In contrast to the mythological subjects of the metopes and pediments, on the Parthenon frieze, Pheidias chose to depict the Great Panathenaia, the greatest festival of the city in honor of the Goddess Athena. The festival took place every four years, lasted 12 days and included rituals, sacrifices, as well as athletic and musical contests. The festivities culminated on the 28th day of the month – Hekatombaion in the heart of the summer – on Athena’s birthday. On that day, a procession advanced to the temple of Athena Polias (the Archaios Naos that was later replaced by the Erechtheion) in order to hand over to the priestess a new peplos for the old xoanon of the Goddess. This procession unfolds over the 160 meters of continuous sculptural decoration of the Parthenon frieze.
The frieze consisted of 115 blocks. It had a total length of 160 meters and was 1.02 meters high. Some 378 human figures and deities and more than 200 animals, mainly horses, are presented in the process. Groups of horses and chariots occupy most of the space on the frieze. The sacrificial procession follows next, with animals and groups of men and women carrying ceremonial vessels and offerings. The procession concludes with the giving of the peplos, the gift of the Athenian people to the cult statue of the Goddess, a xoanon (ancient wooden statue). Left and right of the peplos scene sit the twelve gods of Mount Olympos.
From the entire frieze that survives today, 50 meters are in the Acropolis Museum, 80 meters in the British Museum, one block in the Louvre, whilst other fragments are scattered in the museums of Palermo, the Vatican, Würzburg, Vienna, Munich and Copenhagen.
For more information on the Parthenon Frieze, please press here.
View of the west and south frieze of the Parthenon.