Abstract: The Temple of Zeus at Olympia: an archaeological biography


Technical observations on the sculptures from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia allow a reconstruction of their appearance at installation and of the major changes made afterward. At installation, many sculptures were unfinished; the west pediment had more centaur groups than are preserved today; and the horse blocks on the east pediment were separated, one in front of the other. By the time of Pausanias’s visit in a.d. 174, the sculptures had suffered major damage at least twice (in the mid-4th century and the early 2nd century b.c.); his identification of Kaineus in the west pediment may refer to a headless Apollo propped up on his knees, flanked by centaurs. To resist the Herulean Raid (267), the temple had been converted into a fort, and afterward were outfitted with the last series of rainspouts. In the 4th century, a Byzantine village had grown up around the temple, which was left to deteriorate. The Zeus statue was transferred to Constantinople in the early 5th century and destroyed by fire by 475. Earthquakes in 522 and 551 completed the final destruction of the temple. Soon after, the Alpheios River flooded and covered the entire site with some 3–4 m of silt.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Bernard Ashmole, Nicholas Yalouris, and Allison Frantz. Olympia: The Sculptures of the Temple of Zeus, London. 1967.

John G. Younger and Paul Rehak, "Technical Observations on the Sculptures from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia," Hesperia 78 (2009) 41-105

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