Red = Doric
Blue = Ionic
Although there are countless ancient Greek temples, those dedicated to Athena are among the most numerous and noteworthy. In looking at ten Athenian temples and sanctuaries in particular, it is clear that Athenian temples were used for cult practices, and often housed a cult statue, altar, or both. Also, Athenian temples follow the idealized, perfected Doric architectural style of the Parthenon.
Athena was known as the "mistress of citadels" due to her status as the patron goddess of qualities like courage, wisdom, strength, and skill. Many, if not all, Athenian temples were built at city centers, and particularly at fortified heights like the Acropolis at Athens. This emphasized her role as the protector of the city. These Athenian temples were used for many things, including serving as a place of storage for precious items that "belonged" to the goddess, sacrifice at an altar, worship and veneration, rituals and processions, and even in the case of the Athenian sanctuary at Sparta, a hiding place for criminals.
The ten Athenian temples included on this map are as follows, in chronological order: the Temple at Assos, the Temple of Athena Aphaea, the Athenian sanctuary at Sparta, the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, the Temple at Delphi, the Temple of Athena Alea, the Temple at Delos, and the Temple of Athena Lindia. All but three of these temples have evidence of a cult statue, and even those that do not are to known to have been used for cult practices.
In ancient times, temples and sanctuaries were constructed for the sole purpose of honoring divinities, whether it was just one divinity or an important divinity along with other, lesser deities. In this case, groups who built structures honoring Athena were known as Athenian cults. The particular Athenian cult depended on the geographical location of the group, as they often honored Athena along with other local deities that were commonly worshipped in the area, as in the case of the cult of Athena Aphaea at the Athenian Temple in Aegina. In some of these temples and sanctuaries, such as the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, the Athenian structure was built directly on top of a previous deity’s ruined temple, providing a sort of joint worship space and leading to the development of more Athenian cults.
In many cases, these Athenian temples contained cult statues, along with altars, precious objects, and more. These cult statues were honored as sacred by the Greeks, and were often made of precious materials such as gold, ivory, and rare types of wood. The cult statues varied greatly in size, ranging from the gigantic statue of Athena in the Parthenon to small Athenian figurines found in different sanctuaries such as the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea.
The overall temple designs vary among each of these ten temples, and some are in such ruin that only remnants of the columns are distinguishable. This leaves the columns as a standard of comparison between the Athenian temples. The majority of the Athenian temples had Doric columns, mimicking the Doric columns of the Parthenon. Some of the Athenian temples, however, did not follow this pattern. In particular, both the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion also located in the Acropolis of Athens had Ionic instead of Doric columns. The Erechtheion even had caryatids, or statues of women used as columns, supporting the roof of its porch, which was highly unusal for an Athenian temple.
In short, Athenian temples were most always constructed by cults for ritual practices, sacrifices, and ceremonies, as well as to house cult statues. In many cases, Athenian cults honored the goddess along with other local deities in the shrines that they built to her. Athenian temples were mostly modeled after the ideal design of the Parthenon, with grand Doric columns supporting all different types of temples and sanctuaries.
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Pedley, John Griffiths. Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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"Athena Parthenos" by "Don Sullivan" Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Accessed 21 April 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/donsullivan/12162262434
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