Pyrrhic dancing was a competition at the Panathenaea performed in armor (dancers above are only  wearing a shield) by teams of  young Athnenians representing their tribes.  This dance was believed to have been first performed by Athena herself in celebration of her and her fellow Olympians' epic victory over the Giants.1  As with the athletic contests, there were three separate pyrrhic dancing contests, each for one of the three age categories (boys, beardless, men). The prize in all three contests was a bull and 100 drachmas (about $5600). The dancers in a kind of ballet performed various offensive and defensive movements derived from warfare. The clothed figure on the far left in the second image is the sponsor who, as part of his civic responsibility, paid for the training of pyrrhic dancers from one tribe. The bas relief is from the base of a votive offering by the sponsor, commemorating that tribe's victory in the contest.

The only way that an individual pyrrhic dancer (below in full armor) can be identified on a vase painting is by the presence of an aulos player, who accompanied his dance.


1. The battle between the Olympians and Giants (Gigantomachy) was the traditional decoration on the life-size peplos that was given to Athena Polias and probably also on the colossal one that was presented to Athena Parthenos. Return to text.