The Temple of Aphaea at Aegina

Classics 233

On the north coast of Aegina, about 9 miles from the ancient town, there was a sanctuary on a wooded ridge. There, “people were by the second millennium already worshipping a nature deity, who in Greek times bore the name Aphaea.” (Berve, p. 74) Aegina itself was a mountainous, wooded island, situated between the port of Athens and the coast-line around Epidaurus, and famous in legends as the origin of the Myrmidons. (Bulfinch, p. 116-119) Aegina had, at the end of the second millennium, been colonized by the Dorians, who continued the worship of the local goddess. (Berve, p. 347) Aphaea herself, sometimes equated with Artemis & the Cretan Dictynna, was a mountain and hunting goddess. She also protected shipping, which explains why Aegina paid so much attention to her. Shipping was a very important part of Aegina’s prosperity in the sixth and fifth centuries. (Berve, p. 74) Aegina was also known as a famous bronze-casting center in the late archaic times. (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 13)

The shrine has a long story behind it. It started out as an open site, and gained a temple sometime in the sixth century. A foundation inscription from the early sixth century was found which said “The house and altar for Aphaea were built at the time when <Kl>eiotes was priest: the ivory <cult image?> was added, and the enclosure put up.” (Berve, p. 148) According to Ohly (Glyptothek, p. 47), this first temple was started in 580 BC and remained until the roof burnt and the temple was replaced with a larger temple. This temple, which remains to this day, was constructed anytime around 510 (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 47; Lullies, p. 67), 500 (Berve, p. 74; Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 13), or 490 BC (Dinsmoor, foldout). This was presumably during the prime of Aegina’s life. In 431 BC, Aegina was conquered by Athens, and with “the loss of its freedom and prosperity and the expulsion of the old aristocracy” the shrine soon lost importance, and by the end of the 3rd century BC had fallen out of use. (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 47-48) Discovered at odd intervals by raiders in search of marble, the temple was rediscovered by civilized man in the early eighteenth century. “Rather more than a hundred years ago two architects, Cockerell an Englishman and Haller von Hallerstein of Nuremberg… recovered from the undisturbed ruins of the temple the statues of fine Parian marble… The rescue was the work of the sculptor Martin von Wagner, the active and persistent agent of the Crown Prince Louis of Bavaria.” (Furtwangler & Urlichs, p. 9-10) The ‘rescue’ mentioned was a restoration of the marbles. Furtwangler and Urlichs (p. 11) have this to say about the restoration: “Beside the harmonious completeness and rhythmic variety of the two pediments the scattered and defective parts of the original appear dull and tedious.” However, they go on to say “Their restoration was carried out in Rome under Thorvaldsen’s guidance in marble <von Wagner restored only the torsos>, in the manner of the time without much reverence for the pieces preserved,” and later Furtwangler is reported as calling the restoration “the darkest hour in the Aegina figures’ history.” (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 56) The sphinxes of the west central akroterion, for example, somehow metamorphosed into griffins during the restoration. The new parts, fortunately, had been glued on, so were easily removed, and the marbles have now been returned to the way they were when found.

The temple also went through two different names before scholars arrived at the conclusion that this was a temple of Aphaia. When originally found, the temple was thought to be a temple of Zeus Panhellenius and was then attributed to Athena, due to the prominence of statues of her. In the Cornell Sage Collection listing, the relics from this temple are still recorded as from “the Temple of Athena, Aegina.” Finally, through the discovery of an inscription, Aphaia was given rightful recognition as deity of the house.

The Sanctuary and Temple

The temple consists of more than just the pediments, and the sanctuary consists of more than just the temple. Within the enclosing walls (see figure 1) the temple (1) was central. East of the temple was a large altar with a paved space (2) in front of it, before a ramp leading up to the temple. The four bases in front of the ramp (two on either side of the ramp), were probably for statues, and the altar for burnt offerings. On each side of the altar there was a foundation (3) for what probably were two open buildings for the display of more scultpture. In the north, beside a cistern, is the only remnant of the older sanctuary, “a mighty column crowned by a sphinx. (4)” (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 47) Entrance to the flat terrace of the sanctuary was through a columned gateway in the south (5). The southeast building (6) was an administration building.

Very little is known about any statue or set of statues except those in the temple itself. The height of the sphinx and column is about 14 meters, and is dated to around 600 BC (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 47). Other than that, not much is known about, say, the sculptures supposedly housed in the buildings flanking the altar or the administration building. If much is known about these, it has been forgotten in the shadow of the central figure of the sanctuary, the temple. The earlier building has been reconstructed as “an anta temple with a naos containing a nave and aisles, and an adytum divided into two. Since remains of columns and mature archaic capitals, shallow and spreading broadly, have been found in three graded sizes, two stories of columns separated by an architrave must in the naos have supported the roof.” (Berve, p. 348) The dressed stones of this temple are now incorporated into the foundations of the newer temple.

The present temple (see figures 2,3) was built using “the limestone of the district, coated with a thin layer of stucco, richly painted.” (Dinsmoor, p. 105) The tiles on the pediments and eaves were of Parian marble, while the other tiles were of terracotta. Every other eave tile (bent cover tiles, triangular in cross section, covering the sidejoints between the large flat rectangular eave tiles) terminated in a palmette antefix (see figure 6). Palmettes were also used in the central akroterion above each pediment. The akroterion (see figure 7) consisted of a volute tree with branches ending in the palmette design, flanked by two small statues of maidens. A similar akroterion, for the first east pediment, “was set up in the precinct in front of the temple as a votive offering to the goddess.” (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 52) The four corner akroterion were sphinxes, represented as having a hound’s body and limbs and a maiden’s head.

The external columns number thirty-two: twelve on each flank and six at the front and back. The lower diameter of these columns is 3' 3"; (3 Doric feet) and they are spaced 8' 7" (8 Doric feet) axis-to-axis apart. This spacing is slightly less on the flanks (8' 5"). The columns have a height of 17' 3.5" (16 Doric feet). The flank colonnades inclined inward, to impart greater stability to the building. (Dinsmoor, p. 165) The stylobate is 45' 2" (42 1/12 Doric feet) by 94' 6.5". (all figures from Dinsmoor, p. 106, 338, and inserted table of Berve, p. 349-350) The east and west entrances were blocked with grilles, as were the pronaos (see figure 2). This was done “probably to protect the island’s patroness and her sacred belongings from being insidiously carried off to Athens. There was a good reason for this: Herodotus (V, 83 f.) tells of such an assault on two other cult images, which the Aeginetans themselves stole from the Epidaurans.” (Berve, p. 350)

The upper part of the temple was more colorful than the lower. Here, horizontal elements were painted red and vertical elements black. The metopes may have been filled by wooden plaques, either painted or covered with bronze reliefs. As for the pediments, the upper surfaces of the horizontal cornice were painted red, to represent earth, and the background was painted cobalt blue, to represent sky. (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 49)

The primary purpose of the columns inside the cella was to hold up the roof. Sometime after the temple was built, gallery floors were added which these columns then held up. (Dinsmoor, p. 106)

The temple was built at the end of the archaic period, and holds parts of both the archaic and classical styles. With a ratio of 1:2.1 in stylobate width:length, “the architect had gone rather far in his countering of archaic elongation, for during classical times more attenuated proportions in approximately the ratio 3:7 <1:2.33>, with 6 by 13 columns <the temple has 6 by 12>, again became the rule. Though there is no curvature, the infinitely delicate proportioning of forms that reaches its climax in the Parthenon has already begun.” (Berve, p. 348) This is seen in the way the columns lean inward (about 3/4 inches) and that the angle columns are about 3/4 inches thicker than the rest. However, not all of the archaic has been lost. The flank columns continue to be closer together than the ends, although not by much: 8' 4.75", compared to 8' 7.125". The cella has the normal pronaos and opisthodomus, and at the front and back of each of these naos are two columns in-antis.

The temple also shows influence from two types of architecture not separated by time. The temple was of Doric type (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 48), but evidenced Ionic influence. Ridgway (Severe Style, p. 13) notes that “The slenderness of the columns, combined with the ramp of access and the double-tiered inner colonnade, seem to indicate a mixture of Ionic influence and Doric elements, as befits a structure located at a central point between Attica and the Peloponnese.” Berve (p. 350) also notes this: “Their unusually slender line gives the columns a soaring lightness that reveals Ionic influence.”


The pediment groups of the temple are probably the most interesting aspects of the Temple of Aphaia. They provide a very interesting look at the evolution of sculpting techniques over the period 510 to 480 BC. Why? Because there seem to be three, not two, pediment groups: one west and two east groups. The west group and one east group date to the same time (about 500 to 510 BC), but the second east group, which replaced the first east group, dates about 20 years later. For some reason, the Aeginetans replaced the first east pediment group with the second, which is the one remaining today. Most of the things remaining from the original east group are helmeted heads and arms and legs. It is unknown what sculptor did either set of works, but it is possible that the second east pediment group is the work of Onatas of Aegina. (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 89; Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 55)

Many reasons have been put forward as to why there is an extra pediment. Perhaps the earliest, and the most unlikely is that the two pediments represent a contest for the east pediment position, in which one person lost and another won. However, the differences in the styles between west/first east and the second east group seem to be differences in time, not in individual style, and this theory is mentioned in passing and then discarded by Ridgway (Severe Style, p. 13). Perhaps the major explanation is that the east pediment group had somehow been damaged or destroyed, and a new group was then required to take the place of the damage sculptures. Various agents have been blamed for this damage, including the Persian wars (Richter, p.93), lightning (Berve, p. 350), which must have been quite dramatic. However, the problem with this scenario is that “if damage had been slight, proper patchwork, such as that carried out at Olympia, should have proved adequate, while massive damage should have extended also to the architecture, which on the contrary appears well preserved… The nature of the evidence is also peculiar since East I consists mostly of helmeted heads, hands and feet;” (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 13-14). She goes on to make her point, and at the same time create another theory for the creation of the second east group. “Could some special significance be read into this fact, and could one postulate that the missing bodies were in a different medium?” She points out that Aegina, during the period represented by these pediment groups, was known as a famous bronze-casting center. The artists, she says,

“might have thought it natural to make only the naked parts of the warriors in stone, and to cover bodies in cheaper material with bronze armor and shields. Figures entirely of bronze would have been too expensive, and the color contrast between marble and metal might have been counted a quality rather than a fault. The procedure is certainly complicated, and it was perhaps deemed expedient not to follow it for the less conspicuous West pediment. When, however, the Western figures were set in place they probably looked vastly superior to their hybrid Eastern counterparts, and equally colorful with added metal ornaments and painted details… The central Athena, being a totally draped figure, might have been carved almost entirely of marble; this possibility might explain the survival of the large fragment with her skirt and feet.” (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 14)

Unfortunately, and Ridgway is the first to admit this, there is no objective support for this theory. There are, for example, no dowel holes or attachment surfaces preserved in the fragments of the first east group. Another, completely different hypothesis, is that there never was a first group. Ridgway (Severe Style, p. 14) considers this impossible, since the “the number of preserved heads and the definite differences in style and scale apparently make it impossible to distribute all available fragments between two pediments <east and west> only.” Ohly (Glyptothek, p. 47) seems to prefer this theory, however. In his history of the temple, he states that “Building began ca. 510 and was completed ca. 480 with an interval of a decade between 500 and 490. The west pediment belongs to the first building of the temple, the east pediment to the second.”

What do the remaining pediment groups consist of? They show scenes of battles fought by Aeginetan heroes during the first and second wars against Troy. The following reconstruction is from Ohly (Glyptothek, p. 54), and uses the notation given there.

The east group (see figure 4) shows the first campaign, undertaken by Telamon and Herakles (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 57). Telamon was the “father of Ajax and son of Aeacus, first king of Aegina,” Aeacus being one of the many sons of Zeus. Herakles was another son of Zeus, his mother being the river nymph Aegina, after whom this island was named. “When Telamon and Herakles stormed Troy, Herakles with his arrows slew the Trojan king Laomedon and all his sons but one, the future king Priam.” And this is the story in the east pediment. There were eleven statues representing this battle, the central being Athena (E-I). While she was striding to the right, her gaze was directed out towards the viewer. She brandished the Aegis at the Trojan champion to her left, possibly Priam (E-II). Priam, meanwhile, is occupied with his Greek opponent (E-III), who now has more than one chest wound. Another Greek (E-IV) brings the helmet which Priam’s opponent lost in the fighting. Behind these valiant men, Herakles (E-V), as archer, fires arrows into the Trojan army, and he has hit the king Laomedon, who now is dying. Lying behind Herakles, is a wounded Greek (E-VI), who has been hit by the Herakles counterpart, the Trojan archer (E-X). On Athena’s right, the Greek Telamon (E-VII), takes on his Trojan opponent (E-VIII), who is staggering back under the onslaught of Telamon’s attack. Behind this hard-pressed warrior, another Trojan (E-IX), brings him aid.

The west pediment group (see figure 5) consists of thirteen people and two objects. This scene is the second siege, undertaken by Aeacus’ descendants, prominently Ajax, Telamon’s son, and thus grandson of Zeus. Again, Athena (W-I) stands in the middle, and looks outward to the viewer, but in this scene she is standing still. To her left is the Trojan champion (W-II) fighting off his Greek opponent (W-III). Behind this warrior is Teucer (W-IV), firing arrows. He has taken out W-VII with one of his shots. On the other side of Athena, Ajax (W-IX) takes on a Trojan opponent (W-X), and beyond this fight Paris (W-XI) fires his bow, and has already hit an opponent (W-XIV). On each side of Athena, behind the archers, is another warrior (W-V,W-XII), attacking the crouching warriors (W-VI, W-XIII). The helmet (W-VIII) of the wounded Trojan and the shield (W-XV) of the wounded Greek lie at each end of the battle.

What is the significance of these pediments? The two pediments, while displaying the same mythological material, sculpted in the same area and made for the same temple, represent a difference in time of about 15 or 20 years, providing “the ideal parallel and contrast between late archaic and early classical style”. (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 13) The west pediment material “precedes the revolution which set in at the turn of the century… Though his <the ‘West pediment master’> figures present a great variety of movements and postures of the human form… nonetheless their movement manifests the same restraint and unshakeable self confidence as the stiff, erect youths <of the archaic kouroi>.” The war is carried out with “an untroubled, one might almost say cheerful, self-confidence… The ‘West pediment master’ saw the triangular pediment space as a hollowed-out field which he must fill up with a pattern of figures. He used the space artistically but his figure-group bears no relationship to it.” In contrast, “On the East pediment, the space is opened up. It no longer serves simply as the background to a flat pattern of figures but rather as the atmosphere, the stage, in which the figures are acting out a unified dramatic effect.” The figures

“act of their own free will, doing and suffering in the shadow of self-awareness… Compare two bowmen, Herakles (E-V) and Paris (W-XI). Herakles draws his bow with a solid massive effort that makes Paris seem almost light-hearted and weightless. Again, the Trojan king Laomedon, wounded by Herakles’s arrow, is portrayed on the East pediment as a man sinking beneath the burden of his inescapable fate. The ‘west pediment master’ makes him simply a wounded man (E-VII) without weightier cares.” (Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 63-64)

Lullies (p. 68) has this to say about the contrast: “In comparison with the figures on the west pediment those on the later east pediment are not only distinguished by their larger proportions, but are also freer in their movements, more naturally spaced, and liberated from the rigidity that characterizes Archaic figures. A more coherent current of life seems to flow through them: they are the visible expression of a new organic conception of the human body and a new approach to monumental sculpture.” Ridgway (Severe Style, p. 15-16) has much to say about the styles:

“The figures of the West pediment already show a ‘tired’ brand of archaism…

“Of the two central Athenas only the heads allow confrontation, and the most striking change lies in the different proportions. Athena West is built horizontally, Athena East vertically… In the earlier Athena the area of the cheekbones coincides with the greatest width of the face; a hypothetical line joining temples and chin in an elliptical curve would leave part of the cheek out. A similar experiment tried on the Eastern Athena shows that the facial oval is more regular and the cheeks approximate the flat rendering typical of early Severe works. Finally, notice the shape of the mouth: the longer upper lip dominates the lower, thus preventing the smiling formula of Athena West; since the part between the lips is not completely straight but faintly curved upward, the result still suggests a concealed smile.”

In talking about the archers facing left (W-XI and E-V, supposedly Paris and Herakles), she says “the differences in outline are significant. The earlier figure is still a silhouette pattern of an archer, whose arms clear the face so that the whole human body is visible. Herakles’ left arm is level with his shoulder, but the head bends slightly forward, so that the chin is blocked from sight; when the torso is in profile, the head is in three-quarter view.” She also notes, however, that the coiffures of the east pediment are very similar to those of the west. This is probably “partly because the replacement figures were indeed meant as counterparts for the rear gable, partly also because they represented ‘heroes’ who, as such, did not belong to the contemporary generation of men.” (Ridgway, Severe Style, p. 17)

Besides the pediment collections, there were two other groups of statues, probably sculpted by the west pediment master. These were set up in the precinct in front of the east facade of the temple. There is little left from one group, called simply ‘The Warrior Group’ because of the remnants: two arms from an archer drawing a bow, possibly his right leg and quiver, and various other parts of warriors: four heads, and some hands. A fragment of Athena is also attributed to this group. Far more is known about the other group. This tells the story of Zeus’ abduction of the nymph Aegina. (this paragraph from Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 64-66)

The statue of Aphaia occupied a position less than central. In the cella a stone base in the northwest corner survives, which held the presumably wooden representation of Aphaia. In the middle of this same cella stood another statue of Athena, “armed and more than lifesize” which was set on a base and surrounded with a wooden railing. (from Ohly, Glyptothek, p. 50)

Because of its position at a crossroads in historical styles, both this temple and its sculpture have been used in promoting theories and noting trends. For example, “The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina offers the first positive example of a temple decorated on both sides with battles.” (Ridgway, Archaic Style, p. 215) Dinsmoor (p. 170) used it in inferring “that the peristyle of a temple was generally the first part erected… evidence is derived from the temple at Aegina. (where three of the peristyle columns were omitted until the last moment so that material for the cella could be brought in)”

The sculpture has been even more useful to researchers. Richter (Three Critical Periods, p. 5), talking of the evolution of facial expression, finds “interest in this epoch… of facial expression to indicate emotion… From the eastern pediment of the Aegina temple of about 480 BC comes the head of a dying warrior, whose ebbing strength is suggested in the gradual closing of the eyes in a remarkably realistic manner.” Ridgway (Severe Style, p. 13-17, uses it in arguing for the Severe style.

Cornell has a certain number of these statues in its collection. According to the list of the H.W. Sage collection, there should be at least twelve. These are ten statues from the west pediment (the list does not state which ten), and two from the east pediment, presumably the second. One of these is Herakles the Archer (E-V, and H.W. Sage # 69), and the other is called the ‘Body Snatcher’ (H.W. Sage # 68). Since I was unable to find and see either of these, we can only guess as to what this second name refers to. Possibly it denotes one of the aids, (E-IV or E-IX) who could be said to be waiting for the wounded warriors to fall. Of the west pediment (H.W. Sage # 58-67), certain statues were to be found in and under classroom D, Goldwin Smith Hall. All of these statues were copied while the originals were in restored condition, and while at times age and mishandling has simulated the true condition of the originals now, most are still in fairly good condition. Everybody except Paris (W-XI) is missing his penis, probably due to some fraternity genital spree. They probably would have gotten to Paris’ manliness also, but he had the good sense to wear pants. In the following descriptions, where possible I have given Ohly’s names (Glyptothek), his positioning notation, and the H.W. Sage number.

The Trojan champion (W-II, H.W. Sage # 64) is under classroom D, in row G1, while his shield and right arm are in row D. The crest of his helm has fallen off and is on his base. Other than this and his broken right arm, both of which could easily be re-attached, he is in very good condition.

The right warrior (W-V, H.W. Sage # 60) is found beneath classroom D, in row G2. Again, his only major problem is that his left arm has fallen off. In this case, however, there does not seem to be a left arm anywhere else that fits him.

Ajax (W-IX) is in the northwest corner of classroom D. The crest on his helm is missing, and he has been painted. His front is black, and it looks as if someone has tried to make his helmet and shield look bronzed. Both helm and shield are half-splotched with this coloring.

Paris (W-XI) kneels in a niche in row J, under classroom D, holding the remains of his broken arrow. His left toes, except for the big toe, are broken off, but not as far up as on the original, and he is missing the fingers of his right hand.

The left warrior (W-XII, H.W. Sage # 65) is in row D under classroom D, with the strap of his shield in his left hand and no shield. His right arm has come off and is on the slab beneath this warrior. There are many other small pieces on this slab, possibly from other statues.

The left crouching warrior (W-XIII, H.W. Sage # 63) is under classroom D in row G2. He has lost his left arm, his big toe on his right foot, and all but his big toe on his left foot.

The left warrior who has been wounded with an arrow (W-XIV, H.W. Sage # 67) is also under classroom D in row G2. Other than what seems to have been someone carving off his big toe, he is in decent condition.

Athena (W-I) is behind the railing above the stairs behind classroom D. Except for some small chips, she is in very good condition. Her shield is chipped on the forward edge, and there is a chip at the top of her helm, which is flat. Possibly there was a decoration there. There has been an attempt to paint Athena, similar to the job done on Ajax. Her body is black, her hair white on the left and blue on the right. The shield is unpainted. The shawl part of her clothing is colored gold, and the helm is partially white, partially gold.

Another statue is possibly down under classroom D. A statue numbered H.W. Sage # 66 is listed as being in row H, but there does not seem to be any such statue there. This number could, however, be that of Paris or Ajax, who have no number on them.

The major problem with these statues is that unlike the originals, the ‘renovations’ on these cannot be easily removed.


  • Berve, Helmut and Gottfried Gruben, Greek Temples, Theaters, and Shrines, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York) (p. 74, 347-351 **, plates 42-45)
  • Bulfinch, Thomas, The Age of Fable, Henry Altemus, Philadelphia, 1899 (Origin of the Myrmidons, p. 116)
  • Dinsmoor, William Bell, The Architecture of Ancient Greece, Biblo and Tannen, New York, 1973 (p. 39, 41, 71, 105-107 *, 165, 170, 338 and foldout)
  • Furtwangler, Adolf, Aegina: Das Heiligtum der Aphaia, Verlag der K. B. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Munchen, Germany, 1906 (in German; has good pictures and drawings though)
  • Furtwangler, Adolf and H. L. Urlichs, Greek and Roman Scultpure (translated by Horace Taylor), E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, (plates III-IV *, figures 3-5)
  • Lullies, Reinhard, Greek Sculpture, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1960 (plates 72-77, 82-87)
  • Ohly, Dieter, Die Aeginetan, Band I, Die Ost Giebelgruppe, Verlag C. H. Beck, Munchen, Germany, 1976 (everything ***, pictures of everything on the east pediment from every possible angle, reconstructions of east pediment from up, down, and back)
  • Ohly, Dieter, The Munich Glyptothek (English Edition), C. H. Beck, Nordlingen, Germany, 1974 (p. 47-66 *)
  • Richter, Gisela M. A., A Handbook of Greek Art, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, 1974 (p. 31, 32, 92-93, illustration 20, figures 112-113)
  • Richter, Gisela M. A., Three Critical Periods in Greek Sculpture, Oxford Univerisity Press, London, 1951 (p. 5)
  • Richter, Gisela M. A., The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1970 (p. 7, 40, 42, 43, 50, 97, 122, 124, 127, 133, 252; illustrations: 108, 120, 121, 1994, 415, 416, 564)
  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, The Archaic Style in Greek Sculpture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1977 (p. 210, 212, and 215)
  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Fifth Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1981 (p. 26, brief reference on Herakles the Archer)
  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, The Severe Style in Greek Sculpture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1970 (p. 13-17 *, 89)