In his right hand a figure of Victory made from ivory and gold. In his left hand,
his scepter inlaid with all metals, and an eagle perched on the sceptre. The sandals of
the god are made of gold, as is his robe.
This is the statue of the god in whose honor the Ancient Olympic games were held. It was
located on the land that gave its very name to the Olympics. At the time of the games,
wars stopped, and athletes came from Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Sicily to celebrate the
Olympics and to worship their king of gods: Zeus.
At the ancient town of Olympia, on the west coast of modern Greece, about 150 km
west of Athens.
The magnificent temple of Zeus was designed by the architect Libon and was built
around 450 BC. Under the growing power of ancient Greece, the simple Doric-style temple
seemed too mundane, and modifications were needed. The solution: A majestic statue.
For the years that followed, the temple attracted visitors and worshippers from all over
the world. In the second century BC repairs were skillfully made to the aging statue.After
the Olympic games were banned in AD 391 by the emperor Theodosius I as Pagan practices,
the temple of Zeus was ordered closed.
Olympia was further struck by earthquakes, landslides and floods, and the temple was
damaged by fire in the fifth century AD. Earlier, the statue had been transported by
wealthy Greeks to a palace in Constantinople. There, it survived until it was destroyed by
a severe fire in AD 462. Today nothing remains at the site of the old temple except rocks
and debris, the foundation of the buildings, and fallen columns.
Pheidias began working on the statue around 440 BC. When the statue was
completed, it barely fitted in 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 the head
almost touching the ceiling, so that we have the impression that if Zeus moved to stand up
he would unroof the temple."
The statue was so high that visitors described the throne more than Zeus body and
features. The legs of the throne were decorated with sphinxes and winged figures of
Victory. Greek gods and mythical figures also adorned the scene: Apollo, Artemis, and