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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.