The Parthenon Marbles

As Gerasimos abrasively points out in the first chapter of Stealing The Marbles, construction, under the supervision of the sculptor Phidias and the architects, Iktinos and Kallikrates, began on the present day Parthenon in 447 BC and was essentially completed by 432 BC, though work on the decorations continued until at least 431 BC.

A previous attempt to build a sanctuary for Athena Parthenos on the same spot was begun shortly after the Battle of Marathon (c. 490-488 BC). This building would have stood beside the archaic temple dedicated to the Athena Polias. It was still under construction when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BC.

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469 silver talents. That’s what it cost to build the Parthenon way back when. So, what exactly is a talent and how much would it be worth today?

A talent is an ancient unit of mass and corresponds roughly to the mass of water needed to fill an amphora. Now, in Rome, an amphora was around 26 liters while in Greece it could vary from 18.5 liters up to 36 liters. This obvious lack of standardization made the worth of your silver talent dependent on which empire (not to mention time period) you happen to be residing in at the time. The Babylonian talent came in at around 30.3kg while the Egyptian talent cut your net worth by 3.3kg, coming in at 27kg. You would have gotten richer faster working for the Romans as their talent worked out at 32.3kg compared to the Greek or Attic talent which low-balled in at a measly 26kg. The ancient Israelites, over-achievers from the get-go, blew everyone out of the water with a talent weighing in at a whopping 58.9kg.

Now you need to jump in your sleek little time machine, zip back to 448 BC, snatch those 469 silver talents and zip back to today. Careful, that silver’s going to be pretty heavy.

So, now that you’ve got them back, how much will all that effort net you?

Well, 469 Greek or Attic silver talents, at 26kg per talent, weighs in at 12,663kg. The per kilogram price of silver as of the date of this post is $557.98 USD/409.64 EUR. so, your little trip back in time would net you 7,065,700.74 USD/5,187,271.32 EUR.

Considering inflation, I doubt that much would be enough to build the Porch of the Maidens today.

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Built entirely of white Pentelic marble from Attica, the Parthenon has seventeen Doric columns on either side, eight Doric columns on either end and six in the inner row of each porch. Support for the roof was provided by an interior colonnade, though little of that remains today. Two chambers divided the temple: the cella to the east and the opisthodomos on the west end. The sculptor Phidias’ 12 meter high, gold and ivory statue of Athena stood in the cella. The treasures of the goddess and the city were stored in the opisthodomos.

Ninety-two high relief metopes surround the temple, thirty-two on each side, fourteen on each end. These sculptures depict scenes from Greek mythology and legend. A low relief frieze 160 meters long depicts the Panathenaic festival. Triangular pediments at either end contained statues in the round representing the birth of Athena and her contest with Poseidon for the land of Attica.

The Parthenon is considered to be the culmination of Greek sculpture, surpassing that of any other building of the classical age.

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When the Greeks were besieging the Acropolis in 1821, during the war for independence from the Ottoman Empire, word came down that the Turks were destroying the temple to get at the lead clamps so as to make bullets. Kyriakos Pittakis, one of the leaders of the Greek revolution, after conferring with his fellow warriors, had a quantity of lead bullets sent to the Turk defenders so they might stop the destruction of the sacred temple. Bullets they knew full well would be winging their way back to them with fatal results.

If that alone does not show how much the Greeks revere their temple, nothing can.

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