02. Ancient Mediterranean, Art & Humanities, Europe, Greece, Paganism, Religion, Travel

#35. Acropolis Athens, Greece. Iktinos and Kallikrates. c. 447–410 BCE. Marble.

#35. Acropolis Athens, Greece. Iktinos and Kallikrates. c. 447–410 BCE. Marble.

This is not “one” piece. It’s six. And it is still massive. I broke this image from “the 250” into six different blog posts so please refer to the individual links for more information but this post is essentially a summing up/all the resources in one GIANT place!

Acropolis Plan

The Acropolis is located in Athens, Greece and although the buildings currently visible were mostly constructed during the 5th century BCE that does not mean the Acropolis itself became relevant during this “Golden Age” of Ancient Greece. The word “acropolis” literally refers to a “high city” (acro = heights, as in “acrophobia” & polis = city, as in “metropolis”. . . cool huh?); the Acropolis itself literally erupts up from the city of Athens below. It is quite dramatic to see in person. The acropolis was at first a fortress of sorts and then developed into a religious center, however it never lost its militarily strategic function.

The Acropolis in this form is a result of a period of rebuilding spearheaded by the military leader Pericles (Perikles). The Persian army invaded Athens in 480 BCE and razed the city to the ground, including ongoing temple construction on the acropolis. This attack was part of the much larger Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 BCE) and after a Greek victory in 449 BCE the Greeks, now semi-unified with Athens as the undisputed political leader, began to rebuild.

Read more: Travel Tips: Visiting the Acropolis


The Parthenon is, without a doubt, the crowning glory of the Athenian acropolis, and, quite frankly, of all Ancient Greek architecture. The building is a hallmark of the Greek classical style and embodies the marriage between artistic aesthetic and scientific precision. The architect, and believed contractor, of the Parthenon is Iktinos and Kallikrates. One of the most fascinating aspects of the building is the appearance of perfection and symmetry that is achieved via an optical illusion.

The temple, like all greek temples was meant to house the cult statue. The city of Athens, and therefore the acropolis, was consecrated to Athena. The Parthenon is especially dedicated to Athena Parthenos (aka “Athena the Virgin”). Although no longer inside the temple, there once stood an imposing 38-foot chryselephantine (made of gold and ivory) statue of the virgin goddess. The statue is believed to be the work on the sculpture Phidias, who oversaw all the temple decoration. Although the statue is technically not part of the 250, it is important to an understanding of the building’s primary function, so I think it should be included at least at a glance.

Read more: Student Series! How the Parthenon Embodies Math & Science

Plaque of the Ergastines, Parthenon

Although not noticeably groundbreaking at first, the subject (content) of the frieze is actually the most impressive thing about it. It shows “everyday” citizens of Athens! Give that a moment to sink in: on the most important temple to their patron goddess, alongside sculptures of their myths, gods and goddesses, Athenians put THEMSELVES.

The part of the frieze in “the 250” is the one above, which shows a group of aristocratic women (known as “ergastines”) walking up to male officials awaiting their arrival. Two women receive a garment, identified as the peplos used to dress the statue inside. Other women hold ceremonial objects like incense and a bottomless base for pouring sacrificial libations. Surrounding this procession are the Olympian gods, literally intermingled with the citizens of Athens. In the other scenes in the continuous frieze are a mixture of horsemen and chariots, elders standing and talking, musicians, along with sheep and cows for sacrifice. Possibly depicting other parts of the Panthanetic Festival.

Read more: #26. Athenian agora. Archaic through Hellenistic Greek. 600 BCE–150 CE. Plan.

Helios, horses, and Dionysus (Heracles?), Parthenon

Helios is the personification of the sun (only his arms and shoulder survive) is seen arising from the left suggesting the rising sun. To the right are the horses that pull his chariot in Greek mythology. The reclining male figure has been identified as either Dionysus (the wine god) or the hero Heracles (Hercules). Art historians debate if the figure is reclining with a glass of wine on a panther skin, which would mean he is Dionysus; or if he is reclining on a lion skin, which means he is Hercules. However the figure of Hercules would make no sense at the birth of an Olympian god. Instead on focusing on the attribution, the most important part of this figure, like much of Greek art, is the perfection of the male nude. And this piece is a phenomenal example of the idealization of the male body.

Read more: Student Series! Male Beauty in Ancient Greece

Temple of Athena Nike

The temple is called “Athena Nike,” which means “Athena victorious.” The winged Greek goddess Nike was the goddess of victory, specifically in battle. The tiny Temple of Athena Nike, which appears to the to the right of the Propylaea (the gateway to the acropolis; see the model below), almost feels as if it is about to fall off the cliff. It is the earliest Ionic-style temple on the Acropolis. An ionic temple is named so by the Ionic columns (the classic Princess Leia “buns” at the top of the capital) that grace the exterior of the temple and the continuous frieze on top.

The Temple of Athena Nike is a four-ionic columned prostyle temple, meaning it has columns only in the front and back. And the cella, the room that housed the cult state inside, is very small and square. This is absolutely not meant to host a multitude of worshipers at one time; indeed “regular” worshipers would not step inside and, instead, performed their rituals outside in front of the temple. Inside the sacred cella there used to be a wingless statue of Athena, the patron of all Athens.

Read more: UNESCO: Acropolis, Athens

Victory Adjusting her Sandal, Temple of Athena Nike

This frieze was part of a series of images of Nike that appeared on the exterior parapet wall around the temple of Athena Nike (now housed in the Acropolis Museum). The one from “the 250” is the one to the far left: Victory (Nike) adjusting her sandal. It was selected for it’s sheer exquisite carving skill, much better appreciated in person, as always. The fabric cascades over Nike in a “wet drapery” style (pretty self explanatory I think) that showcases the curves of the body underneath while also deliberately showing her movement. Nike is shown with wings, but it is much harder to see in this relief image, the curved lines to the left and right of her shoulders are the wings.

It is such a simple act, putting on a sandal, but the artist has balanced Nike beautifully and gracefully on one foot, torse bent over to adjust the other. This piece is so sensual; the slip of the fabric off her shoulder, the clinginess of the drapery on her abdomen and legs. The Khan Academy video (linked below in the Resources) suggests Nike is taking her sandal off because she is about to walk on sacred ground inside the temple.

Read more: Lesson Plan: The Classical World Unit


Next time: #36. Grave stele of Hegeso Attributed to Kallimachos. c. 410 BCE. Marble and paint
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