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Room 71: Etruscan world 

Object details

Height: 42 cm
Museum number: GR 1847,0806.26

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Black-figured 'Tyrrhenian' amphora showing athletes and a combat scene

Greek, but made for the Etruscan market, 540 BC, found near Rome

This vase has one of the best surviving depictions of the long-jump event at the ancient Olympic Games.

The athlete is shown on the shoulder of the vase, and is captured in mid-jump, while to the right a trainer urges him on. Beneath the jumper are pegs, which may record his previous jumps or those of other athletes.

In the ancient long jump athletes carried weights that were swung forward on take-off and back just before landing. It’s often said that the weights increased the length of the jump, but it is more likely that they were there for use as a deliberate handicap. Most ancient sport developed as a means of training for warfare, and this exercise would simulate a jump carrying kit. Skill in this sport would be useful for crossing a stream or ravine.

The vase has other scenes related to ancient sporting events, including a discus thrower. To the jumper’s left there is an athlete holding what are possibly javelins and two wrestlers are also shown.

The other side of the amphora shows warriors fighting over the body of a fallen comrade, while below there are friezes of animals and mythological beasts, including sirens, sphinxes, panthers, swans, goats, cocks and rams.

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J Swaddling, The Ancient Olympic Games (London, The British Museum Press, 2011)

HB Walters, EJ Forsdyke, CH Smith, Catalogue of Vases in the British Museum, I-IV, (London, The British Museum Press, 1893)