John A. Tamm

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Classical Studies


W.J. Slater




During the second half of the sixth century B.C., the popularity of Herakles scenes in Attic vase-painting reached a peak. New scenes were developed, old scenes gained variants. This phenomenon was noticed by John Boardman who used it as the background to a novel theory, that Peisistratos and his sons were deliberately using Herakles as a propaganda tool to further their own interests, and moreover, that in this program there was some association of Peisistratos with Herakles, Furthermore, he argued that certain Herakles scenes reflected specific events from Peisistratos' Career. This theory was developed in several influential articles in the 1970's, and subsequently attracted many followers. In this thesis however I shall argue that the theory is seriously flawed, so much so that it must be considered untenable.

The thesis will begin by setting out Boardman's side of the argument. First, the developments in the iconography of Herakles are laid out (Chapter One), then Boardman's (and his followers') interpretations of them (Chapter Two). A critical examination of the theory follows. The statistical evidence is not as supportive of Boardman's theory as he suggests (Chapter Three), nor do the developments occur in ways that would necessarily confirm his interpretation (Chapter Four). No more supportive are the historical events taken to lie behind the images (Chapter Five). The possible mechanisms for the transmission of the needed influence from the Peisistratids to the vase-painters create another major problem area (Chapter Six). A variety of other factors also argue against the political interpretation (Chapter Seven). As a result of the failure of this interpretation, a different explanation must be found for Herakles' popularity during this era (Conclusion).

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