Altar of Zeus at Pergamon, Turkey: the Throne of Satan


Altar of Zeus at Pergamon

The Altar of Zeus, also called ‘Pergamonaltar’ is a monumental structure built-in memory of the victory of the Pergamon Kingdom against the Galatians. The Altar of Pergamon referred to as the Throne of Satan in a short narrative in the Revelation Section of the Book of St. John, is a very impressive structure.

Galatians, or Celts, went from Central Europe to Greece in the 3rd century BC and plundered it. Famous for their plunder and barbarism, these people came to Anatolia after Greece and lived in a century full of fear for the people of the region. The Pergamon kings fought the Celts during the 3rd century BC. At the end of the war, the kings of Pergamon won a great victory over the Galatians with their heroism and courage.

Zeus Altar exhibited in the Berlin Museum

The temple, a very impressive piece of work with its architectural style, was dedicated to the God Zeus in commemoration of the victory of Attalos II against the Galatians during the Period of Eumenes II (197 – 159 BC). The altar was dedicated to the goddess Athena and all other gods, as well as Zeus.

Who built an altar to Zeus in the Temple?

This structure dazzles with its design, craftsmanship, architecture, sculptures, and appearance built during the reign of King Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BC on one of the terraces of the Pergamon Acropolis. The altar was designed by Phyromachos, the seventh and last of the greatest Greek sculptors. 

The following two pictures show the simulation of the original form of the temple.

View of the Altar of Zeus from the Pergamon Theater

Why is the Altar of Zeus important

This structure where the most magnificent examples of sculpture art of the period were exhibited was never fully completed because of King Prusias II attacked Pergamon in 156 BC.

The 12-meter-high Altar of Zeus is a horseshoe-shaped structure that sits on a square area with an edge of approximately 35 meters.

Altar of Zeus exhibited in Germany

The Pergamon Altar Characteristics

The structure consists of a five-step foundation, a podium rising on this foundation, a belt of reliefs rising on this podium, marble poles rising on this belt and a porch closing on the marble poles.

These reliefs are as if they were a formal parade of giants and gods in Greek mythology. The reliefs surrounding the Altar of Zeus depict the gods fighting the giants, called Gigantomakhia or Battle of the Giants. The winning gods symbolize the Pergamon, and the losing giants symbolize the enemy Galatians. The frieze sculptures show the fight of the gods, who finally are victorious, against the giants.

Reliefs of Zeus Altar

In the reliefs which are 120 meters long and 2.3 meters high, the gods are described as soft and thin lines, and the giants are depicted with hard and rough lines. There are 118 reliefs in total, which include the reliefs of Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Okeanos, Nereus, Orion, and Helios.

Reliefs of Zeus Altar

The reliefs on the walls surrounding the sacrificial stone in the middle of the building tell the story of the life of Telephos, the legendary founder of Bergama.

Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon, was the son of the half-mortal god Herakles. Heracles impregnates the daughter of the king of Tegea and leaves Tegea. According to the prophecy, the king will have a grandson and kill the king. When the king realizes that his daughter is pregnant, he puts the baby in a basket and leaves it in the sea to get rid of the baby. The baby in this basket is Telephos. The basket reaches the shores of Anatolia’s Mysia (between today’s İzmir and Çanakkale). In the following years, Telephos became the king of Mysia and stood by the Trojans in the Trojan War. With this mythological story body, Telephos is considered the legendary king who founded Pergamon.

There is little to see at the original site today, but it is enough to provide a sense of the magnitude of the great shrine.

Where is the Altar of Zeus today?

The famous Altar of Zeus, which was originally in the Acropolis, was taken to Germany in 1897 and it is presently on exhibition at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

The five-step foundations of the Altar of Zeus are still in place at the Acropolis of Pergamum. On the other hand, the podium, friezes, and reliefs are made of bright marble are exhibited at the Berlin Museum.

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