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Votives and Sacrifice
Cult Statues

From an early time the Greeks housed the anthropomorphic cult images of their gods in temples, often enclosed in walled sanctuaries. Most of the formal ritual associated with Greek religion-purification, libation and sacrifice, supplication, the swearing of oaths, and prayer-took place around altars set up nearby the temples. Cult statues like the 40 foot high seated Zeus at Olympia and the standing figure of Athena Parthenos in Athens, were regarded by the ancients as the wonders of their age. The very sorts of materials from which they were assembled-ivory for the deities' exposed flesh, gold and perhaps glass for their drapery-suggest the costliness of these productions. Most cult images were displayed on a raised base located at the rear of the temple's principal room or cella. They faced east, toward the god's altar set up in front of the temple. Before about 600 BC the statues, whether made of wood or stone, seem to have been relatively small and thus could be carried out of the temple in ritual procession. They were even bathed, clothed and symbolically fed on special occasions. The stone, bronze and chryselephantine (gold and ivory) productions of later times tended to be larger and remained permanently fixed to their cella settings.

Over Life-size Marble Head of a Goddess
2nd century BC
The detached, serene expression, frontal gaze, and over life-size scale of this head, which in other respects recalls the style of the Messenian sculptor Damophon, all suggest that it may have belonged to an actual cult statue. Too little survives of the complete statue to be totally certain of its original purpose or to suggest which goddess is specifically being represented.
H. 42.0; Dia. 31.5 cm. UM neg. 140075.

Silver Tetradrachm
ca. 302-301 BC
Seleucus I
Seleucia-on-Tigris mint
29-126-479, reverse
Enthroned Zeus holding a Nike or personification of Victory in his outstretched right hand. The coin type is based, at least in a generalized way, on the Phidian cult statue of Zeus at Olympia, which by the end of the 4th century BC was perhaps the most famous statue in the Greek world. Nothing of these colossal images has survived antiquity intact. Of Phidias's masterpieces all that has been preserved with certainty are a few sculptor's tools, molds and bits of ivory excavated from his workshop at Olympia. Photo courtesy Mediterranean Section, Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum.

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