In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Parthenon

  • Introduction
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Early Travelers and Investigators
  • The Architecture
  • Predecessors
  • Historical and Religious Context
  • Later History

Art History The Parthenon
Barbara A. Barletta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0046


The Parthenon, executed between 447 and 432 BCE and dedicated in 438 BCE, initiated the Periclean building program on the Athenian Acropolis. It was meant to be the jewel of Athens. It was not the first building on the Acropolis to be constructed of marble, an honor that went to its predecessor, the Older Parthenon, but it was certainly the largest. It was minutely planned and executed, achieving what scholars have labeled “millimeter accuracy.” And it had more sculpture than any temple before or after, with ninety-two carved metopes around the exterior, a 160-meter-long frieze above the cella building, pedimental statues at front and back, and acroteria at the corners of its roof. The exact function of the Parthenon, whether a temple, treasury, votive, or all of these, has been debated. The building lasted through Antiquity and continued to serve religious purposes in later times, initially as a Christian church and then as an Islamic mosque. Changes were made as a result of these new functions, including the construction of an apse at the east end, a roof only over the cella for the church, and a minaret in conjunction with the mosque, but the modifications were relatively limited. The greatest damage occurred with the explosion of 1687, after which the building was left in ruins. Yet considering its long history of use, the temple is relatively well preserved and remarkably well known. It has long been the subject of study, but late-20th- and early 21st-century investigations undertaken as part of the Acropolis restoration program have uncovered new evidence and generated additional scholarship. The Parthenon thus lives on as a symbol of classical Athens and the Greek people.

General Overviews

The importance of the Parthenon means that it is discussed, often in some detail, in all of the handbooks on Greek architecture. In fact the passage in Dinsmoor 1975 (originally 1950) was deemed so substantive it was reprinted in Bruno 1996 (cited under Architecture and Sculpture of the Parthenon) along with various journal articles. Interested investigators can familiarize themselves with the characteristics and innovations of the architecture along with additional bibliography through these works. Two of the English-language publications (Dinsmoor 1975, Berve and Gruben 1963) are now old, and only Lawrence 1996 has been kept up to date through revisions. Lawrence 1996 is thus able to provide information gained from the late-20th-century investigations. While it is more succinct than the other two, it is both more readable and better illustrated than William Bell Dinsmoor’s discussion. Scholars have continued to publish handbooks in German, French, and Italian, but they are inaccessible to most Anglophone students. Of works not in English, Gruben 2001 provides an updated discussion along the same lines as Berve and Gruben 1963; Hellmann 2006 offers a well-illustrated account of the Classical Parthenon and its predecessors; and Lippolis, et al. 2007 discusses the Parthenon among other Acropolis buildings and notes its technical characteristics. The handbooks cited contain basic measurements of the building and essential plans and other illustrations, although they vary in the amount of detail provided.

  • Berve, Helmut, and Gottfried Gruben. Greek Temples, Theatres, and Shrines. Translated by R. Waterhouse. New York: Abrams, 1963.

    Now dated but offers a thorough discussion in English with ample illustrations. This is especially useful for students, as it is clearly written.

  • Dinsmoor, William Bell. The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development. New York: Norton, 1975.

    A reprint, with a new preface and fifty-five new photographs, of the revised and enlarged third edition published in London by Batsford in 1950. This book offers a fairly extensive (pp. 159–179) exposition of the temple with essential information and observations. Despite its age, it remains authoritative.

  • Gruben, Gottfried. Griechische Tempel und Heiligtümer. 5th rev. ed. Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2001.

    Provides a handy summary of Greek temples, including the Parthenon (pp. 170–190). Its various editions since 1966 have allowed it to remain up to date. It thus incorporates late-20th-century scholarship on the Parthenon and follows Manolis Korres’s proposals concerning the predecessors (see Korres 1997, cited under Predecessors). The book is available only in German.

  • Hellmann, Marie-Christine. L’architecture grecque. Vol. 2, Architecture religieuse et funéraire. Paris: Picard, 2006.

    The discussion of the Parthenon (pp. 82–88) does not focus as extensively on the Classical building as several of the other publications do, but emphasis is given to its predecessors. The author accepts the main function of the building as a treasury.

  • Lawrence, Arnold Walter. Greek Architecture. 5th ed. Revised by R. A. Tomlinson. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

    Pages 108–115 offer a discussion in English of the building and its sculpture in addition to information on its predecessor and its later history. The Parthenon’s refinements are treated along with those of other buildings on pages 125–128.

  • Lippolis, Enzo, Monica Livadiotti, and Giorgio Rocco. Architettura greca: Storia e monumenti del mondo della polis dale origini al V secolo. Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2007.

    The discussion on the Parthenon is divided into two parts, pages 439–445 and 555–556. Although written in Italian, this more recent book is able to incorporate much of the latest scholarship.

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