Drawing adapted from an illustration in The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, ed. P.Clayton & M.Price, Routledge, London, 1989.
Nowadays, the Olympiad is not a religious event. It is a sporting event. In ancient Greece, however, it was staged in honour the king of the gods, Zeus (called Jupiter by the Romans). A special temple, the Olympieium, was built at Olympia. It was the home of a huge statue of Zeus. Ancient writers commented that the temple was too small for the statue, or the statue was too large for the temple. Either way, poor old Zeus looked a bit cramped.
Every four years, when people gathered from the games, a hundred unfortunate oxen were sacrificed outside the temple. Inside the temple, there was a wild olive tree. Its leaves were used to make garlands which were presented to the victors in the games.
The base of the statue was approximately 6.5 metres by 10 metres. It was probably over a metre high.
The statue was 13 metres high — that's about the height of a three-storey house in modern times.
The statue was not made of stone. It was made of gold and ivory. Wow! Imagine how magnificent it must have looked. It would have cost a lot, too.
The temple and statue were built around 460 BC. The statue was destroyed by the Romans in about 40 AD.
Emperor Caligula wanted to take the statue back to Rome. His attempt failed. The scaffolding erected around the statue collapsed. It was said that when this happened, the god laughed.
In about 400 AD, the statue was taken to Constantinople (now called Istanbul). About sixty years later, it was destroyed by fire. It had lasted about 800 years.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia: Challenges
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