Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes
A captivating exhibition filled with some of the finest examples of Greek sculpture, armour, jewellery, vases and ancient sporting artefacts.
From the sporting triumphs of the original Olympians to the conquests of Alexander the Great and the epic tales of Homer, Greek history is filled with the glorious deeds of athletes, warriors and heroes.
The Ancient Greeks were renowned for their competitive spirit. It famously flourished in sporting and battle arenas but also in the performing arts, with contests in music, drama, sculpture and painting.
Underpinning the quest for glory and honour was an emphasis on excellence. Physical training sculpted the body that would achieve sporting or military victory. Education, philosophy, science and the visual arts were equally important, shaping and sharpening the mind.
Although competition could be a destructive force, it was also positive and unifying. It was a thread that ran through daily life, generating a rich and innovative society that endures in the artefacts and stories that survive today.
Opening on Sunday 20 June, Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes is WA Museum Boola Bardip’s first major international exhibition.
This exhibition displays one of the largest selections of Greek artefacts loaned by the British Museum with materials ranging in age from the sixth to first centuries BCE.
For many of the 178 artefacts drawn from present-day Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Egypt and Libya, it will be the first time they are toured to the Southern Hemisphere.
This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition brings to life the Ancient Greek world and vibrantly showcases the important role competition played within it.
IN THIS EXHIBITION
NIKE: GODDESS OF VICTORY
The Ancient Greeks worshipped many gods, each with their own attributes and legendary stories. Among the most famous of these was Nike, goddess of victory.
In a society where competition was so important, Nike was frequently represented in art. With her magnificent wings, she descended from the realm of the gods to deliver wreaths, victory ribbons, palms or trophies to the mortal victors of both sporting contests and battles.
Pictured: Statue of Nike. Terracotta. About 100 BC. Found at Halikarnassos (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey). 1857,1220.334. © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Ancient Greeks were fanatical about sport. Even in times of conflict, battles would stop to allow sporting competitions to take place.
Major sporting events were attended by thousands of spectators who travelled great distances to take part. The most famous games were held every four years at Olympia.
While these festivals were great unifiers of the Greek people, what counted most was the fame and supreme glory of becoming a champion.
Pictured: Coin featuring Zeus. Silver. Minted at Elis, Greece about 200–100 BC. EH,p483.13.Eli. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Performing arts competitions were an important part of festivals, especially those dedicated to Dionysos, the god of theatre and wine.
Drama, poetry, music and dance competitions drew huge crowds and were attended by men and women from all classes, even slaves.
Writers and performers became celebrities and were richly rewarded.
The famous Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophokles and Aristophanes entered and won such competitions. Their enduring masterpieces are still performed today.
Pictured: Volute krater. Red figure pottery. Made in Apulia, southern Italy about 360–350 BC. Found at Basilicata, Lucania, Italy. 1865,0103.21 © The Trustees of the British Museum
War was glorified as the ultimate form of competition.
Conflict between rival kingdoms and city-states was a constant feature of life in the Ancient Greek world.
Battles were fought over land and natural resources, fuelled by the ambitions of kings and rulers. They were expensive, disrupted agricultural activity and destroyed lives.
Pictured: Cuirass (body armour). Bronze. About 350–300 BC. Found at Ruvo di Puglia, Apulia, Italy. 1873,0820.223 © The Trustees of the British Museum
HEROES AND MYTHS
The Ancient Greeks imagined their past as a time of heroes, epic adventures, fierce battles and fantastic creatures. They loved storytelling and tales of the most well-known heroes, Herakles (Hercules) and Achilles, were popular.
Both were gifted with superhuman strength and their lives were full of personal crises, bitter rivalries and battles with other mythical heroes.
Their stories were rendered even more dramatic by the gods who, to serve their own purposes, intervened in and manipulated the lives of the heroes.
Pictured: Statuette of Herakles. Bronze. Made in southern Italy, about 400–350 BC. 1873,0820.78 © The Trustees of the British Museum
Competition among the Ancient Greeks extended beyond the stadium and stage. Every public space was an arena in which status and social position were on display.
While personal adornment demonstrated wealth and status, public benefaction made a much grander statement. The wealthy competed with each other to sponsor sporting events, the performing arts, processions and festivals.
Even in death, competition was part of daily life. This exhibition includes artefacts from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. This burial site was of such scale and beauty that it was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Pictured: Medallion with Aphrodite and Eros. Gold. Made in Egypt about 200 – 100 BC. Found in Egypt. 1884,0614.12 © The Trustees of the British Museum
Venue hire & events
To book an unforgettable event with exclusive access to Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes visit the Museum's Venue Hire page.
Special exhibition events
Sunday 1 August 2021 | 9am - 11am
Sunday 15 August 2021 | 9am - 11am
Sunday 29 August 2021 | 9am - 11am
Sunday 12 September 2021 | 9am - 11am
Further dates to be announced
Indulge in a gourmet breakfast at Epoch café before exploring Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes in a fascinating guided tour.
About the British Museum
Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world. From the outset it was a museum of the world, for the world, and this idea still lies at the heart of the Museum’s mission today.
The collection tells the stories of cultures across the world, from the dawn of human history, over two million years ago, to the present. Objects range from the earliest tools made by humans and treasures from the ancient world to more recent acquisitions from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as the national collections of prints and drawings, and coins and medals.
In addition to work in London, the Museum takes part in an extensive programme of loans and tours, both across the UK and throughout the world.
WA Museum Boola Bardip is the first venue in this exhibition's international tour before it heads to the National Museum of Australia and then the Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.
The presentation of this exhibition is a collaboration between the British Museum, the Western Australian Museum, the National Museum of Australia and the Auckland War Memorial and Museum.