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What was the Statue of Zeus? - Part 4 of the 'Seven Wonderful Wonders' series

There were seven wonders of the ancient world. Seven wondrous buildings that blew the socks off (Okay, probably not socks back then. Let's say sandals were getting blown off instead) anyone who saw them. In our ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ series, here on the Imagining History Blog, we’ll be checking out each of these marvels of human engineering and ingenuity. There’ll be a new article in the series every fortnight, so be sure to check back here regularly for your next history fun time fix.


We’ve already had a look at the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Temple of Artemis. Next, we’ll be visiting the stupendous Statue of Zeus.

Zeus as seen in the video game Hades

Zeus, he’s the head honcho of the Greek gods, right?

That’s right, Zeus is a sky and thunder god. He’s the top dog on Mount Olympus, ruling over all the other gods with his supreme skills of bossiness. He also loved having children, Zeus was the daddy of (WARNING: LONG LIST OF NAMES APPROACHING!!!) Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Apollo, Eileithyia, Artemis, Hebe, and Hermes. Loads of the Greek heroes were his kids too, including heavy hitters Perseus and Heracles.


Whoa! That sure is a lot of kids! Getting everyone ready for school in the morning must have been very stressful.

Absolutely, he must have bulk bought the Weetabix.

The Statue might have looked a bit like this. By Quatremère de Quincy - 1815

So, what’s this all about a statue of Zeus?

Ah, well, the Statue of Zeus is one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the world. This particular one would have been found in the city-state of Olympia, the very same place where they held the Ancient Olympics. Athletes from all over Greece would have worshipped at the feet of the enormous statue before competing in their chosen event.


Hang on, you said ‘enormous’, how big are we talking about here?

Sources vary, but around 12 meters tall. That’s the same height as four particularly tall, and extraordinarily dexterous, elephants standing on top of each other.


How are they staying stood balanced on top of each other? Some sort of super glue, perhaps? Maybe a system of winches and pulleys?

Look, stop trying to get me off-topic, it was just a metaphor, all right?


You’re the one who brought up the acrobatic elephants…

And I regret it. How about I tell you what the statue of Zeus looked like?


Fine. But I want it on the record that I’m not happy about it.

Noted. So, the statue of Zeus depicted the god sitting on a vast throne. He was bearded, wore robes, and had muscles so big that they would make a professional wrestler jealous. In one hand he held a statue of Nike -


The supposed workshop of Phidias, the dude who made the Statue of Zeus

A trainer? Wasn’t he worried it would be a bit stinky?

No! Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.


I suppose that makes more sense. But only just.

Good grief. Can I continue?


If you must.

In his other hand, he held a massive sceptre with a golden eagle perched on top of it.


What was this statue made of?

The skin was built from finely chiselled ivory –


SO THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE ELEPHANTS? JUST BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T BALANCE PROPERLY?! THOSE CRUEL HEARTLESS FIENDS.

I’m ignoring you. So, that’s the skin; the hair and clothing of the statue were made from hammered gold. The statue had to be coated in olive oil every single day, otherwise, it would have dried out and started to crack!


Sorry, I got a little carried away, how long did the statue stand for anyway?

About 800 years, which is an impressive ining, especially compared to some of the ancient wonders.


What happened to the statue in the end? I take it I can’t see any bits of it today?

Sadly not. No one really knows what happened to the statue. There are plenty of theories, some believe it was melted in a fire, others that a Roman Emperor got rid of it. Who knows? Maybe Zeus borrowed it to take back to Mount Olympus so he could admire himself every morning. You know, before getting the kids ready for school.

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