Physical Types in Ancient Greek Art
Last Update: 6 September, 2006

Fig. 1: A barbarian Amazon woman, probably Penthesileia, is killed by a Greek hero while another Greek looks on. The woman's hair is fair, while the Greeks have dark curly hair. (Penthesileia Painter, c. 470-460 BC)

Fig. 2: The Charioteer. Bronze Statue (c. 474 BC) commemorating a victory in a chariot race at Delphi. Dark eyes, long smooth ovoid face, low forehead, fleshy lips, slightly curly hair. A Mediterranean racial type.

Fig. 3: Terracotta Figure of Athena (Olympia, c. 490 BC). Brown eyes, black eyebrows, black/brown hair.

Fig. 4: Terracotta Statue of Zeus (Olympia, c. 470 BC). Black beard, eyebrows and hair.

Fig. 5: Mycenaean Woman (Mycenae, c. 1250 BC). Black hair, eyebrows and eyes.

Fig. 6: Herakles battling the giant Antaios (Louvre G 103, Attic Red-Figure, 515-505 BC). Herakles (left) has curly, black hair, while the giant Antaios (right) has straight, light brown hair. Antaios lived in Libya; the Libyans were notoriously fair in antiquity, unlike the Greeks.

Fig. 7: Sacrifical Procession (National Archaeological Museum, Athens, wooden plaque, 6th c. BC). All figures of the celebrants, including children, have wavy-curly dark hair. The artist had yellow and red at his disposal, as can be clearly seen.

Fig. 8: Chariot riders (Pylos, Mycenaean, 13th c. BC; at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens). Yellow bronze helmets, black hair and tanned brown skin. These slender figures appear to be of Mediterranean physical type.

Fig. 9: The Sack of Troy (Greek hydria, Naples Archaeological Museum 2422, 480-475 BC). A variety of Greek and Trojan faces are shown. The Greek hero Neoptolemos, son of Achilles who was singled out by the Greek authors as fair-haired (purros) is depicted as fair-haired. All other Greeks are depicted as brunet; strong evidence that Greeks were mostly brunet and scattered references to xanthoi and purroi in Greek literature were made because fair hair was exceptional, not the rule. Notice also, that adult Greeks are bearded and black-haired. Trojans were similarly mostly brunet, but Anchises and a Trojan woman are fair. The statue of the Greek goddess Athena is (expectedly) brunet, as in almost all Greek art.

Details: First row: Neoptolemos, Lesser Ajax, a Greek, the sons of Theseus (Greeks); Second row: Anchises, Trojan Women (Trojans); Third row: Priam (old Trojan), Aithra (old Greek); Fourth Row: Statue of Athena

Fig. 10: Mycenaean Ladies riding a chariot (13th c. BC, Tiryns). Dark hair, closely resembling the pair of male chariot riders from Pylos (Fig. 8)

Fig. 11: The goddess of love, Aphrodite (White-ground cup, Lyandros Painter, Museo Archeologico Florence, c 460 BC). Dark, curly hair.

Fig. 12: Mycenaean Faces (Bearded faces made of golden and black niello, attached to Mycenaean swords, National Archaeological Museum of Athens). Brunet pigmentation.

Fig. 13: Head of a woman, (Sphinx, 6th c. BC, Louvre, Paris). Brunet Pigmentation.

Fig. 14: Greek Warriors, (4th c. BC, Paestum). Black Hair.

Fig. 15: Greek Women, (4th c. BC, Paestum). Black and Dark Brown Hair.

Fig. 16: Apollo and Muse, (460BC, Attic). Dark hair.

Fig. 17: Male figure, (445BC, Achilles Painter). Dark hair.

Fig. 18: Charon and Hermes (5th c. BC, Sabouroff painter), Dark hair.

Fig. 18: Spear man (440BC, Bosanquet painter), Curly dark hair.

Fig. 19: Athena Lemnia (Roman Copy of 5th c. BC original by Phidias, Museo Civico de Cremona), Dark hair.