The statue of Zeus at Olympia is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The statue was built around 432 B.C. in Peloponnesus in Greece and served as a shrine to the Greek God, Zeus. A fire destroyed the statue in the fifth century A.D. The temple of Zeus was first built in order to showcase the importance of the king of all Greek Gods, Zeus. Being the king of all of the Greek gods, Zeus ruled over the others and governed all. Zeus was said to bring thunder, lightning, rain and winds; Zeus' weapon is the thunderbolt. Many homes throughout Greece had their own altars or shrines dedicated to the god. Many pilgrims and travelers visited the myriad of mountain top shrines dedicated to Zeus, but after the Temple at Olympia and the Statue of Zeus were completed, most traveled to see the magnificent display of the king of the Greek gods. After the temple's completion, the designer and the Greeks determined that a temple alone would not suffice for the king of the gods.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia served as a way to honor the God for whom the Olympic games were created. The Olympic games were held every four years; similar to the way the games are held today. Athletes traveled from all over to participate in the games; many traveled from as far as Asia Minor and Egypt to come participate in the games. The Olympic games first started in 776 B.C., more than three hundred years before the Statue of Zeus was erected. The Olympic games were also a great way for the Greek city-states to unify; there was a sacred truce that allowed for safe passage for anyone traveling to Olympia for the games.
Phidias was the sculptor who was commissioned to build a statue worthy of the king of gods. Phidias had already constructed a 40-foot tall statue of Athena in the Parthenon, which is why he was chosen as the sculptor for Zeus. It took Phidias 12 years to complete the statue of Zeus. Upon completion, the statue was located at the western end of the temple and stood more than 40 feet tall and spanned more than 22 feet in width. The statue's head nearly touched the roof of the temple and many believed that it helped display the power that Zeus held. One historian, Strabo, believed the contrary and thought that the sculptor did not use proper proportions because it gave the impression that Zeus would break through the roof of the temple if he were to stand up. The right hand of the statue held a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory, and a scepter topped with an eagle in its left hand. The throne that Zeus sat on was made of gold, ebony and ivory, and it was inlaid with precious stones and carvings of other Greek gods.
The statue's skin was made of ivory, while the robe, beard, and hair were made of gold. Phidias used a technique called chryselephantine, when ivory and gold-plated bronze sections are added to a wooden frame. Since the atmosphere at Olympia was very humid, the ivory had to be taken care of in order to prevent cracks. This was done using olive oil that was kept in a reflecting pool on the floor of the temple; Phidias' descendants were in charge of this. The Greeks preferred to keep their shrines relatively simple so the inside of the temple had little else besides the statue. The feet of Zeus were help up by a stool; the legs of this stool were consisted of two gold lions.
There are many stories and tales about what might have happened to the statue over time. The statue was damaged during an earthquake in 170 B.C. Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire stripped the statue of its gold after he converted to Christianity and the statue was said to have lost a lot of its grandeur. Another story tells that the Statue of Zeus was dismantled and transported to Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire. After Emperor Theodosius I abolished the Olympic games in 393 B.C., less and less visitors came to Olympia and the shrine. While today we may see what was done to the shrine and the statue as blasphemy, in that time, the Emperors had to show the people their power by implementing their rules and beliefs. It is truly a shame that the Temple at Olympia was a casualty of the Roman Empire converting to Christianity. As stated earlier, the statue, or the remainder of it, was destroyed in the fifth century A.D. by a fire.
The first archaeological work done at Olympia is reported to have been done by French scientists in 1829. The scientists found fragments of the statue and shipped them to Paris where they are still on display at the Louvre. Germans came next in 1875 and stayed for five years in which they were able to map out most of the buildings at Olympia. An expedition in the 1950s discovered the workshop of Phidias. The tools that were found, including but not limited to sculpting tools, and molds for casting gold and bronze, determined this. Very little of the temple remains and virtually the entire statue is gone.
All though the statue of Zeus is no longer standing, it remains as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The magnificence that it displayed during its time was above and beyond anything else from that time period. Today, most of the pictures of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia are artist's renderings or models from the Roman Empire. People in our time can only imagine the true greatness that the Statue of Zeus displayed to all of the pilgrims that came to see it.