Silver libation bowl (phiale) with chariots

Greek, around 300 BC
Made in southern Italy; found at Eze, Alpes-Maritimes, southern France

Chariots of the gods

Shallow bowls such as this, with a round central boss, were used for making libations (liquid offerings) to the gods. This beautifully decorated example has five four-horse chariots in relief. Each is driven by a winged Nike, or Victory. In four of the chariots are deities, recognizable by what they wear or hold. Thus Athena, goddess of wisdom but also a warrior, has a helmet and shield; Ares, bearded god of war, has a shield; Hermes has his characteristic caduceus (a snake-entwined staff) and Dionysos his thyrsos.

The fifth chariot carries the hero Herakles with his club, and this gives the clue to the scene, which represents Herakles being taken to Olympus to join the ranks of the gods. The hero was half-human, half-divine by birth, but, according to the legend, Zeus, his father, would not allow him to die like a mortal man. Instead at the end of his life on earth he underwent an apotheosis, or change into a god, and subsequently lived as one of the immortals for ever.

Vessels of this type influenced contemporary pottery, which was frequently mould-made and decorated to imitate metalwork.

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Diameter: 20.600 cm
Weight: 393.600 g

Museum number

GR 1891.6-27.3 (Silver 8)



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