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Ludwig Ross

In analyzing the architectural history of the Acropolis one should begin by considering the original and natural appearance of the hill. The most important fact to be considered is the position of the crest of the rock of the Acropolis: this crest runs below the northern flank of the Parthenon. To the north of this crest the hill descends with a gentle slope, forming a natural plateau which extends roughly to the present northern wall of the Acropolis. Before 480 B.C. this plateau constituted the essential part of the Acropolis and the Old Temple of Athena was located in the middle of it. To the south of the crest the hill descended with a sharp decline, so that this area could not be used for major constructions. On this side the Pelasgic Wall, which marked the limit of the Acropolis up to 480 B.C., ran rather close to the crest of the hill. The foundations of the Parthenon, towards their southeast corner, cover part of the Pelasgic Wall.

After the defeat of the Persians, when it was decided to leave the ruins of the Old Temple exposed and to replace this temple with another one twice its size, the only space available was toward the south. In order to expand the surface of the Acropolis to the south of the crest, it was necessary to erect a high retaining wall, called the Cimonian Wall, which is today the south wall of the Acropolis, and to fill the space behind it so as to form to the south of the crest a gentle slope equivalent to that which naturally existed to the north of it.

The northern flank of the Parthenon covers the crest of the Acropolis, but the rest of this temple is to the south, in the area of the added artificial filling. Hence, the platform of the Parthenon had to be supported by a huge substructure composed of blocks of poros limestone, averaging 0.50 m in height.1 At the southeast corner of the Parthenon there are 21 layers of this substructure, providing a foundation for the three marble steps. At the southwest corner the number of the layers is about half as many. The number of layers tapers off as one proceeds from south to north and the level of the natural ground rises.

The discovery of the substructure of the Parthenon was the result of the very first digging in the area of the Acropolis, conducted by Ludwig Ross, the German archaeologist appointed Curator of the Antiquities of Athens at the time of the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece.

When it became possible to excavate on the Acropolis, because it had ceased to be used as a military installation, Ross decided that his first task should be that of tracing the remains of the temple destroyed by the Persians. He searched for it under the platform of the Periclean Parthenon. Cutting trenches, he laid bare the foundations in 1835-1836, at a time when the Parthenon itself had not yet been studied in detail. The results were astounding: not only did the Periclean Parthenon rest on the huge substructure just described, but this substructure was built for a different temple.

Ross noticed that the regular outline of the poros substructure does not coincide, either in dimensions or in position, with that of the Periclean Parthenon. The rectangle of the substructure is narrower and longer, and the outline of the lowest step of the Parthenon is displaced to the north and to the west in relation to it. In other words, the two main axes of the platform of the Periclean Parthenon are respectively more to the north and more to the west than the two main axes of the substructure. Quoting Hill’s figures, the lowest step of the Periclean Parthenon measures 33,690 x 72,320 mm., whereas the substructure measures 31,390 x 76,816 mm. The lowest step of the Periclean Parthenon is displaced to the inside of the substructure by 1,656 mm. on the south side and by 4,258 mm. on the east side, while on the north side the Periclean Parthenon extends well beyond the substructure, resting either on natural ground or on a thin layer of rubble for a distance of 3,956 mm. Only on the west side do the lowest step of the Parthenon and the limit of the substructure run close to each other.

It is obvious that the substructure was not planned for the Periclean Parthenon, because it extends too much to the south and to the east, just in those directions where a lower level of the natural ground had to be reached and hence the costs of construction were greater. Furthermore, the four uppermost layers of the substructure are composed of blocks which have finished faces, which means that they were intended to be exposed above ground level, whereas they were concealed in the Periclean Parthenon by a pavement which extended around the lowest of the three marble steps of the platform.

Ross drew the inescapable conclusion that the substructure had been erected in order to support a temple different from the Periclean Parthenon. Actually two steps of the platform of this temple are to be seen still in place, sandwiched between the substructure and the three steps of the Periclean Parthenon. The distinction is obvious, because the two steps, like the substructure, are of poros limestone, whereas the platform of the Periclean Parthenon is of Pentelic marble. Ross announced triumphantly that the remains of the temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. had been found. But the issue is much more complex than Ross had assumed it to be. This second conclusion of his was erroneous, although not unreasonable on the basis of the evidence available at the time; there was no reason then to consider the alternative explanation that there had been a change of plans in the construction of the Parthenon. But, whereas Ross expected to be crowned with glory, his conclusions met with a hostile reception. Even then antiquarians (one did not speak of archaeologists yet) were not impressed by arguments of a quantitative nature. The opposition was sharpened by the circumstance that the first formal announcement of Ross’ discoveries was not made by him but by Penrose in his monumental book on the dimensions of the Parthenon, a book which was seen as a threat by the commonality of ancient scholars for its insistence on the importance of exact measurement.

Following a terminology introduced by Dorpfeld, I shall refer to the Periclean Parthenon as Parthenon III, whereas I shall refer to the proto-Parthenon identified by Ross as Parthenon I.

Although the evidence for Parthenon I is absolutely clear even to a rather casual observer, Ross’ conclusion was met with opposition, an opposition that has grown steadily more bitter and more irrational in the following one hundred and forty years.

The first volume of Ross’ report appeared in 1855, when he was no longer in a condition of meeting opposition with equanimity (the second volume appeared posthumously in 1861). In 1843 the King of Greece, Otto I, confronted with the first of the popular revolts against the autocratic tendencies of the new dynasty, tried to appease his subjects by dismissing a number of public officials who, like him, had come from Germany. Ludwig Ross lost the position of Curator of Antiquities and professor of archaeology in a country which by then he considered his own. This event, and an excruciating disease of the spine, caused a mood which culminated in suicide. When he wrote his report on what he had found below the platform of the Periclean Parthenon, Ross was a man desperately bent on winning an argument.

In order to circumvent the opposition, Ross did not insist on the discrepancy of dimensions between the substructure and the Periclean Parthenon and did not quote any figures. Instead, he tried to adduce arguments which would be more acceptable to his colleagues. He thought he could build an argument on the conclusion reached by Colonel William Leake concerning the column drums, 24 in number, imbedded in the north wall of the Acropolis.

When, after the end of Turkish rule, tourists began to flock to Athens, Colonel Leake wrote the first guide to the antiquities of the city. In his guide he had to pay particular attention to the mentioned column drums. The modern city of Athens, like the medieval Athens, or Setine, extends to the north of the Acropolis. For this reason, whoever walks through the streets of Athens sees the column drums every time he lifts his eyes toward the Acropolis. Because, of the play of light and shadows they are clearly visible against the flat background of the north wall of the Acropolis. These drums are the first intriguing sight for the tourist who, having just alighted in Athens, proceeds eagerly to the discovery of the ancient city. Furthermore, these drums will come to his attention every time he spends an evening eating or drinking at the foot of the northern slope of the Acropolis, as visitors usually do. For these reasons Leake had to try to satisfy the curiosity of the readers about these column drums and explain why they are where they are, although they would have been of little interest by themselves.

In order to grasp the problem of the column drums inserted into the north wall of the Acropolis, it is necessary to keep in mind the difference between the north wall and the south wall.

The south wall is a monumental and unitary construction. It runs almost in a straight line, being composed of two segments which meet at a very obtuse angle in front of the southwest corner of the Parthenon. The south wall was constructed for the specific purpose of extending the area of the Acropolis to the south in order to make possible the construction of the Parthenon. For this reason the south wall is much higher than the north wall: both walls reach about the same level at the top, but the south wall begins about twelve meters lower. The course of the south wall is completely different from that of the wall which existed before the Persian Wars. The earlier Pelasgic Wall ran an irregular course closer to the crest of the Acropolis. As I have mentioned earlier, the remains of the Pelasgic Wall are covered in part by the substructure of the Parthenon. The new south wall was called Cimonian because it was built by Cimon with the booty of the victory he scored over the Persians at the battle of Eurymedon (about 468 B.C.). In Plutarch Life of Cimon (ch. xiii) it is stated that Cimon’s campaign against the Persians in Cyprus (concluded in 449 B.C.) was so successful that not only did it force the Persians to sign a peace treaty with the Athenians, the Peace of Callias, but also provide such a large booty that it permitted the laying of the foundations for the long walls between Athens and the Peiraeus and the erection of the south wall of the Acropolis. Ross simply refused to accept this statement at face value.

The north wall too was built after the Persian Wars. but if follows an irregular course which was essentially that of the pre-Persian walls. It consists of separate sections built at different times. The northernmost section of the north wall is an angular salient which forms a terrace around the Erechtheion and may be dated to the last third of the fifth century B.C. In this section of the north wall there are incorporated fragments of the entablature of the Old Temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. I have dealt with these fragments of entablature in my discussion of the dimensions of the Old Temple. To the east of the Erechtheion there is another section of the north wall which was built somewhat earlier and incorporates the 24 column drums which are under discussion.

It is necessary to stress the fact which has been neglected by some writers: The column drums are of Pentelic marble, like the Parthenon, whereas the fragments of entablature, which are located more to the west and to the north, are of poros limestone, since they are remains of the Old Temple.

When Leake, British military agent for Greece and the Levant and amateur archaeologist, wrote his Topography of Athens for the benefit of educated travelers, he did not observe this distinction. since Leake’s account had a great influence on later opinions of archaeologists, but is steadily misquoted, I cite it here in full: 

In the middle of the northern side, the body of the work, though not modern, is evidently less ancient than the Pelasgic fortress. Entire courses of masonry are formed of pieces of Doric columns, which were almost as large as those of the Parthenon, and there are other courses consisting of the component blocks of a Doric entablature of corresponding dimensions. These perhaps are portions of the wall, as it was rebuilt after the Persian war, when (as Thucydides informs us) the ruins of former buildings were much employed for this purpose, the devastations of the Persians having left an abundance of materials of this kind. Thucydides, it is true, alludes more particularly to the peribolus of the Asty, as having been thus hastily constructed, during the intentional delays of the embassy of Themistocles to Sparta; but we can hardly doubt that about this time, the northern wall of the Acropolis was repaired, since it is not to be supposed that when the Cimonian or southern wall was rebuilt twelve years after the retreat of the Persians, any other part of the Acropolis was more in need of reparation...

I have already adverted to some portions of columns, of very ancient date, which probably are inserted in the northern wall of the Acropolis, and were probably placed there at the time of the repairs which followed the Persian war. They belonged apparently to some ruined edifice of large dimensions on the summit of the hill, since it is scarcely to be believed that they were raised to that height from below, for such a purpose. It is not unlikely, therefore, that they were the columns of the more ancient Parthenon, built perhaps in the seventh century, (for their workmanship can hardly be ascribed to an earlier date), at which time the Cecropian hill having long ceased to be a polis, which was its state when the Erechtheium was founded, there was a space on the highest part of the citadel and sacred inclosure, applicable to a large temple. The columns in the northern wall were particularly fluted, and not very different in different in diameter from those of the existing Parthenon.

[footnote:] Having climbed up to the wall with difficulty, I measured one of the flutings and found it 11.3 inches. We may assume that there were twenty flutings, as the exceptions to that number in the Doric order are rare, and twenty is the number, as well in the Parthenon as in the older temples of Corinth, Syracuse, and Aegina. The columns, therefore, in the walls of the Acropolis, were probably more than six feet in diameter.

As I have said, Leake did not notice that the column drums are of Pentelic marble and that the fragments of entablature are of poros limestone. Since both are incorporated into sections of the north wall, he concluded that they belong to the same temple. He stated incorrectly that the column drums and fragments of entablature are ”of corresponding dimensions.” As to dimensions, he limited itself to examining the column drums. He recognized that these column drums are similar to those of the Parthenon. Hence, he tried to establish whether they had the same dimensions as the drums of the columns of the Parthenon. His test was conducted in a cursory manner: he climbed on a ladder and measured with width of a flute, guessing that the flutes are twenty, as in the columns of the Parthenon. He arrived at the result that the flutes have a width of 11.3 English inches. Perhaps there was a mechanical error in Leake’s reporting, because when Ross repeated the measurement he arrived at the figure of 11 English inches. On the basis of his erroneous figure, Leake drew the conclusion that the drums used to belong to a temple different from the Parthenon, but similar to it. This temple, similar to the Parthenon, should be the temple which preceded the Parthenon. If Leake had arrived at the same figure as Ross, he would have said that the drums used to belong to the Parthenon, as they actually did.

Having concluded that the marble column drums did not belong to the Parthenon and having associated them with the limestone fragments of entablature, which actually used to be part of the Old Temple, Leake tried to explain why these architectural elements were incorporated into the north wall. He thought that the explanation is provided by a passage of Thucydides.

The historian Thucydides relates that after the withdrawal of the Persian invaders the Athenians hastened to rebuild the wall of their city. It must be noted that there seems to be a contradiction between Thucydides and Herodotus, since the latter historian in his account of the Persian invasion does not mention the existence of any walls of Athens. Since Greek cities began to be surrounded by city walls at the beginning of the fifth century B.C., it could be that the Athenians had started to build walls around their city before the Persian invasion but had not completed the work by 480 B.C. But whether it was a matter of rebuilding the walls or of building them for the first time, Thucydides states that the Spartans objected to the Athenian plant to surround their city with walls as a defense against a possible new Persian invasion. Thucydides relates an anecdote to the effect that the Athenian leader Themistocles deceived the Spartans by pretending to negotiate the issue, while at the same time urging the Athenians to rush the work of construction so as to confront the Spartans with a fait accompli. In order to prove that this unlikely story is a historical fact, Thucydides adduces the following supporting factual evidence (I.93):

This was the way in which the Athenians put walls around their city in a short time. Even today one can see that the construction was carried through in a hurry: the foundations are made of all sorts of stones, which in some cases were not cut to fit them together, as they were being laid into position in the order by which they were brought to the work. Besides, they took pillars from tombs and unfinished blocks from other buildings to insert them into the walls. Since the circuit of the walls was extended in all directions, there was one reason more why the Athenians should save time by removing indiscriminately anything that was available.

Whether the walls were rebuilt or built for the first time and whether it is true or not that the Athenians were able to erect them without alerting the Spartans, it is quite likely that the Athenians fortified their city in a rush, since a second Persian invasion was expected.. But what is important is that Thucydides speaks of the building of the walls of the city (astu). Leake drew the inference that if the walls of Athens were rebuilt in a hurry, so must have been the walls of the Acropolis: on the basis of this inference he concluded that the north wall of the Acropolis was built soon after 479 B.C., incorporating into it the remains of the temple destroyed by the Persians, for the sake of speeding the work. Leake grants that Thucydides does not mention the walls of the Acropolis, but assumes that the Athenians, in order to protect themselves, rushed to fortify both the Acropolis and the city. Today we know that for the Greeks the fortification of an entire city and the fortification of its Acropolis were exclusive concepts. The fortification of entire cities coincides with the origin of democracy; for the democrats a fortified Acropolis could be a dangerous instrument of tyrannical or oligarchic rule. This is probably the reason why the Spartans, ill-disposed towards democracy, objected to the building of the walls of Athens. Not many years earlier the Spartans had sent troops to Athens to support an oligarchic coup against the newly-born Athenian democracy. At that time the democrats rose up in arms and put a siege around the oligarchs and the Spartans, who had shut themselves up within the walls of the Acropolis. It is almost certain that it was after this experience that the Athenians opened up the walls of the Acropolis by building the Propylaia. In any case it is certain that by the time of the Persian invasion parts of the Propylaia had been built and that the walls of the Acropolis had been partly opened. It is most unlikely that the Athenian democratic party, buoyed by the victories of Salamis and Plataia, would have supported the construction of a fortification wall around the Acropolis.

Leake was not aware of the existence of the above-stated objections against his hypothesis (he does not claim to advance anything more than an hypothesis, since he qualifies his conclusion by the word ”perhaps”; but he was aware of the existence of another objection, which in my opinion is peremptory. The hypothesis that the north wall was rebuilt in a hurry soon after 479 B.C. for the sake of putting the Acropolis in condition of being used as a fortress is contradicted by the fact that the south wall was constructed about twelve years later by Cimon with the spoils of the triumphant campaign he had conducted against the Persians, a campaign which culminated with the victory of Eurymedon (about 468 B.C.). If the Athenians had felt the need to rebuild in a hurry the defenses of the Acropolis, they would not have waited more than twelve years to complete their circuit.

Ross noticed that there is another weakness in Leake’s chain of arguments: the north wall does not show any sign of having been put together in a rush, since it is made of ”regularly-squared poros blocks.” Ross intended to keep alive Leake’s hypothesis because this would allow him to date the north wall just after 479 B.C., but at the same time he denied its factual foundations. According to logic Ross should have completely discarded Leake’s hypothesis, but it was expedient for him to hold on to the contention that the column drums imbedded in the north wall used to belong to the Old Temple. Since he recognized that the insertion of a few column drums in a carefully-constructed wall could not be considered proof of haste, Ross shifted his line of reasoning by declaring that the column drums were incorporated into the north wall ”not merely because of a shortage of construction materials, but also because of a political reason: to remind of the Persian attack.” Even this alternative explanation is unacceptable since, if the north wall was built at any time before 450 B.C., when not only the entire Acropolis but most of the other public buildings of Athens were lying in shambles, there would not have been any need to expose a few column drums in order to remind the public of what the Athenians had suffered. The argument of Leake as modified by Ross is self-contradictory, but it has been repeated for over a century. For instance, the Hachette tourists’ guide to Greece, which reflects the consensus of the American and French archaeological missions, states:

After the Persian Wars, Themistocles rebuilt the W. and N. ramparts... In spite of the hurried nature of the work, the material gathered haphazard was arranged in a decorative manner; the frieze with its triglyphs of tufa and its metopes of marble surmounted the architrave, the whole crowned with cornices. This arrangement, which can be seen from a distance, was a constant reminder to the Athenians of barbaric vandalism.

As recently as 1963 the Oxford historian Russell Meiggs argued the same way: 

The building of the new city walls was accompanied by a hasty repair of the Acropolis defenses, and here too material from the sack was used. Looking up from the Agora to the north face of the Acropolis, one sees a wall of strongly assorted stones irregularly packed together; but in the irregularity the eye focuses on a stretch of deliberate order. Near the top, imbedded in the wall, is a conspicuous line of thick column drums. They are not packed together at random; they are deliberately placed in line to catch the eye... This was their war memorial, and on the top the ruined temple remained in ruins.2

In order to reconcile the ”deliberate order” with ”irregularity,” Meiggs ascribes the former to the column drums and the latter to the walls, whereas Ross had maintained the opposite view. Ross was more on solid ground, since one may dispute whether the insertion of the column drums speeded or delayed the construction of the north wall, but it is certainty that the statement that ”one sees a wall of strongly assorted stones irregularly packed together” is contrary to fact.

In my opinion, the fragments of the entablature of the Old Temple and the column drums, which actually, as I will explain later, were faulty pieces discarded during the construction of the Periclean Parthenon, were used because they were available and because they break the monotony of the wall. Any visitor to Athens can realize that the column drums give perspicuity, with their play of light and shadows, to the wall into why they are imbedded. The architects were faced with the problem that the north wall is much lower than the south wall; in order to correct the imbalance they broke the surface of the north wall, since a wall broken by lines appears bigger than a plain flat wall.

If Ross had been satisfied with claiming merely the honor of having discovered the foundations of a temple older than the Periclean Parthenon, that is, a proto-Parthenon, on top of which there was later erected the Periclean Parthenon, scholarship would have been spared more than a century of useless fabrications. For there is a clear indication of the date of construction of the substructure of the Parthenon. As I have already mentioned, the four top layers of the substructure of the Parthenon ”have been carefully dressed and finished with drafted margins, showing that they were intended to be visible,” whereas the lower layers ”with open joints and faces not all of the same plane, were obviously intended to be covered.” What covered the lower layers was the earth filling retained by the Cimonian Wall. Since a temple could not abut on a precipice, but had to be surrounded by a terrace, there was constructed a huge wall running to the south of the substructure, substantially parallel to it. This wall was a monumental enterprise in itself, well in proportion to the enterprise initiated with the construction of the substructure. This wall, which is the Cimonian Wall, delimited the entire south side of the Acropolis. It was built of poros blocks, receding one from the other in order to counteract the strong pressure of the earth fillings that were piled between it and the crest of the Acropolis. The Cimonian Wall was made to extend as far to the south as possible just south of the substructure, its two straight segments meeting at a very obtuse angle in correspondence with the southwest corner of the Parthenon, because here there was the greatest need of extending the surface of the Acropolis. At the same time the substructure itself made the extension possible by reducing the amount of loose filling pressing against the wall. Late we shall consider the stratigraphic data that link the Cimonian Wall with the substructure. Hence, the substructure and the Cimonian Wall were erected in the same period of time (after 468 B.C.).

The Cimonian Wall replaced the earlier southern wall of the Acropolis known as the Pelasgic Wall. In the area of the Parthenon the remains of the Pelasgic Wall have been traced as running an irregular course between the substructure and the Cimonian Wall; the SW corner of the Parthenon overlaps in part the Pelasgic Wall. The Pelasgic Wall shows signs of violent destruction; according to Walther Kolbe it was thrown down by the Persians; but it is possible that it was thrown down after the oligarchs led by Isagoras tried to use the Acropolis as a fortress against the supporters of the newly-established Athenian democracy (508 B.C.). The remains of the Pelasgic Wall helped in braking the weight of the earth filling pressing against the Cimonian Wall.

Many of these facts became known to Ross when he dug a trench from the middle of the substructure to the Cimonian Wall, but he did not want to draw the conclusion that the Cimonian Wall and the substructure belong together. Instead of claiming that he had discovered a proto-Parthenon of the Cimonian age (to which I shall refer as Parthenon I), he wanted to be remembered as the one who had discovered the temple destroyed by the Persians, a temple of greater historical significance. For this reason he accepted as a proven fact the tentative suggestion of Leake that the column drums of the north wall used to belong to the Old Temple, although Ross himself had noticed some of the fallacies in Leake’s sequence of arguments. In order to prove that he had discovered the Old Temple, Ross needed to link the column drums of the north wall with the substructure; he satisfied this need by announcing triumphantly that in the earth filling to the east of the southeast corner of the substructure (just to the west of the present Acropolis Museum) he had found a number of column drums, 12 to 15, similar to those incorporated into the north wall. He could prove that the drums of the north wall and these drums belong together; but he had yet to prove that all these drums belong to the Old Temple.

Penrose, who was most sympathetic to Ross’ views, tried to give careful consideration to the matter of the drums. Ten years after Ross’ digging, he examined what could still be seen of the drums unearthed to the east of the substructure and also traced in the library of the Institute of British Architects a letter written by an eyewitness to their excavation, a Mr. Bracebridge. On the basis of these sources of information Penrose formulated the following conclusion: 

One of the most remarkable parts of this excavation occurs immediately to the east of the Parthenon where remain a number of drums of columns, formed of Pentelic marble, in a more or less perfect state, some much shattered, others apparently rough from the quarry, others partly worked, and discarded in consequence of some defect on the material. The ground about them was strewed with marble chips, and some sculptor’s tools, and jars containing red color were found with them.

Penrose drew the necessary inference that the column drums found to the east of the substructure have nothing to do with Persian destruction but are remnants of the workshop of the Periclean Parthenon. Next, Penrose was bound to ask whether the drums of the north wall too were ”merely rejected frusta of the Periclean temple,” like those just mentioned.

In order to answer this question, he proceeded to measure ”very carefully” the drums of the north wall. He found that 13 of them have a diameter of 1899.8 mm and 5 a diameter of 1707.2 mm, which would indicate that the former were intended to be part of the peristyle of the Periclean Parthenon and the latter of its Western Porch. But Penrose felt that before accepting this conclusion he should proceed to a further measurement. He tested the curvature of the flutes of some of the drums of the north wall with a kymagraph and found it to be slightly different from the columns of the Periclean Parthenon. Hence, he concluded that the drums of the north wall ”could never have been intended for the Parthenon.”

Penrose was factually incorrect. In his pursuit of exact measurements in archaeological documentation, he pushed the method to an irrational extreme. It is a basic rule of metrology that by measuring to a point of precision that is beyond what is warranted by the circumstances, one is led to assume discrepancies that do not occur. In the specific case before us, probably the drums of the north wall wee too worn out for a precise test of the curvature of the flutes, whereas Penrose had a paramount concern in convincing archaeologists of the usefulness of instruments such as the kymagraph. The solution of problems by the use of the graphic method was his hobby horse not only in archaeology, but also in his astronomical research.

Ross, without employing the misleading subtlety of Penrose, had concluded that the drums of the north wall have the same dimensions as those of the Periclean Parthenon. In his excavation he must have noticed the details mentioned by Penrose that indicate that the drums found near the substructure were remnants from a workshop. He himself reports that some of these drums were unfinished pieces, a fact which excludes the possibility of their having been used as pat of a standing temple destroyed by the Persians. Many of the drums of the north wall are unfinished pieces too.

  • Being aware of these data and being aware of the weakness of Leake’s hypothesis, Ross felt that he needed a strong argument in order to clinch the contention that the temple built on the substructure was standing in 480 B.C., rather than having been stared after 468 B.C. He thought that the argument he needed was provided by traces of fire in the column drums, both those of the north wall and those fund to the east of the substructure. Although the supposed traces of the Persian fire were vital to his theory, Ross limited himself to these two statements on the matter of their existence:
  • All the drums of the north wall ”are broken by many fissures partially calcified on their surface.” (I. 27)
  • The drums found to the east of the substructure are ”full of fissures and are partially calcified.” (I. 129)

It is true that all the drums in question show fissures, but Ross never explained why these fissures should be considered evidence of fire damage: in truth, fissures were the very reason why the drums were discarded during the construction of the Periclean Parthenon. Later I will report how Arnold Tschira proved that the fissures in the drums cannot be the result of fire damage.

As to the alleged calcification reported by Ross, one cannot either affirm or deny that it exists, because he never explained what he meant by ”calcification.” There are no features in the drums that can be properly described as a process of calcification. Tschira has suggested that possibly Ross was referring to the areas where the Pentelic marble has acquired a granular appearance, because of the formation, under the effect of the elements, of crystals larger than the usual ones. In any case, Ross did not try to explain why the supposed ”calcification” should be taken as evidence of fire damage.

It is important to notice that Penrose, who tried to measure with care the columns of the north wall, never mentioned the occurrence of traces of fire in them, although he noticed such traces in the fragments of the entablature embedded in the more western section of the same wall; the entablature used to be part of the temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C., the Old Temple identified in Kavvadias’ excavations.

Penrose had come to the right conclusion that the drums found near the substructure were pieces rejected during the construction of Parthenon III. He failed to reach the same conclusion for the drums of the north wall; but this conclusion was arrived at by Emile Burnouf in 1877.

Ross had soundly proved that the substructure of the Periclean Parthenon had been originally planned for a different temple. But, in order to prove that this different temple was the Old Temple, he constructed two figments: one, based on a supposition of Leake, that the part of the north wall that incorporates the columns drums was erected by Themistocles immediately after the withdrawal of the Persians; the other that these column drums and those found near the substructure show traces of fire. The paradoxical result has been that these two figments were accepted as truth and are still strenuously supported by the majority of scholars, whereas Ross did not meet much success in convincing other scholars of his main contention, which is fully supported by factual evidence. In 1891 Penrose was the only scholar who agreed with Ross that under the platform of the Periclean Parthenon there are remains of an earlier temple


  1. The substructure extends from 145.10 m. above sealevel to 155.60 m. above sealevel.
  2. Parthenos and Parthenon.

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