The Parthenon frieze
The Parthenon frieze, a unique work of art, is presented in digital form through this application. Photographs of all the frieze blocks preserved today in the Acropolis Museum, the British Museum and the Louvre have been gathered together and annotated in Greek and English. The photographs have been combined with the drawings of J. Carrey (1674) and J. Stuart (1751), in order to give the fullest possible picture of the frieze. This application upgrades the previous digital version.
About the frieze
The frieze of the Parthenon forms a continuous band with scenes in relief that encircles the upper part of the cella, the main temple, within the outer colonnade. The theme represented was the procession toward the Acropolis that took place during the Great Panathenaia, the festival in honour of the goddess Athena.
Of the entire frieze preserved today, 50 metres are in the Acropolis Museum, 80 metres in the British Museum, one block in the Louvre and several fragments are scattered in different European museums.
Explore the frieze
The frieze of the Parthenon is a continuous band with representations in relief that encircles the upper part of the cella, the main part of the temple within the outer colonnade. The theme represented was the procession to the Acropolis that formed part of the Great Panathenaia. The west side depicts the preparation for the procession. The long sides, North and South, depict the main procession with the groups of horsemen and chariots and the sacrificial procession of offerings and animals. On either end of the east side are the heads of the procession and in the middle the gods and goddesses and the main cult scene with the handing over of the peplos.
Select a frieze side on the model of the Parthenon to explore each block of the frieze.
The west frieze depicts the preparation for the Panathenaic procession of the horsemen in the Kerameikos. Blocks with quiet scenes are interposed with those bearing scenes of action. The clothing of the horsemen is greatly varied, interpreted by some scholars as representative of the 10 or 4 tribes of Attica. Weapons and the horses’ bridle attachments were applied in bronze.
The frieze is divided, part in the British Museum, part in the Acropolis museum. The scenes begin at the northwest corner of the opisthonaos as a continuation of the procession which has already started on the west side. The action develops gradually and from quiet preparation accelerates to a gallop. Even though they may have taken place at a another time or place, these scenes represent activities that were part of the festival of the Panathenaia.
The south side of the frieze is preserved fragmentarily and the sculptured surface was badly damaged in the tremendous catastrophe suffered by the Parthenon in the explosion of 1687. This is why the sequence from block XX on is uncertain. Even so, the Carrey drawings show the representations on many of the missing sections and have enabled us to locate a number of existing fragments.
The east frieze is comprised of nine blocks that are considerably longer than the blocks of the other sides. The surviving blocks and fragments are scattered among various museums. In contrast to the west frieze, the east frieze has a certain symmetry of composition, since it is the focal point of the processions of the other sides, culminating in the main cult scene with the handing over of the peplos.
Throughout the work we distinguish the following thematic units: the preparation of the procession, the horsemen participating in the procession, the chariots, the procession of offerings and animals for sacrifice and finally the delivery of the Peplos to the goddess Athena in the presence of the gods of Olympus.
Most scholars who have studied the west frieze believe that it depicts the preparation of the Panathenaic procession that took place in the Kerameikos.
Between two officials, depicted on either end of the west side, are scenes with horsemen and horses in various positions.
The horsemen show great variety in their dress. Some are almost nude, while others are wearing different combinations of clothing.
Predominating in the centre is the figure of a horseman trying to bridle his horse, considered by some a work of Pheidias himself. MORE...
The composition of the west part of the long sides of the frieze is comprised by groups of riders which overlap in successive levels. The scenes succeed each other uncurtailed by the length of the block on which they are carved.
Approximately 200 horses, carved by many different sculptors, take part in the procession. The men on foot and the horsemen are rendered with great skill, so that the men appear no taller than the horses and are thus easily accommodated within the height of the frieze. MORE...
Chariot races were one of the oldest and most spectacular of the Panathenaic contests. A special contest was that of the apobates, where four-horse chariots with charioteer and hoplite ran the course. During the game, the hoplite dismounted and remounted the chariot while it was still running.
The contest of the apobates is shown on the north side of the frieze. Taking part are twelve chariots, each one of which occupies one and a half blocks.
On the south side ten chariots are shown participating, each of which occupies a single block. MORE...
In antiquity, people honoured their gods by offering sacrifices. They followed a special rite and they used special sacred vessels and implements. During the sacred ceremony, they offered the gods wine, the first and most valuable fruit, and animal sacrifices.
The sacrificial procession is shown on the eastern part of the long sides of the Parthenon Frieze and continues on the east side. The east side is the only side depicting women participating. At the heads of the procession are the ten eponymous heroes of Attica. MORE...
Gods & Goddesses
The scene of the handing over of the peplos is framed by the divinities who dominate the ritual, seated, larger than the other figures and by their relative size proclaiming their divine nature. The divinities are divided into two groups.
On the left of the central scene are Zeus, Hera with Iris, Ares, Demeter, Dionysos and Hermes. On the left of the central scene sits the venerated goddess Athena, followed by Hephaistos, Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis and, lastly, Aphrodite with Eros. MORE...
The peplos scene
Depicted in the middle of the East Frieze is the most important yet most enigmatic moment in the Panathenaic procession, the ceremony of handing over the peplos.
The peplos, gift of the Athenians to the cult wooden statue of Athena housed in the Erechtheion, was decorated with scenes from the Gigantomachy.
The peplos was woven by the Ergastines, young girls of noble familes who were chosen specifically for the task.
The handing over of the peplos is depicted in the center of the frieze by two figures, a venerable figure perhaps belonging to the King-Archon and a boy. MORE...
Architecture and Sculpture
The Parthenon was the first and most important monument of the Periclean program on the Acropolis in classical times. It was a wondrous building because of its proportions and its excellent construction, but also because of the brilliant setting on the height of the Sacred Rock. A temple of Pentelic marble, Doric with Ionic features, it is unsurpassed not only in regard to its architecture and sculpture but also to the speed of construction.