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Two figures work over a cauldron with a ram in it.

The vessel has a shallow rim and symmetrical handles which are black and in red and black there are geometric floral and swirling designs on the neck and body of the vessel. In black on a red ground there are two robed figures working over a cauldron with sticks, the cauldron is suspended over flames. The front half of a ram sticks out of the top of the cauldron. There are more floral and geometric designs near the figures feet and at the base of the vessel.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Attributed to The Leagros Group, Greek (active 530-520 BCE)
Neck Amphora (storage jar): Medea Boiling a Ram
Work Type
c. 520 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Attica
Find Spot: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Vulci (Etruria)
Archaic period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

42.5 cm h x 28.2 cm diam. (16 3/4 x 11 1/8 in.)

State, Edition, Standard Reference Number

Standard Reference Number
Beazley Archive Database #4798

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Both sides of this vase depict an episode from the story of Medea, the daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis (in modern-day Georgia). When the Greek hero Jason came with the Argonauts to Colchis to get the Golden Fleece, Medea assisted them, and returned to Iolcus in Greece with Jason. Although King Pelias had promised to hand over the throne to Jason once he had retrieved the Fleece, he refused to do so. Medea devised a trick: she told Pelias’ daughters (the Peliades) that she could rejuvenate their elderly father, and proved this by boiling a ram in a cauldron and turning it into a lamb. The Peliades were convinced, and did the same thing to their father, killing him.

This vase depicts the moment when Medea boiled the ram for the Peliades. The two sides of this vase are very similar, although we can identify one of the four female figures as Medea because of the object she is carrying.

On one side: Medea and one of the daughters of Pelias stand around a ram cooking in a cauldron. The woman on the left carries a short stick with a palmette-tip in her left hand, which is either a wand or an ingredient she is adding to the cauldron, and suggests that she is probably the sorceress Medea. Her right hand tugs at her skirt. She, like the other three women, wears a tunic (chiton) and a cloak (himation) decorated with white and red dots, and has long wavy hair and a red fillet worn around her head. She and the other women would have had their skin painted in added white; most of this now has been lost and the facial features of the women are no longer visible.

Medea’s pose closely resembles a kore statue, a type of marble statue of a woman which was common in Athens at the time this vase was made, with a standardized pose holding up a fruit or other object in her left hand, while her right pulls at her skirt.

Between the two figures is the cauldron (lebes), which sits on a tripod over a fire, which is depicted with strokes of added red coming from a pile of lumpy logs. The front half of the ram comes out of the top of the cauldron. It is clearly still a ram and not the rejuvenated lamb because of its horns, although these were painted in added white which has now mostly flaked off the vase.

On the right is another woman, presumably a daughter of Pelias. Her back faces away from the viewer, and her cloak is draped over both of her shoulders, instead of just one like Medea. She seems to gesture at the ram in the cauldron with her left hand, perhaps remarking at the sorceress’ skill. There are vines trailing through the background of the scene.

On the other side: the composition is almost identical with the ram in the cauldron in the center, surrounded by two onlooking women. The woman on the left gestures towards the cauldron with her left hand and wears her cloak over her left shoulder. The woman on the right reaches out to touch the ram, and wears her cloak over both shoulders, and, somewhat unrealistically, draped over her chest too. These two women are presumably both daughters of Peleus.

The sides of the neck are decorated with a lotus and palmette chain, a band of black tongues decorates the top of the shoulder, and below the ground line, which is a single black line, there is a band of lotus framed by double lines, while below this, above the foot, there is a band of rays. Below the handles, between the two figural scenes there is a symmetrical decorative pattern of palmettes with coiling tendrils and lotus.

On the bottom of the foot there is an incised trademark, XX.
No other black-figure vase depicts this subject on both sides, and the subject is more common on one-sided shapes, like wine jugs (oinochoai) and oil flasks (lekythoi). Other versions of this subject include Pelias watching the rejuvenation of the ram (such as the hydria London B328, BAPD 302037), and usually Medea is differentiated from the Peliades because she is holding a vessel, presumably containing some magic ingredient (as on the oinochoe Louvre F372, BAPD 330879), rather than the stick she carries here. A particularly close parallel is Kurashiki 31, BAPD 3494, like the Harvard vase a neck amphora attributed to the Leagros Group, where, however, the ram-boiling scene decorates only one side, and features three, rather than two, female figures.

Publication History

  • Maya Vojatzi, Frühe Argonautenbilder, Konrad Triltsch Verlag, pp. 95-6.
  • David M. Robinson, Unpublished Greek Vases in the Robinson Collection, American Journal of Archaeology (1956), 60.1, 1-25, pp. 12-13, pl. 9, figs. 42-3.
  • Hugo Meyer, Medeia und die Peliaden: Eine attische Novelle und ihre Entstehung. Ein Versuch zur Sagenforschung auf archäologischer Grundlage, L'Erma di Bretschneider (Rome, 1980), pp. 18-20, pl. 2
  • Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Artemis (Zürich, Switzerland, 1999), Vol. 7, Peliades 4.
  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask, ed., Approaches to teaching the dramas of Euripides, The Modern Language Association of America (New York, 2002), cover
  • Alan W. Johnston, Trademarks on Greek Vases: Addenda, Aris and Phillips (Warminster, England, 2006), p. 105, Type 19B, 9.

Exhibition History

  • The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/23/2019 - 05/13/2019

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at