Panathenaic amphora

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Athena on a Panathenic amphora (National Archaeological Museum of Athens)

Panathenaic amphorae were the large ceramic vessels that contained the oil (some 10 gallons, and 60-70 cms high) given as prizes in the Panathenaic Games. This olive oil came from the sacred grove of Athena at Akademia; the amphorae which held it had the distinctive form of tight handles, narrow neck and feet and were decorated in a standard form using the black figure technique, and continued to be so long after the black figure style had fallen out of fashion. Some Panathenaic amphorae depicted Athena Promachos, goddess of war, advancing between columns brandishing a spear and wearing the aegis, and next to her the inscription τον αθενεθεν αθλον "(one) of the prizes from Athens". On the back of the vase was a representation of the event for which it was an award. Sometimes roosters are depicted perched on top of the columns: the significance of these is an open question. Later amphorae also had that year's archon's name written on it making finds of the vases archaeologically important.

The Burgon amphora ca. 565 BCE, BM, London.

The vases were commissioned by the state from the leading pottery workshops of the day in large numbers. Their canonical shape was set by 530 BCE, but the earliest known example we have is the Burgon amphora (British Museum, B130) which depicts Athena's owl nestling on the vase's neck and on the reverse a synoris team; this may mean it predates the festival's reorganization in 566 since it is not an athletic event. The cock column is first seen on a panathenaic by Exekias (Karlsruhe 65.45). By the early 4th century we witness the inclusion of the archon's name, the earliest almost intact one being Asteios 373/2 BCE. (Oxford, 1911.257). However there is a fragment that bears the name Hippodamas of 375/4 BCE which may also be a panathenaic, and Beazley suggests there may be a preceding one; Pythokles of 392/1.[1] As the century progresses the profile of the vases becomes elongated and the decoration more mannered. The last dated vase is from 312/11, though production continues into the 3rd and 2nd centuries the archons are no longer named, instead we have recorded the treasurers and stewards of the games. Some vases were used as grave goods by the victor's families, some dedicated to sanctuaries and others still sold on[2] hence their wide distribution in the Greek world.

The survival rate of Greek pottery as a whole may be calculated from the remnant of panathenaic amphorae come down to us. After approximately 350 BCE at least 1450 vases were awarded every four years in the greater Panathenaia. Assuming the number of events was consistent throughout the history of the games and that all prizes were in the form of decorated amphora we can divide the number of unique vases known to us by the total production run, giving us the figure of 0.25% of all Greek vases are still extant.


  1. ^ J. D. Beazley: Development of Attic Black-Figure, 1986, p. 89.
  2. ^ The public record of the goods sold off by the state after Alcibiades's disgrace has been partially preserved, IG I3 422.21, 41-60, includes mention of 102 panathenaics, Broadman (ABFV, p.170) suggests these sold for on average half a drachma each. See also AW Johnston, Trade Marks on Greek Vases, 1979.


  • John Boardman: Athenian Black Figure Vases, London 1974.
  • Jenifer Neils:Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens, Hood Museum of Art, 1992.
  • Martin Bentz: Panathenäische Preisamphoren: eine athenische Vasengattung und ihre Funktion vom 6. - 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. Basel, Vereinigung der Freunde Antiker Kunst 1998. (Antike Kunst: Beihefte; 18) ISBN 3-909064-18-3
  • Martin Bentz; Norbert Eschbach (Hrsg.): Panathenaïka : Symposion zu den Panathenäischen Preisamphoren, Rauischholzhausen 25.11. - 29.11.1998. Mainz, Zabern 2001. ISBN 3-8053-2708-0
  • S. A. Callisen: The Iconography of the Cock on the Column, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Jun., 1939), pp. 160-178