Pergamon Altar

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Pergamon Altar (Ancient Greek: Βωμός τῆς Περγάμου) is a monumental construction built during the reign of king Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BCE on one of the terraces of the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey.


The structure is 35.64 metres (116' 31/32") wide and 33.4 metres (109' 6 5/8") deep; the front stairway alone is almost 20 metres (65' 11/16") wide. The base is decorated with a frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy.

In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann started official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort that lasted until 1886.

The Great Altar of Pergamon, dedicated to Zeus and Athena, was ornamented on its vast sockel with reliefs depicting the struggle of the Olympian gods and the subterranean powers. It was built by Eumenes II (197-159 BCE) in commemoration of his victoryover the Gauls in 190 BCE. The altar, ascended by means of a stairway on its western side, enclosed an offering table within a raised court bounded on three sides by colonnaded enclosure wall which itself was ornamented on the inside with reliefs depicting the legend of Telephus, the son of Heracles and Auge and forefather of the Pergamene royal family.

Foundation Remains

circa 130 BCE

The foundations Of The Great Altar Of Zeus as they stand today, the altar itself is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin; Pergamum, Turkey.

In Byzantine times, the temple was neglected and eventually dismantled. Fragments of marble from the altar were built into the Byzantine defensive walls.

In 1871, the Zeus Altar was rediscovered by the German engineer Carl Humann, who took it back to his home country. It is now exhibited at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The Turkish government is in the process of trying to get the artifact back from Germany.

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Recommended Readings

The Pergamon Altar: Its Rediscovery, History and Reconstruction

The Pergamon Altar: Its Rediscovery, History and Reconstruction

Phillip Von Zabern

It explains all the scenes (recovered) of the battle frieze, accompanied by photos. The Eastern Frieze, for example, includes a scene of the Goddess Artemis, ready to attack an armed giant. At her feet, one of her hunting dogs bites down on the neck of another giant.
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The Great Altar of Pergamon

Umut Dogan

The book describes the reliefs, depicted the victory of the Olympian gods over the Giants (also called Gigantes), one of the most popular stories of Aegean mythology sculptural friezes carried the main body of the altar, which was in the form of a stoa with Ionic columns aligned in a single row along all sides.
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