Military of ancient Greece

Military and Naval Subjects Depicted on Pottery

Subjects of a military character on vases are chiefly confined to three—the arming of warriors, their setting out in chariots, on horseback, or on foot, and combats of two or more figures. In all these cases we are confronted with the often-recurring difficulty as to when such subjects have a mythological significance. Especially on B.F. vases, familiar types—such as the departure of Hector or the combat of Achilles and Memnon, to be identified in other cases by inscriptions—occur again and again in the same form, only diversified by the varying number of bystanders, which is generally regulated by the space at the painter's disposal. Even when names are added they are often of a fanciful kind; and thus, for instance, we find combats between Homeric heroes which have no counterpart in literary record.

In the scenes of warriors arming we may note certain motives as recurring with more or less frequency—such as that of a warrior putting on his greaves, helmet, or cuirass (Fig. 137), or lacing up his helmet. Kindred subjects are that of a warrior taking his shield out of his case, or an archer drawing an arrow from his quiver, testing an arrow, or stringing his bow. We may also note the rarer occurrence of such scenes as the harnessing of a chariot () or the equipping of a war-horse. In the departure scenes the usual type on B.F. vases is that of a four-horse chariot to the right, which the warrior is mounting or has mounted; a woman sometimes give him drink, and an old man stands at the horses' heads. This “type” is used for the departure of Amphiaraos (cf. Berlin 1655), Hector, or other heroes. It is sometimes varied by placing the quadriga to the front. Or, again, the warrior is seen on horseback, accompanied by his groom, or a company on foot set out in marching array. On later vases the more usual version is that of a warrior receiving a libation or “stirrup-cup” from a woman before his departure, but the same scenes might be interpreted as referring to his successful return. Unmistakable instances of the return are those scenes where he receives a crown, or is brought back as a corpse by his comrades. There are scenes representing warriors taking oaths or omens at a tomb, or omens by the inspection of the liver of a victim, all before departure for battle; and single figures are countless, especially inside R.F. kylikes.

From Hoppin .
FIG. 137. WARRIOR ARMING; SCYTHIAN ARCHERS (AMPHORA BY EUTHYMIDES
IN MUNICH).

Among the various scenes incident to warfare may be mentioned an ambuscade, a wounded warrior dragged out of battle, a warrior protecting himself from darts, the capture of a prisoner,warriors carrying dead bodies, or human heads as trophies of victory. Besides single figures of warriors, heralds, trumpeters, slingers, and archers often appear; or representations of the armour of a warrior; or of the Δοκιμασία or parade of Athenian knights. Of a somewhat burlesque character is a scene depicting warriors riding on ostriches and dolphins.


Naval scenes are very rare, but we find occasional early representations of sea-fights, as on the Dipylon vases, the vessels on which appear to be biremes. On the B.F. and R.F. vases we find war-galleys or merchant-vessels, usually in places suitable for a row of ships—such as the outer edge of a kylix or the broad rim of a deinos  or large bowl. These are specially common on vases of “mixed” technique. The subject of “keel-hauling,” the punishment administered to refractory sailors, must also find a place here.