To what extent were propaganda and national pride as important as religion in the design, construction and decoration of the Parthenon?

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Jessica Pinnock

Classical Civilisation Coursework

To what extent were propaganda and national pride as important as religion in the design, construction and decoration of the Parthenon?

Although the decision to build the Parthenon was highly controversial in Athens because of the politics that surrounded it, was the Parthenon erected simply as sign of dedication to the gods? Or was it to fuel the dwindling pride of the Athenian citizens? By studying the structure, decoration and design, I hope to come to a conclusion as to whether the Parthenon was simply physical evidence of Athenian pride or whether it was pride in religion.

Brief History

Though the Persian wars were possibly over before the Parthenon was being considered, the wars played a vital role for Athens and her temples. During the wars, the armies of Persia attacked Athens and sacked the city leaving much of it in ruins, including the new temple in honour of Athene atop the Acropolis that was under construction. During the struggle, many of the states in Greece joined together to fight against the Persians and decided that they should not rebuild any of the temples that had been destroyed by the Persians to have an eternal memory of the devastation they caused and the lack of respect they have for religion.  The once impressive city of Athens was reduced to dust, with small basic houses and nothing really imposing. The relatively basic buildings of Athens must have crushed the pride of the people, however, due to the oath taken at Plataea not to rebuild any of the temples, the people remained humbled by their modest buildings in their cities.  Some of the states in Greece joined together in a league to sustain a navy that could protect them from more attacks from the Persians. The money given by each of the states was kept at a treasury in Delos, the Greeks then referred to the band of states as the Delian League.  Eventually, it became obvious that Athens would be the leaders of the league and so the money was transferred to Athens. After rebuilding and fortifying the city, the Athenians made peace with Persia in 449BC. The oath of Plataea no longer seemed necessary, and a popular Athenian politician, Pericles, began advances to persuade the Athenians to rebuild the temples of Athens.  Pericles wanted to discuss rebuilding the temples and guarding the oceans with the other states in the Delian League. However, no other states came to the conference that Pericles had organised. When this happened, Athens made the decision to rebuild the temples without the input of the other states. As Pericles had proposed the building of the Parthenon, he had to influence the population about funding the huge project. It was decided to use state funds and money given by the Delian League to construct the Parthenon.

Structure of the Parthenon

As a Doric temple, the Parthenon would have been expected to have certain attributes that would immediately classify it. For example, a typical Doric temple would often have columns that sit directly on top of the stylobate (the top step of the temple), without a base as in the Ionic order. Whilst the Parthenon encompasses many of the attributes of a classic Doric temple, it was assumed to be a dedication to Athene, because Greek temples were meant as a house to the gods on earth. Often they housed statues of a god. Despite the Parthenon accommodated the gigantic statue of Athene and had many qualities of an ordinary temple, it was a colossal difference.

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As opposed to a customary 6x13 peristyle, the Parthenon has 8x17. Clearly, this marks a major difference in the size of the temple, both in width and length. There are six Doric columns on the pronaos, which is a porch and another six columns at the back of the opisthodomos, which is the back room. As well as these columns, there are Doric columns inside the main room which is also known as the cella. These columns are two tiered which offers a solution to the fact that if the columns were not two-tiered then the base of the ...

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