Temple of Zeus, Olympia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Temple of Zeus)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Temple of Zeus" redirects here. For other uses, see Temple of Zeus (disambiguation).
Wilhelm Lübke's illustration of the temple as it might have looked in the fifth century BCE

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was an ancient Greek temple in Olympia, Greece, dedicated to the god Zeus. The temple, built between 472 and 456 BC, was the very model of the fully developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order.[1]


The temple was probably established toward the end of the Mycenaean period during the period 470-456 BC at an ancient religious site dating from the fourth millennium BC that was dedicated to the earth mother, Gaia, and eventually, was the site of a temple to Hera that dated to the Archaic period. The Altis, the enclosure with its sacred grove, open-air altars and the tumulus of Pelops, was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BC,[2] Greece's "Dark Age", when the followers of Zeus had joined with the followers of Hera.[3]

Sculpture and Decorations[edit]

The temple featured two pediments; The Eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus while the Western pediment features a Centauromachy with Theseus and the Lapiths. Pausanius reports in his Description of Greece (5.10.8) that the Eastern pedimental sculpture was created by Paeonius and the Western sculpture was carved by Alcamenes. The Metopes from the temple depict the twelve labors of Heracles.

Statue of Zeus[edit]

The temple housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue was approximately 13 m (43 ft) high, and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop on the site at Olympia. The statue's completion took approximately 12 years. On the head was a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In the right hand, Zeus held a figure of Nike (the goddess of victory), also made from ivory and gold – and held in the left hand a scepter made with many kinds of metal, with an eagle perched on the top. Zeus' robe and sandals were made of gold. His garments were carved with animals and with lilies. The throne was decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory. At each foot of the throne there was a victory depicted as a dancing girl. There were also four rods stretching between the feet of the throne depicting an amazonomachy with the figures of Theseus and Heracles present. The statue was one of Classical Greece's most revered artistic work. Another notable chryselephantine statue by Phidias is the statue of Athena Parthenos, which was located in the Parthenon.


The temple was constructed by the architect Libon, with carved metopes and triglyph friezes, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style, now attributed to the "Olympia Master" and his studio.

The main structure of the building was of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, and so it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give it an appearance of marble like all the sculptural decoration on the temple

Subsequent history[edit]

Ruins of the temple

The Roman general Mummius dedicated twenty-one gilded shields after he sacked Corinth in 146 BC; they were fixed at the metopes of the eastern front side and the eastern half of the south side. In AD 426, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary. Earthquakes in 522 and 551 devastated the ruins and left the Temple of Zeus partially buried.[4]

The site of the ancient sanctuary, long forgotten under landslips and flood siltation, was identified in 1766. In 1829 a French team partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musée du Louvre. Systematic excavation began in 1875, under the direction of the German Archaeological Institute, and has continued, with some interruptions, to the present time.

In film[edit]

The 1997 Disney animated film Hercules depicts the Temple of Zeus as the only communication Hercules has with his father while he is a mortal. Zeus communicates by possessing the statue within the temple. In an episode of the animated series, Zeus further uses this ability to address an issue on Earth by using the statue to visit other cities near Athens.

See also[edit]


· Pausanius Description of Greece

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°38′16″N 21°37′48″E / 37.63778°N 21.63000°E / 37.63778; 21.63000