Ancient Greece During its "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis
Quick Time Line:
Geometric Period     1050BCE - 700 BCE (700 BCE) 
Orientalizing Period     700 BCE - 600 BCE (600 BCE) 
Archaic Period     600 BCE - 480 BCE (600 BCE)
The Golden Age of Perikles (Classic Phase) 480-350 BCE (450)
Late Hellenism 350-30 BCE

William Harmon
Prof. Kenney Mencher
April 29, 2002
Art 103A
Term Paper


High on the top of a hill in Athens, Greece sits the ruins of a city. The Persians in 480 BCE destroyed a once continuously developing and thriving city-state, the Acropolis. The remains of this city on the hill were to remain as a Greek memorial displaying the sacrifice made defeating the Persians. On the highest point of this devastated structure lay the remains of a sanctuary that housed an olive tree. This sacred symbol, devoted to the Goddess Athena, would be the focus point and driving force of reconstruction some thirty years later. However, a new temple would be built to house this Goddess of Athenian military power. Conforming to an architectural level of brilliant and outstanding proportions, this temple would symbolize Athenian honor to the Virgin Goddess Athena. This temple would be known as the Parthenon. The Parthenon is an example of unique and original architecture of a powerful empire that embodies the ideals of a culture that regarded itself as having a special unity between its people, government and gods. This statement will be established through contextual, formal and iconographic analysis.

Looking at the context of the Parthenon, we can see how overcoming such devastating odds defeating an enormous rival such as the Persians gave way to feelings of immense confidence to the citizens of Athens. This Greek victory set in motion an era known as the "Golden Age". This would be an era that would further Athens development of a new democracy and social environment. Influenced by an aristocrat named Pericles, various new laws were introduced setting apart Athenians from any other cultures of its time. One of these laws imposed would dramatically affect the social standing and rights of the common people. "In 451 B.C. Pericles introduced one of most striking proposals with his sponsorship of a law stating that henceforth citizenship would be conferred only on children whose mother and father both were Athenians" (Martin 9.3.1). With this new regulation came new advantages for these exclusive citizens of Athens. This privilege allowed ownership of private land while being protected under the same laws as the wealthy aristocrats (Martin, 9.3.1). You now had an equal voice that could influence decisions about your future as a citizen of Athens. This marked the way for participation in politics. Women also shared new, but limited privileges compared to men. Although women did not have a political voice or were allowed to get involved with large financial dealings, they were still protected by the law. In spite of this somewhat prejudiced ruling, the women of Athens could enlist the services of a legal male guardian and have him speak for her in court if a situation developed that needed legal assistance, such as a law suit (Martin 9.3.1). Although the new citizenship standing had some shortcomings, it still prevailed as a groundbreaking and exclusive change unique to those who were true citizens of Athens. New feelings of extraordinary stature began to develop in the mindset of Athenian culture. Defeating a tremendous enemy such as the Persians was proof that the gods favored them during this "Golden Age". The next step during this era of great wealth and prosperity would not only show Athenian unity of its people and government, but pay homage to their Goddess of military power. The wealth and brilliance of a united and powerful empire would soon be echoed through outstanding architecture and sculpture. The construction of the Parthenon would not only express Athenian honor to the Virgin Goddess Athena, but also make a bold and distinctive statement about its culture.

The formal design of the Parthenon would enlist the skills of architects (Iktinos and Kallikrates) and sculptors (Phidias) whose brilliance in their fields would allow success in achieving the immense task of creating a temple of monumental proportions. They would be innovators of new design while making bold statements of unity between the people and its gods. No expense would be spared for this massive undertaking. Twenty thousand tons of marble would be used for its construction alone. The Doric style of architecture would have changes made in its symmetry. Instead of the usual six columns across it would have eight, making the structure 230 feet wide. Seventeen columns in width would give the Parthenon a length of 100 feet. Since perfectly straight lines would make the structure look curved to the human eye, the architects intentionally put slight curves and entasis style columns throughout the architecture giving the building an appearance of being perfectly straight. "By overcoming the distortions of nature, the Parthenon's sophisticated architecture made a confident statement about human ability to construct order out of the entropic disorder of the natural world" (Martin The confidence of the Athenians close relationship to their gods would be further expressed within the sculptures of the Parthenon. Its unique and innovative style of sculpture would be a distinctive form executed through the skills of Phidias. While the temple used standard Doric features, which included pediment sculptures, one particular area of the complex incorporated a continuous frieze done in the Ionic order. Combining an Ionic frieze to a Doric temple would attract attention, which of course it was meant to do. The sculptures would embrace Athenian deities, as well as the Athenians themselves. The low relief style carving of the Ionic frieze included 114 separate sections that when combined measured 524 feet in length and 3 feet in width. The combined classic architecture and sculpture of the Parthenon not only reflects the prosperity, originality, and artistic genius of Athenian culture, but also depicts their ideals concerning a special relationship with the gods.

Within the entablature of the Parthenon, the Ionic frieze not only acknowledges the homage paid to the Goddess Athena, but symbolizes an Athenian mind-set of their strength and unity between themselves and the deities. Extending along both sides of the temple, the frieze depicts a festival that was held every four years known as the Panathenaic procession. The frieze shows idealistic carvings of young, strong, but graceful Athenian men and women in procession. Skillful men on horseback along with sturdy, yet graceful looking women are shown in harmony during their ascent to the top of the Acropolis. The symbolic statements mirrored in this low relief sculpture reflect healthy and strong citizens who represent the "ideal inhabitants of a successful city-state" (Stokstad 192). At the head of the procession, deities await their arrival. Having been included in the presence of these deities symbolizes a prevailing confidence between the Athenians and their gods.

The Athenian culture of the "Golden Age" reflects a time in history when the defeat of an overwhelming enemy would inspire new ideals and confidence of its people. Original laws of citizenship were established that would unite the people as a democracy. Their creativity would continue to expand in areas of art and architecture unique to Athenian culture. With the profusion of wealth, the construction of the Parthenon had no limits of artistic license and would ultimately represent a powerful empire while emphasizing its independence. Combining both the citizens of Athens and their deities within the sculpture of the Ionic frieze conveyed a symbolic statement about the unique relationship between the gods and these favored citizens of the "Golden Age".

Works Cited

Martin, Thomas R. "An Overview of Classical Greek History." The Perseus Project 1997. < bin/vor?type= phrase&alts=0&group=typecat&lookup=Parthenon&collection=Perseus:collection:Greco-Roman#Section>  17 Apr. 2002.

Neils, Jenifer "Reconfiguring the Gods on the Parthenon Frieze." Art Bulletin Vol. 81 (1999) : 16 Mar. 2002 <>

Stokstad, Marilyn "Ancient Greece." Art History. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2002.











Erechtheum by Mnesicles

Porch of the Maidens

"The most exceptional Ionic building on the Acropolis is the enigmatic Erechtheum, to the north of the Parthenon. Built about 420 B.C., the temple was regarded with special veneration. Its site was particularly sacred, for it included the tomb of Cecrops, the legendary founder of Athens, the rock that preserved the mark of Poseidon's trident, and the spring that arose from it. In a walled area just to the west of the temple stood the sacred olive tree of Athena. The building's complexity of plans and levels can be partly understood from this complicated archaeology, as well as from its having housed not only a shrine to Athena Polias, but also altars to Poseidon, god of the sea; Hephaestus, god of fire; Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens, who had battled unsuccessfully with the sea god; and Butes, brother of Erechtheus and priest to Athena and Poseidon. Moreover, spoils from the Persians were kept in the temple, as well as the famous golden lamp of Callimachus, which burnt for a year without refilling and had a chimney in the form of a palm tree."

óMarvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p94.

A caryatid is a supporting column in the form of a human being. Why human beings? What kind of symbolic meaning? People are the most important and it shows how human beings are supporting the government.

Contrapposto--slightly shifts the weight to the hips with one leg slightly bent to make them look realistic.

The style of the Erechtheum is ionic. It has engaged columns, a natural spring and a living olive tree. It is also not a complete rectangle and it varies in size. A major feature of the Erechtheum is its Porch of the Maidens. The columns on the porch are the embodiment of the concept of the column as an organic architectural component. The caryatid figures (columns in the shape of women that supports the porch) look almost like a chorus line. The legs, or modified contrapposto stance, are mimicked by one another in reverse.

Origin of Athena- Zeus has a headache, and Hephaestus takes an ax and smacks Zeus in the head with it. The head split and Athena comes out. Since she was born out of Zeus's head, she is the goddess of wisdom.

Apollo- God of sun, rides a chariot of fire from east to west

The outer friezes of the Parthenon were decorated with painted sculptures in relief. The sections known as metopes, that rest between the triglyphs, were each adorned with two figures, a centaur, and a human. The story the metopes contain depicts "The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs."

Metopes are bass relief sculptures located on the entablature of the building. This story can also be found on the Francois Vase.   It depicts the strength of humans through the human's perfect physiques. "Eurythmea" is an art pose. Everything is symmetrical, as in the Exekias painter-horse body is proportional to show half man, half beast.

Story : Lapiths and Centaur (1/2 man 1/2 horse)

The Lapiths invited the Centaurs to a party. The Centaurs got drunk and they attempted to rape the brides and the young boys. The Lapiths fight neck to neck until the god of reason (Apollo) shows up to restore reason and sends the Centaurs home.

The story also indicates the role of homosexuality in Greek culture. Young boys are highly desirable as well as young women. Older men would take in young boys and become their tutor while in the end the boy would in turn fall in love with his teacher.

1. 1Delos is a small island off the coast of Greece. This is where the original treasury was to be kept.

2. 2(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,1975 and 1987) 127-128.

3. 3 According the Dictionary of Architecture, "a parapet is a low wall, sometimes battlemented, placed to protect any spot where there is a sudden drop, for example, at the edge of a bridge, quay, or house top."

John Fleming, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, "parapet," Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition ed.: 237.

4. 4Bass- base or low relief -relieved or pushed out from the wall.