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The Hundred-foot Temple

Stuart and Revett had concluded that the Parthenon was called hekatompedos neós because its front measured 100 feet of the type called Attic by Pliny (geographic foot in my terminology).

Penrose agreed with them but he observed that there are inscriptions (published by Böckh) that indicate that the temple was called hekatompedos neós also for another reason. These inscriptions refer to the statue of Athena, the famous chryselephantine statue cut by Pheidias, as being placed within the hekatompedos neós. The Greek term naos (neós in the Attic dialect) was used in two senses: it may refer to a ”temple” in general, but in a more technical sense it refers to that part of the temple that encloses the image of the divinity, so that it can be best translated as ”shrine.” Hence, Penrose concluded that the eastern part of the cella, which was the naos in the narrow sense of the term, must have had a dimension of 100 feet.

Penrose proceeded to measure the Naos part of the temple, but in drawing conclusions from his findings he was hampered by his assumption that the only units of measurement that could have been used were the geographic foot and the Roman foot, which is 24/25 of it.

Having found that the Naos part has an inner dimension of 198,205.4 mm. in width and of 29,914.6 mm in length, he concluded that the Naos was called hekatompedos because it had a length of 100 Roman feet. Since this length exceeds 100 Roman feet he tried to reduce it by eliminating sills at the foot of the walls, to 29.781.9 mm.

Penrose was correct on the main point but did not consider carefully the problem of the inner length of the Naos. On the inner side of the front wall of the Naos there are two half pillars that reduce its length; the beginning of the inner dimensions of the Naos at the east side is clearly marked on the floor by a line that is the inner threshold of the door and along the foot of the two half pillars. According to Penrose the half pillars protrude 253.0 mm. from the wall; hence, the inner length of the Naos must be reduced by this amount: according to Penrose’s figures, 29,781.9–253.0 = 29,528.9 mm. According to Magne’s report, the inner length of the Naos, when the half pillars are excluded, is 29,612 mm. (100 Roman feet are 29,594.54 mm).

In 1871 Adolf Michaelis tried to prove that the Naos was hekatompedos in length, but that the length had to be calculated by including the partition wall that divides the Naos from the Parthenon room: he reckoned the inner length of the Naos as 29.92 m and added to it the thickness of the wall, assumed by him to be 0.95 m., and arrived at a total of 30.82 m., which he said are ”well night exactly (fast genau) 100 Attic feet.” Hence, the Naos would have a length of 100 of those feet I call geographic.

According to my reckoning the length considered by Michaelis is 110 2/3 trimmed lesser feet (106 2/3 + 4 feet) or 30,704.4 mm., whereas 100 geographic feet are 30,827.68 mm. In my opinion there is no clear indication that the architect tried to embody the length of 100 geographic feet into the Naos.

Dörpfeld, since he was bent on proving that the Parthenon had been planned by the foot that he called Aiginetic, a foot to which he assigned a value varying between 326 and 328 mm., concluded that the length of the Naos had to be reckoned including the two end walls.

In my opinion Dörpfeld was correct, but argued his case badly because he had no sense of rigor in matters of measurement and assumed that the Greeks had been equally confused or casual. If he had paid close attention to the details of the Naos he could have proved that they were calculated by the unit of 326.8907 mm., which I call pied de roi of geometric form. But he concentrated his energy on trying to prove that the Parthenon as a whole was planned by the foot of 326 or 328 mm., which he called Aiginetic.

Dinsmoor followed in the path of Dörpfeld, but expressed himself in a cryptic manner. According to him the new temple as a whole was planned by a foot of 327 mm. It was called hekatompedos merely because it had inherited this name from the Old Temple, since ”a literal application of the name does not seem to be indicated” in the case of the new temple. Nevertheless, the Naos of the new temple would have a length of 100½ feet of 327 mm (32,863.5 mm.).

Writing in 1910, Collignon tried to agree both with Penrose and with Dörpfeld, by arguing that the Naos had a length within the walls of 29.89 m., which are 100 pieds attiques nouveaux, that is, Solonian feet, and a length including the walls which he did not specify, but declared it to be en effet equal to 100 pieds attiques anciens, that is, pre-Solonian Aiginetic feet. He remained ambiguous because en effet may mean both ”exactly” and ”substantially.”

In my opinion Collignon was substantially correct: the Naos had an inner length of 100 Roman feet and an outer length, which included the eastern front wall and the partition wall, of 100 pieds de roi of geometric form.


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