The Old Temple of Athena
In the preceding pages I have emphasized that for the ancient Athenians the remains of the Temple of Athena destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. were the most important monument of their history. Not only was the Old Temple the center of the Acropolis before 480 B.C.; its ruins remained the focus of the reconstruction of the Acropolis after the Persian Wars. These fundamental points have been obscured by the circumstance that the true location of the Old Temple was established late in the history of the investigations of the monuments of the Acropolis.
In the course of the nineteenth century scholars searched for the ruins of the temple destroyed by the Persians (Old Temple) under the foundations of the Parthenon. Since the ancient texts emphasize that the Parthenon was a larger replacement for the destroyed Old Temple, it seemed logical to assume that the new temple was built on top of the temple it was intended to replace. But what was not realized was that the ruins of the Old Temple had become sacred as such, as a monument to the Persian destruction. For this reason the Parthenon was built to the south of the Old Temple parallel to it. We shall see that the placing of the new temple in this location created serious engineering problems and a costly extension of the area of the Acropolis to the south. But the Athenians could not conceive of obliterating the area of the Old Temple under the foundations of the Parthenon.
From 1885 to 1889 the Curator of Antiquities Panagotis Kavvadias, assisted by the German architect Georg Kawerau, conducted a systematic campaign of excavations on the Acropolis, which in most areas removed the entire soil to reach the level of natural rock. This process of removing all accumulated layers of material was conducted with particular thoroughness around the Parthenon. As an immediate result of these excavations Wilhelm Dörpfeld was able to recognize that the Old Temple, the temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C., was located in the middle of the Terrace, to the north of the Parthenon. Up to the time of these excavations, nobody had thought of searching in this area, even though the Periclean Propylaia point to it as the key location of the Acropolis.
The Persians did such a thorough job in wreaking vengeance on the Athenians who had eluded them, that Dörpfeld did not find in place any element of the Temple structure above ground level, except for an occasional piece of the stylobate of the peripteros. Even though only the foundations of the Old Temple remained in place, Dörpfeld proved his exceptional skill in tectonic archaeology by reliably reconstructing the main features and dimensions of the Old Temple from these remains. One can gather a great deal of information from his report, although it has been marred by his having started his observational task with the preconceived notion that the Old Temple was planned by the so-called Aiginetic foot of 328 mm. This made even more difficult the already arduous task of inferring from the foundations the arrangement and structure of the visible parts; but in spite of this Dörpfeld produced a masterpiece of archaeological documentation. There is general agreement that the discovery and reconstruction of this temple is one of the major achievements of Dörpfeld. Today nobody disputes the main points of his reconstruction, and my metric analysis proves that it is even sounder than may have been believed.
Unfortunately, by the time the excavators report was published in 1906, archaeologists had spent about three quarters of a century constructing theories about the Old Temple, and they proved unwilling to jettison them when confronted with the contrary evidence of the spade. Still today there are archaeologists who would like to deny to Dörpfeld the credit for having identified the remains of the Old Temple. Dinsmoor, the head of the Archaeological Institute of America, which has persistently tried to belittle the achievements of Dörpfeld, denied that the latter had discovered the Old Temple of Athena: he would have discovered only a secondary temple erected by the sons of Peisistratos. The position of Dinsmoor has been supported on national grounds not only by American, but also by English, Canadian and French archaeologists. But the correctness of Dörpfelds reconstruction is proved by the circumstance that although he did not provide a full report about the dimensions of the remains, but submitted only those figures that fitted his preconceived notions, his findings fit units of measurement the existence of which he did not suspect. Dörpfeld was able to establish that the Old Temple underwent three stages of construction.
It appears that the Persians destroyed a temple which had been started rather humbly and had been made larger and more splendid by two successive alterations. A number of scholars have assumed that the eastern part of the Old Temple was intended to overlap the megaron of an ancient palace, this room having been the sacred area in prehistoric times. Two Mycenaean round bases, made of poros stone, for wooden columns, have been found in place under the level of the eastern part of Temple I.1 The soundness of this hypothesis was further strengthened by Iakovidis, who established that the terrace of the Old Temple dates back to Mycenaean times, being one of the very oldest constructions of the Acropolis. But what has not been noticed is that the plan of Old Temple I copies both in structure and in dimensions the royal megarons of Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos.
Old Temple I consists essentially of two square rooms. The eastern room corresponds to the throne room of a Mycenaean royal megaron; the western room is further divided into two halves by a wall, running in the sense of the width, of which one corresponds to the vestibule and the other to the porch of a royal megaron.
All of this indicates that in Mycenaean times the location of the Old Temple was occupied by a royal megaron which faced west. Iakovidis has established that in early Mycenaean times there was on this side of the terrace a monumental staircase which gave access to the terrace. It may be assumed that the staircase was in front of the porch of the Mycenaean royal megaron, the plan and dimensions of which were copied in Old Temple I.
At this point it is necessary to discuss the problem of the orientation of the temples of the Acropolis. The casual visitor to the Acropolis is surprised when he is told that the main front of the Parthenon is the eastern one, since the natural inclination of the ground, combined with the orientation of the Propylaia, makes the western front strikingly more prominent to the observer. In reality, the Parthenon can be considered to be a double temple, since its cella is divided into two separate parts by a wall without openings. The part of the Parthenon to the east of the separation wall is the temple, or neos in the narrow sense of the term. The part to the west was called the opisthodomos. The Greek term opisthodomos, like its Latin equivalent posticum, means an additional part of a building attached to the rear and to which entrance is gained from the rear. Therefore the Parthenon in a sense can be said to have two fronts.
Dörpfeld concluded that the Old Temple was similarly divided by a separation wall without openings. The part to the east of the separation wall was the equivalent of the neos part of the Parthenon, and like it contained the image of the goddess. The part to the west of the separation wall corresponded to the opisthodomos part of the Parthenon and like it was used as the place of safekeeping of the treasury of the city of Athens. There is no reason to doubt that the Old Temple was so divided; the Erechtheion, which in size and ground plan is most similar to the Old Temple, is also divided by a separation wall without openings between a temple facing east and rooms directed in the opposite direction.
As far as we know, there were no rules regarding the orientation of Mycenaean royal megarons. The royal megaron of Athens was oriented to the west, because this gives greater prominence to the facade, since the plateau at the summit of the Acropolis has an inclination from west to east. As noted above, in Mycenaean times there was a monumental scalinade in front of the porch of the royal megaron. We may compare this scalinade with the row of steps which we see today in front of the western front of the Parthenon.
When the Mycenaean royal megaron was rebuilt as a temple in the seventh century B.C., the builders had to conform to the rule that Greek temples face east. The solution was found by dividing the rectangle of the temple into two parts. The part which used to be the throne room became the temple in the narrow sense of the term and was opened to the east. This arrangement was functional because the original gate to the Acropolis was from the north, just east of the Old Temple. The same pattern was repeated in the Parthenon, even though by then the entrance to the Acropolis was from the west. The existence of a western gate in the fortifications of the Acropolis, in addition to the original north gate, further contributed to making the temples Janus-like.
There is a peculiar reference to this problem of orientation in Herodotos: in speaking of the area where there are to be seen the charred remainders of the Persian destruction, he mentions the megaron which is turned to the west (V.78). It is generally understood that here Herodotos refers to the western half of the Old Temple, and that he refers to the eastern half of it when he speaks of the adyton of the goddess (VIII.55). The term adyton, which literally means not to be entered, refers to the innermost temple, the true abode of the divinity.
Greek temples used to face east because they were conceived as the abode of the divinity, whose image had to face the rising sun. When the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church, the issue of orientation arose once again, since early Christian churches used to face west, in order that the congregation might face the rising sun. Given the ambiguity of the orientation of the Parthenon, Christians had no difficulty in solving the problem: the eastern door of the cella was closed by a semi-circular apse, the separation wall was pierced by doors, and the western front of the Parthenon became the facade of the Church of Holy Wisdom. In thus restructuring the Parthenon, the Christian builders reintroduced the architectural scheme which had been characteristic of the Mycenaean royal megaron about two millennia earlier. They did it unwittingly, but they were guided by the very nature of the physical arrangements.
Dörpfeld recognized that the original part of the Old Temple was 50 feet wide, even though it was not a matter of the 50 feet he expected. From the foundations Dörpfeld estimated the width at 13.45 m. Now, 50 trimmed lesser feet correspond to 13,872 mm. This is a very important fact, because the trimmed lesser foot (277.4489 mm.) is the standard of Mycenaean sacred monuments, and because both the royal megaron of Mycenae and that of Pylos, which the Old Temple resembles in its internal structure, were 50 trimmed lesser feet wide. The royal megaron of Tiryns was narrower, being 45 such feet, because it was calculated sexagesimally as 30 cubits, instead of being calculated centesimally as the other two, and the Old Temple of Athena.
As mentioned earlier, about the middle of the sixth century B.C. or a few decades earlier, the megaron was changed into an amphiprostyle temple by adding at each end a porch of 4 columns. Dörpfeld does not mention directly any figure for the length of the megaron, but he states that the amphiprostyle temple had a length of 34.56 m., with two porches 2.70 m. deep, so that he implied that the length of the original part was 29.16 m. It appears that each of the two added porches measured 10 trimmed lesser feet, or 2,775 mm, so that the amphiprostyle temple had a total length of 125 trimmed lesser feet (34,681 mm).2 This length gave a proportion of 2:5 to the sides of the amphiprostyle temple. Thus the original part of the temple had a length of 105 feet (29,132 mm).The megaron as a whole had been planned as two near-squares of 50 x 52½ trimmed lesser feet, that is, 13,872 x 14,566 mm.
It can be concluded that the main dimension of the megaron, which proves to have been the width, had been set at 50 feet (trimmed lesser feet). Dörpfeld recognized by implication what was the real unit of measurement when he observed that the front of the temple was 50 feet wide. He based his conclusion on the famous entry in the dictionary of Hesychios, which explains the phrase hekatompedos neos in these terms: hekatompedos neos: a one-hundred foot temple erected for the Maiden on the Acropolis by the Athenians, being fifty feet greater than that burned by the Persians. Hesychios refers to the fact that in the Parthenon, which doubled the dimensions of the Old Temple, the width was 100 feet.
Dörpfeld should have recognized that the width of the original Old Temple was 50 feet according to the foot I call trimmed lesser foot and which metrologists of his generation called Italic or Oscan foot. But in applying the texts to the interpretation of the actual dimensions, he was hampered by a theory he had constructed regarding the history of Athenian measures. Up to about the turn of the century, Dörpfeld believed that through archaeology he had found the solution for the problem of the metric and monetary reforms introduced in Athens by Solon. The monuments of Athens pre-dating Solon would have been planned by what he called the Aiginetic foot of some 328 mm., and those that date later than Solon according to a foot of 296 mm. This standard, he believed, was introduced by Solons legislation, traditionally dated in 594 B.C., but to be dated correctly later. According to Dörpfeld and all those who have followed him, Athenian buildings were constructed only by these two standards. This dogma should have been recognized as false by an analysis of the enlargement of the Old Temple into a peristylar temple. Since Dörpfeld was bent on finding examples of the Solonian and Aiginetic foot in the remains he was studying, he decided that the amphiprostyle temple was hekatompedos too, because it had a length of 100 Aiginetic feet, measured from the corner columns at the two ends. But, assuming that this arbitrary manner of measuring the length of a temple has any value, Dörpfeld was contradicting his historical theory that Solon had replaced the longer Aiginetic with the shorter Solonian foot. With the irresponsibility that Dörpfeld could display in historical matters, he simply changed the chronological order of the two modules of foot: the Solonian became the older Attic foot and the Aiginetic foot became the newer Attic foot. But in the same spirit of irrationality he continued to date the original temple in the Solonian age, because it was calculated in Solonian feet; this dating continues to be accepted today, even though this temple is certainly older. On architectural grounds, the megaron of the Old Temple can safely be dated in the seventh century B.C., a hundred years before Solon. Unfortunately it has not been possible to date it by pottery sherds or any other stratigraphic datum.
The two parts of the megaron of the Old Temple were conceptually unrelated: to the east there was the neos, or shrine and to the west there was the opisthodomos. What Dörpfeld did not realize is that the neos measured 50 trimmed lesser feet in both directions. He reported only the inner dimensions of the neos as 10.5 x 10.65 m. Most likely the neos was a square with a side of 10,543 mm., or 38 feet as measured on the inside. With walls 6 feet thick the outer dimensions come to be 50 x 50 feet. Leicester B. Holland has observed that the square shape of the neos of the Old Temple is unusual. Archaic temples usually are long and narrow. The square shape and its division by two rows of columns suggests that the neos was modeled after the throne rooms of Mycenaean palaces.
The neos was divided lengthwise by two rows of stylobate blocks which supported columns. The space between the stylobate blocks, that is, the nave of the inner temple, appears to have been 18 feet, or 4,994 mm. The stylobate blocks were apparently 5 feet (1,387 mm.) wide and the space between the inner stylobate and the lateral walls 5 feet as well.3
The neos consisted of a unit of 50 feet square (surface of ¼ plethron). To this square with sides of 50 feet there was attached another structure called opisthodomos. Since it was an additional building, it did not include in its dimensions the separation wall. Without this wall it had a length of 55 feet, of which the western wall of the opisthodomos accounted for 5 feet (1,387 mm.). Dörpfeld reports the thickness of this wall as 1.35 m. The total temple thus had dimensions of 50 x 105 feet, conforming to the usual pattern of a double near-square.
The opisthodomos was divided into two rooms of equal size by a wall running north-south. Dörpfeld reports that the rooms are 6.20 m. wide, but does not provide any figure for the thickness of the wall between them.4 The two rooms have a length of 22½ feet (6,243 mm.) each, the wall between them being 5 feet (1,387 mm.) thick.
As we have seen, the partitions of the Old Temple are most symmetric and regular, but there is one partition which is odd and irregular. The inside half of the opisthodomos is subdivided into two cubicles by a small wall running east to west, in the direction of the length of the temple. These two cubicles are not equal in size: according to Dörpfeld the northern one has a width, from north to south, of 4.50 m., and the southern one of 4.85 m.
Since in the Parthenon the western part, that is, the opisthodomos, was used as the place of safekeeping of the state treasury of Athens, it can be presumed that the western part of the Old Temple served a similar purpose. It may also be presumed that within this area there was built a cubicle as the safe vault of objects of particular value.
There is a text that provides us with information about the location of the original safe vault of Athens. The climax of Aristophanes comedy Plutos is provided by the establishment of the worship of the god Plutos, Wealth, in the opisthodomos where it was worshipped originally, ever watching over the opisthodomos of the goddess. (lines 1194-95). This seems to imply that there was a time, earlier than the construction of the opisthodomos of the Parthenon, when Plutos was worshipped in the opisthodomos of a temple of Athena. A scholium on these lines of Aristophanes explains the term opisthodomos as follows: In the back of the neos of the temple of the so-called Athena Polias there is a double wall with one door, where there was the treasury-safekeeping. The reference to the double wall fits well the internal divisions of the opisthodomos of the Old Temple. It is possible that for the sake of security the larger cubicle, which was used as a safe vault and apparently had been sacred to Plutos, did not have any opening to the west, but had a single door which opened into the smaller cubicle, which served as a sort of hallway. Thus in order to gain access to the larger cubicle, one had to open the door of the opisthodomos, and then open another door to the smaller cubicle, to finally arrive at the door of Athenas treasury.
The two cubicles of the Old Temple would not have been made of different sizes unless there was a reason why one of them or both of them should have particular dimensions.
In dealing with the opisthodomos of the Parthenon, I will point out that whereas the Parthenon in general was planned by trimmed lesser feet like the Old Temple, the pattern of the floor tiles of the opisthodomos indicates that this part was planned by Roman feet of geometric form (297,1734 mm.) Within the opisthodomos of the Parthenon there was marked off a central area measuring 16 x 21 Roman feet, which in my opinion was the parthenon in the narrow sense of the term, that is, where the most valuable objects were stored.
The parthenon of the Periclean temple popularly known
as the Parthenon had the following dimensions:
The southern cubicle of the Old Temple appears to have had
the same dimensions, expressed in trimmed lesser feet. If the internal
dimensions of the opisthodomos of the Old Temple are examined,
it appears that they can be expressed with very minor discrepancies, both
in Roman feet (geometric form) and trimmed lesser feet.
What I am proposing as an hypothesis is that the parthenon used to be a separate building or part of a separate building. When the parthenon was incorporated into the Old Temple, the traditional dimensions of the original parthenon were preserved. These measurements were considered so important that they were reproduced again in the Periclean Parthenon.
Dörpfelds partial figures for the meridian section
of the amphiprostyle temple were as follows:
Apparently there was some transposition in Dörpfelds figures: the figure for the cross wall replaced that of the separation wall which must have read 1.60 m and was lost.
The fragments of the decoration of the peripteros, of which there has been found a large number scattered through the Acropolis, allow us to establish that it was added at the end of the sixth century B.C. Dörpfeld estimated the stylobate of the peripteros as being 21.34 x 43.44 m. Penrose, who was much more careful in matters of measurements, having been a witness to a part of the work of excavation, reported dimensions of 69.987 x 141.56 English feet, i.e., 21,579 x 43,147 mm. In my opinion in the construction of the peripteros the Athenians shifted to the geographic foot of 308.2765 mm. The shift from one standard to the other in the construction of the temple did not create a difficulty, because the geographic foot is exactly 10/9 of the trimmed lesser foot. The peristyle must have been planned as 70 x 140 geographic feet or 21,579 x 41,159 mm. It was a double perfect square instead of the usual double near-square. The reason for this is that a square with a side of 70 has a diagonal that for practical purposes equals 99 (exactly 98.9949). The ancients paid particular attention to diagonals, since by knowing the diagonal and two sides, they could set the corners as right angles, without having to test the angle as such. Ancient buildings often have dimensions chosen so that the diagonals come out as whole feet or simple fractions of the foot. In addition, the ancients always assumed that a square with a side of 70 has half the surface of a square with a side of 100. Hence, the peripteral temple was conceived as having the surface of a plethron, being composed of two squares with a surface of half a plethron each. Penrose reports that a piece of the stylobate of this peripteros was still in place and was 5.10 English feet, or 1,554.5 mm wide. If Penroses measurement is accurate, and not approximate, the width of the stylobate was 51/24 geographic feet, or 1554.23 mm.
According to Dörpfeld the peristyle was a Doric structure with 6 columns on the fronts and 12 on the flanks. In his opinion the normal intercolumnium of the flanks was 3.84 m.; I would suggest a dimension of 12 ½ geographic feet or 3,853 mm. In his opinion the corner intercolumnia were 3.57 m, which would mean a corner intercolumnium of 11 2/3 feet or 3,597 mm. According to my investigations, Greek architects ascribed more importance to what I call the corner space, that is, the distance between the axis of the last column that is not a corner column and the edge of the stylobate. In order to obtain the corner space, the semidiameter of a column (0.87 m) must be added to the corner intercolumnium, which would make the corner space equal to 4.44 m. by Dörpfelds figures. A small amount must further be added for the space between the bottom of the corner column and the edge of the stylobate. According to my interpretation the corner spaces were 14½ feet or 4,470 mm. Hence, the flanks of the peristyle may have been divided as follows:
For the fronts Dörpfeld calculates normal intercolumnia of 4.04 m., which may be explained as 13 1/8 feet or 4,064 mm. He states that the corner intercolumnia were 3.74 m., which may be interpreted as 12 1/8 feet of 3,738 mm. If we add the semidiameter of a column we obtain 4.61 m. Here again something must be added for the space between the bottom of the corner column and the edge of the stylobate. This suggests that the corner spaces were planned as 15 feet or 4,624 mm. Hence the fronts of the peristyle may have been planned as follows:
According to this reckoning the peristyle of the Old Temple measured 69 3/8 x 141 ½ feet, whereas I have spoken of a dimension of 70 x 140 feet. There seems to be a contradiction, but in reality the stated length of the intercolumnia was only a basic theoretical figure. As I will show in detail in the case of the Parthenon, the intercolumnia wee not made all identical, but usually increased or decreased by a small amount.
Imbedded in the north wall of the Acropolis there is a section of the architrave of the peristyle of the Old Temple. According to Penrose the four architrave blocks that compose this section have the following lengths, expressed in mm.:
These blocks appear to belong to the flank of the peristyle which had a normal intercolumnium of 12½ feet or 3,853.5 mm. All four blocks of the architrave are short of the standard figure: two appear reduced by 1/24 of foot to 3,840.5 mm; one by 1/12 of foot to 3,827.6 mm.; one by half of a foot to 3699.3 mm.
There survive also three architrave blocks from the fronts. According to Penrose, they have the following lengths, expressed in mm.:
It would seem that the first two correspond to a normal intercolumnium of 13 ½ feet or 4,046.1, whereas the third corresponds to an intercolumnium increased by 1/16 of foot to 4,065.3 mm.
By examining these details in the ordering of the columns of the peristyle
of the Old Temple, I have indicated that Dörpfeld himself proved, without
intending to do so, that the peristyle was planned in geographic feet.
This is a very important point because Stuart and Revett had concluded
that the Parthenon had a front of 100 geographic feet. Their interpretation
of the module of the Parthenon was accepted for about a century. Dörpfeld
argued that the geographic foot was not used in the construction of Athenian
buildings and his contention was generally accepted by scholars. Dinsmoor
in particular is extremely emphatic in denouncing as baleful Stuart and
Revetts interpretation and in asserting that the geographic foot
was never used as a standard in Greece. Now I have demonstrated that the
peristyle of the Old Temple was planned in geographic feet. Later, I shall
prove that Stuart and Revett were right in calculating the front of the
Parthenon as 100 geographic feet.