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Parthenos and Parthenon

In spite of all the effort to cause Syriopoulos’ arguments to be ignored, they still had a compelling force that was disturbing. Hence, in 1963 a group of Canadian and British archaeologists decided to publish a collective work, the proceedings of a symposium entitled Parthenos and Parthenon, which was intended to be a rebuttal to Syriopoulos, although his name is never mentioned, either in the text or in the bibliographies. The names of Kolbe and Tschira are also missing. As one of the reviewers observed, the publication of such a collective work is an unusual step in the field of Greek archaeology. The reason for choosing this form of communication was that by acting in concert the writers could appeal to the principle of authority against the factual evidence.The aims of this peculiar piece of literature is to assert as an unquestionable fact Dinsmoor’s claim that Parthenon I does not exist and that Parthenon II was built in the period between 490 and 480 B.C. The dogmatism was pushed to such an extreme point that even the views of a scholar as recognized and venerable as Dörpfeld were ignored. The purpose of the publication is made clear in the concluding page of the first essay, written by R. J. Hopper, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Sheffield, in which we read:

Between 490 and 480 B.C. another temple commenced building on the south side of the rock ... Whatever was on the Acropolis suffered in the Persian sack, and when the Athenians returned the Acropolis, like the rest of Athens, was a sorry mess of flame-blasted ruins ... some of the debris of the buildings standing or under construction before the sack were used to strengthen the north wall of the Acropolis column drums and entablature fragments, they looked down on Athens to remind the Athenians of the destruction and glory of the Persian invasion.

This statement, like all the other similar statements of the entire symposium, is not supported by any reference to data, tests, or opitions, ancient or modern. Instead of providing evidence, the authors echoed each other’s words, taking as proved what they were trying to defend and ignoring the contrary evidence. Earlier I have quoted a passage from the essay contributed to this symposium by Russell Meiggs, Lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford University, which contains the same assertions about the drums of the north wall as those of Hopper. I have pointed out that Meiggs not only contradicts the factual data, but also contradicts himself.Between the essay of Hopper and that of Meiggs, there is inserted an essay by Miss Alison Burford, Lecturer in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, which was intended to be a more direct replay to Syriopoulos. In the first page she claimed that the construction of Parthenon III began in 447/446 B.C., ”continuing an undertaking which had been interrupted thirty-three years before by the Persians.” In order to support this contention, she tried to deny the essential similarity between the plan of Parthenon II and that of Parthenon III: Parthenon III would have been erected over the platform of Parthenon II merely because there was no other space available on the Acropolis:

The setting of the temple was predetermined, too. The geography of the Acropolis alone meant that the new temple could not be sited anywhere but on the foundations of the older Parthenon, which were adapted to the more grandiose requirements of the new building (from a platform measuring about 73 x 220 feet for a colonnade of 6 x 16 columns, to one of about 102 x 229 feet, for a colonnade of 8 x 17 columns; see Fig. 1).

The drawing that should support this contention is in flagrant contradiction with the facts. It conceals the fact that Parthenon III is only a few feet (exactly 250 trimmed lesser feet instead of 240) longer than Parthenon II, and that the substantial difference between the two temples is in the incrase in the numbers of the columns on the fronts from 6 to 8 (the width was increased from 84 to 111½ trimmed lesser feet, according to the ration 6 : 8). Her drawing conceals the fact that the outlines of the two temples substantially overlap on three sides, the important difference being the extension of Parthenon III to the north side. The outline of the substructure (Parthenon I) is completely ignored by her; but someting called ”Foundation core and substructure” is placed by her under the outline of Parthenon III, a temple which did not have any foundation core or substructure of its own.Burford proceeds to refute Syriopoulos’ interpretation of an inscription (IG I2 339-353) that contains the accounts for the construction of the Parthenon during a period of fifteen years, beginning with the year 447/6 B.C. If this inscription could be read it would settle by itself most of our quandaries about the history of the Parthenon, but unfortunately the stone is so worn out that most of the lines are completely lost and in the remaining ones only a few scattered words are legible.. But Syriopoulos devised an ingenious method for eliciting some information from this inscription, despite its pitiful state of preservation. He counted the lines of the inscription dedicated to each particular year and established the following schedule:































The number of lines for the accounts of the fourteenth (434/3) and fifteenth (433/2) years cannot be compared, because for lack of space these two accounts were written on the two flanks of the stone on very short lines.

Syriopoulos argued that by and large the number of lines should correspond to the amounts expended in each year. However, more than a dozen of the lines in the entry for each year are taken up by standard introductory formulas which are repeated each year. Syriopoulos concluded that one can recognize a definite rhythm in the ordering of the yearly expenditures. The expenditures proceeded at a moderate pace in the first two years, but apparently came to a standstill in the third year. He suggested that in this year there was a shift in plan. In the fourth year work would have started with an intense drive in order to execute the plan of Parthenon III which had just been adopted. The rhythm of expenditures would have tapered off as this temple approached completion. This interpretation by Syriopoulos cannot be considered certain, but is reasonable and probable.

Burford, in order to deny that there was any break in the pace of the works in the third year, submitted an interpretation of the inscription which is for the most part arbitrary and in some cases contrary to the text. What follows is her interpretation for the first six years; she explains: ”supplements and explanations of the surviving text are in square brackets.

447/6 B.C.

Year I

Payments were made to quarrymen, carters, craftsmen and assistants.

447/5 B.C.

Year II

Pentelic marble was quarried and carted to the Acropolis [for the foundations and lowest course of the colonnade and then the cella. In this first stage of all, laying out of the lowest step, the curve which was to affect all horizontals had to be established and once this part had been built there was modifying of the refinement.]

447/3 B.C.

Year IV

Pine wood was purchased this year [most probably for the scaffolding, without which none of the blocks could be set in place; it had to be stoutly built so as to wear weights of anything up to 15 tons. A certain regard for economy can be seen in the reuse of undamaged column drums and blocks left over from the older Parthenon.]

447/2 B.C.

Year V

[Work continued]

447/1 B.C.

Year VI

Work on the columns is specified [in such a way as to sugges that the capitals of the columns were now set in place].

Burford had to agree that the wood for scaffolding seems to have been bought only in the fourth year. This suggests that in the preceding three years construction did not go beyond the level of the platform. If three years were spent on the laying out of the platform, there is a good presumption that there was something that protracted it, such as a shift from the platform of Parthenon II to that of Parthenon III. But Burford did everything possible to obscure the record on this point. She merged into one the accounts for the second and third year, so as to gloss over the fact that work slowed down or came to a complete halt in the third year. In order to exclude that there may have been a change of plan, she observes correctly that once the lower step of a temple was set, its curvatures determined the curvatures of the higher parts; but there is nothing at all in the text of the inscription or in the remains to exclude that a new lower step was placed on top of the older one, with slightly different curvatures. To be truthful, the text does not provide any single piece of information about what kind of work was performed in the second and third year. For the second year we can read only some figures without the names of the corresponding items of expenditures; for the third year we can read only the formula that contains the names of officials in charge of that particular year. It is possible that material for the lowest courses of the colonnade and of the cella was quarried and carted to the Acropolis during the second and third year, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that it was put into position.

The evidence is at least consistent with the thesis of Syriopoulos that the accounts for the construction of the Periclean Parthenon suggest a pause in the construction in the third year due to a shift in plans.

The bias of Miss Burford’s interpretation appears clearly in the comment to the accounts of the fourth year to the effect that column drums and blocks cut about forty years earlier were employed when they had survived the Persian destruction. There is not even an iota in the text of the inscription that may justify the introduction of this supposed explanation. As to the physical evidence, I challenge Miss Burford to point her finger at a single column drum of the present Parthenon about which it can be said that it has been reused from a pre-Persian Parthenon.

Whereas the thorough and carefully documented monograph (127 pages) of Syriopoulos was granted the attention of a single review, which appeared three years after publication, this propagandistic pamphlet (87 pages), which consists mainly of rhetorical exercises not supported by references to existing literature or to archaeological evidence, and in which only the last essay (”Athena in Athenian Literature and Cult” by C.T. Herrington) comes up to normal scholarly standards, was immediately granted the attention of at least a dozen reviews. Most of the reviews are lyrical in their praise and totally misrepresent the content of the essays. A reviewer declares: ”It is a great fortune to find gathered so many pieces of information from all sources on such a great subject”; but actually one does not find much more than a repetition of the theses of Dinsmoor. It may be indicative of how the pressure lines operated in the academic community that the work was reviewed by publications in the English and French languages, but not by those in the German language. Apparently they could not be part of an unfair and shabby treatment of memebers of the German Archaeological Institute, such as Kolbe and Tschira. From the Journal of Hellenic Studies we learn that ”Hopper gives a long, detailed, and (in view of the evidence) courageous history of Athens (even her prehistory) and the early Acropolis.” In truth, Hopper’s account is neither ”long” nor ”detailed,” and as to its being ”courageous,” this evaluation can be accepted if it is a euphemism for ”unsubstantiated.”

The misrepresentation reaches its climax when a reviewer asserts that ”the reader is made aware of the state of scholarly opinionon the chosen theme.”1 Actually every essay assumes that only one interpretation of the history of the Parthenon exists or is possible, that championed by Dinsmoor, and the views of Dörpfeld, Kolbe, Tschira and Syriopoulos are never mentioned, although the clear aim of the symposium was to dispose of them.


  1. Anna S. Benjamin of Rutgers University.

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