statue of Zeus is found in Olympia, on the west coast of modern Greece,
approximately 150 km west of Athens. The
Greek calendar started 776 BC, which was the year the Olympics started.
The Temple of Zeus was designed by Libon and built around 450 BC A simple
Doric style temple was considered too worldly for the God, so they decided that
a statue was the answer. The
Athenian sculptor Phedias was assigned this task.
For years afterwards, the temple attracted visitors and worshipers from
the entire world. In the second
century BC repairs needed to be made to the statue.
The Roman emperor Caligula attempted to move the statue to Rome in the
first century BC, but this attempt failed when the scaffolding collapsed.
When the Olympic games were banned in 391 AD by Theodosius I, the temple
was closed. Olympia was hit by
earthquakes, landslides and floods, and the temple was damaged by fire in the
400’s AD the statue was moved by wealthy Greeks to the palace in
Constantinople. It survived there
until it was destroyed by fire in 462 AD.
Phedias began working on the statue in 440 BC. Years before, he had
discovered the technique for building huge gold and ivory statues by making wood
frame on which sheets of metal and ivory were placed to provide the outer
covering. His workshop still exists today.
It is identical in size and orientation to Zeus’ temple.
There he carved different pieces of the statue before they were assembled
in the temple. When assembled, it barely fit inside the temple. Strabo
wrote: “…although the temple
itself is very large, the sculptor is criticized for not having appreciated the
correct proportions. He has shown Zeus seated, but with his head almost touching
the ceiling, so that we have the impression that if Zeus were to stand up he
would unroof the temple.”
incorrect on the opinion that the sculptor should be criticized. Instead he
should be commended. The size impression made the statue more wonderful. Just
the idea of having the king of gods being able to stand and unroof the temple
inflicted awe on every visitor. The base of the statue was 6.5 meters wide and 1
meters high. The overall height of the statue was 13 meters, equivalent to that
of four-story building. In fact, the statue was so high that visitors described
the throne more than Zeus himself. The legs of the throne were decorated with
sphinxes and winged figures of victory. Other Greek gods and goddesses also
adorned the scene, including Apollo, Artemis and Niobe’s children. Greek
Pausanias wrote: “On his head
is a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In his right hand he holds a figure of
victory made from ivory and gold… In his left hand, he holds a sceptre inlaid
with every kind of metal, with an eagle perched on the sceptre. His sandals are
made of gold, as is his robe. His garments are carved with animals and lilies.
The throne is decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony and ivory.
It was occasionally decorated with gifts from kings and rulers.
One was a woolen curtain “adorned with Assyrian woven patterns and
Phoenician dye” which was dedicated by Syrian King, Antiochus IV.
Copies were made, but none survived to the present day.