Floor | Greek Art
Temple of Athena Nike Gallery
Anyone approaching the Acropolis at the end of the fifth century BCE (and still today, by the way) encountered as the first cult building the small, brightly colored Temple of Athena Nike, Athena the bringer of victory. The old sanctuary, destroyed by the Persians in 480, was replaced by a new limestone building as early as 468, but it was demolished to make way for a new building completed between 421 and 410, after the construction of the Parthenon. Therefore, we present the Temple of Athena Nike in our museum only after the rooms dedicated to the Parthenon and its sculptural decoration.
In this temple, as in the Erechtheion, an ancient wooden cult image of Athena was venerated. In this case, the image was of Athena Nike, a combination of the Athena with Nike, the personification of Victory. Nike was usually depicted in Greek art as a winged woman flying and holding a raised victory token in her hand. The ancient Athenian cult image of Athena Nike, however, was wingless: Victory was supposed to never fly away from Athens! Victories, however, were urgently needed by the Athenians at the time of the construction of the temple: a decade after the beginning of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and its allies in 431 BCE, the struggle for supremacy in Greece was still raging. Many Athenians had lost their lives, and victory in the cruel war was urgently hoped for but was becoming increasingly unlikely. All this is reflected, on close inspection, in the temple and its sculptural decoration.