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The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1795 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The Statue of Zeus was built by Phidias for twelve years and was placed in the Temple at Olympia. The statue was designed in honor of Zeus, a king who was considered or viewed as the sole sovereign Lord of gods of Greek1. It was, therefore, put in place in his tribute, to bring people closer, and promote peace and harmony among various communities and religions.

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The skin of the Zeus’ statue was plated with beard and golden hair. It was also plated with such materials as ivory. At the top of it laid a throne of ivory which was exhibited with ebony and gold1. The throne was laid on a pool of olive oil and water which acted as a protection tool during the season of high temperatures. This coat prevented the statue from cracking as a result of high temperatures1. The statue was studied, looked at, and was also worshipped by many people at and across Olympia. The marvel of this statue was not by and large a structural magnitude. However, the ornamentation sheer amount that was embellished on Zeus’ statue cannot be underscored.

The ivory from which the Statue of Zeus at Olympia was made from a gleaming symbol and a clear representation of the Greek’s veneration and reverence for the sovereign king and ruler of all gods. Zeus was generally in jewelries which were made of gold. Alongside this were robes and sandals made of gold1. Moreover, major parts of the throne were made and designed of cedar wood. As seen from afar, Zeus held a shining scepter on the left hand[1]. At the top of this was a perched eagle which was designed and outlaid with gold. From a close view, the eagle is seen as ready for a take-off, an indication of alertness that later came to fulfillment when the statue was moved from its original place. In addition, the left hand of Zeus was a statue of victory Nike goddess.

The statue of Zeus was made of wood, which is why it completely disappeared these days, burned in a fire. It is especially his decorations that are impressive. The materials used are gold, ivory, bronze, glass and various other materials.

The wood was cypress and cedar (after Dion Chrysostom), woods that were reputed to be imputable at the time.

The origin of gold is completely unknown. We know that there were gold mines in Macedonia, a territory not so far from the Peloponnese, but it could also come from other sources, such as the one in Africa, for example.
 Phidias was the main sculptor who was hired to build and construct the Statue of Zeus. He took twelve years to complete the project that was over forty feet. High level of technology and expertise was used for this great and huge project. For instance, the statue of Zeus was to be built in the temple, something that could not appear to make sense to an ordinary person. The construction of this statue inside the temple ranged from the ground lever to the ceiling of the sanctuary. The sculptor behind this project used made the statue’s dimensions closer to those ones of the internal part of the larger temple2. The main reason behind this was to make the statue larger than it actually was.

Furthermore, the statue was by some means hollow. The sculptor made use of wooden structures that helped in placing attachment points for a number of ivory posts and panel2. Phidias largely made use of the grid pattern that acted as, in some way, a foundation for the panel[2]. This greatly helped in making the sculpting efficient, easier, and effective of the individual panels. In addition, the statue required a high level of maintenance. For this reason, high level of technology was needed to maintain the structure. For instance, Phidias maintained the surroundings with a high humidity2. He further kept ivory cracks under high moisture condition. Apart from high humidity and other forms of technical knowhow in the structure, a reflecting pool was well situated right at the bottom of the Zeus’ statue. The pool was filled with olive oil. The statue was covered with healthy olive oil coating. This form of technology was aimed at protecting the ivory from wearing out alongside glistening the statue and the entire structure. [3]Top of Form

The Zeus statue was of great impact to the country and its people at large. In the ancient times, there were many temples which were mainly built and dedicated to Zeus who was the god of Greek. However, temple of the Zeus was mainly located in Olympia and this place mainly acted as a home of preserving the sculptural that were momentously used in the ancient history3. The Zeus statue also represented the pinnacle which was formed in a classical sculptural design. In addition, the city of Olympia acted as center of religious activities where worship and other religious functions were mainly conducted and held.

However, the Zeus statue led to the formation of Olympic Games. These games came along in the 776BCE and they are generally established as physical prowess and also, they act as sources of political strength that were used for participation of the poleis which were mainly meant for the Greeks. The Olympic Games were of abundant significance and were greatly said to have had their origin manly from the religious rituals. This eventually made the Greeks to construct pilgrimages that they could use to worship their god whom they literally referred to as their father. The Olympic Games helped in unifying the city states from Greek.

Consequently, the statue is also said to have stimulated admiration for more than 800 years in the temple which was at Olympia. Therefore, it acted as a symbolic architecture which served largely for religious functions and activities. However, the temple did not conduct any other specific function apart from worship and performing religious rituals which mainly revolved around the Zeus who was their god. Precisely, the Zeus temple was also a well-set example which contained Doric features3. This made the temple a site of attraction where many visitors came and they were given the opportunity of glancing the statue. Moreover, the temple was also in a position of holding games in its stadium since it also had a sacred grove. This predominantly shows that the Zeus temple was greatly used to conduct social affairs and people were allowed to get inside the temple and observe the statue. However, the temple did not conduct any political rally or function, since it was meant for religious activities only.

Ultimately, the Zeus’ statue was also said to have the capability of predicting about future happenings. For instance, it is said that that it presided over the Olympic Games3. This mainly happened as he was ruling over other gods on top of Mount Olympus. Various research indicates that this is what made the Greeks think that Zeus was the one who supplied them with rain, wind, and thunder. They also believed that his weapons were thunderbolt. Additionally, they also believed that he was the sole protector of various cities. This speculation made them to respect the statue and would bow unto it whenever they visited the temple.

The statue is kept by archeologists in their museum so that different people can view it. The temple is now acting as a tourist attraction site thus making Olympia to have adequate funds for internal expenses.

Unlike other older Zeus representations, Phidias chose to create a calm Zeus, with contained force. Previously it was frequent that he was represented in fury, holding in his hand the flashes. The idea of the artist was to succeed in showing a powerful but reigning God in the calm, assured of his victory. This is the reason for the presence of certain symbols found there; the victory held in his right hand. The crown of olive tree, symbol of power. The message that Phidias passes and that Zeus watches over the city in a benevolent way and more with fear or threat, as in previous centuries. This can be seen as a step in the Greek relationship with their religion, a stage which would correspond to a period of development of the Greek civilization which no longer needed to live in fear in order to progress.

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The history of the statue of Zeus is quite simple, it has not undergone important changes. Built around 436 BC, it was installed in the temple of Zeus in Olympia and remained there until 395 AD. It was a time when the emperors began to take an interest in the pagan works which had been abandoned at the time of the adoption of Christianity. In 382 an edict authorized the temple to be opened to allow the population to contemplate the ancient works which have a great artistic value, but it was of short duration because in 392 a decree orders that one closes the pagan temples, and the Olympic Games are prohibited. It was at this time that it was decided to transport the statue of Zeus in the capital of the Empire, Constantinople (currently Istanbul, Turkey). This was done in 395 AD, the statue was stored at the Lauseion, a sort of museum ancestor. Unfortunately, in 475 a fire ravaged La Luseion and the work of Phidias was lost forever.


  • 7WW. Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC – 7 Wonders of the World | 7 Wonders of the World. 7ww.org. (2009). http://7ww.org/listing/statue-of-zeus-at-olympia-greece-435bc/
  • Trevor, E. Engineering the 7 Wonders of the World: Statue of Zeus at Olympia | The Short Sleeve and Tie ClubShortsleeveandtieclub.com. (2016). http://shortsleeveandtieclub.com/engineering-the-7-wonders-of-the-world-statue-of-zeus-at-olympia/
  • Homes Olap. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia | AncientWorldWonders. (2011). Ancientworldwonders.com. https://www.ancientworldwonders.com/the-statue-of-zeus-at-olympia.html

[1] 7WW. Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC – 7 Wonders of the World | 7 Wonders of the World. 7ww.org. (2009). 

[2] Trevor, E. Engineering the 7 Wonders of the World: Statue of Zeus at Olympia | The Short Sleeve and Tie ClubShortsleeveandtieclub.com. (2016).

[3] Homes Olap. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia | AncientWorldWonders. (2011). Ancientworldwonders.com.


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