Vases In Arezzo: Why is Telamon Fighting Amazons with Herakles?

During my travels with students in Italy, we recently visited the Tuscan city of Arezzo where we were introduced to the Amphitheater by Alessandro Barchiesi, a classicist of some repute.

Alessandro gazes upon the Amphitheater

Barchiesi Explains it All
Barchiesi Explains it All

Then, we went inside the Archaeological Museum of Arezzo where, in addition to a wide array of Etruscan objects, we found two rather important red-figure vases. The first was one of the most famous images of Pelops and Hippodamia.

Pelops and Hippodamia

Pelops and Hipppodamia 2

But more surprising than this was a Krater from around 500 BCE attributed to the Euphronios painter depicting Herakles’ battle with the Amazons.

Herakles 3

This angle is not that odd: the Amazons are dressed like Skythians and Herakles looks like Herakles.  What surprised me was the hero fighting back-to-back with Herakles.  I expected Theseus, or maybe even Herakles’ nephew Iolaus. But this Hero is labeled by the painter as Telamon, the father of Ajax:

Herakles 2

The details are a bit easier to tell from the thumbnails available at Perseus. Telamon is often paired with Herakles’ expedition against Troy. But I had never encountered a detail of his participation in the Amazonomachy. Perhaps Eurphronios is imagining that the pair went to fight the Amazons together on the same trip against Troy. Whatever the case, this nicely illustrates the flexibility in myth available to the vase-painters of the Late Archaic and Early Classical ages.


Several smart readers on the blog and twitter pointed out that Herakles and Telamon sacked Troy together, which is good. I got up today and went to the library and consulted the LIMC (Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae) and found that there are a handful of images of Herakles and Telamon fighting the Amazons in Black Figure and Red Figure vases. Two other red figure vases dated to the beginning of the fifth centuries also have pretty similar iconography.

Telemon 8 and 7

The positioning of the figures is similar–the biggest difference among the three vase images is whether Telamon is striking the Amazon (or in the process) and the sigil on his shield. For comparison, consider this earlier image:


So, I still don’t have a text to tell me the story, but it is pretty clear that this was a popular enough motif during the 6th-5th Centuries BCE.

5 thoughts on “Vases In Arezzo: Why is Telamon Fighting Amazons with Herakles?

  1. Perhaps the vase painter assumed that the Amazons were allies of the Trojans, as they would be in the next generation. I don’t really see anything in those images that requires it to be the same Amazonomachy that resulted from the task to retrieve the Belt/Girdle of Hippolyte, so maybe the setting is actually supposed to be Troy?

    1. Not a bad suggestion….except I don’t know of any record of Herakles fighting the Amazons before Troy. But, then again, that doesn’t prevent a painter from being influenced by the idea. So, thanks!

  2. In Pindar Nemean 4, Telamon accompanies Herakles against Troy, the Meropes and the giant Alcyoneus. So it seems they were best buddies!
    Beautiful photos in this post.

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