike, as here. From the second quarter of the 4th century BC (c. 363 BC), the goddess is no longer seen walking to the right, but changes direction, showing the inside of her shield.

Inscriptions on Panathenaic amphorae

Two inscriptions are written vertically down the columns flanking the figure of Athena. The phrase "tôn athenethen athlôn" (one of the prizes of Athens) is the vase's mark of authenticity as an official prize. In the 4th century BC, the vases also bore the name of the archon in charge of controlling the production of oil and vases for the Panathenaea. This allows the dating of the precise year of their manufacture, since lists of the Athenian magistrates concerned were kept from Hippodamas onwards (375-374 BC). The name of the archon Kephisodoros on the present vase dates it to the year 323-322 BC.


DENOYELLE M., Chefs d'oeuvre de la céramique grecque, 1994, p. 160,n 75.
Feuillet pédagogique n 3/24 : Le sport dans la Grèce antique.
Die Griechische Klassik, catalogue d'exposition, Berlin, 2002, p. 256, n 150.
BENTZ M., Les amphores panathénaïques : une étonnante longévité, in "Le vase dans tous ses états", catalogue d'exposition, Mariemont, 2003, p. 111-117.

Technical description

  • NIKOMACHOS group (attributed to)

    Amphore panathénaïque

    323 - 322 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Bengazi (Cyrénaïque)


  • Argile

    H. : 66,5 cm. ; D. : 32,6 cm.

  • Achat Vattier de Bourville, 1851 , 1851

    N° d’entrée MN 704 (N 3162)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Venus de Milo gallery
    Room 342

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Additional information about the work

On side A: tôn athenethen athlôn (one of the prizes of Athens)Name of the archon Kephisodoros