Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Culture, Temples | 0 comments

The ancient temple of Zeus symbolized the might of the Greek empire in the ancient world. It was built on a sanctuary at Olympia.

In the ancient world, there were many temples specialized in Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. But there was just one temple to Zeus that housed one of several seven wonders of the particular ancient world. The Temple of Zeus on Olympia was home one of greatest sculptural accomplishments of ancient history. The Statue of Zeus on Olympia represented the best of Classical sculptural pattern, as well as showcased the engineering that had been required to construct this kind of massive chunk of pebble and gold.

History of the Temple of Zeus

The history of the Temple of Zeus in Athens takes it through quite a time-line. The site of the Temple of Zeus was originally an outdoor sanctuary dedicated to the God and in around 515 BC the Tyrants Hippias and Hipparchos (their father, Pisistratus, had already built one on the site in 550 BC but had been demolished) decided to build a massive temple on the site that would match some of the greatest buildings of the time. Unfortunately for the Temple, not Athens, the Tyrants were deposed and work on the Temple of Zeus ceased with only the platform and a few columns being erected.

The temple wasn’t touched during the years of Athenian Democracy, they believed it was an affront to the Gods something so massive and showy. It was next worked on by king Antiochus IV Epiphanes,(a Seleucid king) 336 years later in 174 BC, the architect was a Roman called Decimus Cossutius and it was his design that we see today although he never actually completed it. Antiochus died in 164 BC and the Temple of Zeus project stopped again, this time half finished.

In 86 BC Athens was sacked by the Romans under Sulla and some of the columns were taken to Rome and used on the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline. It was another Roman, the Emperor Hadrian who finally completed the temple in 131 AD, 638 years after it was started. Hadrian was a known Philhelene and after a visit to Athens in 124-125 AD he began a huge building program in the city which included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple would hold a massive ivory statue of Zeus, whilst behind it the people of Athens built a similar statue of Hadrian as thanks to the Emperor.

Like many ancient monuments the Temple of Zeus fell into decline after the end of the Roman empire, it was badly damaged during the Herulian sack of Athens (the Herulians were a Germanic tribe from southern Scandinavia) in 267 BC. Under the Christian Byzantine Empire the site fell into ruins with material from the temple being used to build churches nearby, under Theodosius II it was outlawed to worship the Olympian gods. throughout the years that followed the temple was plundered for construction materials for houses and buildings of medieval Athens. By 1436 only 21 columns remained from the original 104.

Architecture of the Temple

In ancient Greece, the Olympics were held every four years. Many athletes, under the protection of a sacred truce, traveled to the venue in Olympia. The venue of the sacred games consisted of the stadium, the Altis, and the altar of Zeus, to whom the games were dedicated. The architecture of the venue in the initial decades was simple. However, the Greeks started realizing the importance of having a more majestic venue and a bigger temple for Zeus that would depict the might of the King of Gods and the Greek Civilization. Hence, the construction of a new temple commenced around the year 470 BCE. The architect of the temple was the legendary Libon of Elis.

The Statue of Zeus

The Statue of Zeus

The overall architecture of the temple is traditional, in the style of ancient Greek architecture. It is also said that Libon took many ideas from the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The temple stood on an elevated rectangular platform. The enormous roof of the temple was supported by thirteen enormous carved pillars on the longer sides and six on the shorter sides. The roof of the temple slopes downward. The carvings on the pediments were remarkably beautiful. The carvings depicted the twelve labors of Heracles. Due to these features, the ancient temple is considered an excellent example of the Doric Order of classical Greek architecture.

The Statue of Zeus

In ancient times the Greeks held one of their most important festivals, The Olympic Games, in honour of the King of their gods, Zeus. Like our modern Olympics, athletes travelled from distant lands, including Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Sicily, to compete in the games. The Olympics were first started in 776 B.C. and held at a shrine to Zeus located on the western coast of Greece in a region called Peloponnesus. The games, held every four years, helped to unify the Greek city-states. Sacred truce was declared during the games and wars were stopped. Safe passage was given to all travelling to the site, called Olympia, for the season of the games.