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Room 18: Greece: Parthenon 

Object details

Height: 67.31 cm
Width: 38 cm
Museum number: GR 1866,0415.249

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Panathenaic prize amphora of a
chariot race

Made in Athens about 410–400 BC, found at Taucheira in Cyrenaica, modern Libya

A prize for a victor at the Athenian games

This vase belongs to a distinctive type given as a prize to the winner of the chariot race in the ancient games held at Athens during the yearly festival known as the Panathenaia. The festival honoured Athena, the city's patron deity. The vase would have been one of 140, each containing 40 litres of olive oil, given to the winner.

Chariot racing was the most popular spectator sport in ancient times. Up to 40 chariots could compete in a race and crashes were common. The two turning posts at either end of the oblong course were the most dangerous parts of the track.

The painter of this vase has been highly successful in creating the illusion of speed as the chariot careers along. A quadriga chariot drawn by four horses is shown, the hair and tunic of the charioteer are blown back, and the manes and tails of the horses fly in the rush of air. The chariot is coming up to a post which may represent the turn or the finish of the race. Both moments would be climaxes.

While the sport for which the prize was given was shown on one side of these vessels, Athena herself was usually shown on the other side. On this one she wears a high-crested helmet, an elaborately decorated chiton (tunic), and her characteristic aegis, a snake-fringed poncho worn around her neck.

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