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The Reaction

After Dörpfeld had stated his final position in 1934, Dinsmoor in the following year pointed out its basic weakness, namely, that it ascribed an impossibly high date for the construction of the substructure. But in trying to find the flaw in Dörpfeld’s argument, Dinsmoor directed his criticism in the wrong direction. Although Dörpfeld, as usual, was absolutely sound in matters of tectonic archaeology, although weak in matters of historical interpretation, Dinsmoor questioned his conclusions in the first area and accepted those in the second area: he denied the existence of Parthenon I and accepted Dörpfeld’s dating of Parthenon II between the battle of Marathon and the Persian invasion of Athens. He assigned the single proto-Parthenon to the year 488 B.C. The Parthenon would have been initiated as a memorial for the Athenian victory at Marathon. There is no need to spend many words on Dinsmoor’s contention: it is obvious that the huge substructure cannot have been intended as the support of the small temple (Parthenon II) which according to him was the only proto-Parthenon. Dinsmoor’s cure is worse than the sickness—by glossing over indisputable facts of tectonic archaeology he arrived at a scheme that does not make sense historically.

In 1912 the American archaeologist B. H. Hill was able to establish the dimensions of the stylobate of Parthenon II. Even though Hill assumed a priori that this temple had been measured in Attic-Solonian feet (Roman feet in my terminology), his results prove that it had been measured in trimmed lesser feet. He concluded that the best estimate for the dimensions of the stylobate is 23,510 x 66,888 mm.; it can be inferred that it is a matter of 3 near-squares of 80 x 84 feet (diagonal of 116 feet), since a stylobate of 84 x 240 feet would measure 23,305 x 66,587 mm.

In order to establish which unit of measurement was used, Hill tested the diameter of the columns and the size of some blocks of the stylobate, but he could not draw any definite conclusion because he expected to meet with multiples of the Attic-Solonian foot. He reported that the columns have a diameter of 1.80 m.: 6½ trimmed lesser feet are 1803.4 mm. According to Hill the stylobate blocks ”from the end of the temple” have a width of 2.09 m and the stylobate blocks ”from the sides” have a width of 2.04 m. (I would assume tentatively that these figures refer in reality to the length of the stylobate blocks)ù this suggests that the blocks measured 7½ trimmed lesser feet of 2,080.9 mm and 7 3/8 feet or 2,046.2 mm. It can be concluded that two blocks formed an intercolumnium: there were intercolumnia of 15 feet (4161.7 mm) on the fronts and of 14 ¾ feet (4092.3 mm.) on the sides. It may be tentatively concluded that on the flanks were 17 columns (as in Parthenon I and III), with 14 normal intercolumnia of 14 ¾ feet and 2 corner spaces of 16 ¾ feet: (14 x 14 ¾) + (2 x 16 ¾) = 240 feet. About the fronts it can be concluded only that they had six columns (whereas the Periclean Parthenon had 8 columns on the fronts). Their spacing cannot be established with certainty; there may have been two corner spaces of 17 feet, 2 intercolumnia of 15 feet, and a space of 20 feet at the center between the third and fourth column. This larger spacing at the center is common in Greek temples, but it does not seem to occur anywhere else on the Acropolis. According to this hypothesis, the corner spaces would be two feet more than the normal intercolumnia both on the fronts and on the sides.

If my estimate is correct, the 17 columns of the flanks would have occupied a space of 113 1/3 feet, plus something more because the columns of the corners were usually thicker. It is possible that the columns of the corners had a diameter of 100 fingers of the Egyptian foot of 300 mm., which would make them 1,870.0 mm. thick. Hence, the pattern of columnation of Parthenon II would have been similar to that adopted later in the Periclean temple. In the latter structure the columns of the flanks occupy almost half of the length of the stylobate. Hence, Parthenon II would have anticipated the pattern adopted in the Periclean temple in which the columns are most unusually close to each other. Neglecting the addition to the two corner columns, the columns would have occupied 47.22 percent of the space. The problem of the columns of Parthenon II could be solved with certainty if Hill had published the promised full report of his findings.

On the flanks, the columns would have occupied 40 feet, plus an addition for the greater thickness of the two corner columns, so that here again the columns would have occupied almost half of the width of the stylobate. Neglecting the addition to the two corner columns, the columns would have occupied 47.62 percent of the space.

The following points can be considered certain. The module of Parthenon II was the same as that used in the Periclean Parthenon, that is, the trimmed lesser foot. The length of the Periclean Parthenon was only 10 feet more than that of Parthenon II, but its width was 1/3 more. This increase of the width as 1:1 1/3 well corresponds to the increase in the number of columns on the fronts from 6 to 8. It is most likely that, if the plan of proto-Parthenon II had been carried through, it would not have been an artistic success. This plan may well have been the product of political expediency by those who had to carry through the construction of the temple, but did not have their hearts in it. The very decision to build the podium with two steps of poros limestone and the upper one of Karrha limestone suggests a policy of awkward makeshifts.

It must be noted that, although Hill’s findings about Parthenon II are of major significance, they have never been fully published. He published an article in the American Journal of Archaeology1 which was presented as a preview of a future full report, and in fact it shows signs of haste in its poor organization and lack of clarity; but nothing further was ever published on the subject by Hill, although he continued for the rest of his life to be active in the field of archaeology, and became Director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

The strange silence of Hill is to be explained by the explosion of the World War, as a result of which the several archaeological missions in Greece became actively involved in contemporary politics. The American archaeologists aligned themselves with their English and French colleagues against the German Archaeological Institute in Athens. Since the beginning of the century a number of English archaeologists had propounded a chauvinistic opposition against ”pedantic” Teutonic scholarship. This opposition had been originally championed by Ridgeway, and it had been sharpened by the dispute about the relative merits of Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy and of Mycenaean civilization, and of Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer of Knossos and of Minoan civilization. The Archaeological Institute of America had inclined in that direction since they had removed from their leadership Sir Charles Waldstein, whose ”pedantic” rigor was considered inseparable from his Jewish and German ancestry. After 1914 the anti-Teutonic line became a duty for American, English and French archaeologists. If the attempt of the allies to wage a new Trojan War had collapsed at Gallipoli, one could get even with the Central Powers by discrediting Dörpfeld, the chief assistant and heir of Schliemann. For American interventionists the fact that Schliemann considered himself a German-American made him an even more abominable figure, given the internal political tensions of the United States. In this climate of opinion the old opposition to Ross and Dörpfeld about the substructure of the Periclean Parthenon acquired a new dimension. The preliminary report of Hill, published in 1912, a few years later turned out to be an inopportune and embarrassing document.

Unfortunately, the injection of irrelevant political rivalries into the field of Greek archaeology persisted beyond 1918, up to the new crisis of World War II. In 1922 the American School of Classical Studies in Athens published a brochure which set the political line concerning the archaeology of the Athenian Acropolis. Under the guise of an impersonal account of the activities of the School Dinsmoor, who actually wrote the document, offered a novel interpretation of Hill’s discoveries. These had to be interpreted as a great American contribution which contradicted the findings of Ross and Dörpfeld. Dinsmoor claimed that Parthenon I is a ”myth” and that Parthenon II is ”the only predecessor of the present temple.”2 To this temple Dinsmoor assigned the date that Dörpfeld had assigned to Parthenon I in his article of 1902. As evidence of these sweeping assertions, reference is made to Hill’s article of 1912, although Hill, in presenting the evidence for Parthenon II, had also presented additional evidence for Dörpfeld’s conclusions about the structure of Parthenon I. One of the key points in Hill’s article was that Parthenon II is so small in relation to the substructure that this must have been built for another temple. To prove this point Hill had quoted a test of the dimensions of the substructure performed by Dinsmoor himself (31,390 x 76,816 mm.).

The blunt and unsubstantiated denial of the existence of Parthenon I, issued anonymously by Dinsmoor in 1922, was accepted as a proven fact by the archaeologists of the Anglo-American and French camps. This was a purely political issue, because in scholarly terms it is impossible to deny the existence of Parthenon I: It is there to be seen, to be touched, and to be measured. That such is the case is implied indirectly by the very fact that Dinsmoor did not try to support his assertion with arguments until 1934, when a young member of the German Archaeological Institute, Walther Kolbe, was about to re-open the issue of the proto-Parthenons.3

In an article of 1934, Dinsmoor tried to support his case with a piece of sophistry. He accepted as a fact Dörpfeld’s erroneous conclusion that Parthenon II was constructed in the period 488-480 B.C. and then tried to prove that the substructure was built in the same period. By arguing that Parthenon II and the substructure belong to the same period, he tried to short-circuit the architectural fact that the substructure supports a platform which is completely different from the platform of Parthenon II. He ignored the detailed description of the platform of Parthenon I submitted by Dörpfeld and Hill. In his article of 1934 Dinsmoor did not try to refute the tectonic evidence presented by Dörpfeld and Hill for the existence of Parthenon I, but limited himself to observe that Dörpfeld’s date for Parthenon I is absurd: the argument is that if the date assigned to Parthenon I is unacceptable, then Parthenon I does not exist. He did not even try to explain how the substructure could have been built in order to support the temple described by Hill, which is about 6 m. shorter on the east side and about 2 m. narrower on the south side.

We have seen that Dörpfeld originally had argued that the substructure, and hence the platform of Parthenon I, had been built, together with the Cimonian Wall, after 468 B.C., and then had moved this date to the period between 490 and 480 B.C. When Hill established the existence of Parthenon II, Dörpfeld shifted the dates again: It is Parthenon II that belongs to the period between 490 and 480 B.C., so that Parthenon I gets shunted to the period before 500 B.C. All that Dinsmoor did was to prove that the substructure was not built before 490 B.C.; this was easy, because actually it was built after 468 B.C. But he also accepted Dörpfeld’s assertion that the step of Karrha limestone of Parthenon II shows traces of the fire of 480 B.C. Dinsmoor argued that if the substructure is to be dated later than 488 B.C. and Parthenon II was destroyed in 480 B.C., it is not possible to assume that two temples, Parthenon I and Parthenon II, were started within the span of a few years.

Dinsmoor’s argument rests on two premises: that the substructure was started in 488 B.C. and that Parthenon II was burned in 480 B.C. But in reality the arguments he marshaled against Dörpfeld’s date for Parthenon I prove that any early date for the substructure is unacceptable, including Dinsmoor’s date.

The stratigraphic evidence proves that the space behind the Cimonian Wall was filled up with earth layer by layer together with a corresponding layer of the substructure. Dinsmoor completely ignores this evidence by claiming that the filling in front of the substructure was not retained by the Cimonian Wall, but by the wall S2. The wall S2 would have reached the height of the fourth layer of the substructure, counting from the top, which originally was meant to be exposed. In 1940 Gorham Phillips Stevens obliged Dinsmoor by arguing that originally the terrace that surrounded the Parthenon was formed by the wall S2. But the wall S2 was a flimsy construction, neither high nor thick. In their report Kavvadias and Kawerau had stressed that this wall is remarkable for its weakness. It rests on natural topsoil and its foundations do not reach rock. In 1892 Dörpfeld had written that ”the provisory character of the wall S2 can be inferred to begin with from its limited strength.” In 1919 Heberdey declared that the wall S2, ”because of its limited strength, cannot be conceived as a support-wall for a terrace as high as the entire foundation of the Parthenon.”

Up to the time that Dinsmoor presented his theory about the wall S2, all writers had agreed on its temporary character. In order to strengthen the bottom of the substructure a mass of solid stone material coming from the buildings destroyed by the Persians (Perserschutt, according to the terminology of German archaeologists) had been piled against it. The wall S2 was constructed in order to help pack this material at the bottom of the substructure, while the Cimonian Wall was being raised. It has always been agreed that the filling behind the wall S2 came from the buildings destroyed in 480 B.C., but this fact is twisted by Dinsmoor to mean that since this filling does not contain pottery sherds datable after 480 B.C. the wall S2 was erected before this date, and so was the substructure. Dinsmoor tries to confuse the issue by paying attention to the sherds found behind the wall S2, since normally the date of an archaeological stratum is determined by the latest sherds found in it. But since the entire filling behind the wall is composed of Perserschutt, the date of the sherds only confirms that the substructure was built after 480 B.C. Dinsmoor ignored entirely the fact that the sherds were found scattered through more substantial remains of buildings destroyed by the Persians. His argument is such a blatant piece of sophistry that it must be classified under the rubric of political propaganda, rather than of archaeological scholarship.


  1. Volume XVI (1912), 535-558.
  2. The text of this brochure was reprinted in Art and Archaeology XIV (1922), p. 237 under Dinsmoor’s byline.
  3. W. B. Dinsmoor, “The Date of the Older Parthenon” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1934.

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