Athena Parthenos

Tetradrachm of Athens, 126-125 BC, showing the head of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias
The Varvakeion Athena reflects the type of the restored Athena Parthenos: Roman period, 2nd century CE (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).

Athena Parthenos (Ancient Greek: Ἀθηνᾶ Παρθένος; literally, "Athena the Virgin") is a lost massive chryselephantine (gold and ivory) sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena, made by Phidias and his assistants and housed in the Parthenon in Athens. Despite the dynamic architectural characteristics of the Parthenon, the statue of Athena was designed to be the focal point.[1] Its epithet was an essential character of the goddess herself. A number of replicas and works inspired by it, both ancient and modern, have been made.

It was the most renowned cult image of Athens,[note 1] considered one of the greatest achievements of the most acclaimed sculptor of ancient Greece. Phidias began his work around 447 BC.[note 2] Lachares removed the gold sheets in 296 BC to pay his troops, and the bronze replacements for them were probably gilded thereafter; it was damaged by a fire about 165 BC but repaired.[2] An account mentions it in Constantinople in the 10th century.[3]


An illustration of Athena Parthenos

The ancient historian Pausanias gave a description of the statue:

...The statue is created with ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is likeness of the Sphinx ... and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief. ... The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory that is approx. four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief.[4]

Account of the construction of Athena Parthenos by Phidias

The general appearance of the Athena Parthenos, although not its characteristics and quality, can be assessed from its image on coins[5] from its reproductions as miniature sculptures, as votive objects, and in representations on engraved gems.[6]

This statue is a depiction of Athena after winning a combat. With her left hand she supports a shield with carvings of an Athenian battle against the Amazons. On her right, rests the winged Goddess of victory Nike.[7] Her left knee is slightly bent, her weight slightly shifted to her right leg. Her peplos is cinched at the waist by a pair of serpents, whose tails entwine at the back. Locks of hair trail onto the goddess's breastplate. The Nike on her outstretched right hand is winged; whether there was a support under it in Phidias' original has been much discussed;[8] evidence in surviving versions is contradictory. The exact position of Athena's spear, often omitted, is also not fully determined, whether held in the crook of Athena's right arm or supported by one of the snakes in the aegis, as N. Leipen restores it,[9] following the "Aspasios" gem.

The statue was 26 cubits (around 11.5 m (37 ft 9 in)) tall and stood on a pedestal measuring 4 by 8 metres.[10] The sculpture was assembled on a wooden core, covered with shaped bronze plates covered in turn with removable gold plates, save for the ivory surfaces of the goddess's face and arms; the gold weighed 44 talents, the equivalent of about 1,100 kilograms (2,400 lb); the Athena Parthenos embodied a sizeable part of the treasury of Athens.[11]

According to Ian Jenkins in The Parthenon and Its Sculpturees "Athena was portrayed as a warrior resting after successful combat. A figure of winged victory alighted on the palm of her outstretched right hand, while her left hand supported a round shield. A spear rested against her left shoulder. The goddess was draped in the simplest form of tunic, the peplos, her shoulders and chest hung with the aegis, the snake fringed, fish-scaled poncho that had been the gift of her father Zeus and had protective powers" (p. 82). [12]

Other Languages
беларуская: Афіна Парфенас
español: Atenea Partenos
Esperanto: Atena Partena
hrvatski: Atena Partenos
italiano: Atena Parthenos
português: Atena Partenos
slovenščina: Atena Partenos
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Atena Partenos
українська: Афіна Парфенос