Olympia Zeus Temple Restoration
The word "architect" comes from the Greek word for master carpenter. "Tecture" means a dwelling or building. Most of the monuments and temples that remain today were made of marble or stone. In their time they were painted on the outside.

Unlike Egyptian temples which were made for a few select people to see from the inside Greek temples were constructed for everyone to enjoy from the outside. Greek architecture was oriented towards outdoor monuments and used post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans were oriented towards interior spaces, supported by Romans arches. The Greeks used the arch, but they found its shape so unappealing they used in mainly sewers. Many great works of European and American architecture are based on Greek architecture.

Greeks didn't appreciate nature for its own sake, it was something to be used. Mountains were not something to be climbed for a view, they were the home of gods, trees provided shade and plants gave food and drink. Beautiful places were often littered with shrines. Strabo wrote: "The whole tract is full of shrines to Artemis, Aphrodite, and the Nymphs...there are numerous shrines of Poseidon on the headlands by the sea."

Minoan and Mycenaean Architecture, See Minoans and Mycenaeans Under History

Features of Greek Architecture

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Zeus temple model
Large houses, temples and tombs today have a similar plan---with a main court, hall and private rooms---as their counterparts in ancient Greece. Doric and Ionic are the two most well known styles of Greek architecture.

A quick review of some Greek architectural terms: As you look at the front of a Greek building the lintel is the part of the building held up by columns. The frieze is in between roof and the lintel, and it can either be filled with statues and bas-reliefs or composed of alternating trigylphs (little columnlike facades) and metopes (unornamented spaces). The long triangular part of roof above the frieze is the pediment.

Thick, muscular Doric columns have a plain and simple capital. The Parthenon is considered the quintessential Doric structure. More "feminine" Ionian columns are more slender and have declarative scroll-shaped capitals. Corinthian columns, which are an adaption of Ionian columns, have a flowery top. The side corners of the columns themselves are composed of a long shaft with a capital at the top and a base at the bottom.

History of Greek Architecture

Although nearly all forms of modern architecture can be traced back to Greek architecture no one knows how it evolved. Clay models of temples from the 8th century B.C. depict house-like buildings with steeped pitched roofs and columns only at the entrance and rear.

Greek architecture developed from the wood and mud brick building of pre-classical Greece and was influenced by Egyptian architecture (columns), Minoans (column design) and Mycenaean architecture (the floor plan). The design for the Mycenaean royal hall provided the basic design on which Greek temples were based.

One of the great contributions of Greek architecture was putting sculpture and bas-reliefs on the pediments which the Mycenaeans had left empty. The Egyptian decorated some of their temples with sculpture but mostly in the form of shallow reliefs. The Greeks raised this form of expression to an artform.

Up until the 7th century B.C., Greek temples were made of wood. Stone became the building material of choice when wood columns were found to be incapable of bearing roofing tiles. Marble was most often used because it was found everywhere in Greece and Asia Minor. Most of the marble was quarried only about ten miles away from the site of the monument.μ

Greek temple plans

Greek Versus Roman Architecture

Some say that the Romans took Etruscan elements---the high podium and columns arranged in a semicircle---and incorporated them with Greek temple architecture. Roman temples were more spacious than their Greek counterparts because unlike the Greeks, who displayed only a statue of the god the temple was built for, the Roman needed room for their statues and weapons they took as trophies from the people they conquered.

One of the main differences between Greek and Roman architecture was that the Greek buildings were intended to be viewed from the outside and Romans created huge indoor spaces that were put to many uses. Greek temples were essentially a roof with forest of columns underneath it that were necessary to support it. They had nevr learned to develop the arch, dome or vaults to great level of sophistication. The Romans used these three elements of architecture to construct all sorts of different kinds of structures: baths, aqueducts, basilicas, etc. The curve was the essential feature: "walls became ceilings, ceilings reached up to the heavens." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Greeks depended on post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans used the arch. The arch helped the Romans construct larger interior spaces. If the Pantheon was built using Greek methods the large open space inside would have been overcrowded with columns.

Temple features

Ancient Greek Temples

Ancient Greek temples, unlike churches, were places the gods lived, not houses of worship. They were regarded as the home of cult statues and places where people could pay homage to gods and leave gifts for them. Some were only entered once or twice a year, and then only by the priest of the temple. Temples were built on hills, known as acropolises, apparently to impress outsiders coming to the city.

Greek temples were constructed to be admired from the outside. Ordinary people were often not allowed to go inside and if they were there usually wasn't much for them to see except for a large statue of the god the temple honored. On the outside statues were placed in niches. In a couple of instances the columns themselves were made into statues of women.

The Selinus Temple in Sicily was one of the largest Greek temples ever built. It is 362 feet long, 164 feet wide and has 48 columns made of 50 ton blocks that were hoisted 60 feet into the air. Because people often gathered outside a Greek temple rather than in interior could be relatively small. Temples usually features freestanding statues on pediments and relief panels carved into the stone that formed friezes around the building.

Ancient Greek temples were designed and constructed by craftsmen and decisions about column size and their location, it appears, were made when the building was being erected. According to Boorstin "scholars have not found a single architectural drawing." Most temples had a similar design and really the only creative work done by the architects was the artwork on the friezes and lintels. [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin,μ]

To construct a temple, Greek builders used ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes, as high as 80 feet tall, and sometimes used 25-foot-tall teamons, statues of a giant used as a support. Rough limestone columns were lifted and placed and then fluted by a stone cutter.



The Parthenon (on the top of the Acropolis in Athens) is one of the world's most famous monuments. Dedicated to Athena Parthhenos, the Virgin, patron of Athens, and originally painted with bright colors, it was the first temple built on the Acropolis after a Persian invasion that nearly destroyed Athens, goddess of Athens.

Athenian citizen used to line promenade of the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora to watch the Panatheenaic procession in which a huge dress was hauled up to the Acropolis as an offering to Athena. Near the Parthenon was a 30-foot-high bronze statue of Athena Promachos, the Warrior, whose metal glistened so brightly it was said it could be seen by ships approaching Athens.

The Parthenon is 228 feet long, 101 feet wide and 60 feet high. It has 17 outer columns on the north and south sides and eight columns at each end. It covers an area about half the size of a football field. The 46 outer columns are 11 meters high The main structure is built of limestone and marble. A 170 meter frieze once wrapped around the top of the exterior wall. The roof is missing and there are several stories as to how this happened.



The Acropolis is the name of the huge rock on which the Parthenon stands. Anchored by huge walls and surrounded by a forest of unassembled ruins the Acropolis rises out of Athens like a miniature Mt. Olympus. An important secular and sacred site, it was home to he city's treasury as well as temples for religious rites and sacrifices.

Caves near a natural spring on the steep north side of the Acropolis have been inhabited since Neolithic times and the fortress-like walls around the Acropolis were built by the Mycenaeans to protect a palace they had erected at the top. This was superseded by a Greek temple dedicated to Poseidon and Athena that was destroyed in 480 B.C. when the entire city of Athens was burned to ground by the Persian army of Xeres. In the Golden Age of Greece the caves contained a shrine to Pan and other Gods.

History of the Parthenon

Built between 447 and 438 B.C., the Parthenon was the centerpiece of a building campaign on the Acropolis launched in the mid 5th century B.C. when Athens was rich from tribute money paid to it by 150 to 200 city states. It was commissioned by Pericles---who said, "We have forced every sea and land to be the highway of daring, and everywhere...have left imperishable monuments behind us”---and supported by the citizens of Athens who voted in favor of funding it.

One reason why Greece was so vulnerable to Spartan attack during the Peloponnesian War was that the money that would have gone to pay an army was used instead to pay for the building of the Parthenon. Pericles was accused by Thucydides of adorning the city "like a harlot with precious stones, statues and temples costing a thousand talents." Many of the pieces of temple destroyed by the Persians was used as fill and centuries later priceless pieces of Greek statuary was pulled from the rubble.

Parthenon reconstruction

Parthenon served as both a temple and a treasury for the Delian League (an alliance of city-states that paid tribute to Athens). A heavily-guarded iron cage kept the treasury safe. The cost of the Parthenon without the Athena statue was more than the entire revenue of the city for one year. Money from the common treasury from all the city states on the Delos League was also used without the consent of the other states.

One of the main architects of the Parthenon, Phidias, was thrown in jail for creating "a likeness of himself as a bald old man holding up a great stone with both hands, and had put in a very fine representation of Pericles fighting an Amazon." Pericles was the statesman who ruled Athens the time the Parthenon was being built and his offense was "impiety" for placing himself in the same arena as the gods. [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin,μ]

Architecture of the Parthenon

Designed by the Greek architects Ictinus and Callicrates, the Parthenon is impressive not so much for it its overall size; but the sense of spaciousness and height created by architecture that is otherwise massive and foreboding. Arches weren't perfected until the Roman times and Greek architecture depended on large numbers of thick columns to support a structure. The Doric columns in the Parthenon are indeed monolithic but the are spaced in such a way that the building doesn't seem as heavy as they could have been.

The columns are slightly curved and they bulge at the top to create the optical illusion of straight and perfect symmetry. Straight columns look as if they are thin, and thus weak. The fact they slant slightly inward and the floor is slight bowed (about 10 centimeters on the sides and six centimeters on the front and back with a slight bulge in the middle) not only helped to relieve some of the stress of the roof but it also gave the structure the illusion that it was reaching towards a pinnacle. The sense of spaciousness is heightened ever more by the fact there is no roof and many of the columns have fallen down (yuk, yuk, yuk).

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Building the Parthenon

The Parthenon is made almost exclusively of marble found at a site about 18 kilometers away from the Acropolis. About 100,000 tons or marble was used. The marble was shaped at the quarry and transported to Athens and finally hauled up the steep slopes of the Acropolis. It was fortunate that marble was used. Many building made by the ancient Greeks were constructed of limestone, which dissolved over time in the rain and humidity.

Most of the monumental part of the Parthenon were built with 10-ton marble blocks. The craftsmanship is extraordinary. The joints between the blocks are all but invisible even with a magnifying glass. The blocks were fitted together with iron clamps placed into carefully-carved grooves, lead was then poured in the joints to cushion them from seismic shocks and protect them from corrosion.

As hard as quarrying, shaping, transporting and fitting these stone blocks is it was not as time-consuming and labor intensive as some of the detail work such as making the flutes (vertical grooves) that run up and down the columns. Manolis Korres, a professor of architecture at the National Technical University of Greece, and coordinator of the Parthenon’s restoration until 2005, estimated that making the flutes in each column was as costly as all the quarrying, hauling and assembly combined.

After the columns were smoothed and polished, a stripling pattern was added to dull the shine and mask the flaws. Ths job required making orderly, precise rows in not only the columns but also the base, floors, columns ad most other surfaces, Korres told Smithsonian magazine, “This was surely one of the most demanding tasks. It must have taken as much as quarter of the total construction expended on the monument.”

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Elgin Marbles, Pediments of the Parthenon

Athenians were able to devote such attention to detail and still finish the thing in under ten years (based on dates determined from inscribed financial records) it has been surmised using ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes like those used to build their great navy. Some scholars also believe the Athenians possessed chisels, axes and other tools that were stronger and more durable that their modern counterparts and this, combined with superior temple building skills honed over a century and a half, enabled them carve blocks at twice the speed of modern restorers.

Friezes on the Parthenon, See Sculpture


The Erechtheion (421-407 B.C) (on the side of the Acropolis opposite the Acropolis Museum) is an odd shaped structure built to honor the legendary Athenian king Erechtheus as well as Poseidon and Athena. It housed a rare cult statue of Athena that been around for centuries before the temple was built. Nearby was a sacred olive tree that is said to have miraculously sprouted new growth overnight after the sacking by Persia.

The temple stands on the site of the original Poseidon and Athena temple that existed before the Persian invasion. It was built around the same time as the Parthenon as were the other buildings on top of the Acropolis. The founders creators of classical Athens, Erechtheus and Kekrops, were buried here and during the Turkish occupation it was the home of the Turkish commander's harem.

The Erechtheum is a large and complex temple that consists of two porches: a large one facing the north and a small one facing the Parthenon . The latter is supported by six female-shaped columns known as the caryatids . It is no wonder the Turkish governor chose this building to house his harem a thousand years later.

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Oracle of Delphi sanctuary


The Propylaea (437-432 B.C.) (at the western end of the Acropolis) is an elaborate structure that is half gate and half temple, forming the monumental entrance to the Acropolis. The Propylaea was commissioned by Pericles immediately after the Parthenon was finished in 437 B.C. It took five years to build and was left unfinished, probably because of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

The Propylaea is a splendid example of architecture blending in with the terrain. It consists of two massive stone edifices with a wide stairway in between. At the top of the stairway is a set of large Doric columns. The north wing of building houses the Pinakotheke, a large room that was used to display paintings, the first known example of an art gallery.

Entering through this gate allows one to best appreciate the Acropolis. First you walk up a short switch-backed trail. Then you walk through a huge opening in the walls. Inside the Propylaea you walk between a corridor of massive columns into a huge vault-like structure which in turn leads to the top of the Acropolis. Ancient processions used to travel this same route.

Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, Turkey

Other Acropolis Structures

Other Acropolis Structures include the Chalkotheke ("a place to store bronze" off the west end of the Parthenon. It's original purpose is unknown but at one time it held armor, weapons, possibly left as votive offerings. The Sanctuary Brauron (next to the Chalkotheke) once contained a huge representation of the Trojan Horse.

The Temple of Nike (on one side of the Propylaea) is a small and relatively intact temple honoring the God of Victory. It was built on the Acropolis in the 6th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Persians and rebuilt between 427 and 424 B.C. to celebrate Greece's victory in war.

The Theater of Herodes Atticus (161 A.D.) is a huge well preserved amphitheater on the southern flank of the Acropolis that is the site of the Athens Festival which runs from the middle of June to the middle of September. Programs include theater, ballet, opera, chamber music and opera.

The Stoa of Eumenes (168-159 B.C.) is an old arcade that looks sort of like an aqueduct that runs from the amphitheater along the eastern base of the acropolis. At the end of this wall is the Theater of Dionysus (circa 330 B.C.), another amphitheater than is not in as good a shape as Herodes Atticus.

Greek Theater

Ancient Greek Theaters, Gymnasiums and Hippodromes

The Epidaurus Theater in Epidaurus (70 kilometers south of Corinth) is the most famous and best preserved ancient amphitheater theater in Greece. Built into a hillside surrounded by trees in the 4th century B.C., the theater has a circular stage and enough seats for 14,000 people. The acoustics are so good it is said an actor’s whisper can be heard in the back row.

How is it possible for music and voices to be heard with such clarity in the back rows? Limestone seats form an acoustics filler that hushes low-frequency background noises such as the murmur of the crowd and reflects high-frequency noises of the performers on stage off the seats and back towards the seated audience members. The theater is also very steeply sloped (30 to 34 degrees). This is creates a shorter path for direct sound with few interferences in that direct path. [Source: MCT, Georgia Institute of Technology]

At the 8000-seat marble amphitheater in Aphrodisias in Asia Minor, audiences watched masked and robed actors perform dramas about conspiring slaves and two-timing wives. When the show was over the audience was discouraged out of a gate called the vomitorium .

A typical Greek gymnasium was an open court surrounded by columns with areas for running, jumping and throwing and a covered area for wrestling and bathing. Young men often spent a greater part of their day in the gymnasium, occupying themselves as much with chatting and hanging out as working out. It is no surprise that Sophists conducted their first meetings in gymnasiums and Plato set up his Academy and Aristotle set up his Lyceum next to gymnasiums.

Chariot and horse races were held in long, narrow Hippodromes that seated up to 45,000 spectators. The track was not like a modern horse racing track. It was more like an oval football field with a row of columns down the middle, which created a lot of maneuvering room.

Epidaurus Theater

Seven Wonders of the World

The Seven Wonders of the World were first mentioned in the 2nd century B.C. by a man called Antipater of Sidon. They are: 1) the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt); 2) Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq); 3) the Tomb of King Mausolus (Turkey); 4) Temple of Diana (Turkey); 5) Colossus of Rhodes (Greece); 6) Statue of Olympia (Greece); 7) The Pharos of Alexandria (Egypt).

Why seven? Even in ancient times, the number seven was believed to have had mystical significance and bring good. That is also why there were seven seas, seven deadly sins and seven early churches of Christendom. In ancient times, there were different lists of seven wonders and people visited the “wonders” like modern-day tourists.

The pyramids are the only one of the seven wonders still standing. Part of the Temple of Diana remains. The others vanished after they were toppled by earthquakes and/or scavenged for building material. The images that we have of the seven wonders today are primarily paintings and drawing made by medieval and Renaissance artists over a thousand years after the wonders were gone.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Paul Jordan

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Zeus Statue at Olympia Zeus Temple

Statue of Zeus and Colossus of Rhodes

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Reputed to be 40 feet high and placed in the great temple of Zeus in 457 B.C. the statue depicted Zeus seated on a throne. His body was carved from ivory and his robe and ornaments were made of gold. It was sculpted by Phidias (who created a similar statue of Athena in the Parthenon in Athens) sometime after 432 B.C.

The statue of Zeus was made of gold and ivory plates placed over a wood structure (making it from bronze and gold would have been too heavy for a statue of this size). A system of pipes was devised to bring oil to the wood to prevent it from rotting, The oil also helped preserve the ivory. Zeus sat on the golden throne with jewels for eyes, with his feet resting on a foot stool of gold. Worshippers used to pray at the statue’s feet. Chroniclers said the statue was still there in the 2nd century B.C. After that it disappeared, most likely it was stripped and looted.

The original Temple of Zeus was destroyed in A.D. 426. The new temple one that housed the statue was 32 meters wide, 75 meters long and and 12 meters high, It was made of the finest marble and topped by a gilded statue of Nike. Sculpted lion heads with their mouths open served as drain spouts for the Temple of Zeus roof.

Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Erected between 292 and 280 B.C. to celebrate the ending of a Macedonian the siege, it was a nude statue of Apollo that stood 120 feet and had a shoulder girth of 60 feet. It was built of stone blocks and iron and was covered with bronze plates. Contrary to famous depictions of the statue, the Colossus, as big as it was, did not straddle harbor and ships did not pass between its legs.

Some depictions of the Colossus of Rhodes show it straddling Mandriki harbor but it actually stood on one side. It stood for only 56 years before it broke off at the knees was toppled by an earthquake about 225 B.C. Unfortunately there is nothing left of it today. According to some accounts it lay in ruins for another 900 years until A.D. 667 when 720,900 pounds of statue and scrap was sold by Arabs, who controlled the island, to a Jewish merchant, who reportedly needed 900 ships to carry the load back to Alexandria. Using coin inscriptions as his guide, American sculpture Felix de Weldon, plans to recreate the 105 foot Colossus of Rhodes.

Colossus of Rhodes

Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana (in Ephesus) was ordered by King Croesus and completed around 550 B.C. after 120 years of labor. Described by Phion as the greatest of the seven wonders, the Temple of Diana was 225-feet-wide and 525-feet-long, with 127 sixty-foot-high marble columns. The largest and most complex temple in ancient times, it was made out of marble, wood and tile, and built on marshy soil so it would be immune to earthquakes. Even so the temple had to be rebuilt three times before Goths destroyed it in 262 A.D.

The Temple of Diana was built around 550 B.C. near the sea and destroyed by invading Goths around A.D. 262. Ertastratus ordered the Temple of Diana to be burned down he did so to ensure that it was remembered, English archeologist J. T. Wood rediscovered the temple in 1874 after 11 years of digging. Today the ruins are located a mile or so away from Ephesus, and unfortunately all that remains is a foundation.

Diana of Ephesus, also known as the virgin huntress of the moon, was worshipped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. The Greeks knew her as Artemis, and her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon. She may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods.

Despite the fact she was a permanent virgin, she was the goddess of fertility, and the famous statue of her now in the Selçuk Museum has endowed her with 18 breasts. None of the breasts have nipples, however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes or the ova on scared bees. Whatever they were Diana's image has fascinated artists for centuries. Other statues have placed bees on her knees and lions over her shoulders. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican. And recently a Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as a chestful of breasts.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

What got St. Paul into trouble was his statement: "Diana should be despised and her magnificence should be destroyed" The Temple that honored her was a popular tourist attraction and silver souvenirs of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss. [Source: Vicky Goldberg, New York Times, August 21, 1994].

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (in Bodrum, Turkey) is the source of the word "mausoleum," this 12-story-high rectangular marble tomb was erected in the 4th century B.C. for the Persian lord Mausolus by his wife. Some say the wife was also his sister, and after his funeral she allegedly drank some of his cremated ashes in a goblet of wine.

No pictures were ever drawn of the tomb when it stood. The illustrations from the Middle Ages and the 18th century, similar to the one above, were based on the following description by the Roman historian Pliny: "The north and south side of it extends for 63 feet the total circumference being 440 feet...the building rises to a height of 25 cubits [40 feet], and is surrounded by 36 columns...Above the colonnade there is pyramid equal in height to the lower part and tapered in 24 stages to the top of its peak. At the summit there is a four horse chariot of marble...the height of the whole structure [is] 140 feet."

Based on this description, drawings depicted the mausoleum with a colossal roof. Some showed a platform with 36 golden Ionic columns and a pyramid topped by a bronze chariot and statues of the Mausolus and his wife. Danish archaeologists who excavated the site early this century didn't find any golden columns, but they did find 50 slabs from the actual roof which it turns out was only 24 feet high.

Temple of Diana
This doesn't mean the mausoleum was some sort of mundane everyday temple. It was adorned with "a battle scene between 88 life-size Greeks and Persians near ground level," says Cambridge scholar Chris Scarre, who has written about all the seven wonders, "72 larger than life-sized statues higher up on the middle step, more warriors and huntsmen on the upper step of the podium, 36 colossal statues of Mausolus' ancestors between the columns of the colonnade, and finally at least 56 lions around the lower edge of the roof."

Tomb of Mausolus was begun in 353 B.C. Mausolus was thick necked, broad shouldered man with long hair and beard, as depicted in the statues now at the British museum. Mausolus's coffin, according to legend, was discovered by the Knights of St. John when they burned the mausoleum's marble to make mortar for their castle. But looters got to it before the they could open it and all the knights found was a few gold roundels and gold cloth fragments.

The mausoleum was probably destroyed by an earthquake between the 11th and 15th centuries. All that remains of the mausoleum in Bodrum is an unimpressive collection of column pieces and sculptured stones placed in a sunken garden. In the small museum there are models of the tomb, some sculptures and casts of the more impressive sculptures and reliefs---with Lapisths battlin centaurs, Greeks fighting Amazons, and chariot races---now in the British Museum. If you want to see what the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus may have looked like check out the Scottish Rite Supreme Council Building in Washington D.C., which was modeled after it. [Information for this section was taken from an article by Chris Scarre in the September/ October 1993 issue of Archeology]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Most of the information about Greco-Roman science, geography, medicine, time, sculpture and drama was taken from "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. Most of the information about Greek everyday life was taken from a book entitled "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum [||].

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2012

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