Siphian Treasury © Archivision
The Siphnian Treasury, built c. 530-25 BCE, was constructed in an Ionic style and measured 8.9m by 6.3m (Poulsen, 1973, 38, 43). The purpose of the treasury
was to house lavish offerings given to the priests and to various gods and goddesses. Entrance to the treasuries was highly restricted: the only people allowed to enter them were selected visitors and the administrators who oversaw the operations of these buildings. The contributions mainly consisted of gold and silver that had been extracted from local mines (Pedley, 2005, 74, 104).
“The Samians who had fought against Polycrates, when they knew that the Lacedaemonians were about to forsake them, left Samos themselves, and sailed to Siphnos. They happened to be in want of money; and the Siphnians at that time were at the height of their greatness, no islanders having so much wealth as they. There were mines of gold and silver in their country, and of so rich a yield, that from a tithe of the ores the Siphnians furnished out a treasury at Delphi which was on a par with the grandest there. What the mines yielded was divided year by year among the citizens. At the time when they formed the treasury, the Siphnians consulted the oracle” (Herodotus, 1970, par. 57).
In addition to the abundant gifts inside the Siphnian Treasury, the exterior was adorned with elaborate architectural elements such as caryatids, and carved reliefs on the pediments and frieze. The entrance porch of the treasury is
Frieze relief at the Delphic
© Paul Olsen
supported by two stone caryatids (carved stone female figures called korae
), rather than the commonly used columns. In order for these caryatids to be tall enough to contact with the polos above they were placed on platforms of stone, reaching the combined height of over 4.5 meters. Located between the eyelids of the female statues was an old archaic triangular form, similar to those on the Naxian Sphinx. The ears of these caryatids were ornamented with metal decorations at some point. These statues were meant to be viewed from the front rather than the side and this was most evident in the design of the cheeks. The front perspective gave the illusion of plump round cheeks, while the profile appeared to be exaggerated in size. The smiles are close-lipped with a slight upward curve. The caryatids wore chitons that draped from the top of their left shoulders and were tucked under the right arm (Poulsen, 1973, pp. 103,104, 106).
The designer of the Siphnian Treasury’s east pediment introduced reclining and crouching figures in order to fill in the space created by the eaves of the building (Ridgway, 1965, 1-5). The relief sculptures illustrated the struggle between Apollo and Heracles for the Delphi tripod, placing Zeus between the two competitors. The tripod had many different meanings, such as an
Daux, Georges and Hansen,
Eric. Le Tresor de
Topographie et architecture. Le
d'Apollon ) Fouilles de Delphes, v.2,
23, 1987), p. 225, fig. 133.
athlete's reward for winning a game, a token for a win in combat, or powers from the oracle. The Delphic tripod was considered to have oracular powers because the chosen Pythian priestess sat on the three foot tall tripod during the time she received her visions (Holland, 1933, 201-214).
In addition to the Delphi tripod and its competitors, groups of chariots, charioteers, attendants and horses were found on the east pediment (Pedley, 2005, 142). Directly below the pediment lay the the frieze.
The style of relief work found on the treasury was made from a poor quality of marble found in either Ios or locally in Siphnos (Casson, 1938, 75). Friezes were normally reenactments of legendary battles. The south frieze supported the story told on the east pediment of a battle between powerful men. The west frieze was referred to as the Judgment of Paris based on three equal parts of chariot groups of Athena, Aphrodite and Hera. The east frieze illustrated two scenes; one was of the assembly of the gods while the other was the battle over the body of
Daux, Georges and Hansen,
Eric. Le Tresor
Fouilles de Delphes, v.2,
p. 224, fig. 132.
Sarpedon (Watrous, 1982, 159-172). The horses found on the east frieze were leaner and arranged with a three-quarters turn, different from the profiled or full-face horses found on the south and west frieze (Agard, 1983, 237-244). The north frieze showed the Gigantomachy, a battle between gods with various contemporaneous political undertones (Watrous, 1982, 159-172).
Andrea Hendrix, Coastal Carolina University