Picture 1. Zeus temple at Olympia
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, built in 470-456 BC, was the ancient Greek temple in Olympia, Greece, dedicated to Zeus. Zeus in Greek mythology is the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky and thunder. His symbols are the thunderbolt, eagle, bull, and oak. It was the very model of the fully-developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order. The temple stood in the most famous sanctuary of Greece, which had been dedicated to local and Pan-Hellenic deities and had probably been established towards the end of the Mycenaean period.
It housed the cult statue of Zeus which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine statue was approximately 13m high and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop on the site at Olympia. He took about twelve years to complete it. On his head was a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In his right hand he held a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory, also made from ivory and gold, and in his left hand, a scepter made with many kinds of metal, with an eagle perched on the topr. His sandals were made of gold and so was his robe. His garments were carved with animals and with lilies. The throne was decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory. The statue was the most famous artistic work in Greece.
The east pediment, erroneously attributed to Paeonius by Pausanias, who gave a detailed account of its sculptures in the late second century CE, depicted the myth of the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, with Zeus standing in the centre, flanked by standing pairs of heroes and heroines, and the two chariot groups, with recumbent figures in the corners. Hippodameia and her maid stand to Zeus’ left (north) and Pelops to Zeus’ right.
Picture 2. East Pediment: Pelops on left, Zeus in center, and Oinomaos on right.
The west pediment depicted the Centauromachy, the fight at the wedding of Peirithoos between the Lapiths and the centaurs, who had violated xenia, the sacred rules of hospitality that support the social norms. Apollo stood in the centre, flanked by Peirithoos and Theseus. The Lapiths have been taken to represent the civilised Olympian order of the Greeks themselves, while the Centaurs represent primitive nature of chthonic beings; the frieze also reminded fifth-century Greeks of their victory over the Persians, "outsider" threateners of the Hellenic order.
Picture 3. West Pediment: Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
The pronaos and opisthodomos, the entrance portico and the balancing false portico at the rear, were constructed in antis, with six metopes at either end, carved with the 12 labours of Heracles, in which Heracles successfully defeats a series of creatures and monsters that threaten righteous order.
The Roman general Mummius dedicated twenty-one gilded shields after he sacked Corinth in 146 BCE; they were hung upon the columns. In 426 CE, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary, and earthquakes in 522 and 551 devastated the ruins and left the Temple of Zeus partially buried.
The temple is located about 500 m (1640 feet) south-east of the Acropolis, and about 700 m (2,300 feet) south of the centre of Athens, Syntagma Square. Its foundations were laid on the site of an ancient outdoor sanctuary dedicated to Zeus. An earlier temple had stood there, constructed by the tyrant Pisistratus around 550 BC. The building was demolished after the death of Pisistratus and the construction of a colossal new Temple of Olympian Zeus was begun around 520 BC by his sons, Hippias and Hipparchos. They sought to surpass two famous contemporary temples, the Heraion of Samos and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Designed by the architects Antistates, Callaeschrus, Antimachides and Porinus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was intended to be built of local limestone in the Doric style on a colossal platform measuring 41 m (134.5 feet) by 108 m (353.5) feet. It was to be flanked by a double colonnade of eight columns across the front and back and twenty-one on the flanks, surrounding the cella.
The work was abandoned when the tyranny was overthrown and Hippias was expelled in 510 BC. Only the platform and some elements of the columns had been completed by this point, and the temple remained in this state for 336 years. The temple was left unfinished during the years of Athenian democracy, apparently because the Greeks thought it hubristic to build on such a scale. In the treatise Politics, Aristotle cited the temple as an example of how tyrannies engaged the populace in great works for the state and left them no time, energy or means to rebel.
It was not until 174 BC that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who presented himself as the earthly embodiment of Zeus, revived the project and placed the Roman architect Decimus Cossutius in charge. The design was changed to feature three rows of eight columns across the front and back of the temple and a double row of twenty on the flanks, for a total of 104 columns. The columns would stand 17 m (55.5 feet) high and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. The building material was changed to the expensive but high-quality Pentelic marble and the order was changed from Doric to Corinthian, marking the first time that this order had been used on the exterior of a major temple. However, the project ground to a halt again in 164 BC with the death of Antiochus. The temple was still only half-finished by this stage.
Serious damage was inflicted on the partly-built temple by Lucius Cornelius Sulla‘s sack of Athens in 86 BC. While looting the city, Sulla seized some of the incomplete columns and transported them back to Rome, where they were re-used in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. A half-hearted attempt was made to complete the temple during Augustus‘ reign as the first Roman emperor, but it was not until the accession of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD that the project was finally completed around 650 years after it had begun.
In 124-125 AD, when the strongly Philhellene Hadrian visited Athens, a massive building program was begun that included the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. A walled marble-paved precinct was constructed around the temple, making it a central focus of the ancient city. Cossutius’s design was used with few changes and the temple was formally dedicated by Hadrian in 132, who took the title of "Panhellenios" in commemoration of the occasion.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was badly damaged during the Herulian sack of Athens in 267. It is unlikely to have been repaired, given the extent of the damage to the rest of the city. Assuming that it was not abandoned it would certainly have been closed down in 425 by the Christian emperor Theodosius II when he prohibited the worship of the old Roman and Greek gods. Material from the (presumably now ruined) building was incorporated into a basilica constructed nearby during the 5th or 6th century AD.
By the end of the Byzantine period, it had been almost totally destroyed; when Ciriaco de’ Pizzicolli (Cyriacus of Ancona) visited Athens in 1436 he found only 21 of the original 104 columns still standing. Fifteen columns remain standing today and a sixteenth column lies on the ground where it fell during a storm in 1852. Nothing remains of the cella or the great statue that it once housed.
Picture 4. Ruins of the temple
Picture 5. Remains of the temple
The temple was excavated in 1889-1896 by Francis Penrose of the British School in Athens (who also played a leading role in the restoration of the Parthenon), in 1922 by the German archaeologist Gabriel Welter and in the 1960s by Greek archaeologists led by Ioannes Travlos. The temple, along with the surrounding ruins of other ancient structures, is a historical precinct administered by Ephorate of Antiquites of the Greek Interior Ministry.
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ARDIKA RIZKY SAPUTRI
SCHOOL OF TEACHER TRAINING AND EDUCATION
MUHAMMADIYAH UNIVERSITY OF SURAKARTA