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Statue of Zeus

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Statue of Zeus
Discover interesting facts and information about the magnificent Statue of Zeus.  Read about when and where the statue was made, its function, a full description of the colossal statue and details of the temple in which it was housed and who was the artist who created the Statue of Zeus. Gain an appreciation of one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World that was made of ebony, ivory, silver, gold and precious stones.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The colossal Statue of Zeus was housed in the Temple of Zeus in the city of Olympia in the west of Greece - refer to Zeus at Olympia. The statue measured over 13m (42 ft) tall and its base was 6m (21 feet) wide and it stood for over 800 years. The following pictures are an artists impression of what the amazing statue depicting the ancient Greek god might have looked like, taken from first-hand descriptions of the statue and the engravings found on ancient coins.

Description of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The Statue of Zeus was constructed over a wooden framework

  • The statue of Zeus was over 42 ft high and 21 feet wide

  • The god was depicted bare-chested - all of the area representing skin was covered in ivory

  • His garments, weapons, beard and hair were covered in gold leaf

  • His sandals were gold

  • His head was crowned by a silver olive wreath

  • On the robe were figures of animals, zodiac scenes and the flowers of the lily

  • The throne was decorated with gold, silver, bronze, precious stones, ebony, and ivory

  • On each side at the top of the throne statues of the three Graces and the three Seasons (Horae) were depicted

  • The arm-rests of the throne were figures of the mythical sphinx

  • Beneath the sphinxes were images of Apollo and Artemis are shooting down the children of Niobe.

  • In his left hand Zeus held a scepter made of a variety of rare metals

  • The scepter was crowned with an eagle's head, symbolizing his power as a king

  • In his right hand he held a life-sized image of Nike, the goddess of Victory, made of gold and ivory

  • His foot stool was upheld by two gold lions

  • Beneath the lions the fight of Theseus against the Amazons was depicted

  • On the gold leafed pedestal, which supports the throne there were figures of gold including Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Athena and Poseidon

  • Imagery of lesser gods and mythical creatures were also represented on the Statue of Zeus

Short Facts about the Statue of Zeus
Discover interesting information and short facts about the Statue of Zeus, the king of the gods.

  • Location: It was erected in the Temple of Zeus at the sanctuary of Olympia, on the western coast of Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years

  • Does it still exist? No. Nothing remains of the Statue today, but it stood in the temple at Olympia for more than 800 years

  • How big was it? Massive! It was about 13 m (42 ft) tall and its base was 6m (21 feet) wide and 1m height. The statue's perimeter was 13 m (43 feet)

  • To get a better idea of its size: In his right hand he holds a life-sized image of Nike (the goddess of Victory). It was the size of a modern four-story building

  • Who built it? The name of the sculptor was an Athenian named Phidias. Although most of the temple and the complete statue were destroyed, the remains of the workshop of Phidias still stands at Olympia - it was discovered in 1954.

  • When was it constructed? It was made about 432 BC

  • How long did it take to create? It took 12 years to build

  • Why was it made and what was its function? As a shrine to Zeus, the king of the gods

  • What was it made of? It was made from a wooden frame of cedarwood which was covered with expensive materials such as ivory, ebony, bronze, gold leaf and precious stones

  • The sculptor Phidias was assisted in his work by his pupils Panainos and Kolotis who decorated the throne in gold, ebony and precious stones with images of heroes and lesser gods from Greek mythology

  • The work is described as a Chryselephantine statue (from Greek words 'chrysos' meaning gold, and 'elephantinos' meaning ivory and refers to the sculptural medium of gold and ivory

  • Chryselephantine statues were made with an inner core of wood overlaid with thin slabs of ivory representing unclothed skin, and sheets of gold leaf to represent drapery, clothing, hair, beards, crowns, wreaths and armour.

  • Some Chryselephantine statues were also embellished with glass, and precious and semi-precious stones for eyes, jewellery, and weapons.

  • The sculptor Phidias was assisted in his work by his pupils Panainos and Kolotis who decorated the throne in gold, ebony and precious stones

  • The throne was decorated with images of heroes and gods from Greek mythology including Apollo, Artemis and Nike, together with lions, sphinxes, warriors, Amazons and mythical beasts

  • In the fourth century A.D. the Roman Emperor Theodorius I banned the Olympics as Pagan practices and the Sanctuary of Zeus was closed (13 of its original great columns still remain).

  • The statue was removed from the Temple of Zeus in c.392AD when it was taken by Greeks to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) in order to save it from possible destruction

  • Sixty years later a great fire in Constantinople completely destroyed the statue

  • The seated statue of Zeus in the temple at Olympia, was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

  • The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:
    The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
    The Great Pyramid of Giza
    The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
    The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
    The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
    The Colossus of Rhodes
    The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Statue of Zeus was bathed in Olive Oil
Inside the temple the floor in front of the Statue of Zeus was paved, not with white, but with black tiles. In a circle round the black stone ran a raised rim of Parian marble that contained olive oil. (Parian marble was a fine-grained, semi-translucent, pure-white and entirely flawless marble that was quarried during the classical era on the Greek island of Paros in the Aegean Sea.) Other materials used in the construction of the statue, such as ebony and ivory, were imported from India and Ethiopia. The Statue of Zeus was bathed in olive oil on a daily basis. Given the size of the statue this was quite a task. This careful treatment, using olive oil was necessary to ensure that the expensive materials such as ivory did not dry out and that the metals retained a pristine appearance. Both the image of the god and the throne were built over a cistern designed to store and collect olive oil during this daily cleaning process.

First-Hand Description of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The colossal Statue of Zeus at Olympia stood for over 800 years and was eventually destroyed by fire following its relocation from Olympia in Greece to Constantinople in Turkey. Images of the great statue of Zeus have survived on ancient coins and many writers from the era wrote about what was once described as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the World'. One such writer was a Greek called Pausanias. The following words are taken from his first-hand description of the Statue of Zeus:

  • The god sits on a throne, and he is made of gold and ivory

  • On his head lies a garland which is a copy of olive shoots

  • In his right hand he carries a Victory [statue of Nike] is of ivory and gold; she wears a ribbon and--on her head--a garland

  • In the left hand of the god is a scepter, ornamented with every kind of metal, and the bird sitting on the scepter is the eagle

  • The sandals also of the god are of gold, as is likewise his robe

  • On the robe are embroidered figures of animals and the flowers of the lily.

  • The throne is adorned with gold and with jewels, to say nothing of ebony and ivory

  • Upon it are painted figures and wrought images. There are four Victories, represented as dancing women, one at each foot of the throne, and two others at the base of each foot

  • On each of the two front feet are set Theban children ravished by sphinxes, while under the sphinxes Apollo and Artemis are shooting down the children of Niobe.

  • Between the feet of the throne are four rods, each one stretching from foot to foot [depicting] Heracles fights against the Amazons. The number of figures in the two parties is twenty-nine, and Theseus too is ranged among the allies of Heracles

  • The throne is supported not only by the feet, but also by an equal number of pillars standing between the feet.

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