BMCR 2017.06.31

Der Athenatempel von Priene. Archäologische Forschungen, 33

, Der Athenatempel von Priene. Archäologische Forschungen, 33. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2016. 504. ISBN 9783954900640. €110.00.

Table of Contents

The goal of this investigation of the Temple of Athena in Priene, in the author’s words, was a full consideration of the whole structure and every possible stone belonging to it. After nearly four decades of labor, beginning in 1977, but with many interruptions, he has realized it. This publication commenced as part of a reconsideration of the sanctuary of Athena by the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul. The temple had been excavated (1868–69) by R. P. Pullen, who published many but not all of his results in Antiquities of Ionia 4 (1884). A quarter-century later, it was published again by T. Wiegand and H. Schrader, in Priene: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen und Untersuchungen in den Jahren 1895–1898 (1904).

This is a very large book (430 double-columned pages of text with hundreds of photographs and drawings), and very important for those interested in the architectural and cultural revival of the Ionian coast in the 4th century BC, and in Greek architecture in general—not only in its theoretical and historical aspects, but also in the practical questions of design and execution, of the use of tools and choice of materials.

The architect of the temple, Pytheos, as we learn from Vitruvius De Arch. 1.1.2, also wrote a book about it, and, together with Satyrus, a second one about the Mausoleum at Halicarnassos. At Priene the ground plan was based on squares 6 feet (1 foot=29.44 cm) on a side, on which the Ionic columns of the peristasis (6×11) were centered. The entire ground plan fits into a precise network of squares of this dimension. With his accurate measurements, Koenigs shows that there is very little difference between this theoretical grid and the actual structure. The naos walls were aligned with the second and fifth columns of the façade. The space between wall and columns was one interaxial. This narrow passage around the temple had a ceiling consisting of 26 very large coffers, whose lids were sculpted with action scenes. This invention of Pytheos, first developed for the Mausoleum, links two outwardly very different buildings. Some of the more lasting innovations by Pytheos in Ionic architecture were the forms of the antae, the proportions of the capitals, which Koenigs worked out (L:W:H = 1:2:3) and which became standard in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and the molded soffits in the architrave. A close relationship to both the Ionic and the Doric orders is apparent in Pytheos’ design. The interior of the building is open with the wooden ceiling of the cella spanning over 9 m without interior supports.

Overshadowed by immense, neighboring temples—at Ephesos, Didyma, and Samos—in its rational, mathematic structural design, its use of Doric and Archaic Ionic elements, its arrangement of rooms, the Priene temple is not only original, it is the sum of all architecture thought up till then, and it points in new directions. Yet, it had no direct imitators. It was a paradigmatic structure without establishing a tradition (Koenigs, 224).

The outer appearance of the temple was not altered by Koenigs’ careful work, but it has been significantly refined with his discoveries. The great strength of Koenigs’ book is his and his team’s precise workmanship, in the measured drawings, in the “stone plan” (Beilage 1), in the numerous measured drawings of individual stones, in photographs that reveal original and insightful observations, and in details recorded in the exemplary catalog. This thoroughness and emphasis on straightforward, objective facts led to discoveries that had escaped his predecessors. That the crepidoma was curved was revealed by plotting the elevations along the flanks at an exaggerated scale. This refinement it shared with developments on the mainland (e.g., at Tegea).

Much less fragmentary than those from the Mausoleum and numbering some two dozens—enough to fill all the coffers—the Priene panels represent the Gigantomachy, with two or possibly four scenes of Amazonomachy. The Gigantomachy reliefs were dated by me to the first phase of the temple’s construction, shortly after the middle of the 4th century BC.1 This date, however, has not been accepted by Koenigs, nor by a number of scholars who insist on a 2nd century date.

Much of the book is devoted to discussion of the ground plan (15–64) and a reconstruction of elevation (65–166). Of particular interest are Koenigs’ descriptions, using ancient terms for the working of the stone, his documentation of clamps and dowels, and observations on the use of color (red, blue, green, and yellow) on various parts of the building. These are major and original contributions. Especially impressive is his color reconstruction of an anta capital (Pl. 40). This entire section could act as a manual for Greek construction in general.

Of fundamental importance is Koenigs’ recording of the incised positioning lines (“ Ritzlinien ”). On a block from the anta in situ, and dating also to the first phase, is an inscribed drawing at a scale of 1:48 of the gable of the temple, the so-called “Pytheos sketch.” The drawing corresponds with the proportions of the temple, as Koenigs shows. It is a rare example of a drawing to scale. It was perhaps a kind of explanatory sketch. Koenigs concludes that it cannot be a final statement about the temple, but it does give a glimpse of the hand of the architect or his helper. Significantly, it is the earliest known scale reproduction of a building in the Greek world.

Koenigs’ reconstruction of the elevation is very precise. Two hundred and fifty pieces of column were measured, but there remains even in his mind some doubt about the column height. He convincingly opts for the lower height, 11.62 m, because of his study of the antae. This section (75–104) could be read independently, and is fundamental for the temple and the Ionic capital.

In the final section of the text, devoted to the history of Ionic architecture, Koenigs considers the temple in relation to others. In the chapter on Pytheos the sources are dealt with critically. The role of Pytheos and the Hekatomnid rulers of Caria in the construction of the temple is definitely downplayed. These final sections, though anchored to the temple, could stand by themselves.

It has long been recognized that the temple was completed in several phases. There is a clear difference in the quality of carving of the decorative moldings: the ovolo, the lotus and palmette, and the Lesbian leaf. Schede recognized two periods, as did Koenigs earlier.2 The dating for the development of the temple, here described as “little steps” (“ kleinen Schritten ”), in this study is based on a theoretical scheme—that there were at least five separate periods interrupted by four pauses stretching from the mid-4th century to the time of Augustus. The theory, developed by Rumscheid3 and adopted by Koenigs, was applied throughout the book.

There are serious problems with the theory in the case of Priene. Only a limited number of blocks with molding survived, and they were scattered around the site immediately after Pullan left in 1870. (Pullan had recorded the positions of many blocks on a Cartesian grid, information that was not utilized here.)

The chronology of the construction of the temple in little steps is summarized graphically in Fig. 119, “ Zeittafel des Bauablaufs,” a table illustrating the “deconstruction” of the temple. The amount of labor behind the creation of this diagram has been prodigious. But has it explained the development of the temple in a believable way?

During the first phase in the 4th century, the east end of the temple was complete as far as the four columns along the north and south flanks, and one of the eastern antae was inscribed high up by Alexander as dedicant in the 330s. It is hard to believe that Pytheos or his assistants would have left the coffers of the front of the temple empty for 200 years, as Koenigs apparently assumes. Their action scenes were, after all, inventions of the 4th century by the architect of this temple.

This first period, according to the theory, drags on past 275 BC, and is followed by a pause of ca. 25 years. The second building period lasts from after 250 to just before 200, and so forth.

In the second building phase, the temple progressed no further than it had in the first phase. There is a gabled roof as far as the fourth columns along the sides. The roof did not extend westward to cover the wooden ceiling of the naos that contained the cult statue and its base, assigned to Phase 1 on the basis of its ovolo molding. Besides the bizarre appearance of the whole building this creates, it seems scarcely credible that the wooden ceiling, the only protection of the cult statue, would have been left unprotected and exposed to the elements for a century or more (Plate 3a).

Construction picked up again after 200 BC, and this third phase occupied the mid-2nd century. The sculptured ceiling coffers could thus be safely slotted in this period. At the end of the 19th century all were described by a renowned German art historian as pale reflections of the Pergamene Gigantomachy, which had recently been discovered and moved to Berlin, and dated to the later 2nd century BC.4 In the thirty years since the publication of my study of the reliefs, various attempts have been made to date them to the 2nd century BC. The stylisticparallels with the Mausoleum sculptures securely belonging to the mid-4th century BC have been strengthened recently with the full publication of the Mausoleum friezes and fragments.5

There is always a degree of subjectivity in stylistic analysis and comparison, whether of sculpture or decorative moldings. The isotopic analysis of the marble employed offers objective evidence. It is a fact that the marble used for the sculptured coffer lids at Priene is chemically very similar if not the same as that employed for the Amazonomachy frieze at Halicarnassos.6 The marble employed for the head, identified as the Hekatomnid princess Ada, found in the naos at Priene, is the same Paros I lychmites employed for the female over-life-sized portraits at Halicarnassos (except for Artemisia). This is an objective link between the Priene sculpture and mid-4th century BC Halicarnassos.

The fourth “step” is not so little, from 140 to ca. 70 BC, and the final one (corresponding to molding groups 9–12) brings us to Augustus and the completion of the temple. This unexpected conclusion is supposedly supported by the inscription naming Athena Polias and the Emperor, prominently displayed across the architrave across the eastern façade. That differences in Priene moldings and comparisons with those from other sites could result in such a fine-tuned chronology and a construction lurching along for 350 years strains credulity.

Inscriptions on the whole are more obvious grounds for chronology than style. The Alexander inscription informs us that King Alexander dedicated the building (incomplete as it was) to Athena Polias. The Augustus inscription does not relate the emperor to any phase in the construction. Attempts to associate him with Priene have resulted in self-admittedly “unverifiable hypotheses.” The decree honoring Megabyzus for the completion of the temple was originally dated to the mid-4th century BC and recently re-dated to ca 290 BC.7 (The Greek is unambiguous: περὶ τοῦ ναοῦ τῆς [Ἀθηνᾶς] την συντέλεσιν.) Even more recently, it has been given back its mid-4th century date.8 This inscription has received remarkably little comment. It is clearly inconvenient for the dating of the completion, but it is not an alternative fact.

Despite some serious reservations about the chronology of the temple and its physical appearance in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC (for which the author is not entirely responsible) there is something to learn in every section of this book. It is, in short, a splendid work.9


1. J. C. Carter, 1983. The Sculpture of the Sanctuary of Athena Polias at Priene. London. See also: J. C. Carter, 1990. “Pytheos.” In Akten des 13. Internationalen Kongresses für Klassische Archäologie, Berlin. Mainz. 129-136.

2. M. Schede, 1934. “Heiligtümer in Priene.” JdI 49: 97–108; Carter 1983 ( ibid.); W. Koenigs, 1983, “Der Athenatempel in Priene. Bericht über die 1977-82 durchgeführten Untersuchungen,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 33: 134–75.

3. F. Rumscheid, 1994. Untersuchungen zur kleinasiatischen Bauornamentik des Hellenismus. Mainz.

4. A. Furtwängler, 1881. “Zum Friese vom Tempel in Priene.” Archäologische Zeitung xxxix: 306ff.

5. B. F. Cook, 2005. Relief Sculpture of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Oxford.

6. Carter 1983, 339–43; S. Walker and M. Hughes, 2010, “Parian Marble in the Dynastic Monuments of Lycia and Caria,” in Paria Lithos. Parian Quarries, Marble and Workshops of Sculpture, eds. D. U. Schilardi and D. Katsonopoulou, 2nd ed., 445–51, Athens; K. J. Mathews, 2005, “Report on the stable isotope analysis of fragments from the friezes of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,” in Cook 2005,37–40; K. Germann et al., 1988, “Provenance Characteristics of Cycladic (Paros and Naxos) Marbles: A Multivariate Geological Approach,” in Classical Marble: Geochemistry, Technology, Trade, eds. N. Herz and M. Waelkens, Dordrecht.

7. C. V. Crowther, 1996. “I. Priene 8 and the History of Priene in the Early Hellenistic Period.” Chiron 26: 195–250.

8. W. Blümel and R. Merkelbach, 2014. Die Inschriften von Priene. Vols. I and II. Bonn.

9. I wish to acknowledge the generous help of Dieter Mertens and Scott Williams, Professor of German at Texas Christian University, who studied classical archaeology in Germany.