The High Classical Period is framed by the end of the Persian Wars (the Greek Wars with the Persians) and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War (Greek Civil War, essentially Athens vs. Sparta and allies).  So we will begin with an overview of the history of the Persian Wars. 



The Persian Wars Begin in the 6th Century B.C. and last until 479 B.C.


In the sixth century B.C., the Persians captured Lydia, which was a city-state that had been recognized by the Greeks — and the Lydians respected the Greeks. (Lydia does not appear on the map).


The Ionians were incensed by the Persian aggression and wanted to retaliate.  They first went to the Spartans asking for support (Locate Ionia and Sparta on the map).  


Sparta was the leader of the Greek military, but they were highly conservative in the way that they deployed their troops.  Sparta’s economy was based on slave labor.  They conquered and enslaved the peoples of Messina.  In Sparta, they were known as the Helot class.  The Helots were trained as warriors.  At the same time, the Spartans were always wary of slave revolts and therefore did not generally send their warriors out for foreign aid.


However, Athens and Eretria did send support to the Ionians (Locate Athens and Eretria on the map).  


In turn, then Persians then punished the Ionians, destroying some of their cities, killing their men, and capturing their women and children for sale into slavery.  


Then, in 490 B.C., the Persians decided to attack Athens and Eretria.  In 494 B.C. Eretria fell to the Persians.  Then, the Persians sailed over the Straits of Kalkas to Marathon.  (Locate Marathon on the map).  The Athenians marched out to the Persians.  When the Persians took the horses off their ships, the Athenians attacked them on the beach.


Athenians used a line of soldiers four-deep.  The center of the line was thin, but the wings were thick and they were able to surround the Persians from the side.  The Athenians ran in, encircled the Persians, killed 2,500 to 3,000 Persians, burned the Persian ships, captured the Persian treasury.  The Athenians won the battle of Marathon.  


Persians then decided to sail south to go around and enter Athens.  However, the Greeks anticipated this move and were able to return and close the city.  Only 125 Athenians died.  


Next, in 480 B.C., the Persians decided to annex the Balkan Peninsula.  They moved through Sardis, Macedonia, Boetia and ended up in central Greece. (Locate Macedonia and Thebes on the map).  At this point, Thebes changed its alliance and joined the Persians.  


The Athenians consulted the Oracle at Delphi to obtain information from the gods.  They were told “Put faith in your wooden walls.”  What they interpreted this to mean is that they should rely on their fleet.  They loaded their things onto ships and fled to Salamis (Locate the Island of Salamis on the map).  When Persians invaded Athens in 480-479 B.C., the Athenians on the Island of Salamis watched the Persians destroy their city — which was horrible for them.  The Persians (lead by Xerxes) destroyed their homes and their art, including many dedicated statues.  This was very difficult for the Greeks.  


Other Greek contingents also met at Salamis, including the Corinthians.  The Persians continued to pursue them.  This resulted in the Battle of Salamis — and this time the Greeks annihilated the Persians and won.  This ensured Persian withdrawal in 479 B.C.       


After the Persian withdrawal, the Greeks invoked the Oath of Plataea:

The message was “Remember the Barbarians.”  


Afterwards, the Athenians returned to the Acropolis (discussed in detail below) and buried the destroyed sculpture.

Kresilas, Pericles, original ca. 429 B.C.



Now the Persian Wars are over.  The following history explains the rise of Athens and the major rebuilding program for the Athenian acropolis that was initiated by Pericles, whose marble portrait appears above.


After the Persian Wars, the Greeks formed the Delian League in 479 B.C. (so named because the  Treasury was located on the Island of Delos, which appears on the map).  The purpose of the Delian League was to keep the Persians out of Greece.  To belong to the League, each city-state had to contribute men and ships or money.  Most of the smaller cities contributed money.   The money went to Athens, where the ships were actually built.  The money was also an important facet of the success of democracy.  It also helped to make Athens a working city and was most advantageous to Athens.


During the 460s and 470s B.C., the Delian League was involved in some disastrous campaigns:

As a result, in 449 B.C., The Greeks decided that they were not going to pursue the Persians, and they decided that the Persians were no longer a threat.  In 449 B.C., the Greeks sent Kallias to the Persian Court in Iran to make peace (Peace of Kallias).


Hence, the *need* for the Delian League disappeared.  However, for the Athenians, the elimination of the League was a double-edged sword.  The economic benefits provided by the League were important for the city.  So Athens took a hard stand .  Pericles, the leader of Athens, declared that the Delian League was no longer voluntary and said that all city states were now part of the Athenian empire.


Then, in 448 B.C., Pericles initiated the "Periclean Building Program."  These were the steps that followed:

(1) Pericles transferred the money from Delos to Athens (it was rumored that Persians were going to attack).  He sent a message to all the Greek city-states to meet in Athens to decide the use of the money.  The Spartans, however, were the last to receive this message and were so offended that they forbade their allies and citizens to attend.  Pericles had actually hoped that this would be the case — so he could put forth his ideas without much resistance.  


(2) Pericles persuaded all present to break the Oath of Plataea.  When the Acropolis was ransacked by the Persians, the Athenians vowed never to rebuild on it, but Pericles persuaded the popular assembly to rebuild on it as a lasting testament to the glory of democratic Athens and its empire.


(3) Pericles began to rebuild Athens.  The intention of the Periclean building program was to:

Acropolis, Athens



The Acropolis is a natural plateau that rises in height from 60 and 70 meters above the city of Athens.  The rocky flat-topped hill is 300 meters from east to west and 150 meters from north to south. Its first fortifications were constructed by the Myceneans in the 13th century B.C. (Bronze Age).  Some of these survived until 510 BC when the tyrant Hippias was overthrown, and they were torn down to prevent a return to tyranny.  

Most of the buildings remaining on the Acropolis today were built as part of Pericles' massive building program in the middle of the 5th century B.C. However, many were not finished until after his death in 429 BC. Further embellishments were added by the Romans when they conquered Greece in 146 BC.


Started in 447 B.C., the rebuilding of the Acropolis was masterminded by Pericles who took personal responsibility for the whole project.


Acropolis, Plan



The winding rocky path that led up to the Acropolis was surrounded by numerous small shrines, including one to the god Pan, who had appeared to the runner Phidippides before the battle of Marathon.  We are going to study only four buildings on this site:  

Mnesicles, Propylaia, 437-432 B.C. 


The Propylaeum was an entryway and façade that formed the gateway to the Acropolis.  



The architect was Mnesikles.  The site for the Propylaea was a difficult location because of the steep slope.  Mnesikles designed two different Doric temple facades — one on the west (entrance) and one on the east (on the acropolis).  There was a central ramp, which was important for processions.  On either side of the ramp were staircases for pedestrians.  Inside, the building was supported by Ionic columns.  Therefore, in this structure, the architect mixed Doric and Ionic elements, but in discrete and logical way.    

Notice the that there is a side wing at the top of this plan.  There were two of these as part of the original design — although only one was completed (on the northwest side).  We do not know its original function, but we do know that the Romans later used this space to display art.  This may have been one of the first museums or a men’s dining room.   


Below are several views that one would see as they were ascending the Propylaea (note the small Ionic temple on the far left of the top two photos -- that's the Temple of Athena Nike that we will examine a little later):




Iktinos and Kallikrates Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens , 447-438 B.C.



Once inside the "sacred precinct," the most fabulous building was the Parthenon.  The surviving ruins are what most people associate with Ancient Greece.


It was started in 447 B.C. and completed some fifteen years later.  The architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates.  Iktinos was a mathematician, and Kallikrates was an expert on the Ionic order.  


The Parthenon is peripteral Doric Temple on the exterior.  It was meant to be approached at an angle.  It was constructed with marble, and it housed both a treasury and a sanctuary to Athena.  The the cult statue was entered from the rear.


As would be expected, it's also a numerical structure.  

Length = 17 columns, Width = 8 columns.  

Length = (2 x Width) + 1.


Base =  101 feet wide and 228 feet long (the Ratio = 4:9)

The ratio of 4:9 was also used to relate:

Looks perfectly proportioned.   However, it was also deliberately fudged in order to compensate for optical illusions which were known to Iktinos and Kallikrates and later documented by the Roman architect, Vitruvius, in his book The Ten Books of Architecture.  


Basically, Vitruvius writes:

 Diagram of the Optical refinement of the Parthenon




To compensate for this effect, the Parthenon was designed with optical refinements:

Vitruvius describes these changes as necessary optical refinement.


Plato talks about truth, but artists and poets trick you with illusion. 


Sculpture on the Parthenon


Today, much of the sculpture that was once part of the Parthenon is located in the British Museum and is known as the "Elgin Marbles."  That's because Lord Elgin, a British diplomat, removed many of these pieces from the ruins of the acropolis in 1801. The sculpture was shipped back to Britain.  However, it should be noted that the ownership of these sculptures has been disputed ever since.  

Pediment Sculpture — West Side  



The pediment sculpture on the west side of the Parthenon depicted a contest between Athena and Poseidon to determine which god would be the patron deity of Athens.  Athena gave Athens the olive tree and won.  We know the subject because Paussanias wrote about it in his guidebook to Greece in the 2nd century A.D.  

Pediment Sculpture — East Side


During the Middle Ages, the Parthenon was converted to a church and at that time, a large semi-circular apse was built onto the east end. As a result, some of the pediment sculpture was destroyed.


The sculpture was designed by Phideas, but was executed many different craftsmen.  This was a large, complex project — too much for one man.  There were several sculptors working between 437 and 432 B.C.  


The central scene was Zeus and the Birth of Athena — Athena was born fully formed from Zeus’ head.  Her birth, therefore, was virgin birth and Zeus was both her father and mother.


Pediment Sculpture — East Side, detail of the Birth of Athena 


Pediment Sculpture — East Side, detail of Helio's horses bringing forth the rising sun



Also on the east pediment, the horses represent the rising and setting sun.   The horses at the end of the day are exhausted and almost pathetic.  Also we now see partial figures in the horses.  Thus, artist implies more than he actually represents.


The reclining figure may be Herakles, or Dionysus (the god of wine).  


Notice both the naturalism and illusionism of this sculpture. During the High Classical period, Greek artists really learned how to manipulate the figure.  We see pediment sculpture even extending into our space.  


Pediment Sculpture — East Side, detail of three seated goddesses



Again, these figures were designed by Phideas. Here, three goddesses are witnessing the birth of Venus. 


Typical of the Phidean style:

Illustration of the Parthenon  



Notice the metopes and the frieze on the cell walls.


Metope Sculpture, Lapith and the Centaur



All all of metope sculpture depicts combat scenes.  On the south side, the centaurs are struggling with the Lapiths — the by-now familar subject of the centauromachy.  The figure are idealized types which are proportionally correct and in very high relief.


Parthenon frieze on the cella wall 



Recall that the frieze is actually part of the Ionic order  — not the Doric order.  So Iktinos and Kallikrates clearly mixed the two orders, but in a discrete fashion.  


The Parthenon Frieze is only two and a half inches thick at its maximum depth.  It stood 1 meter tall and would have encircled almost the whole building's upper walls, making its total length 160 meters.  It depicts a procession of 360 noble Athenians, as well as numerous animals and gods. People in Athens did have processions and did make offerings to Athena.  This is a pinnacle achievement of Greek art that was barely visible in its original position along the top of the cella wall.


Athena Parthenos


The interior of the Parthenon once held the cult statue of Athena Parthenos, also designed by Phidias.  Sadly, his most glorious sculpted figure no longer survives. It was a fantastic figure of the goddess Athena, decorated in gold and ivory. It stood over 12 meters high in the very center of the building.  This statue  cost as much to create as the Parthenon itself, and it had the dual role of providing an emergency treasury for Athens if money run low.


The Parthenon was completed around 438 BC, well ahead of schedule.  Despite this, Pericles’ opponents tried to prosecute Phidias for embezzlement of funds, and he was later forced into exile. The charge does not appear to have blighted his later career; he went on to build an even greater statue in the same style as his Athena; his Statue of Zeus at Olympia was even more glorious and became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


Within the Periclean Building Program, the Parthenon was built first (447-438 B.C.) and then the Propylaia (437-432 B.C.)

Then, in 431 B.C., the Peloponnesian War began.  


The Athenian confiscation of the Delphian treasury was the event that sparked the Peloponnesian War, which lasted for 30 years.  It was egged on by Corinth, but essentially was a war of Athens vs. Sparta and allies.


The Pelopnnesian War was horrible for Athens.  Athens did not grow much of what it ate.  Rather, Athens traded oil and wine for grain.  The city thought it would be okay if it could keep its sea open.  However, Athens could not compete on land.  When the Spartans came, many of the country-dwellers moved into the city of Athens, which was disastrous for the city:

 Some building, however, continued during the Peloponnesian War