Temple of Zeus: Ancient Masterpiece of Doric Architecture - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1674 Words
Date:  2023-01-05


The temple of Zeus stands south of the temple of Hera and is located at Olympia Greece. This temple is the most significant building in the Altis. It is the largest temple in Peloponnese and is termed as the perfect example of Doric architecture. The Eleans built the temple from the Triphylian war. After the construction, the temple was dedicated to Zeus. Its construction started in c. 470 and before 456 BC it had completed. The Spartans inscribed a block to support the gold shield.

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The shield was in commemoration of the victory they had at Tanagra (Kitto 2017). This monumental statue was among the Seven Wonders of the World. It was constructed with the supervision of Libon of Elis who was the master of Greek. The monument made of ivory and gold was bigger than that of Athena I Parthenon. It is believed that the temple was built after the war between Elis and Pisa. These were neighboring powers in the Olympia area. When Elean was defeated, they gave funds to build the temple outside the Olympia stadium.

This magnificent temple has thirteen columns at the sides and is oriented to the east-west (Kitto 2017). Each column has a diameter of 2.25 meters and a height of 10.43 meters. At the base, the columns are made of shell limestone which is covered with white stucco. In this temple, there were a pronaos, opisthodomos and a cella with both pronaos and opisthodomos being distyle in antis. The remains of Hellenistic mosaic represented with tritons were placed on the floor of the pronaos, and in the front, there is a rectangular shaped space which has marble slabs.it is in this space that the victors of the war were crowned.

On the other hand, the cella had two naves, and the far end is where the chryselephantine statue of Zeus was placed (Kitto 2017). Zeus statue was more than twelve meters high, and it was used in the ancient coins. The statue showed Zeus enthroned and he was holding a wing of victory on his right hand and a shining sceptre on the left hand. A small Nike statue was placed on Zeus right hand. The statue was appealed visitors such as Aemilius Paulus who was the Roman general. He acknowledged that Libon of Elis work was majestic.

The throne was decorated with gold, and a statue was made of ivory. The ivory was mixed with a liquid to make it soft (Kitto 2017). The reason why the statue could not stand up was because of its height. This could not be possible unless the roof of the temple were removed entirely. The statue was removed from this location after the abolition of the Olympic Games. It was taken to Constantinople, and in AD 475 it was burnt down.

The temple architects did a magnificent job, and each part of the temple had a theme that it presented. The pediment on the east side, for example, symbolized the Pelops and Oinomaos race that was presided by Zeus (Kitto 2017). He was the master of the sanctuary, and his figure was dominant in this pediment. This east pediment promotes the myth of the birth of Athena who was a goddess. Zeus was god, and he was the ruler of other gods. He is believed to have suffered a severe headache which could not be relieved. This prompted other gods to ask his son named Hephaestus who was a blacksmith if he could heal his father. He hurled his father's skull with an, but since he was immortal, he was not hurt.

The pediment on the west represented the battle between the Lapith and the Centaurs (Kitto 2017). There were twelve metopes, and six were placed at the entrance of pronaos, and the other six were placed at the entrance of opisthodomos. These metopes symbolized the Zeus mythical son Hercule's labors. In AD 426 Theodosius II ordered the temple to be burnt. In Ad 551 and 552, the remaining parts of the temple were damaged by the earthquakes. In 1829 the French started excavating the temple an exercise which was completed by the German School. Some remains of the decorations were taken to the archeological museum of Olympia. The French restored the metopes which they placed in Louvre.

The west pediment contained sculptures of a fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs (Kitto 2017). Centaurs was sculptured as half man and half horse, and it is believed that it is argued that he had tried to abduct the Lapith women. He had been invited to a wedding where he drank too much wine. In the sculpture the king of Lapith, the bridegroom and Peirithoos was leading the war. Apollo is sculptured standing upright between centaurs and three leaders of the war. The Lapith women did not participate in the fight but instead stood in the corners of the pediment awaiting the battle. The west pediment is completely different from the east which depicted a peaceful scene.

The east pediment of the Temple of Zeus depicts Pelops before the race where he killed Oenomaus who was a King (Kitto 2017). His motive was to win the hand of Hippodamia. Olympic Games were believed to have been championed by the chariot race and Heracles. Zeus statue stood at the center of the temple facing Pelops to his right and to his left he was watching over Oenomaus. Besides the two there was two female who was followed by chariots. There was en who stood at the corner of the pediments, and it is assumed that they were spectators for the race. Some of them were sitting, and others were lying thereby filling the corner space.

The reason why Pelops killed Oenomaus was that he was against him marrying his daughter (Kitto 2017). Oenomaus was cruel as he had previously killed men who wanted to marry his daughter. He used immortal horses that he had obtained from his father, Ares. He was unable to kill Pelops as he had sought assistance from Poisedon who was his ex-girlfriend. Some presume that she gave Pelops a chariot made of gold which had horses that were pulling it.

Another perspective of the incidence is that Pelops convinced Oenomaus charioteer to collaborate with him (Kitto 2017). He was to receive his bribe for the deal, but when the deal was complete, he killed him to avoid paying the bribe as earlier agreed. He threw the body of the charioteer into the sea which was later named Myrtilus. It is viewed that the charioteer named Myrtilus removed the linchpins made of bronze and replaced them with wax linchpins.

Having killed thirteen suitors as he loved his daughter so much he was convinced that Pelops could not defeat him in a chariot race (Greece, n.d.). The agreement of the race was that if he won the race, he could marry his daughter, but defeat would result in death. The chariot race is depicted in the east pediment. His shrine was in the temple of Zeus in Olympia and since he had won the race the shrine established by Heracles was significant.

Since he was the grandson of Zeus, his shrine was not misplaced. His father had given him to the gods to be eaten, but the gods spared him (Greece, n.d.). He was only eaten at the shoulder, and he reappeared after the death of his father. , and after Pelops was brought back into existence, his shoulder was replaced with that made of ivory. Pelop, Oenomaus and the temple of Zeus are significant in understanding the history of the Olympic Games. The place where the temple was built is where the games were played.

The Olympic Games began in 776 B.C.E, and the first person to win in the race was Koroibos of Elis (Greece, n.d.). This date is however disputed using various theories. One of these theories is the Atreus theory whereby the origin of the Olympic Games is believed to be an Atreus house. This was after Pelops won the race between him and Hippodamia's father. The Olympic Games are also attributed to Hercules who held the games to honor his father, Zeus. On the other hand, Cronus theory attributes the Olympic Games to Zeus victory over Cronus. Emperor Theodosius II ended the Olympic Games after being held for ten consecutive centuries.

The temple of Zeus at Olympia was significant to Greece during the ancient times as they believed in the existence of gods. The temple was a religious symbol in this era where the gods and goddesses were in the Greek's belief system (Mikalson 2009). They believed that Zeus was powerful and was the ruler of other gods. The temple, therefore, was religious significant until when Theodosius II became the Greek emperor. Since he was a Christian, he believed the temple of Zeus and the Olympic Games were promoting the non-Christianity beliefs.

Secondly, the temple of Zeus at Olympia can be used to show the significance of games in ancient Greek. Even at this time, they practiced games since the temple was built at the time when the Olympic Games in Greek were at a peak (Greece, n.d.). Games are a social activity, and the Greek people cherished them. They used them to determine the winner and the loser such as in the case of Pelops and Oenomaus.


In conclusion, The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was a significant sculpture that explains the ancient Greek social life of people in the ancient Greek. The religion was polytheist with different people believing in different deities. Zeus was powerful and was regarded as the chief of other gods hence the reason why The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was built in his honor. Additionally, games were appreciated in Ancient Greece. This is evident because the temple was built where the Olympic Games were being held and at a time when the games were at a climax.


Greece, O. Temple of Zeus. Retrieved from http://www.olympia-greece.org/templezeus.html

Kitto, H. D. F. (2017). The Greeks. Routledge.

Mikalson, J. D. (2009). Ancient Greek Religion (Vol. 9). John Wiley & Sons.

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Temple of Zeus: Ancient Masterpiece of Doric Architecture - Essay Sample. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://midtermguru.com/essays/temple-of-zeus-ancient-masterpiece-of-doric-architecture-essay-sample

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