Zeus Olympios

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Zeus Olympios
THE CULT OF ZEUS OLYMPIOS OF OLYMPIA
Olympia
 Name derived from Mount Olympos

Highest mountain in Greece and mythological home of the gods.
 Located in a strategic area of the Peloponnese
 Religious sanctuary owned and operated by city-state
Elis

Provided priests and officials
Olympia continued…
 One of the most significant historical sites in the
world.
Archaeological import
 Starting and reference point in global record of sport

The finest place in Greece.
Lysias
The Oracle of Olympia
 7th and 8th century B.C.E was a time of warfare
between expanding city-states
 A sacred truce was struck between secular political
leaders in the Peloponnese
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
Wisely placed this truce under the security of the sanctuary
To the ancient Greeks, this allowed for the inception of
regularly scheduled athletic competitions
The Olympic Games
 According to Pausanias, first games were held as
early as 776 B.C.E and continued as late as 293 C.E.
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Over 293 Olympiads were held during this 1,169 year period
Archeological evidence places the start date of the games closer
to 700 B.C.E
 Original games had one event, a 192 meter footrace
the length of the Stadium

By 200 B.C.E another 18 events had been added to the games,
including a competition for heralds and trumpeters.
Foundation of Olympic Games
 There are many different versions of the inception of
the games.


Some are secular and historical while others present a
mythological explanation of the contests.
Secular
Held to honor important dead kings or heroes
 Means to distribute the belongings of the dead
 decide the heir to the throne after a kings death
 Prehistoric hunting rituals
 Rites of passage

Olympic games continued…
 Religious & Mythological explanations
 First games a celebration of Zeus’ overthrow of his father
Cronus


Apollo, Hermes, and Ares were the competitors
Poet Pindar offers several explanations
Heracles consecrates the Altis to his father Zeus and founds the
games at the tomb of Pelops
 Pelops victory in a chariot race over Oenomaus for his daughter
Hippodamia
 Zeus’ oversight
 “Island of Pelops,” the Peloponnesus

The Classical Period
 Victory in the Persian Wars allowed for the
flourishing of the Greek civilization and culture


Evident in dedications made at Olympus
Spoils of war combined with dedications made as a result of
the victory allowed for enormous growth in the cult worship of
Zeus

Early dedications to Zeus had a militaristic quality.
 Later dedications were more diverse in their depiction of Zeus
Zeus Olympios
 Father of gods and men
 Personification of authority and order

Won his position through hard struggles, namely with father Cronus
 Typically depicted as either a warrior holding a spear and
lightning bolt or as a king seated on a throne
 Wielded Power, supported powerful kings, tyrants, and
monarchs.

Gave victory in both war and his own games

This aspect is what sets Zeus Olympios apart from other Zeus epithets
“Zeus is air, Zeus is earth, Zeus is the sky, Zeus is
everything, and whatever exists superior to it.” -Aeschlus
Temple of Zeus
 Until the Olympiad of 476 B.C.E., Zeus Olympios was
likely worshiped at his open air altar.
 Temple construction financed by the Eleians and
also from the income of the sanctuary itself
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
Completed by 457 B.C.E.
Eleian architect Libon
West Pediment of Temple
 Depicted the battle between the Lapiths and the
Centaurs

In this myth, the Lapiths represent rule and order and are
victorious over the Centaurs that symbolize chaos and evil.
East Pediment of Temple
 Depiction of the the chariot race between Oinomaos and
Pelops

The scene is the moment before the chariot race begins.
 Zeus is placed in the middle, set to judge the
competition.
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Competitors are on either side of him, as well as the horses and the
servants preparing them.
Two prophets are seated on the ground, one with an especially grim
gesture.
The Chryselephantine Statue of Zeus
 Completed by Athenian sculptor Pheidas
 Made of gold (chrysos) and ivory (elephas)
 Zeus’ hair, beard, and robes would have been coated in gold
sheet
 The exposed skin of the statue would have attached ivory
plates
 Taken to Constantinople in early 4th century C.E. to
decorate the new capital of the Roman empire.

Destroyed in a fire in 475 C.E.
Chryselephantine Statue of Zeus continued…
The finest of all the
statues that exist in the
world [the Zeus of
Olympia] and the most
dear to the gods” –
Dion Chrysostom
Chryselephantine Statue of Zeus continued…

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