Treasuries, or thêsauroi in Greek, were small rectangular buildings built to protect valuables such as silver and gold offerings brought in by representatives of various city-states. The buildings themselves resembled simple temples. Built high off the ground, they had thick walls, no windows, and columns at the front. One of the best-known treasuries is the partially reconstructed Athenian treasury in Delphi.
The Athenian treasury is located just below the Temple of Apollo. It was built sometime between 510 and 490 B.C., shortly after the Battle of Marathon. It was then that Athens defeated Persia and marked a new beginning for their city-state. “This is the victory of which, the Athenians were proudest” (Paus 160 C.E., Book I). The exact date the building was constructed is unknown. According to our only source of literature, Pausanias (X, 11, 5), it was built around 490 B.C. However, the appearance of the marble indicates that it may have been built earlier in 510 B.C. Some historians believe that the treasury was built as an offering to Apollo, while others believe that its purpose was to honor the Athenian victory at Marathon.
Like other treasuries, the Athenian treasury has thick walls and no windows or steps; instead it stands on a high pedestal which makes it difficult to enter. An engraving was discovered on its pedestal that reads, “The Athenians to Apollo as offerings from the Battle of Marathon, taken from the Mede” (Jacquemin 1999, 186-7).
One issue that most archeologists agree upon is that the treasury was built from the ruins of Marathon. Standing at 6.68 x 9.75 meters, the Athenian treasury was made from cut stone and Parian marble. Just below the ceiling of the treasury, there are remnants of painted designs. The treasury has two Doric columns along the front which were originally made from wood. This entrance leads to the valuable objects and documents that were kept inside.
The public seems to be most interested in the various 6' x 9' metopes (carved spaces between two triglyphs of a Doric frieze) that were placed along the building, representing stories of the past. The south side of the treasury depicted the adventures of Theseus, the Ionian hero, in the following order from east to west: Theseus and Athena, Theseus and Sinis, Theseus and the Crommyonian sow, Theseus and Sciron, Theseus and Procrustes, Theseus and the Bull of Marathon, Theseus and the Minotaur, and finally Theseus and the Captive Amazon. Many of these represent “Theseus as the one who gave the Athenians political equality. By other means also has the report spread among men that Theseus bestowed sovereignty upon the people, and that from his time they continued under a democratical government” (Paus 160 C.E., Book I). The adventures of Heracles, the Dorian hero, were found on the north side in a similar pattern: Heracles and the Lion, Heracles and the Hind, Heracles and the Centaur, Heracles and Cycnus, Heracles and Orthrus, Geryon, and Cows of Geryon. The Marathonians, according to their own account, were the first to regard
Heracles as a god” (Paus 160 C.E., Book I). It was during Marathon that
Theseus took the heroic position from Heracles. We are told that a
...bull crossed from Crete to the Peloponnesus, and came to be one of what are called the Twelve Labours of Heracles. When he was let loose on the Argive plain he fled through the isthmus of Corinth, into the land of Attica as far as the Attic parish of Marathon, killing all he met. But the bull at Marathon Theseus is said to have driven afterwards to the Acropolis and to have sacrificed to the goddess; the offering commemorating this deed was dedicated by the parish of Marathon (Paus 160 C.E., Book I).
Theseus’ adventures were placed on the south side because it was the “Sacred Way.” Theseus became so heroic that the Athenians created a feast after him called “Oschophoria, or the feast of boughs, which to this day the Athenians celebrate” (Plut 75 A.C.E., Volume 1).