Parthenon – Ancient Greece

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Parthenon, Athens

Parthenon, Athens

The Parthenon was a temple to Athena built on top of the highest hill in Athens, the Acropolis (Acropolis means High City). In the Late Bronze Age, about 1300 BC, the Acropolis had been where the kings of Athens lived (likeTheseus in the myth), and where everybody went to defend themselves when there was a war. But after the Dark Ages, the Athenians had no more kings to rule them. Instead they had an oligarchy, and so there was no king to live on the Acropolis. Instead, the Acropolis became sacred to the goddess Athena, and the Athenians built her a temple there.

There was at least one Parthenon temple on that spot before the one that is there now. The earlier temple was built in the Archaic period out of limestone. The Persians destroyed this first temple when they sacked Athens in the Persian Wars, just before the battle of Salamis in 480 BC. We have only scraps of that temple that the priests buried on the Acropolis after the war.

A model Parthenon for you to build!

A model Parthenon for you to build!

For a long time after the Persian Wars, the Athenians left the Acropolis in ruins, as a sort of war memorial. But by the 440s BC, a generation later, the Athenians wanted to rebuild their Parthenon bigger and better than before.

To get the money for this new, big, beautiful temple, the Athenians used the tribute money from their allies, that was supposed to be spent defending the Greeks from Persian invasions.

The Athenians hired two great architects, Callicrates and Ictinus, and a great sculptor, Pheidias, to rebuild the Parthenon. This time the whole building would be made of marble, and in the very latest style, and big, too.

Learn by doing: build a model of the Parthenon in Lego or on Minecraft
Go on to the Parthenon’s Optical Illusions

Bibliography and further reading about the Parthenon:

A Greek Temple, by Fiona MacDonald, Mark Bergin (2002) (this is specifically about the Parthenon, not just any Greek temple)

Parthenon, by Lynn Curlee (2004). Easy reading. Lovely pictures.

The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present, by Jeffrey M. Hurwit (2000). This is not so easy, but it is pretty interesting reading. Hurwit is a archaeologist and art historian who works on the Athenian Acropolis.

Take our quiz – how much do you know about the Parthenon?
The Parthenon’s Optical Illusions
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By | 2017-12-01T09:58:41+00:00 July 1st, 2017|Architecture, Greeks|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Parthenon – Ancient Greece. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 1, 2017. Web. December 13, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

2 Comments

  1. Syd December 1, 2017 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Do you know how they raised each marble piece to build the Parthenon ?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr December 1, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Yes! They used wooden cranes with pulleys and long ropes. Enslaved people, or donkeys, pulled on the ropes to lift the blocks up, and people on scaffolding pushed the blocks into the right place. You’ll find more about it here: https://theologyarchaeology.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/the-ancient-world-cranes/

      (And it’s really interesting so I hope you will click through!)

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