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A man lays on the ground while two others sit near him.

The vessel is black with a tall neck, wide spout and two handles on the body of the vessel. In red, a figure lays on the ground while two other figures kneel and sit near him. There is a shield with a helmet sitting on it near the head of the man laying on the floor. There are geometric motifs along the upper rim of the vessel and bordering the scene.

Gallery Text

This vessel calls attention to the importance of proper burial. The heroes of the Iliad are afraid that their bodies will lie unburied in the battlefield, ripped apart by dogs and vultures. Trojan Hector escapes this fate when his father, Priam, ransoms his body from the Greek hero Achilles. In this rendering, the wounds and tied ankles of Hector’s body recall how Achilles dragged it behind his chariot. The prominent corpse identifies the scene for the viewer and is appropriate for a water jar: washing the body was an essential part of Greek funerary ritual. In the narrative of the Iliad, in contrast, Hector’s corpse remains hidden while Priam and Achilles converse. Telling a story in word and image requires different strategies. In this image, every element is significant. Achilles’ dinner knife lends him an air of brutality, and the armor on the right evokes the events preceding the ransom.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
The Pioneer Group, Greek (active early 6th century BCE )
Hydria (water jar): The Ransom of Hector
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Attic Red-figure Hydria: The Ransom of Hector
Work Type
510-500 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Athens (Attica)
Archaic period
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3410, South Arcade
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

38.1 cm h x 38 cm diam at handles (15 x 14 15/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: in Greek, "Priamos"


Recorded Ownership History
[Munzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, Auction 34, lot 149], sold; to Frederick M. Watkins, New Haven, CT, (1967-1972), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1972.

State, Edition, Standard Reference Number

Standard Reference Number
Beazley Archive Database #352403

Acquisition and Rights

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

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Red-figure hydria (kalpis). The vessel is intact with restorations on one side of the mouth and one side handle. In the figural panel is restricted to the shoulder and depicts the ransom of Hector. A dead Hector lies under a table in the center of the scene, having just been drug behind Achilles's chariot. His ankles are still bound and his body is covered with bleeding wounds. To the right are Achilles's shield Above the body, Achilles lounges on a dining couch, still holding his food that drips with blood. At the left is Priam who lunges towards Achilles, asking for the release of Hector's body.

Between Priam and Achilles is the inscription in Greek "Priamos." Several additional inscriptions on the vase are meaningless.

The figural scene is framed on the top and sides by a knotted-net border and on the bottom by a band of dentils. Below the framed scene runs a wide band of palmettes. Added red is used for the inscriptions as well as several details (Achilles's fillet, blood on Hector's body and dripping from the meat).
The vase depicts events from the Iliad (XXIV 475-478) in which Priam, the king of Troy, visits Achilles's camp to beg for the body of his son, Hector. In a brutal act, Achilles killed Hector, dragging his body behind a chariot. Though full of emotion, the scene is relatively rare on painted vases.

The vase itself is an example of early red-figure style, indicated by the combination of profile and frontal figures and limited use of diluted glaze.

Publication History

  • The Frederick M. Watkins Collection, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1973)
  • George M. A. Hanfmann and David Gordon Mitten, "The Art of Classical Antiquity", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 362-369, fig. 8.
  • David Gordon Mitten and Amy Brauer, Dialogue with Antiquity, The Curatorial Achievement of George M. A. Hanfmann, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 12, no. 17.
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 103, no. 113, ill.
  • James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 98-99, ill.
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Artemis (Zürich, Switzerland, 1999), Achilleus 655.
  • Luca Zoppi, "Reinventing the Iliad", The Word, ed. Sarah MacDonald, Boylan Group (Drogheda, 2004), Vol. 53/No. 9, p. 23
  • Sheramy D. Bundrick, Selling Sacrifice on Classical Athenian Vases, Hesperia, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Athens, 2014), vol. 83, no. 4, pp. 653-708, pp. 673-674, fig. 6
  • Sara Chiarini, The So-called Nonsense Inscriptions on Ancient Greek Vases: Between Paideia and Paidia, Brill Academic Publishers (Leiden) (Leiden, The Netherlands, 2018), pp. 308-9

Exhibition History

  • Attic Vase Painting in New England Collections, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 03/01/1972 - 04/05/1972
  • The Frederick M. Watkins Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/31/1973 - 03/14/1973
  • Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982
  • To Bid Farewell: Images of Death in the Ancient World, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence
  • Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 3410 South Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

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