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East pediment, general view, Figs. A,L,C

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East pediment, general view,Figs. D,B,F,I,H

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East pediment, Fig. G (Pelops), frontal view

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East pediment, Fig. O (Crouching Girl), drapery and feet, detail

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East pediment, Fig. C (Chariot boy or observer), detail

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East pediment, Fig. M (Right chariot team), quadriga, frontal view (facing...

Collection: Olympia Archaeological Museum
Title: Olympia, East Pediment Overview
Context: From Olympia
Findspot: Excavated at Olympia
Summary: Race between Pelops and Oinomaos
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: East Pediment
Style: Early Classical
Technique: In-the-round
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 470 BC - ca. 457 BC

W of pediment 26.0 m; H of pediment at center 3.30 m; H of central figure 3.15 m

Scale: Over life-size
Region: Elis
Period: Early Classical

Subject Description:

Pausanias (Paus. 5.10.8) identifies the subject of the East Pediment as the chariot race between Oenomaos, King of Pisa, and Pelops, a suitor of Oenomaos' daughter Hippodameia. He adds that the race has not yet begun. The quietness of the scene suggests that the specific event is the taking of the oath by the contestants before the race, watched over by Zeus (H) in the center of the pediment. According to the traditional account, Oenomaos was forewarned that he would die at the hands of his son-in-law. In order to prevent this, he challenged each suitor to a race for his daughter, believing that the horses given him by his father Ares could outrun any others. In each case the suitor was given a headstart, but before he could reach the end of the course, Oenomaos had caught up and killed him. Finally Pelops was able to thwart Oenomaos' strategy. According to one version he tricked Oenomaos by bribing his charioteer Myrtilos to replace the lynch pin of his master's chariot with one of wax, which soon weakened, sending Oenomaos to his death. In Pindar's version (Pind. O. 1.85), contemporary with the sculptures, he won by obtaining faster horses from his lover Poseidon. There is no indication which version is alluded to in the pediment, though possibly something in the expression of Sterope (F?), wife of Oenomaos, suggests anxiety concerning her husband's impending fate. The links with Pindar apparent in the metopes make it likely that his version is also the one current here. In any case, there is certainly an allusion to the fall of Pisa to the Eleans which resulted in the building of this temple.

Pausanias eases the identification of the figures by naming all the principal ones and some of the others. Nonetheless there is much controversy regarding the restoration of the pediment. More than sixty arrangements have been proposed. Part of the problem rests with the language of Pausanias. When he speaks of Oenomaos "on the right" of Zeus, it is unclear whether he means the god's right or the viewer's right. While it is clear that the older of the two figures (I) must be Oenomaus and the younger (G) Pelops, it is not certain on which half of the pediment each belongs. Historically there has also been a controversy with respect to the identity of the two central female figures, i.e. which one is Sterope and which one Hippodameia. Many scholars now agree that Figure K's dress and gesture of adjusting the cloth on her shoulder allude to a bride and should therefore identify her as Hippodameia. On the other hand Figure F's hair and contemplative, perhaps anxious pose suggest the older woman Sterope. Yet a third controversy concerns the position of the women relative to the men.

Pausanias identified many of the other figures as well, although it is not certain that his identifications are correct (he visited six and a half centuries after the temple was built). He called the two kneeling figures in front of the horses (B and O) charioteers, though he did not recognize that Figure O is a girl. He named the two figures following the chariot teams as attendants (L,C,N,E), though most scholars believe that Figure N is a seer. The boy (E) has often been identified as Arkas, the eponymous hero of Arcadia. The corner figures (A and P) are usually identified as local river gods, following Pausanias, though they have also been called spectators of the race, perhaps along with the other outermost figures.

Date Description:

The dates 470 to 457 BC are based on the information of Pausanias that the temple was built from the spoils of the Eleans victory over the Pisans, in which they took control of the sanctuary at Olympia. The most likely date of the battle is ca. 470 BC. A terminus ante quem is given by the additional information that the Spartans dedicated a golden shield, which they hung at the apex of the eastern gable, following the victory at Tanagra of ca. 457 BC. In order that the shield hang from the roof, the building must have been complete or nearly so, presumably including its sculptural decoration.

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description:

Thirteen figures and two chariot groups of four horses each, broken into many fragments; heavily weathered and preserved to varying degrees.

Associated Building: Olympia, Temple of Zeus

Collection History:

Excavated by the Germans from 1875.

Sources Used: Stewart 1990, 142 ff.; Boardman 1985a, 33ff.; Mallwitz & Herrmann 1980, 161ff.; Robertson 1975, 276 ff.; Ashmole 1972, 27 ff.; Säflund 1970; Ridgway 1970; Ashmole & Yalouris 1967