Achilles and Ajax Playing Dice

Achilles and Ajax Playing Dice

Artist Exekias

Date ca. 540-530 BCE

Movement Greek

Medium Black-figured amphora

Height 2′

Housed at Vatican Museums


A rise of Attican potters began to follow in the Corinthian suit, and contributed greatly to a growing pottery export industry, much of which was consumed by the Etruscans. Using the technique of painting black figures against a red background, then carving and painting over them with purple hues, potters of this era were able to create vivid and highly detailed designs. Here, the spears of Achilles and Ajax, their arms and their gazes help focalize the scene around their game of dice; though it is a scene of relaxation, their tense postures insinuate their readiness to spring to battle at a moment’s notice; though Achilles appears to dominate the scene with his helmet, he would be, according to legend, the first of the two to die in battle.