Development of Greek Temple Architecture From Its Inception Through the Hellenistic Period Term Paper

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Greek Temple Architecture From Its Inception Through the Hellenistic Period

Present day Greece still retains the Greek temples, shrines and sanctuaries of the pre-Hellenic period. The modern world of architecture and historians regards these temples very highly because of their unique and simple designs and also because of their apparent beauty and technical excellence. These temples have a profound history behind them because they stand testament to perhaps one of the most astonishing occurrences in the recorded human history -- the Greek religion. The Greeks had several hundreds of gods as they thought that everything in life was full of gods. Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) discuss this phenomenon: "The presence of gods or demigods might be felt on towering mountain heights or on a headland overlooking the storm-lashed sea; in mysterious woodland thickets, ravines, and caves, the solemn stillness of a grove, or the middle of a sunny, fertile field. From ancient graves heroes buried in the distant past wrought good or ill, while the defense of forts and cities, the activities of street and market, the deliberations of governing bodies and decisions of public assemblies could none of them do without the proximity of guardian and guiding deities. And for these a dwelling had to be prepared (Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

This paper reviews the requisites of Greek religion, including the early methods and influences on temple construction and shapes. The paper starts be revealing the religious customs of the Greek civilization and the role of the priests in the Greek religion from its inception through the Hellenistic period. This aspect is important because it will allow us to understand the basic structure of the thoughts behind the Greek religious activities and also provide us with a brief outlook about the power structure in the Greek religion. Subsequently, the paper assesses the reasons behind the choice of the location for the temples. Here the paper mentions the major trends and turning points, such as social and historical explanations, to better understand the choice of location. Lastly, the paper analyzes the architecture of the Greek temples. Here the paper mentions the technical aspects and the physical structures of the temples. This paper will assist the scholarly world in better understanding the development of Greek temple architecture from its inception through the Hellenistic period.

The Religious Rituals and the role of the Priests in the Greek Religion:

The religious customs of the Greeks had not been limited to a few rituals but had been diverse and numerous in nature. This demonstrates the importance of religion and the status of gods amongst the Greeks. It is important to note here that the diversity of the Greek religious activities had been equivalent to their multiple desires and the differences they observed between themselves and their gods. Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) write, "Besides sacrifices, the gods received in their sanctuaries an abundance of thank-offerings from private persons, associations, and the state, in return for the favors that they had bestowed. Figurines and large statues of the deity worshipped, bronze tripods and cauldrons, weapons taken from the enemy, and monuments that had been donated out of a tithe of the crop, a trading profit, or the spoils of war all accumulated in the sacred precincts, together with statues of men and youths, women and girls, by means of which the male members of the community offered up themselves. They appeared not in naturalistic portraits but so to speak idealized as figures of the greatest beauty, vitality and strength, intended to delight the gods. The same notion underlay the contests without which virtually no major festival occurred at the famous sanctuaries from the archaic period onwards (Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

Furthermore, it is interesting to note here that unlike Christianity, where an institution of priesthood and clergy is considered to be unquestionably essential for communication purposes between the god and humanity, the Greeks did not consider the role of a clergy-like institution between themselves and their gods to be necessary. This shows that the Greeks considered themselves to be very close to god and did not allow other people to come between themselves and their gods. Therefore, no specialized institution of mediation existed in the Greek religious activities. The knowledge about the general customs of the various rituals observed in the Greek religious activities had been passed on from generation to generation. Research has also shown that the head of the family carried out the necessary sacrifices to make their gods happy. Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) write, "For state religion was at one time attended to by the most eminent families, or else it actually sprang from the cult of a single family, which thenceforth had the right to appoint the priests of the god in question from among its own members. The seer, too, not infrequently came from a family in which the art of interpreting omens was handed down from one generation to the next. It is true, however, that most priests of the public cult were chosen for a year or even for life by lot, so that up to a point the deity himself selected his own servants. Purity in the sense of freedom from bodily defects, and -- for priestesses at least -- also chastity, were both prerequisites for the tenure of holy office (Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

Furthermore, the official duties of the priests in the Greek religion had been very limited when compared with the roles and responsibilities of the priests in the Christian religion. Their duties had been limited to primarily taking care of the temples of their gods and taking care of the sacrifices made by the people of Greece. They also did not receive any official income for their services. Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) write, "His official duties, which included, besides carrying out sacrifices and other rites or celebrations, custody of the temple and all the god's possessions, left the priest time for other activities, at least in the smaller sanctuaries. Hence, he no more received a salary than did the holders of other honorary offices, obtaining instead a share of the sacrificial flesh and the hide of the slaughtered animal, as well as fees in natural produce or money. At the bigger shrines these revenues were indeed so rich that they alone sufficed to tempt people into assuming or buying priestly office (Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

Sketching Social and historical Meaning from the Location of the Greek Temples

Many historians have undermined the status and importance the Greeks gave to their sports and other national festivals. This is because much of the present literature on Greece pays heavy emphasis on the Greek mythology. However, some historians have profoundly studied the influence of sports and other religious festivals in the Greek culture.

Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) discuss the significance of games in the Greek culture: "The fact that Pindar's songs of victory were already in antiquity grouped as Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian odes, shows that the public games held during the great celebrations at Olympia, Delphi, and Nemea, and on the Isthmus of Corinth, surpassed all others in importance and fame (Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).


This place was considered to possess a very scenic view and held tremendous amount of importance to the Greeks because of its tree-covered landscape, fine valleys, plains, sharply rising mountains and streams biting deep into the landscape. Many historians have considered the scenic beauty of this place and the games held here to be the two major reasons for the construction of a temple. Helmut Berve and Gottfried Gruben (1963) describe the beautiful landscape of this place and write, "this is the very reason why a sacred place could develop there at which, Greeks from the geographically and politically, fragmented motherland, and from the daughter-cities in south Italy and Sicily across the Ionian sea, assembled to worship jointly, and where they became conscious, over and beyond all differences and boundaries, of their unity (Gruben, 1963, as cited in Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

The culture and customs that had been cultivated in the temple and around Olympia held great significance to the Greeks, all through their history. "The force of the tradition and the power of fascination that Olympia radiated remained effective till the triumph of Christianity, which saw this sanctuary as a bastion of heathen religion (Gruben, 1963, as cited in Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).


While, Olympia can be considered to be the most favored place for sporting activities; Delphi can be considered to be most famous for its oracles and prophecies. "At the former: Zeus, the mighty god of the heavens at the latter: Apollo, his radiant son. Apollo had no more been resident, in primitive times in the place where he was later most highly honored than had his father (K. Schefold, 1946; G. Roux, 1952; A. Orlandos, 1960, as cited in Berve and Gottfried Gruben 1963).

The temple…

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