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Detroit 50.193

Attic Black-Figure Panathenaic Amphora The Asteios Group ca. 375-370 B.C.

Lent by The Detroit Institute of Arts; gift of the Founders Society, General Membership Fund (50.193).

Ex collections: Richard Norton and Charles Morley. From near Benghazi, Libya.

The Vase: h. with lid 84.6 cm; h. without lid 70.5 cm; d. of mouth 22.1 cm; max. d. of body 37.5 cm; d. of foot 16.2 cm. Complete; vase and lid broken and mended; white of Athena's flesh and hem of her drapery retouched; incision of figures of runners appears to have been emphasized in white paint. The lid does not seem to belong to the vase. Flaring mouth; raised fillet at junction of neck and body; round handles; convex foot with deep groove directly below upper edge. Decoration in black glaze on orange ground. Mouth, handles, lower part of body, and foot glazed black; top of mouth reserved; glazed within to base of neck. On the neck, a double lotus-and-palmette frieze; above the figure scenes, long black enclosed tongues. Pictures set in panels, framed by dilute glaze lines. The black-glazed lid is surmounted by an acorn-shaped knob above a raised fillet; the edge and interior of the lid are reserved.

Decoration: Side A: Athena, wearing a high-crested Attic helmet, a chiton, an ependytes, and the aegis, strides to left. In her raised right hand, she holds a spear; on her left arm is a round shield, the device (scarcely visible) a floral wreath surrounding a small quatrefoil. Doric columns on either side of the goddess support figures of bearded men, each draped from the waist down in a himation and holding a cornucopia or drinking-horn in the left hand and a thyrsos in the right. Beside the column at left runs the inscription ΤΟΝ ΑΘΕΕΘΕΝ ΑΘΛΟΝ ("a prize from the games at Athens") in stoichedon form. Side B: foot-race of four men moving to right, with none of their feet touching the ground. Added white: Side A: flesh of Athena, wave-pattern on the hem, and dots concentrated near the waist of her ependytes; device and dots on rim of her shield.

This vase is one of the three Panathenaic prize amphorae which Beazley assigned to the Asteios Group (ABV, 412). The other two members of the group are Oxford 572, from Athens, inscribed with the archon's name Asteios (CVA, GB 14, Oxford 3, pl. 28, 4-7), and Alexandria 18239, from Cyrenaica, which bears the name of the archon Phrasikleides. No two of these amphorae are by the same hand. The approximate date of manufacture of the vases, ca. 375-370 B.C., is given by the archon inscriptions written beside the right-hand columns on the amphorae in Oxford and Alexandria. Asteios was eponymous archon in the year 373/372, Phrasikleides in the year 371/370.

Early in the fourth century, the Panathenaic prize amphorae began to be inscribed with the name of the archon for the year, a practice perhaps prescribed by law, which enables us to date the vases.1 The year, however, is not that of the Panathenaic Games at which the amphora was awarded but the one in which the oil it contained was collected. The Panathenaic amphora in Detroit is unusual in that it does not bear an archon inscription. We have other Panathenaics without the inscription, for example, one in the British Museum signed by the potter Kittos (ABV, 413, middle, and below, no. 1); they may have been intended as competition samples or as souvenirs of the Panathenaic Games, rather than as actual prizes.

Another innovation of the fourth century has to do with the figures on top of the columns. Before that time, they were cocks, symbols of Athena's fighting spirit. But early in the fourth century, at about the time of the introduction of the archon inscriptions, the cocks disappear, and their place is taken by small mythological or human figures, often reproducing a statue group. The column symbols, as they are called, change from year to year and thus serve as a clue to the dating of the vase. The symbols on the Panathenaic amphora in Detroit are figures of men draped from the waist down in himatia; in the left hand, they hold either a cornucopia or a large drinking-horn, in the right hand, a thyrsos. This author has not been able to locate parallels to the figures, whose identity remains a puzzle. They do not appear to be gods but rather magistrates holding the attributes of divinities: the thyrsos of Dionysos and the cornucopia, which might refer to Demeter or Ploutos, or the drinking-horn, an attribute, like the thyrsos of Dionysos. The association may well be with the Eleusinian Mysteries, which at the time were under the control of Athens. A Panathenaic amphora in New York, belonging to the Kittos Group and dated by its archon inscription 367/366, also bears symbols which refer to Eleusis (Para., 177, below, no. 3). On top of the Ionic columns, there are small figures of Triptolemos seated in a winged chariot drawn by snakes. The name-piece of the Asteios Group, Oxford 572, in contrast, has symbols which clearly refer to Athens: figures of Nike holding an aphlaston, the stern of the trireme. Since the symbols for any given year are the same, it would be possible to date the Panathenaic amphora in Detroit more closely if we could find another amphora from the same time with identical symbols and an archon inscription.

The reverse of a Panathenaic amphora usually carries a representation of the event for which the vase was awarded. On the Detroit amphora, the event is the men's foot-race, the long-distance rather than the sprint to tell from the long, easy stride of the runners. A similar representation appears on the Panathenaic amphora in New York of the Kittos Group, referred to above. In both pictures, the runners are shown in the old-fashioned scheme with the left leg and left arm advanced. The vase-painters certainly understood correct opposition, with diagonal arm-leg movement, for it appears on Panathenaic amphorae of the fifth century. But the artists of the amphorae in Detroit and New York have rejected the natural pose for one which goes back to black-figure vases of the sixth century. The Asteios amphora in Oxford shows on its very fragmentary reverse a scene of wrestlers with a trainer or judge and was thus a prize for wrestling. The subject of side B of the Panathenaic in Alexandria is a victor, in which event we cannot tell.

Of the three members of the Asteios Group, the Panathenaic amphora in Detroit is by far the best preserved. It is also the most interesting and provocative, because of the puzzling nature of the figures atop the columns and the absence of an archon inscription. Additional study of this very fine vase would yield a better understanding not only of the work itself but also of Panathenaic amphorae of the fourth century, a subject which cries for further exploration.


F. W. Robinson, "Recent Acquisitions of Ancient and Medieval Art," Bulletin of The Detroit Institute of Arts, 31 (1951-2) 65; ABV, 412, below, no. 3; F. J. Cummings and C. H. Elam (eds.), The Detroit Institute of Arts Illustrated Handbook (Detroit 1971) 10 and 33.

Evelyn Bell, The University of California, Berkeley

1 "Archon names on Panathenaic prize vases do not begin before 373/2 B.C., hence hardly 'early in the fourth century'." (Letter of Dietrich von Bothmer to Warren G. Moon, 15 Feb. 1980)

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