On Divine Wings and Mortal Backs: Representations of Victory, Empire and Subjugation on the Acropolis


  • Jaris Darwin Thompson Rivers University


Acropolis, Greece, Delian League, Parthenon, Empire, Athens, Athena, Centaur, Amazon, Persian, Giant, Centauromachy, Amazonomachy, Gigantomachy, Troy, Persian Wars, Art, Sculpture


The Athenian Acropolis, the central hill in Athens, home to the Parthenon and many other Classical ruins, is a famous historical monument. The artistic and historical associations of this location are complex and frequently negative, despite its current reputation as a positive beacon of Greek culture. The art of the Acropolis elevated Athenian status and projected an image of superiority over other Greek city-states during the fifth century B.C.E. and beyond through the use of four different mythological stories: the Amazonomachy, the Centauromachy, the Trojan War and the Gigantomachy. Athens’ victories during the Persian Wars were assimilated to these mythological episodes, and Athens’ patron goddess, Athena, was placed in a prominent position. This paper examines how such assimilation was accomplished and explains the importance of the specific Atheno-centric depictions of each narrative on the Acropolis. The association of the Acropolis’s art and architecture with empire continued to emphasise Athenian primacy in later decades of the fifth century B.C.E., and was well demonstrated by the combined Doric and Ionic elements in the Parthenon. Similarly, the iconography of the Parthenon frieze supported the Athenian Empire, alluding to the Delian League, the association which eventually morphed into Athens’ empire. This paper also argues that the Caryatids of the Erechtheum are a strong artistic representation of ancient Athens’ oppression of other city-states, and uses multiple examples of Athens’ subjugation of its allies over the course of its empire to support this claim. The iconographic examples examined throughout this paper clearly demonstrate that the art and architecture of the Acropolis promoted Athenian superiority, reinforced Athenian power, bolstered Athenian imperialism and legitimated the city-state’s oppression of its allies.