The most important festival celebrated in ancient Athens was the Panathenaia, the state festival honoring the city's patron deity, Athena Polias. Every fourth year was the Great Panathenaic festival, which included musical and athletic competitions. The victors were awarded huge prize amphorae containing one metrates (over ten gallons) of oil from the goddess's sacred grove. The obverse of these pottery jars always depicts the goddess between columns, usually surmounted by cocks, and accompanied by the inscription TON ATHENETHEN ATHLON, "from the games at Athens." The reverse depicts the event for which the vase served as the prize. On the present vase the reverse shows two competitors from the pentathalon, which was a five-part contest consisting of footrace, discus, long or broad jump, javelin, and wrestling. Aristotle praised pentathletes for their all-around beauty, but other authors suggest that the event attracted second-class athletes (see Neils, "Panathenaic Amphoras: Their Meaning, Makers and Markets," p. 29 and Kyle, "The Panathenaic Games: Sacred and Civic Athletes," p. 85 in Neils, ed., Goddess and Polis, The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens).
Boardman (Athenian Black Figure Vases, pp. 167-168) informs that the canonical shape and decoration for Panathenaic prize amphorae was established by about 530 B.C. and that the use of black figure was retained for them long after the technique was abandoned for ordinary pottery. Around 500 B.C. and after, these state commissions attracted the most distinguished red figure painters, including the Kleophrades Painter and his associates. Beazley considered the painter of the present vase as "very close" to the Kleophrades Painter (op. cit., p. 405).