Temple of Athena at Priene analysis



During the fourth century of the Hellenistic age, most architecture in Greece was influenced by it. Some people referred to it as the Hellenistic Age, a time when Classical Greek Architecture prevailed. The latter is known for architecture that was combined, refined, as well as perpetuated. One of the most notable architectural works during this time was the Temple of Athena at Priene. It has been described as a building constructed out of ingenuity. Archeologists who have viewed some of the remains of the building are often marveled[1]. The Ionian Renaissance is linked with the building of the temple. It seems that the architect behind the Temple of Athena was influenced by the Ionian culture.

This paper seeks to give a critical analysis on why the fourth century Priene Temple of Athena is described as being innovative. Furthermore, it seeks to find the relation between the latter and the Ionian Renaissance.

Critical analysis concerning the innovativeness of the fourth century Temple of Athena at Priene and its relation to the Ionian Renaissance

For a long time in Greece, ionic architecture has played a vital role in the building of Temples. It is during the archaic period that the building of Ionian temples began in Greece, and soon became adapted all over the region. In a way, Doric culture is similar to that invented by the people of Ionia, and the two are often referred to as being cousins. According to Dinsmoor William, the Mycenaean remnants population is responsible for the many Ionian colonies, which arrived in Greece. Some of these native Ionian people include those from Lycia, Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia. They went into the world of the Greek people, in order to obtain the power they were searching for. In turn, the Greek adapted the new style brought by the people of Ionia. Many Ionian people settled in almost all parts of Greece and ; thus they had a responsibility of developing their new land. The cultural and historical context of the Ionian architecture is known to have affected that of the Greek people. In turn, it led to the spread of Ionian architecture as well that of art[2].

The temple of Athena was built in the city’s center, and on a terrace placed at a high point. Athena is a city known for having many sanctuaries and the temple was built at the location. It is indeed true that the Ionian Renaissance is one of the vital factors that influenced the building of the temple of Athena. It is from the years 340 BC to 150BC that the temple took, in order to be fully completed. In fact, the measurements used were in ionic unit terms. The temple is estimated to be around 0.295m, which is in ionic terms. Pythius is the master architect behind the building of the temple in the fourth century. He is also responsible for constructing what is considered as being among the world’s seven wonders. The latter is responsible for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus construction. The temple of Athena is described by many as being a product of the architectural style of Anatolian Ionian era.

The temple of Athena was dedicated in the year 334 B.C. by Alexander the Great. When the Anta located in the east side of the temple was completed, a lot of pressure began in order to build more temples[3]. The exact time when the temple was completed is not known up to date, despite there being research done by many scientists. The only information known regarding this matter is that there were two phases during building of the temple. The first phase took place during the second century, while the second phase ended in the fourth century. It is much later that the famous statue known as Parthenos was erected. The latter took place in the period of 158-156 BC. This means that the person who dedicated the temple was different from the one in earlier centuries. Augustus, Polias, and Athena were the ones who rededicated the sanctuary in the year 27 BC. It will forever be remembered in history that the Temple of Athena is the most vital cult center ever known. The imperial period made tremendous steps towards coming with magnificent buildings. No one can deny that the Greek have built some of the best architectural buildings known to human beings[4].

As fate would have had it, an earthquake occurred during the ancient times and it led to the destruction of the temple. Most of the remaining pieces of the temple have been found by archeologists as they were scattered almost everywhere. It is not only an earthquake, which destroyed the temple, but also a fire. It seems that the temple was bound to cease existing, due to the many tragedies it faced. A reconstruction, as well as the production of the plan for building the temple, exists up to today. Archeologists have done a perfect job in ensuring that the latter took place[5]. It is during the Hellenist age that the temple was built and became one, which is known for its beauty. When the region of Ionia, as well as its city-states, were undergoing a renaissance, Priene came into being. Most Ionian administrative matters centrally took place in the city of Priene. In all the Ionic temples, which have ever existed, the one at Athena is described as being the most beautiful one.

Most of the information, which exists concerning the Priene Temple of Athena, is from the famous architect from Greece known as Vitruvius. He is known for his notable treatise known as ‘Dr Architectura’. It is during the reign of Augustus in the early years that Vitruvius wrote the treatise. It has a lot of vital information regarding traditions, which were followed during the Hellenistic Age. Moreover, it has information concerning the impact of the Ionian Renaissance on the building of the Temple of Athena. From the citations provided by Vitruvius, it is true that Pytheos is the architect behind the building of the Temple. As the Hellenistic age began, Pytheos was extremely active in matters concerning architecture and even Alexander the Great noted his efforts. According to Vitruvius, it is mandatory that any architect be versatile in order to succeed in their vocation. Furthermore, they need to have exemplary performance in the sciences, as well as the arts[6]. They should be able to make achievements in other sectors other than architecture. The latter is because any ordinary person can succeed in at least one sector of the arts and sciences.

Criticism also exists concerning the work done by Pytheos on the temple of Athena. Pytheos used factors such as labor and ratio, which were adapted from the ionic renaissance. According to Vitruvius, the two factors were not made to be as distinct as they ought to be. He even claimed that practical details had been ignored as well as theoretical concepts. It is a known fact that architects should have a thorough knowledge concerning the mentioned issues. It seems that the writings done by Pytheos were meant to show the importance of standardized architecture. This is in contrast to the belief that his writings were nothing, but mere technical manuals. Pytheos sort to ensure that everyone who read his manuals would be familiar with the disciplines of architecture. A manifesto was created by Pytheos, in which he advocated against the use of the Doric order. He claimed that is lacked in matters concerning perfection and thus of no benefit to architects. During construction of a temple, the entablature is meant to have corner triglyphs. This knowledge is derived from some of the buildings found in Ionian cities like Lydia.

When Pytheos built the Temple of Athena he borrowed some architectural knowledge from that of the Ionian culture. In fact, before hand, he came up with proportions, which would be used in the construction. It is through archeological excavations that modern society is now aware about how the temple was built. The remains that they found in Greece are similar to those, which were found in civilizations, where the Ionian people lived. In the year 1964, architects and archeologists worked together and came up with columns. They found out that indeed the columns were ionic in nature. This is due to their dispositions, which were 6x 11, in accordance with the peripteral colonnade.  Furthermore, it had an attic foot of 66x 126 stybolate, which is similar to 37.17m x19.53m. There had to grid squares, which were placed in the middle of the columns, in what is known as axial spacing. The columns had a foot of 60x12o feet, and this is where the axes were placed. Moreover, there were grid squares, which had cella, and their measurements were 36x 96 attic feet. When one compares the Temple of Athena and that of the Parthenon, the latter is far most the best. It seems that construction during the classical period was better than that of the Ionian period[7].

There are various elements of architecture that the Greek adapted from the Ionian people. The changes, which took place, ensured that harmony existed in the buildings, which existed. In this case, most of the temples built after the Temple of Athena were extremely similar in many ways. Earlier on, the temples were built using quite easy architectural methods. They were not refined and their aesthetics were not up to standard, as the buildings were often bulky and coarse. It is as a result of mathematical complexities, which were strict, that the superstructures and plans became more advanced. As the Hellenistic period began, Greek temples lost the stature that they once had. Only some were able to survive and are still today famous around the world.

During the period of Hellenistic Greece, temple construction, which was classical, came to an end. The most affected parts were the islands of Magna Greacia, which is a Greek colony. In the fourth century, religious architecture reached its prime. This is the reason why many Greek architects started constructing temples, such as the prostyle and the antis. Temples were erected in places, which were popular, and had served people’s purposes. This means that the temples were built near roads, springs and even market places[8].

The Temple of Athena is known for its rear, and west side, which has many Ionian architectural elements. These elements are similar to those, which the Greeks used when they were building their temples in the second century. Most of the buildings during that time were often left incomplete, as the finances were not enough. It is only after the donation made by a prince known as Oropermes that some of the temples were completed. It is through this act that architects became aware that they needed to have sufficient finances before building any temples. Furthermore, silver coins and alters found their way into the Greek society, and they became symbols of stature. At Athena, a cult statue existed and is known to be similar to the Athena Pathenos. The latter is the work of Phidias a famous Greek sculptor. It is during the roman period that the coins came into existence and found their way into Greece. At the east side of the Temple of Athena, there was an altar, which served many significant purposes. It is through the financial support offered by Orophernes that the altar became finished.

In order to understand the measurements used by Pytheo, the multiplier ten is used. There is also a need to know about the didactic ring, which is a module of an attic foot. The extreme degrees, which were used in building the Temple of Athena, were described as being in order. This is often referred to as being dogmatic as well as prescriptive. In turn, it does not inspire others to engage in the same way. The latter is a reason why some people preferred Greek architecture, as compared to Ionian architecture. It seems that the elements of eclecticism were used when Pytheo constructed the temple. He is attributed for being an architect scholar and this is due to his extensive knowledge concerning architecture[9]. He attributes most of influence from the Ionian people, whom he lived with in priene. In order to come up with the cella, an attic plan had to exist, as well as attic measurements. A projecting antae and an opisthodomos were used, but Pytheos still chose to use ionic forms. They are referred to as columns, used to Asia Minor and they usually have dentils and plinths[10]. In turn, when they are being constructed, they do not freeze. So far the design of the temple of Athena is above standards, compared to those of its generation. Indeed, the temple is extremely elegant as well as icy.

According to the plan in the Hellenistic age, the entire Greek cities were to be made to become beautiful. This is possible through the construction of sanctuaries and temples. It is in the southern part, where many slopes existed and temples were to be built. When the Ionians were in their original land, their religious places were in sloppy areas. In Greece, the temples were constructed on raised or high places known as acropolis. The latter had heights, which were as high as 275m. The architects who constructed buildings on slopes often encountered many problems. When they were designing the monuments they did not think if any future disaster could take place. In fact, they believed that if the buildings were in an ascending order, it would be advantageous to them. Symbolism is another reason why they constructed buildings on slopes. The architects believed that a connection existed between the life of people and buildings. Those who had the power would strategically be positioned above and the rest of the people below them. This is a form of over domineering power practiced by the Greek leaders. It was easy for the Greek authority figures to watch over their cities while at the comfort of their homes[11].


In conclusion, the Greek should be acclaimed and praised for their magnificent architectural buildings. The Temple of Athena located at Priene is an example of the fourth century architectural work. The Ionian revolution is responsible for influencing some of the Greek architecture as it has been witnessed. It is through innovation that the Greeks were able to construct buildings which still exist up to date.








Westgate, R, and Fisher, N, and Whitley, J. Building Communities. House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond. New York: Wiley, 2007.

Adcock, S, and Osborne, R. Classical Archaeology Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

Spawforth, A. The Complete Greek Temples London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.

Whitley, J. The Archaeology of Ancient Greece Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2001.

Barletta, B. The Origins of Greek Architecture Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Rhodes, P, and Osborne, R.  . Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 119-136.

Osborne, R. Greece in the Making: 1200-479 BC London: Routledge, 1996. 396

Golvin, J. Ancient Cities Brought to Life London: Thalamus Publishing, 2007.


[1] R Osborne, Greece in the Making: 1200-479 BC (London: Routledge, 1996). 396.


[2] A Spawforth, The Complete Greek Temples (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006).55-58.


[3] A Spawforth, The Complete Greek Temples( London: Thames & Hudson, 2006). 59.


[4] B Barletta, The Origins of Greek Architecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 23.


[5]Adcock, S, and Osborne, R. Classical Archaeology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007). 110-112.


[6] Rhodes, P, and Osborne, R.   Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 119-136

[7] B Barletta, The Origins of Greek Architecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).89.


[8] J Golvin, Ancient Cities Brought to Life (London: Thalamus Publishing, 2007).67-68.


[9]Westgate, R, and Fisher, N, and Whitley, J. Building Communities. House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond (New York: Wiley, 2007), 89-94.


[10] J Golvin, Ancient Cities Brought to Life( London: Thalamus Publishing, 2007). 69.


[11] A Spawforth, The Complete Greek Temples (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006). 65.


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