The AP Art History curriculum is commonly nicknamed “the 250” because there are 250 “images” that students must intimately know before their exam. However, “the 250” is a misnomer because if you were to count every individual image it would be closer to 400. The Acropolis is one of those lovely “images.” The Acropolis, yes the WHOLE thing, is listed as one image but of course it isn’t just one image. It’s more like 6:
- The Acropolis plan
- Plaque of the Ergastines, from the Parthenon
- Helios, horses, and Dionysus (Heracles?), from the Parthenon
- Temple of Athena Nike
- Victory Adjusting her Sandal, Temple of Athena Nike
So obviously for sanity’s sake I am splitting these up into their own blog posts, and even then I am going to leave out a lot of the more high-brow academic information for clarity. Buckle up!
Art Historical Background
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, as opposed to the Doric metopes and triglyphs as seen on the Parthenon. These columns are actually monoliths, meaning they are each made out of a single piece of marble!
The subject of the frieze at the top of the temple vary: different divinities doing an assortment of activities, Greeks vs Persians, and Greeks vs Greeks. Warfare (& victory by the Athenians) is a very common theme in the Acropolis because it was built to commemorate their victory over the Persians.
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 patrones of all Athens. The story goes that the Athenians removed her wings to prevent her from flying away.
- Gardner’s Art through the Ages, 15th edition, pg. 138-139
- Greek Art and Archaeology, pg. 267-268
- Thought Co.: The Story of Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory
- Khan Academy: Victory (Nike) Adjusting Her Sandal, Temple of Athena Nike (Acropolis) (video)
- Khan Academy: Temple of Athena Nike on the Athenian Acropolis
- The Met: Greek Gods and Religious Practices