The J. Paul Getty Museum

Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora

Object Details


Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora


Attributed to the Medea Group (Greek (Attic), active 530 - 510 B.C.)


Greek (Attic)


Athens, Greece (Place Created)


about 510 B.C.



Object Number:



36.2 × 23.5 cm (14 1/4 × 9 1/4 in.)

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Object Description

Achilles and Ajax, two great heroes of the Trojan War, play a board game on this Athenian black-figure amphora. Behind the table stands the goddess Athena. The scene of the warriors at leisure but with their armor at the ready might have taken place during a break in fighting the Trojan War.

The episode is not known from literary sources, but the depiction of Ajax and Achilles gaming was especially popular in Athenian art in the late 500s B.C.; over 150 surviving vases show the scene. Why was this image so popular? Some scholars have argued that it was politically motivated. They interpret this scene as a mythical parallel for the tyrant Peisistratos's return from exile, when he was able to regain power because the Athenian army was unprepared for battle. If so, then these vases would be anti-Peisistratid propaganda, alerting Athenians to the importance of vigilance by reminding them of the consequences of their recent failure.

The back of the vase shows a warrior departing for battle, standing between two old men. This was a common scene on vases and, in this case, a subject loosely connected with the scene on the front of the vase.

- 1971

Royal Athena Galleries, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1971.

Poets and Heroes (November 4, 1986 to February 28, 1987)
  • Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University (Atlanta), November 4, 1986 to February 28, 1987
Modern Antiquity: Picasso, de Chirico, Léger and Picabia in the Presence of the Antique (November 2, 2011 to May 20, 2012)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa (Malibu), November 2, 2011 to January 16, 2012
  • Musee Picasso (Antibes), February 16 to May 20, 2012

Mommsen, Heide. "Achill und Aias pflichtvergessen?" In Tainia: Roland Hampe zum 70, Geburtstag am 2. Dezember 1978. Herbert Cahn and Erika Simon, eds., vol. 1. (Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1980), p. 141, no. 2.

Woodford, Susan. "Ajax and Achilles Playing a Game on an Olpe in Oxford." The Journal of Hellenic Studies 102 (1982), p. 182, no. C13, pl. IVa.

Wescoat, Bonna D., ed. Poets and Heroes: Scenes of the Trojan War. Exh. cat, Emory University Museum of Art and Archaeology. Atlanta: 1986, pp. 48-49, no. 12, ill.

Green, Christopher, and Jens M. Daehner. Modern Antiquity: Picasso, de Chirico, Leger, and Picabia (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011), 45, 152, no. 5; pl. 3.