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Black-Figure Neck-Amphora
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Attributed to near the Medea Group
Greek, Athens, about 510 B.C.
Terracotta
14 3/16 x 6 3/8 in.
71.AE.441

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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.

This 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.