Power and Politics on the Acropolis

The British Museum Press

ISBN 978-0-7141-2284-7 PB £9.99

Published in November 2013, the book traces the extraordinary story of the events which led to the construction of the Parthenon and of the people who inspired it.

The Parthenon is one of the world’s most iconic buildings. Today it symbolizes Greece. In fifth-century BC Athens it was the proud embodiment of the power not only of that city’s empire, but of the politicians who had commissioned it, the artists who had created it and the citizens who had fought to build the society which it would come to represent. Built on the rocky acropolis of Athens in the aftermath of the devastating Persian invasion (480-479 BC), the Parthenon was part temple to Athene, part war memorial, part treasure trove of some of the most outstanding art of its age.

This book tells the dramatic story of the conception and creation of the Parthenon. Setting it against a turbulent historical background and rooting it firmly in the real and mythological landscape of Athens, the book considers the Parthenon’s place in the social and religious world of ancient Greece and the wider ancient world, as well as the subsequent history of the building.

Populated by Athens’ most memorable characters and beautifully illustrated with evocative site photography, details from the Parthenon sculptures and other related artworks from the superb collection of the British Museum, this book explores the Parthenon as the spiritual heart of a network of commanding buildings, used by Pericles and his successors to promote the power of Athens as the leader of the Greek world.

Reviews and Comments

A pleasure to read. Stuttard writes in a very engaging style, and parts of his text read like a historical novel. Dramatic events like the murder of Hipparchus and the inauguration of the Parthenon are played out before our eyes with sights, sounds and smells. This is the strength of the book and an approach that makes it stand out among the many works treating the subject. I would very much recommend it for a prospective visitor to Athens wishing to understand not only how the ancient remains of the acropolis once looked, but how and by whom they were created and used. ... Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis merits a large general audience.

Jenny Wallensten, Director of the Swedish Institute at Athens,

Time and Mind

This atmospheric account of Europe’s greatest classical structure, built by Pericles in a mere 15 years after the Persians levelled Athens, suggests that it was a piecemeal construction with no masterplan. Though the reason for the immaculately realised entasis (slight bulging of the columns) or the curved platform is ‘now debated’, there is no denying the power of the equine frieze, ‘first at a walk but then trotting, cantering’. Given the publisher, it is perhaps unsurprising that we are not informed about Lord Elgin’s removal of these sculptures or their current location.

The Independent

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‘Our buildings and our monuments command respect; they are the legacy and the bequest of empire. In future generations men will marvel at us, as those who are alive today all marvel, too …’

While Pericles was speaking and the sun rose higher in the sky, his audience, the citizens of Athens and their mothers, wives and daughters, could see behind him their city coming into sharper focus; and dominating the horizon, glistening and gleaming on the high Acropolis, its sculptures glinting in the morning light, the Parthenon, the building more than any other which would become associated with the age. Many of those ideals contained in Pericles’ oration might, in fact, be seen to be encapsulated in the Parthenon: ideals of courage and of sacrifice, of beauty and brilliance, of empire and democracy, of city-love and Athens as a beacon for the world.

If, once the speech was over, any of the crowd now streaming back towards the city gates and the chorus of cockerels crowing in the backyards of the houses beyond them was contemplating anything apart from what they had just heard – or breakfast – they might have thought with wonder how all this had come to be. They might, with us, have sought to reflect upon the sometimes perilous history which had given rise to both Athens’ greatness and the Parthenon itself, and consider what that building said about its time. But, in order to do so, they would have had to cast their minds back many years, to an age before democracy and empire, when Athens’ character was only just being formed...