This animation is created is created from a sixth-century BCE vase from the Greek island of Euboea.
The story was developed by pupils from Maiden Erlegh School, Reading.
about the animation
The animation shows a combat encounter in which the central warrior stabs his opponents. There are onlookers to the fight; perhaps they are trainers or family members at a training bout. Deaths in training would probably have led to a court case, but killing opponents in battle was regarded as something to celebrate, as Xenophon shows in his account of a victory at Corinth (Hellenica, 4.4.12).
This fifth-century vase shows a similar arrangement in a mythical spear-fight; Athena and Apollo are standing nearby as Achilles and Hector fight. The reverse shows Achilles and Memnon fighting, with their mothers standing on either side.
The anatomical proportions of the figures on the Combat vase have been done very realistically, so their movements could be animated without many alterations being needed. The figures are slightly smaller than they are on the actual vase as they were originally positioned so that they would fit whilst in an action stance, but would be too big if stood up fully. This is a clear indication of the precision with which the painter worked, and the painter’s expert appreciation for the size and shape of the space they were working in.
The way the blood flows from the wounded hoplites is based on the bleeding that’s visible on the Exekias vase on which Achilles kills Penthesilea.
© Trustees of the British Museum. BM 1848.801.1
Soldiers frequently appear on ancient vases, reflecting the important role that they had in Greek society. Heavy infantry soldiers, or hoplites, were held in particularly high regard. Most hoplites were amateur soldiers, not professionals, and they were responsible for keeping themselves fit and combat ready. The hoplites on this vase are fighting (perhaps training) with spears, the primary weapon of the ancient Greek hoplite. The spear was combined with a large heavy shield and a helmet. Other equipment, such as greaves and body-armour depended on a hoplite’s wealth and personal preference. The left-hand hoplite on the vase in this animation wears a breastplate, while the others are fighting in knee-length tunics without armour. (The onlookers are wearing longer, less sporty robes – a sign that they don’t need to keep their limbs free for combat or manual labour). In time, heavy breastplates gave way to lighter reinforced fabric corselets which were easier to move in.
This cup by Douris shows a range of equipment in a hoplite arming scene. It is housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, (ref 3694).
© Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases:
The Archaic Period, 1975
For battle, each army of hoplites would be arrayed in a phalanx, a very wide line of soldiers that was several men deep. The foremost hoplites would use their spears to reach out over the shields of their opponents. After a furious fight, one side would usually give way, leading to a looser phase of the battle, in which one-to-one combat skills must have played a bigger part. The hoplites on the vase in this animation have swords hung close to their torsos; these would be useful when the orderly lines of battle broke up into a more chaotic melee.
In the fifth-century BCE, several decades after the time this vase was made, the Greeks developed prose history-writing. This development has left us numerous outstanding accounts of hoplite battles. Herodotus has given us accounts of battles in the Persian Wars, such as Marathon and Thermopylae (Histories 6.111.3-117; 7.210+). Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War includes the battle of Delium, a messy affair fought between Athenians and Boeotians, not far from Euboea where this vase was made (4.96+). Xenophon describes hoplite combat with horrible punchiness - how, 'setting shields against shields they shoved, fought, killed, and were killed.’ (Battle of Coronea, Hellenica 4.3.19). There was risk and cost involved in being a hoplite warrior, but the gains could be great.
Maiden Erlegh pupils' storyboard compared frame-by-frame with the animation
Euboean, black figure lekanis depicting combat training and athletics. High Archaic, c.550BCE. Ure Museum (Accession Number: 56.8.8). The fighting scene comes from the low, wide-angled exterior of the vase. The fight has a thematic link to the image inside, which is a black-figure cockerel within a central circular space, or tondo; watching cock-fights was a popular aristocratic pass-time.
©Ure Museum (56.8.8)
P. de Souza (ed.), The Ancient World at War. A Global History, (Thames and Hudson, 2008)
H. Sidebottom, Ancient Warfare, A Very Short Introduction, (OUP, 2005 )
J. Warry, Warfare in the Classical World,
(Salamander books 1980, Oklahoma Paperbacks 2006)
H. van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities,
(Duckworth Press, 2004)
The track on this animation is called Makrotatos. It was created by ancient music specialist Professor Conrad Steinmann of Melpomen. The Spartans were unusual amongst the Greeks in using pipe music to help their hoplites move in unison - a sign of their high military standards (see Thucydides, 5.70). Find out more about ancient music through our blog post on the subject, and in interview with Prof. Steinmann.
1) Ask your pupils to analyse the differences in clothing between the combatants and the onlookers. Encourage them to consider what the differences are, how they might be linked to function, and what factors influence soldiers’ choices of clothing and equipment.
2) After watching the animation together, ask your pupils to work in groups storyboarding a mythical or historical spear fight. Who will they choose? What scenes from the episode do they consider to be the most important?
3) The vase that the Combat animation was made from came from Euboea and has a distinctive style. Ask your pupils to contrast its stylistic features with scenes on Attic and/or Corinthian ware, such as Exekias’ Achilles and Ajax vase (which has the Homeric heroes dressed as hoplites), an Amazonomachy, or the vases below.
4) Watch these soldiers go to war in a longer animation made from the same vase, Hoplites! Greeks at War.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
© Ure Museum (28.9.1)
Left is the Macmillan Vase. It was made in Corinth around 640CE and is only 7cm high!
Above is an Attic hydria from c.525-500.
Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.
Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.
The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it. Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories. The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.