Reproduction of Acroterion

Photograph courtesy of COOLSchool

Indication of Acroterion Size

Photograph Courtesy of Dartmouth.edu

The Disc

The terra cotta disc acroterion which had adorned the apex of the tiled roof of the Temple of Hera at Olympia is the only extant architectural element of the temple.  With no evidence of additional embellishments, it stands to reason that the architectural function of the acroterion might have intentionally been augmented by a symbolic, decorative function.  The enormity of scale (m.2.31 x m.1.50) and unique decorative patterning of the Heraion acroterion (1) serve to underscore its importance.  Foundations for the new Temple of Hera were laid approximately 590 BC and it is proposed that the acroterion dates to ca. 580 BC.  It would have been seen as an inspirational effigy for the Greek citizens who had congregated to peacefully worship national deities while praying for the glory of their home state and local gods.  It is my contention that the Heraion acroterion was imbued with multiple meanings, primary among them as that of a polos, helmet-shield, and mirror.  Created to honor Hera as well as previous divinities, it was an apotropaic symbol for the site and its visitors, especially Spartan youth participating in the games.

Acroterion

Photograph Courtesy of Brandon Cline

A description of the acroterion from Excavations at Sparta: The Acropolis by Woodward (see links) reads as follows ; “commencing from the center: semi-circular vent hole; large toris and two smaller tori; cymatium with leaf pattern, alternate leaves being red and black, with white edges, separated by incised lines; ‘coursed masonry’ or ‘step’-pattern with incised guidelines, in eight courses, with colors arranged diagonally thus: white, red, black, white, black, red;”