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Exploring ancient Greek religion
Exploring ancient Greek religion

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4.5 Picturing the dismount competitions: the visual evidence

The inclusion of the chariot dismount competition at the Great Amphiaraia and the Panathenaia meant that the event was important to both festivals. In fact, the evidence of an ancient Greek grammarian of the second century CE implies that the chariot dismount competition was celebrated only by the people of Athens and Oropos. As you learned in Part 2 of Activity 9, the competition spoke to the mythological tradition of Amphiaraos and Athens’ patron goddess, Athena. With this in mind, you now return to close analysis of visual evidence, this time to consider how it might shine light on the political importance of religious practice.

Ancient Greek temples had similar architectural elements. This image shows you the location of the Parthenon frieze, a decorative band located above the architrave of the temple. Friezes were made up of rectangular architectural features, known as metopes, which often had painted of sculptured decoration. This image also shows you the location of the temple’s pediment, a form of gable usually of triangular shape.
Figure 10 Drawing of the Parthenon at Athens, showing the location of the frieze and other architectural elements.

Activity 10

Timing: Allow around 30 minutes for this activity

Examine the following three artefacts (Figures 11, 12 and 13) which depict the chariot dismount competition. Figures 11 and 12 show the artistic representations of two sections of the Parthenon frieze (this is a continuous decorative band made up of rectangular panels visible from the outside of a temple: see Figure 10). As you learned in Activity 9 Part 1, the Parthenon frieze consisted of scenes believed to depict scenes from the Panathenaia. Figure 13 is a relief which was dedicated to Amphiaraos at the Amphiareion by an unknown individual after his success in the chariot dismount competition.

  1. Using the image descriptions to help you, list two or three similarities and two or three differences between the Parthenon scenes on the one hand (Figures 11 and 12) and the Amphiareion scene on the other (Figure 13). Differences to look out for include:
    • their state of preservation
    • the posture and position of the figures such as the charioteer(s) and the apobates (that is, the athlete who will dismount from the moving chariot)
    • the nature of the scene depicted
    You will also find it useful to think about what moment you think has been captured in each scene.
  2. If it weren’t for the image captions, would you be able to tell which monuments came from the Parthenon and which came from the Amphiareion?
On this and the next block are two chariots each with apobates [the athlete who dismounts the moving chariot], charioteer and two marshals. A marshal is frontal to the viewer, striding to the left while turning back to give a signal of some sort with his raised right hand. With his left hand he holds up his richly folded himation [a type of cloak] which has just slipped from his right shoulder leaving his body virtually nude. To the left, almost touching the marshal, is the apobates. He wears a helmet and exomis [a short, sleeveless, garment which left one shoulder bare], his shield hangs by a strap over his back and he has just leapt onto the chariot, which is driven by a very small charioteer.
Figure 11 Parthenon frieze, N XXIII.
On this block is another chariot with apobates [the athlete who dismounts the moving chariot], charioteer and a marshal. Preserved are the left hand of the apobates, grasping the chariot he has just mounted, and the lower part of the body and the forearm of the charioteer holding the reins. Behind the horses stands a marshal, head missing, turning in opposite direction to the course of the chariots.
Figure 12 Parthenon frieze, N XXIV
Chariot with a nude apobates [the athlete who dismounts the moving chariot] armed with a helmet and shield alongside his charioteer, possibly set up by a victor at the Great Amphiaraia.
Figure 13 Dedicatory relief from the Amphiareion, fourth century BCE.
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  1. The most obvious difference is that the two metopes from the Parthenon frieze are fragmentary whereas the relief from the Amphiareion is almost perfectly preserved. All three artefacts depict horse-drawn chariots with their apobates (that is, the athlete who will dismount from the moving chariot) and charioteers, but the scenes from the Parthenon frieze appear to capture the ‘action’ of the competition that bit more. Indeed, one of the images from the Parthenon frieze depicts the apobates as he once again mounts his chariot (Figure 11) and both Parthenon monuments also show the marshal offering signals as guidance throughout the event. The Amphiareion relief (Figure 13), on the other hand, appears to show a slightly more relaxed scene which may represent the victory of the dedicant rather than the battle of the contest itself. The charioteer in this relief is noticeably not looking straight ahead but towards the viewer while the apobates almost leans on his chariot in a more relaxed way.
  2. If it weren’t for the image captions (and other small differences, such as the colour of the marble) you might not have been able to distinguish which scenes were from the Parthenon, and therefore represented the chariot dismount competition at the Panathenaia, and which depicted the event celebrated at the Amphiaraia.