The Ancient Greek period is said to have begun around 1000 B.C. Scholars generally divide the history of ancient Greece into some important periods based on the culture, politics and art of the times. During the Dark Ages of Greece (1100 – 800 B.C.), the artists decorated amphoras as well as other pottery with geometrical patterns, using circles, squares, and lines. In the archaic period (800 – 490 B.C.), ancient Greek artists built large and stiff sculptures with the popular “archaic smile.”
Also during this period, the Greeks started to settle colonies in many places.
After colonizing Asia Minor’s Aegean coast, they went to Cyprus and Thrace’s coasts, followed by the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea’s south coast. Greek colonization spread as far as Ukraine in the north east, and the coasts of Sicily, Illyria, and southern Italy in the west. France’s south coast, Corsica, northeast of Spain, Egypt, Libya, Naples, Syracuse, Marseille, and Istanbul also experienced life as parts of the ancient Greek civilization (Ancient Greece).
The classical period of Greece (490 – 323 B.C.) saw the artists perfecting their style, as in evident in the “classical” Parthenon. Following Alexander’s conquests, ancient Greece entered the Hellenistic period (323 – 146 B.C.). This was followed by the end of the ancient Greek period with the death of Alexander (Ancient Greece).
Alexander the Great was not the only god of the ancient Greek civilization. Rather, the ancient Greeks worshipped plenty of gods that were believed to appear to them in human form but with extraordinary strength and beauty.
Ancient Greek gods and goddesses were portrayed in painted scenes on stone, vases, and also with bronze and terracotta sculptures. Although many of the ancient Greek temples honored multiple gods and goddesses, certain places showed greater reverence to one deity or a pair of gods, e.g. Olympia’s Zeus, and Eleusis’ Demeter and Persephone (Culture).
The Parthenon is the classical Greek temple of the goddess of wisdom, Athena Parthenos, built between 447 – 432 B.C. on the Acropolis, which is in the capital city of ancient Greece, Athens (Geography). The temple has survived despite severe damage over the centuries (Art). It was built with a “rectangular floor plan with a series of low steps on every side, and a colonnade (8 x 17) of Doric columns extending around the periphery of the entire structure. Each entrance has an additional six columns in front of it. The larger of the two interior rooms, the naos, housed the cult statue. The smaller room (the opisthodomos) was used as a treasury” (The Parthenon).
Perikles, the famous politician of Athens, had championed the construction of the Parthenon (The Parthenon). The temple was constructed with marble, and represented mainly the Doric order with features of the Ionic order incorporated in its sculptural program (Kerr). The Doric order gave Parthenon its series of ninety two metopes (with panels of sculptured reliefs depicting law and order and struggle); and triglyphs on its entablature.
Additionally, the Doric order made the Parthenon a peripteral, simple-looking temple with short and thick columns. The “continuous sculpted frieze” of the Parthenon represents the Ionic order, however. There are four tall and slim columns of the temple, too, that represent this architectural order which happens to support the opisthodomos’ roof at the Parthenon. The capitals or the columns’ tops that are built using the Ionic order have volutes, which are the names of the curlicues special to this order (The Parthenon).
Above the metopes and triglyphs of the temple lie the pedimental sculptures, one of which shows the birth of Zeus. The frieze of the temple, running “around the upper edge of the temple wall” and inside from the metopes and the triglyphs, shows day to day life in ancient Greece, the rituals of the Greeks, processions, musicians, gods and goddesses, and much more (The Parthenon).
Indeed, the place of the frieze in the sculptural program of the temple is unique, seeing as they not only portray real life and beliefs of the ancient Greeks, but also give the Parthenon a central place in the life of Athens. The Parthenon was, after all, a place where religious festivals as well as sacrifices were held.
Inspired by the culture of the ancient Greeks, the ancient Roman civilization began in the 9th century B. C. in the form of a city-state on the Italian Peninsula. Ancient Rome lived on for twelve centuries, growing into a tremendous empire dominating Western Europe and the whole area around the Mediterranean Sea through assimilation as well as conquest. Rome was for the ancient Romans as Athens was for the ancient Greeks.
The city of Rome, “located on seven hills,” represented the heart of ancient Rome with immense architectural masterpieces such as the Forum of Trajan, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon. The Romans were also particularly skillful at making political paintings, portrait sculptures, in addition to relief sculptures that depicted their victories in battle (Ancient Rome).
Although the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans shared many of their gods and goddesses, the ancient Romans did not maintain that all gods appeared to them in human form. Rather, the gods of ancient Rome were believed to be spirits. In order to help people effectively communicate with and worship the spirits of the gods, ancient Rome employed priests to guide people in the matters of religion. Ancient Romans also believed in their emperors turning into deities following their deaths (Ancient Rome).
The Pantheon was originally built between 27-25 B.C. by the Roman Empire for seven deities, before it was destroyed and rebuilt around 125 B.C. for the worship of all Roman gods. In the 7th century, the Pantheon was made into a Christian Church, and the sculptures outside of the temple were destroyed. The marble interior and the bronze doors of the temple survived, however (Cyrstal).
The temple is circular, and has a portico of immense “granite Corinthian columns” that are “under a pediment opening into the rotunda, under a coffered, concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus), the Great Eye, open to the sky.” The pediment used to be decorated with a bronze sculpture depicting the Battle of the Titans. Other features of the Pantheon have been described thus:
The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same (43 metres, or 142 feet 6 inches), so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube (alternatively, the interior could house a sphere 43 metres in diameter). The dome is the largest surviving from antiquity and was the largest dome in western Europe until Brunelleschi’s dome of the Duomo of Florence was completed in 1436. It was covered with gilded bronze plates.
The interior of the roof is intended to symbolize the heavens. The Great Eye, 27 feet across, at the dome’s apex is the source of all light and is symbolic of the sun. Its original circular bronze cornice remains in position. The interior features sunk panels (coffers), which originally contained bronze star ornaments. This coffering was not only decorative, however, but reduced the weight of the roof, as did the elimination of the apex by means of the Great Eye (Crystal).
The Pantheon used to house the statues of three important Roman emperors before the Christian Church took over the temple (Crystal). Although the Pantheon remains in place today, and has been in use since the time it was first built, it is very different from what it used to be (Pantheon, Rome).
Both the Parthenon and the Pantheon acted as the representatives of multiple gods of the ancient civilizations that built them. Although the Parthenon was essentially built for a single deity, it ultimately housed the sculptures of various gods. Many of those ancient sculptures are still present. On the other hand, the Pantheon, essentially built for seven deities, has lost all depictions of the deities of the ancient Romans.
Both temples were built with large columns. As a matter of fact, the columns of the Parthenon and the Pantheon are the main physical features that strike the eye of the beholder of the two temples. However, the Pantheon does not appear to be as huge as the Parthenon. Although both the ancient Greeks and the Romans used their temples to celebrate and remember their gods, the latter did not focus heavily on the physical depictions of the deities. Instead, they built the heavens inside the Pantheon. The heavens are where the spirits of their gods lived. The Romans also built statues of their emperors in the Pantheon. This is because they deified their mighty emperors after the deaths of those emperors.
Lastly, it appears to be a fact that the ancient Greeks built the Parthenon with greater richness in its sculptural program. The ancient Romans did not reveal anything about the daily life in the ancient Roman civilization. Both ancient Greeks and ancient Romans portrayed battle scenes in the temples. All the same, the ancient Romans, with their focus on spirits, did not show too many human figures inside and around the Pantheon. Moreover, they used bronze with gold in the temple. The Parthenon, on the contrary, did not use gold. Hence, the ancient Roman temple was richer by way of the materials used in its decoration. Both temples, however, remain in place today to reveal the majesty of their respective civilizations.