Athenian Black-Figure Pottery Oil Jar Showing Runners

First Floor, Gallery 33, Case 10


Focus on the Object

This amphora of Panathenaic shape dates from the 6th-5th century BC. Pots of this type were made to hold oil, for which athletes competed at the Olympic Games in Athens. Up to 140 amphorae of oil were awarded to the winner of the chariot race!

The ‘Black-Figure’ Technique:

The decoration you can see is known as the ‘black-figure’ technique. This term refers to the colour of the men’s skin which turned black during the firing process. If you look closely, you can see where incisions were made to create details on the men’s bodies. By 520-450BC the ‘red figure’ technique became popular and the process was reversed whereby the skin was left red and the background was fired black. Both techniques evoked those of figured metalwork.

The Runners:

The runners depicted are taking part in the stadion (foot race). They would begin at a starting line of carved stones placed across the track, or a simple line in the sand. Trumpeters gave the signal to start and also announced the winners at the finish. The finish was judged by eye and only first place was awarded. As depicted on the amphora, the athletes ran naked, though in early times a loin-cloth was worn. The stadion was one of the events at the Olympic Games.