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Moshing as Artifact: in Relation to the History of the Parthenon

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Moshing as artifact: in relation to the history of the Parthenon.

Through August to September of 490 BC, a battle between Athens and Plataea against the Persian Empire erupted in Marathon, Greece; this would be the first of a further series of conflicts between Greece and The Achaemenid Empire. The battle had been instigated by the Greek involvement in the Ionian Revolt, where Athens and Eretria had supported the Ionians in overthrowing the Persian rule. A second invasion of Greece began in 480 BC and during this time the old temple of Athena was destroyed by the Persians amid their brief occupation in Athens. Following Greece’s victory in the subsequent Battle of Plataea, Athens had amassed a large amount of surplus revenue, and in 448 BC the Athenian assembly voted to use it to rebuild the temple of Athena atop the Acropolis; this would come to be the Parthenon.

Work on the Parthenon began in 447 BC with Pericles, Iktinos, and Phidias being key figures in the construction. Pericles was the driving force in the project, he continuously promoted and supported arts and literature within Athens and fostered Athenian democracy, he was re-elected numerous years to political leadership. Iktinos was the principle architect of the building with co-architect Callicrates, and Phidias was responsible for the carvings and sculptures adoring the building. The Parthenon was completed in 432 BC, it served as an inspiration to the people of Athens both present and future, and as a monument to the societal structures of Athens which included the practice of individual freedom, the equality of opportunity, and the introduction of democracy.

What was its purpose, what was it made for, and what happened there?

The goddess the temple was dedicated to, Athena, is associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.

The Athenian temple was born from violence, metaphorically it was built from the rubble of a capital ravaged by war, though distinctively the Parthenon stood for more than the battle itself. The placement of the building, above the city and visible from the mountains and sea, mirrored the significance of escalation or rather of rising above. Athenians had rid of their kings and began ruling amongst themselves; gathering in assemblies to debate and discuss what to go forth with in the democracy. Patrick Dillon summarizes; “Athenians had used their wealth not to build tombs or palaces for kings but on better things. On thinking, talking and wondering” he continues later, “The Parthenon was more than a temple to a goddess. The Athenians themselves were part of it” [4].

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Damage to the Parthenon didn’t occur until the second century BC; Christopher Hitchens noted ‘… a fire destroyed/damaged much of the interior, including the interior colonnade, the ceiling, and the cult statue. The temple was restored, with a new statue modeled on the original, in 165 – 160 BC.’, [1, pp.17] though this wasn’t to be the most transformative force brought upon the building. The Parthenon was closed sometime in the fifth century AD by the Constantinople government, and shortly after was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Holy Wisdom, this conversion shifted the building’s form dramatically. The building’s orientation was reversed to conform to Christian practice with three doorways installed between the opisthodomos and cellar, this would be used as the narthex or porch and the only way to enter the building. The cellar entrance was blocked off by an apse built on the east end, where the floor was also raised to form a chancel which would be where a alter was set. During this time many of the sculpted figures adorning the building had suffered defacement, though it’s unknown if it was intentional and systematic. The building would exist in this state for a thousand years until 1204 when Athens passed into the hands of Othon de La Roche to which it became Notre Dame d’Athènes (Our Lady of Athens) [2]; not many changes to the physicality of the building occurred until around 200 years later when in 1458 the Acropolis surrendered to the Ottoman empire. Under the Ottoman rule, the Acropolis acted as a fortress for the Turkish troops and the Parthenon became a mosque for the use of the garrison, during this time the mosaics and frescoes were plastered over or whitewashed, but this wasn’t to be the only physical transformation the building undertook with the Ottoman occupancy.

In 1684 a war erupted between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice, this was to be known as the Morean War or the Sixth Ottoman-Venetian War. September 28th, 1687, the Turks had stored their ammunition, along with women and children, within the Parthenon. It’s speculated that the Turks believed that the opposing Christian forces would respect the building’s history with such religion, or that they assumed the structure was strong enough to withstand heavy artillery [2, pp.77], regardless the building was bombarded. Around 700 cannonballs hit the temple, killing as many as 300 and destroying large areas of the building. The upper part of the cellar was mainly destroyed, the middle portions of the long side colonnades and the columns of the east porch were taken down and the interior colonnade was overthrown [1]. The war lasted 15 years and ended with the Venetians victorious, though their occupancy lasted just two years. Following this attack on the structure, sometime between 1689 and 1755 a small mosque was built within the cellar walls, but it collapsed in 1842, possibly due to not being built with foundations.

Throughout the history of the Parthenon, there has been much plundering and excavations. The Venetian commander Francesco Morosini had played a big part in the looting and destruction of 1688, when he attempted to loot Athena’s and Poseidon’s horses and chariots from the west pediment of the Parthenon, his removal equipment couldn’t support the sculptures and subsequently, the marble had been dropped to the ground to fragment or smash; a head of Lapith was found buried in the mud in 1870 and it’s speculated that it was dropped from Morosini’s boat on transit. There were two pieces intact from this looting, which now reside in Copenhagen. The removal and transporting of the marbles continued, when in the late eighteenth century Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier obtained a firman to remove part of the Parthenon frieze and send them to France. The frieze was two meters long and was passed to the Louvre, Paris, as part of his collection after his death; the piece is still exhibited there.

The final noted looting holds the most significance to the history of the Parthenon, the controversy surrounding it still echoes in the British Museum chamber, where the plundered marbles now sit on exhibition and have done since 1832 after they were moved from their temporary exhibition in the old British Museum, 1817. The main antagonist was Thomas Elgin, the 7th Earl of Elgin, a Scottish nobleman, soldier, politician, and diplomat. He was appointed as the British ambassador to the Ottoman government in 1799, and during the summer of 1800, he sent several artists, draughtsmen, and modelers to travel to Athens, with their initial duties consisting of making drawings of the monuments. Though in 1801 Elgin claimed he had received a firman which allowed him to fix scaffolding around the temple to assist in the molding of the sculptures and physical figures; likely to make copies, and further that he was authorized to ‘to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon.” [4]. Lord Elgin removed fifty slabs, two half-slabs of the frieze, and two fifteen metopes and transported them to England. There was speculation that his choice to remove the sculptures was a response to the danger that surrounded the ancient ruins, assuming that his intent was to protect them -although the removal of the sculptures and dispatch from Greece concluded before his first visit to Athens in the early summer 1802. When citing this as his reasoning for removing the sculptures, it is important to note that during the process of detachment Elgin and his men had caused considerable damage to the building, as well as the pieces he had planned to conserve.

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Moshing as Artifact: in Relation to the History of the Parthenon. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“Moshing as Artifact: in Relation to the History of the Parthenon.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Moshing as Artifact: in Relation to the History of the Parthenon. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Moshing as Artifact: in Relation to the History of the Parthenon [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from:
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