The use of the throne as a symbol of kingly power or
authority in general is so ancient, that any inquiry into its origin would
lead far beyond the earliest records of Greece and Italy. Even on the
pre-historic remains found at Mycenae and other sites in Greece and on the
islands of the Aegean, seated figures are represented in a way which leaves
no doubt that they are receiving homage. Unfortunately these thrones are so
poorly represented, that no idea of those then used can be gained from them.
In Homer the θρόνος
is distinguished from
all other forms of seat [SELLA
and was used by kings and princes. It was not, however, wholly confined to
them, for any guest whom the prince wished to honour was given a throne.
Telemachus, for instance, shows his respect for Athene when she arrives
disguised as Mentes in this way (Od. 1.130
It was doubtless on this account that we find the seats of all the guests in
magnificent palaces, such as that of Alcinous or the hospitable house of
Odysseus, are called θρόνοι
). As might be expected from this,
the seats of the gods are always θρόνοι,
except in one passage (Il. 8.436
), where all
except Zeus sit on κλισμοί
he taking a
: but this is quite naturally
meant to show his supremacy. The idea, in fact, is the same as that in the
mind of the artist of the Parthenon frieze. On the west side, in the
assembly of the gods he has given Zeus alone a throne with back and arms,
whereas the seats of the other gods are mere stools (cf. British
Museum Guide to Elgin Marbles,
p. 66, No. 29).
The epithets in Homer do not give much information about the shape or
appearance of the thrones he mentions. It was high (ὕψηλος,
), and always had a footstool
). It was covered with rugs and carpets (Od. 1.130
) of the richest kind. From the epithets σιγαλόεις, φαεινός,
we may conclude that it was made of wood, turned and
highly polished. The wood, however, was often overlaid with gold plating
), in the style that the gold-leaf
ornaments from Mycenae have made so familiar (cf. Schuchhardt,
267 foil.). There is no
mention of a throne having arms; but from the account of the death of
Antinous, Helbig infers that they were used (Od.
). The earliest monuments
showing thrones are the rude terra-cotta statuettes representing goddesses
which are found with pottery of the Dipylon and other Geometric styles (cf.
Jahrbuch des d. Arch. Inst.,
Boehlau, 1888). These,
however, show little more than that the back was straight and ornamented,
and that footstools were generally used. One may, however, trace in the
magnificent throne which later ages provided for temple idols, a traditional
survival of the gorgeousness of Heroic times. Two of these are the throne of
Apollo at Amyclae, the work of Bathycles of Magnesia (Paus. 3.18
). and the throne of
Zeus at Olympia, designed and executed by Pheidias (Paus. 5.11
). The former, however, was not a throne in the
ordinary sense, being a structure built round the old wooden idol (ξόανον
), which of course could not be put in a
sitting attitude. The latter, however, was in all respects, except its
colossal size, a throne; the additional pillars inserted between the legs to
support the enormous weight of the statue being the only difference.
Pausanias (loc. cit.
) gives a full description of
its structure and decoration. It was made of ivory and gold, ornamented with
gems and ebony, sculptured, inlaid, and painted. The back was high and
surmounted by sculptured groups of the Graces and Seasons, which rose about
the head of the god. Between the legs were eight crossbars, and below was a
footstool, the whole covered with a multitude
Coin of Elis, showing Zeus enthroned.
of figures and groups representing mythological heroes and tales.
This throne is well shown on the coins of Elis of the time of Hadrian, a
small siketch of the famous statue on their reverse (cf. Journ. of
vol. 10.98). It agrees well with Pausanias,
showing the high back, the Sphinx supporting the arm, the cross-bars between
the legs and the footstool. It fails to show the two groups standing on the
back, and of course gives no idea of the decoration. Magnificent as this
throne was, there is nothing beyond its size and artistic merit which might
not have been found on the seats of early Greek kings. Even the more or less
commonplace forms on the monuments--the grave reliefs in particular--show
much variety of design and complicated decoration.
The best known of the grave reliefs of the type in which the dead man appears
enthroned and receiving the homage of his descendants is the Harpy tomb from
Lycia, at the British Museum. It shows us no less than five thrones, the
most typical of which are those on the slab, where two seated ladies receive
offerings from three women. The lady to the left is on a throne with legs of
turned work strengthened by crossbars. The arm which is visible is also of
turned wood, and, as in the case of the Olympia throne, is supported by a
Sphinx. The lady to the right sits on a throne with very solid square legs,
which end above in an early form of the Ionic volute (cf. Puchstein,
Das Ionische Capitell
), and are decorated in the middle
with a palmette [p. 2.838]
ornament. The arm ends in a ram's
head, and the top of the back is bent over and carved into the shape of a
goose's head. Both thrones are thickly cushioned, and both have a footstool.
On the other sides of the tomb we see other varieties, one seat having no
back, another no arms, while the third has an arm supported by the figure of
a Triton, and front legs carved
Thrones, from the Harpy Tomb. (Murray.)
like the fore-legs of a lion. This imitation of a lion's legs and
paws is very common, but only in the case of the fore-legs. A series of
gravereliefs however, from Sparta and the neighbourhood (cf.
Mittheilungen des Ath. Inst.
1877), shows all four legs
carved in this way, the back legs being shaped as hind paws. Studniczka has
pointed out that this curious feature is only seen elsewhere on vases of the
Cyrenaic class, and that it is the pattern in which almost all Egyptian
thrones are carved. This leads him to derive the fashion from Egypt
p. 9), and the remarkable
coincidence of several other shapes makes the hypothesis a probable one.
Egypt, however, was not the only country from which the Greeks borrowed their
models of thrones, for the connexion with Assyria and the East is even
stronger. This is especially to be seen in the use of certain primitive
forms of the Ionic capital and the very peculiar variety of the palmette
ornament, in which two elliptical cuts are made on each side of the leg,
leaving a narrow bar which is used in the decoration as the stalk of a
double palmette. Both these are shown by the second throne described above,
and both are very common in vase-paintings, of all periods except the very
latest. The natural inference is that the work of Oriental cabinetmakers,
travelling through Greece proper, was the source from which the Greek
carpenter derived his patterns and ornament. Not that he copied slavishly;
for the bewidering variety of thrones on vase-paintings makes any simple
description impossible, and shows that much invention was bestowed on their
manufacture. Some of the fantasy, it is true, must be the artist's; for he
gives himself free hand in the matter, and omits backs, arms, and footstool
as it may happen to suit his design.
Much more reliable are the copies in stone of actual seats, in which statues
were frequently carved; as, for instance, those from the sacred way of
Branchidae, now in the British Museum. Such thrones were used by men of
authority, such as priests, judges at the games, and teachers in schools
(cf. Bullettino dell' Instituto,
1890, i. p. 1,
“Parodia d'una scena di scuola” ). It was with thrones such
as these that the Greek of classical times, to whom the insignia of royalty
were scarcely known, was acquainted. In later times, especially under the
Roman Empire, it became the custom to dedicate honorary seats or thrones in
public places, generally the theatre, to the use of distinguished people.
Such are the seats of benefactors, priests, archons, generals, and other
officials, which still remain in the theatre of Dionysus at Athens (cf.
C. I. A.
Harrison, Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens,
273-277). Besides these ceremonial seats, each head of a house had a chair
in which he sat and entertained guests, which was not unlike the old
in shape and went by its name.
Such also was the case at Rome, where the solium
was only used by the paterfamilias, who sat in it of a morning when giving
audience to his clients (Cic. de Leg.
, 10: “Cum praesertim non recusarem quominus more patris
sedens in solio consulentibus responderem” ). The solium
was in form practically the same as the Greek
and, like it, was the seat of
gods. The seat of the teacher, however, was not called solium
which is otherwise used as a translation for δίφρος,
is also the name for a peculiar kind of
bathing chair, in which the bather sat and had hot water thrown over him.
Such chairs are to be seen in many museums (cf. Daremberg et Saglio,
fig. 768). Some,
however, seem to have been rather of the nature of a hip bath, and are
frequently mentioned by medical writers (Celsus, 7.26, 5, “in solium .
. . aquae calidae resupinus demittendus est;” cf. Festus, p. 298
b, 22 M., “Alvei quoque, lavandi gratia instituti, quo singuli
descendunt solia dicuntur.”
(Baumeister, Denkmäler, art. Sessel;
pp. 381, 385; Overbeck,
56, 74 foll.; Blümner,
Kunstgewerbe in Alterthum,
i. p. 111, ii. p. 41;
Buchholz, 3.2.138; Hermann-Blümner,
p. 158; Helbig, Das
pp. 108, 118 foll., 378; Becker-Göll,