The Panathenaia, a state religious festival, honored Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. Held every four years, the festival included athletic and musical competitions. Amphorae filled with olive oil from the sacred trees of Athena were given as prizes in the Panathenaic Games. These amphorae had a special form with narrow necks and feet, and they received standard decoration, always in the black-figure technique. The front showed Athena, the goddess of war, striding forth between columns and included the inscription "from the games at Athens." The back depicted the event for which the vase was a prize.
On this example, Athena is shown in the usual fashion, wearing a helmet and her snaky-edged aegis and carrying a spear and shield. Leading vase-painters decorated these prize amphorae, which were commissioned in large quantities by the state, and their work can often be differentiated by the motif they used to decorate the shield of Athena. For example, the Kleophrades Painter always used the winged horse Pegasos, as seen here. The back of the vase depicts the four-horse-chariot race, one of the most prestigious events in the games.