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In Ancient Greece the winners of the Panathenaic Games were given as prizes amphoras, containing as much as 10 gallons of olive oil

Alex A

In the modern Olympic games, the winners go home with gold medals. However, in Ancient Grece olive oil was equivalent to gold and the winners of the Panathenaic games which is an ancestor of the Olimpic games, went home with a large ceramic vessel filled with olive oil named “Panathenaic amphorae.”

Some of the amphorae were 70 cm in height and carried up to ten gallons of olive oil that came from the sacred grove of Athena. The amphorae had the characteristic shape of a narrow neck with tight handles and small base, decorated with standard black figure techniques.  The often depictions



Poseidon and Athena, miniature example (early fourth century BC) By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) - taken by Ricardo André Frantz, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Poseidon and Athena, miniature example (early fourth century BC) Photo Credit

The most usual depictions on the amphorae was of the Athena Promachos, the goddess wearing the aegis with a spear advancing between columns.  The back of the vessel represented the event for which was a prize. On many amphorae, on a top of the columns there is a depcition of  a rooster. The important of the birds remained an unsolved mystery.


musical-competition-pseudo-panathenaic-amphora-500-485-bc By Anonymous (Greece) - Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain,
musical-competition-pseudo-panathenaic-amphora-500-485-bc By  


The earliest known example is the Burgon amphora, on display in the British Museum,  which depicts Athena’s owl nestling on the neck of the jar and a synoris team on the reverse. This  could suggest that the vessel predates the festival’s reorganization in 566, since it is not an athletic event.

poseidon-and-athena-miniature-example-early-fourth-century-bc By Bulas Group (Greek) - Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain,


runners-ca-500-bc By English: Kleophrades Painter - Jastrow (2007), Public Domain,



the-burgon-amphora-ca-565-bce-bm-london By Burgon Group - Jastrow (2006), Public Domain,

As the time passed the profile of the amphorae became elongated and the decoration more sophisticated.  After 350BC 1450 Panathenaic amphorae were awarded every four years in the Greater Panathenaia.