Panathenaic amphoras

The victors of the Great Panathenaia received as prize beautifully painted pitchers filled with olive oil, the so-called Panathenaic amphoras. On one side of these amphoras, the goddess Athena was depicted between two Doric columns surmounted by a cock. Next to the picture was written that the vase was one of the prizes of the city of Athens. The other site pictured the event won by the athlete. The style of the vases was somewhat archaic: they were always in the black-figured style (black people against a red background), long after other ceramics had gone over to the red-figured style (red people against a black background).

The amphora was filled with almost 40 liter of first class olive oil. This was the actual prize. This olive oil was very valuable, mainly because of the large quantity. The athletes received from 6 to 140 pitchers. The number depended on the event, the age-category and the place (first or second). An inscription from the early fourth century lists the number of pitchers for each victor, showing that the horse races were most appreciated , and that adults always received more than boys.

For Athens the pitchers were an important form of publicity. As the athletes received far more oil than they needed for personal use, they sold a part of their prize. In this way the amphoras got widely dispersed. In this way, Athens was everywhere known as a prosperous city that could afford to give valuable prizes to athletes.

© KU Leuven, 2012