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.
A single marshal is depicted, his body rendered frontally. His weight is carried on his left leg, with the right leg free and turned to the side. He turns his head, now missing, and looks leftward toward the south side where the animals are coming along with their herdsmen. Perhaps his raised right arm conveys a signal. He wears a himation which covers the lower part of his body and is wrapped over his left forearm, from which it hangs. His feet are shod in sandals. The figure corresponds to the other corner figures of the frieze but surpasses them in artistic quality.
At the head of the south procession which comes to an end at this point, sixteen young women move slowly forward to the right, some of them in pairs. They are clad in chiton and himation and some wear a peplos over the chiton as well. The peploi are arranged with overfold and kolpos. These peplos-clad figures of the east frieze are the earliest classical examples of peplophoroi in a stance with the free leg modelled below the drapery and the weight leg (that carrying the weight of the figure) hidden by vertical folds resembling the flutes of a column. Some have long hair hanging down their shoulders. Some are shown in profile, others in 3/4 view. All have a space between them. On some, the free leg is toward the viewer, while on others it is the opposite. The maidens on block II hold each a phiale with omphalos. These are for offerings.
On block III come eleven female and two male figures. The maidens are carrying oinochoai (jugs). Ahead of them are two pairs of maidens who hold each a high base bedecked with ribbons and thongs. The bases have been interpreted variously as taper-stands, spits, even as loom-legs. It is uncertain whether they could be incense-burners comparable to those shown on a smaller scale, carried by the maidens on block VII and block VIII. The procession is led by two maidens carrying nothing and most likely to be identified as the ergastinai who wove the peplos and presented it. To the right, two two men clad in himation and sandals carry on a conversation. They are thought to be eponymous heroes, that is the first ancestors (who gave their names to the tribes) of two of the ten tribes, into which Kleisthenes divided the Athenian citizens for administrative and political purposes. The first man held a metal staff, once attached, now lost. Some have identified him as the teletarches who led the procession of maidens. In this case, the identification of the six male figures to the south and the four to the north between the procession of maidens and the gods is thrown into doubt, as there would then be only nine eponymous heroes. In any case the identification of the first man as Theseus, the mythical founder of the Panathenaia, could solve the problem, since Theseus may be considered as representing one of the tribes that took its name either from his father or from his son. The second male figure is leaning on a cudgel, with his legs crossed, in a stance well-known and popular from archaic times on.
The figures on blocks II and III may be divided stylistically into two groups, evidently the work of two different sculptors. One group comprises the figures characterised by the deep folds of the himatia and fine folds of the chitons, the other figures with shallower folds and undifferentiated lines. Neither display the monumentality and simplicity of the great artist who made the figures on the corresponding blocks VII and VIII of the right part of the east side.
Depicted on this block are four male figures in a pose of expectation and four Olympian gods, seated on stools. The rest of the divinities are shown on the adjoining blocks V and VI.
The four male figures are leaning on their staffs or cudgels, three of which are shown in relief, while the fourth was added in paint. Two of the figures are bearded. Clearly they are not taking part in the procession and, as the two male figures on block III, on the basis of various criteria they have been interpreted by a number of scholars as eponymous heroes. Yet it is likely that they are officials who are receiving the procession and mediate between the mortals and the gods.
The four gods seated on stools and represented at a larger scale than the human figures, have turned their backs on the central scene and look instead toward the arriving procession. Most can be identified from their symbols. The first to the left is Hermes, seated in relaxed fashion facing left, and with his back against the next god who is identified as Dionysos. Hermes is depicted as nude above the waist, with his chlamys over the lower part of his body and his petasos on his knees. He probably held a metal kerykeion in his right hand, which rests on the knee of his extended left leg. He wears krepides. To the right, behind him, Dionysos, with himation over the lower part of his body, is sitting on a stool with a flat pillow. Although he is seated in the opposite direction, the upper part of his body is frontal and he turns his head back to the left. He bends his right arm to rest it on the back of Hermes’ shoulder. His raised right hand no doubt once held his symbol, a thyrsos (a wand ending in a pine-cone and entwined with ivy and vine-leaves), which was added in paint. Opposite him to the right sits a goddess who is identified as Demeter. She is clad in a peplos with overfold and kolpos. She leans slightly forward, her knees between Dionysos’ legs. In her left hand she holds her torch (dada) and with her right hand raised to her face she makes a gesture of grief, no doubt for the loss of her daughter to Plouton. Behind her on a stool sits a stalwart god, indifferent, both hands locked around his raised right knee, which is bent with foot drawn up. His extended right foot must have rested against a rock, once painted. Discernable at the heel of his left foot is part of the spear that continued in paint behind the god’s right shoulder. This is, indeed, Ares, for he carries his weapon and sits in the characteristic, momentary pose known also from another sculptural type representing the god, of the end of the 4th century B.C. (the Ludovisi Ares).
The portrayal of the gods continues on this block, with Hera and Zeus and a small youthful figure identified either as Nike or more likely as Iris, the winged messenger of the gods. The figure is shown at the left standing next to Hera, her body frontal and her head turned toward the procession. She wears a peplos belted at the waist. With her left hand she arranges her hair which was loosened during her flight. In her right hand, at her waist, she will have held some object, perhaps a ribbon. Hera, seated on a stool, wears a leafy stephane (crown) and a peplos, falling in a kolpos and belted below a short overfold. She turns toward her husband, Zeus, who sits behind her, and with both hands raised she lifts up the himation that covers her head in the traditional gesture of «revealing» that is found in scenes of bride and groom. Zeus sits behind her in a relaxed position on his throne, with his left leg stretched out in front, and resting his left forearm on the chair-back. He wears a himation that covers only the lower part of his body. His right hand is extended to hold a sceptre, shown partly in relief, partly in applied bronze. The depiction of the god has both simplicity and grandeur.
Now follows the central scene of giving the peplos. This is the most important scene of all, yet the most enigmatic. It is the focus and destination of the procession. It takes up the centre of block V and it is composed of five figures. At the left two maidens, wearing chiton and himation, carry diphroi upon their heads. One looks out in frontal stance, the other moves forward toward the centre. In her left hand the first holds an object difficult to identify and thought by some to be a kanoun or a footstool. Perhaps these figures are the diphrophoroi, the daughters of settlers who accompanied the kanephoroi (basket-carriers). Yet it is more likely that these are the arrephoroi (maidens who carried the symbols of Athena Polias in the procession), girls aged 7 to 11, in the service of Athena, who took part in the ceremony of starting the weaving of the peplos by the ergastinai designated for the xoanon of the goddess, made of olive wood and believed to have been thrown down from heaven by Zeus (diipetes). Some scholars have interpreted the stools (diphroi) they are carrying as seats for divinities («theoxenia»). Yet the twelve gods are already seated, so others have suggested that they are designated instead for the absent, Ge Kourotrophos (Earth nourishing her offspring) and Pandrosos, or else the priest and the achon-basileus, king-archon (E. Simon). M. Robertson, to the contrary, has suggested that the stools were to hold the two peploi, the new and the old, while yet another theory is that the pillows on the stools are actually folded garments (chiton and himation), which might have been offered together with the peplos. To the right of the two stool-bearers stands a woman who has been identified as the priestess of Athena. She wears chiton and himation and turning left she is ready to receive the stool carried on the head of the second maiden. Behind the priestess is a tall man wearing a long, short-sleeved chiton and turned toward the right. He has been identified as the archon-basileus. He is folding or unfolding Athena’s peplos, aided by a boy, over whose left shoulder is thrown the archon’s himation. Surely this is one of the boy – arrephoroi referred to by the Pseudo-Plutarch.
On the right side of block V the goddess Athena sits indifferently, with her back to the peplos scene. She wears a peplos with a slack kolpo. She stretches out her left leg while bending her right so that her foot is pulled in beneath the stool. As Mistress of the temple and goddess honoured by the Panathenaic procession, she sits in a position corresponding to that of Zeus. On her lap she will have held the aegis, for traces of the snakes are wound around her wrists. She held a spear, added in bronze, in her right hand, as is clear from the three holes which run diagonally across the goddess’s right forearm. Beside her sits a bearded god toward the right, but turning back to talk to her. The walking-stick beneath his right armpit shows his crippleness and identifies him as Hephaistos. Perhaps the depiction of the two together, side-by-side, reflects their common cult in the Hephaisteion (Theseion) in the Ancient Agora to the northwest of the Acropolis.
The sequence continues with the other gods: Poseidon, Apollo, Artemis and Aphrodite together with Eros. The three first gods have survived in good condition and with their faces, whereas Aphrodite is preserved only in small pieces. The figure of Eros is preserved in a cast.
Poseidon is depicted as a bearded elder seated and looking seriously toward the procession, with an air of pensiveness, perhaps dwelling on his defeat by the goddess Athena, his contender in the contest for the land of Attica. A cutting in his curly hair shows that he wore a band around his hair, applied in bronze. He wears sandals and an himation, wrapped around the lower part of his body leaving the upper part nude. His right hand hangs free beside his stool and in his raised left hand he will have held his trident, which was painted. Beside him sits another god, the youthful Apollo, to the right, his upper body shown in 3/4 view and his head turned left toward Poseidon, with whom he evidently is conversing. His short curly hair is crowned by a stephane, which was added in metal as can be seen from the attachment holes. His right hand rests on his himation which is wrapped around him, leaving the upper right part of his body free. With his raised left hand he will have held an olive branch of bronze. To the right, the goddess Artemis is clad in a chiton that has slipped from her shoulders and an himation. Her long wavy hair is drawn back and gathered in a sakkos (snood). The motive of the bared shoulder, which now appears for the first time in ancient Greek art will later on become a characteristic, not of Artemis, but of Aphrodite.
Now comes Aphrodite in fragmentary condition. She sits relaxed and carefree, the upper part of her body turned in 3/4 view. She rests her right forearm with ease on the left thigh of Artemis, who has passed her left hand around Aphrodite’s forearm in a beautiful gesture of love and tenderness. Perhaps this gesture indicates a common cult of these two goddesses, which has not been found. Aphrodite too wears a richly folded chiton with short sleeves held by brooches, a cover on her head and himation partly in folds across her knees, partly hanging in folds beside her seat. Rocky ground is shown by her feet. With her outstretched arm resting on her son Eros’ shoulder, she points to the approaching procession. Eros, standing, leans back supporting his lovely nude figure with his right hand on his mother’s knees. In his lowered left hand he holds a parasol by its long handle. This may well be a reference to his participation in the procession of the parasol- carriers, who, however, are omitted from the frieze. He is looking in the direction to which his mother points. The figure of Eros balances that of Iris next to Hera. Clearly the artist wanted to emphasize both the supreme divine couple (Zeus and Hera) and Aphrodite the goddess of love who is by her very essence connected with human life. Hermes and Aphrodite in a way correspond to each other, since both deities are closely connected with mankind. Thus they are shown close to the procession. By the feet of these figures, as with Zeus and Hera, a rocky landscape is denoted. Yet precisely where the gods are meant to be is not entirely clear: are they on Mt. Olympos or are they on the Acropolis where the procession ends? It has even been suggested that they are in the Ancient Agora in the peribolos (precinct) of the Twelve Gods, past which the Panathenaic procession wound its way.
The next section of the block has suffered badly. Yet it can be restored on the basis of a cast that belonged to the French consul in Athens, L.S. Fauvel, and had been made in 1787 by order of the French ambassador to the Sublime Porte in Constantinople, Count Choiseul-Gouffier. A group of four men are shown, three bearded and one beardless youth, all himation-clad and conversing, their backs to both the gods and the procession. They are leaning on their staffs, two with their legs crossed in a favorite pose of Greek art from archaic times on. These are the other four eponymous heroes, the mythical kings of the Acropolis: to the left is Kekrops, to the right of him his successor Erechtheus. It is not by chance that they are on the north part of the frieze, toward the Erechtheion, the place where they were worshipped. The third hero was Pandion, with his son Aigeus to the left. The stance of the two figures supports this identification. For Pandion rests his right hand on the shoulder of the figure beside him, thus showing a clear connection between the two men: indeed, father and son, given the difference in age.
The two last figures on block VI are not part of the group of heroes. They are teletarches, in charge of the ceremony, and they are receiving the procession on the Acropolis. The left-hand figure is turned toward the south section of the procession and with his raised right hand he signals. The figure on the right is turned toward the right to receive the north section of the procession. The gesture of the first shows clearly that the presence of the gods and heroes is not perceived by those taking part in the procession, and that the two sections of the procession belong together as one.
The figures of the gods have been attributed to the sculptor Alkamenes, Pheidias’ great rival. The rest of the figures have been attributed to the sculptor Demetrios from the deme of Alopeke.
In contrast to the left part of the east frieze, on the north part there are seventeen figures of the procession: the two figures on block VI, eight on this block, five on block VIIΙ and two on block ΙΧ. Whereas on the south part of the east frieze there is a teletarches and sixteen maidens, on the north there are thirteen maidens and four teletarches who have been identified as the eponymous heroes of the four pre-Kleisthenic tribes. The first teletarches holds with both hands a kanoun, a reed bread-basket, evidently for sacrificial objects being brought by the two girls. They are followed by another pair of girls who hold nothing and are probably ergastinai or kanephoroi. All four are clad in peplos, himation and sandals. The second teletarch, in 3/4 view toward the right, holds an object of some sort in his lowered right hand, while pointing with his left hand he appears to be giving an order to the two maidens standing before him. The next maiden holds an omphalos phiale in her right hand, as do the four last figures of the east frieze, those on block VIII and those on block IX. The maiden who follows turns toward the maiden of block VIΙΙ standing a bit apart from her, in order with her left hand to help her to carry the thymiaterion.
Block VII was found in an excavation east of the Parthenon by the French consul in Athens, L. S. Fauvel and around 1818-1820 it was restored by the sculptor B. Lange. This must have been the time when the heads of the figures were drastically cut.
On this block there are five maidens. The first maiden is carrying a thymiaterion. The next two maidens are carrying two oinochoai. Finally, the last two maidens are holding an omphalos phiale with their right hands.
It is only in Carrey’s drawing that corner block IX is preserved. A few fragments remain in the Acropolis Museum. Two female figures, preserved in fragments, are shown clad in thick peplos. These end the group.