Home Culture 20 Famous Greek Statues That Everyone Should Know

20 Famous Greek Statues That Everyone Should Know

by Judith Lepage
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Classical antiquity is fascinating on a number of levels. Many historians consider the historical Greek artistic movements, political innovations, and philosophies centered on the individual and knowledge to have laid the foundation of modern democracy.

A lot of history has been lost, however, its heroes and villains have been immortalized through fine art sculptures that exist to this day. These famous Greek statues are the purest forms of Greek art that have survived the test of time.

Introduction To Greek Statues

Greek Statues

Ancient Greek art is known for its naturalistic portrayals of human life and the human body. The ancient and famous Greek statues have been organized by modern scholarship based on the three major periods in Greek history that can be dated as follows:

• The Archaic (650 to 480 BC)
• The Classical (480 to 323 BC)
• The Hellenistic (323 to 32 BC)

Greece has never been a unified country at any point in its ancient history. It was a collection of sovereign city-states spread across the Mediterranean. During these periods while the territories may have been small, divided, and plagued by constant war, Greek culture flourished and spread in all directions — from the western peaks of Europe to Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Greek statues portray the major heroes, villains, and mythical beings from tales that have significant involvement in the proliferation of Greek ideas over the years. Most statues were sculpted either entirely out of marble or bronze.

20 Famous Greek Statues

#1. The Peplos Kore 530 BC

Peplos Kore

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The Peplos Kore statue is one of the best-known examples of Archaic Greek art. It measures about 46 inches in height and is made of white marble. When the statue was excavated in 1886, it was found in 3 pieces on the Athenian Acropolis.

It seemed to have originally been a painted sculpture but the paint had faded over time. The sculpture is of a young maid wearing a heavy woolen shawl, also referred to as “Peplos” in Greek.

#2. Discus Thrower (Discobolus) Myron, c. 425 BC

Discus Thrower

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The Discobolus of Myron is estimated to have been made around the start of the classical period in Greece, which was a time of immense growth in both trade and art. The sculpture depicts a lean young man about to throw a discus.

Did you know the Olympics is actually a long-lost tradition of ancient Greece that was banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 393 AD? This was until the world’s first modern Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896 in honor of the birthplace of the tradition.

#3. The Parthenon Frieze Phidias, c. 443–437 BC

Parthenon Frieze Phidias

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The Parthenon Frieze is a high-relief marble sculpture that runs along the exterior wall of the cella in the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Goddess Athena. The construction of this giant marble sculpture began in 443 BC, possibly under the direction of the Greek sculptor/architect Pheidias, and took 6 years to complete.

There are numerous interpretations as to the sculpture’s iconography, but it depicts gods, the cavalry, animals, and ordinary citizens.

#4. Varvakeion Athena Phidias, 438 BC (reproduction AD 200–250)

Varvakeion Athena Phidias

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The original sculpture of Athena the Virgin was made of ivory, wood, and gold. It stood eleven and a half meters tall and was kept securely in the Parthenon temple in Athens. However, this statue was later sacked after the Romans invaded Athens and the rest of the peninsula in 146 BC.

Sometime around 200-250, Rome commissioned a faithful replication of the original statue of Athena that exists today and can be found at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

#5. Doryphoros (Spear Bearer), Polykleitos, c. 450–440 BC

Doryphoros

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The Doryphoros, which is the Greek word for “spear bearer,” is one of the most famous Greek statues of all time. It was made by arguably the most important sculptor of Greek antiquity, Polykleitos.

In this case, too, the original Bronze sculpture hand-carved by Polykleitos has been lost to time. The only reason anyone even knows anything about it is because of the numerous marble copies made in Rome. The work is one of the earliest examples of realism in art.

#6. Winged Victory of Samothrace, Pythokritos, c. 220–185 BC

Winged Victory of Samothrace, Pythokritos

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Also called the Nike of Samothrace, the Winged Victory sculpture depicts Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and commemorates naval action. This is one of the few surviving original Hellenistic statues although the statue’s right wing had broken off at some point so it had to be reconstructed mirroring the left one.

It is currently displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and is arguably the most popular greek sculpture of all time.

#7. Lady of Auxerre (Kore of Auxerre) Around 650–625 BC

Lady of Auxerre

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The Lady of Auxerre is yet another statue that’s been preserved in its original state and is currently showcased in the Louvre museum in Paris. It’s made of limestone, is only a little over 2 feet tall, and depicts an archaic Greek Goddess, Kore, also called Persephone.

However, there are some who speculate that this statue is a depiction of an individual who died in that position of prayer that the statue emulates. It was made in Crete sometime around the archaic age of Greece.

#8. The Sacred Gate Kouros (Dipylon Kouros) Around 600 BC

Sacred Gate Kouros

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The Sacred Gate Kouros is a roughly 7 ft tall Naxian marble statue that was dug up in the 2002 excavations at one of the ancient Athenian city gates. The word “Kouros” means a young man while “Kore” means a young woman. Scholars suggest that the Kuoro/Kore sculptures were used to commemorate heroes and were offered to gods or demigods.

You can notice the Egyptian influences in the posture and hairstyle of the sculpture. Egypt was an important trade partner of the Greeks and, being a much older and larger civilization at the time, also had a lot of influence over Greek culture.

#9. Kleobis and Biton Around 580 BC

Kleobis and Biton

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Kleobis and Biton are statues of the Kuoric brothers from Argos during the Archaic age of Greece. The original statues were discovered in near-intact condition in Delphi. Though the true identity of this statue is unknown as Kuoro is an idea, not a person, most historians associate it with the story of Solon by Herodotus.

It tells the story of two Argive brothers who were transporting their mother to the temple of Hera. However, they lost their ox and had to drag the car six miles. Their mother prayed to Hera to bless her kids, and in return, Hera put them to sleep forever.

#10. Moschophoros (Calf-Bearer) Around 570 BC

Moschophoros

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Moschophorus was one of the first few statues dedicated to the Acropolis. It depicts a bearded Kuoro carrying a calf to be sacrificed to the gods. The inscription on the statue says “Rhombos, son of Palos.”

The base was made from limestone and the top was made with marble from Mount Hymettus. The condition is quite poor but the original statue remains to this day and is on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

#11. Kritios Boy (Ephebos Youth) Around 480 BC

Kritios Boy

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The Kritios Boy statue is a fine example of archaic style’s progression to the early classical greek style of portraying humans. In this sculpture, the boy is given a less stiff, more naturalistic pose, unlike the archaic style.

It was discovered in 1866 on the Acropolis of Athens among other statues in a dump. After the Persion invasions of 480 BC, a lot of the ancient Greek artifacts were destroyed and buried in this dump. Although Kritios Boy is missing his arms and legs, it’s still a pretty well-preserved statue.

#12. The Fallen Warrior of the Temple at Aphaia Around 480 BC

Fallen Warrior

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The Fallen Warrior of the Temple of Aphaia depicts a warrior dying in battle with honor. Some historians speculate that it was made to represent a particular fallen hero of the Trojan war.

Greeks loved to idolize their heroes and fallen comrades of war. It was believed by many that those that die in battle become immortal as they had proven themselves to the Gods.

#13. The Charioteer of Delphi Around 470 BC

Charioteer

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The Charioteer of Delphi is one of the best-preserved famous greek statues and one of the most popular ones of all time. It’s a bronze sculpture depicting the famous Delphian Charioteer Polyzalus, commemorating his victory in the Pythian Games of 470 BC.

The statue is life-size and shows the complex folds in the clothes Polyzalus wears in detail. Very few ancient bronze sculptures can compare to the craftsmanship of this Classical Greek masterpiece.

#14. Zeus and Ganymede Around 470 BC

Zeus and Ganymede

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The famous and mysterious sculpture of Zeus and Ganymede depicts a scene from Homer’s Iliad where Zeus is taking Ganymede to Mount Olympus to serve as his cupbearer. According to Homer. Ganymede was the most beautiful mortal at the time and the divine Hero of Troy.

The statue was discovered at the archaeological site of Olympia. What makes it so intriguing is that it dates back to the transitional period between Archaic and Classical Greece.

#15. The Riace Bronzes (The Riace Warriors) Around 460 BC

Riace Bronzes

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The Riace Warriors are two full-sized bronze sculptures of naked warriors conjectured to depict Tydeus and Amphiaraus, two of the seven champions of Argos chosen to wage war against Thebes. The truth of their identity, however, remains a mystery.

The sculptures were found by an Italian chemist snorkeling in Riace, Calabria, Italy, and at first, believed what he saw was a human hand sticking out of the seabed and called up the police.

#16. The Artemision Bronze (God from the Sea) Around 460 BC

Artemision Bronze

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The Artemision Bronze is an ancient Greek sculpture depicting a tall, well-built man miming to hold up what may be a trident or thunderbolt. This has caused debate among scholars as to whether it depicts Zeus or Poseidon. Unlike most of the other statues, it’s built just slightly larger than a life-size human and has empty eye sockets.

It’s also been carved with considerable detail, showing all the curls in his hair. Though the sculptor of this magnificent piece is unknown, the artifact is actually well-preserved and on display at the Athenian National Archaeological Museum.

#17. The Marble Metopes of the Parthenon (Part of the Parthenon Marbles) Around 447–438 BC

Marble Metopes

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The Marble Metopes of the Parthenon consists of 92 marble panels made by several artists. They are each etched with scenes from ancient Greek mythology that showcase the triumph of humans over their baser impulses and motivations.

Because most of the metopes have been damaged, first by the Christians around 700 AD, followed by the Ottomans in 1687, they’ve become indecipherable. There are far too many ways to interpret them and very few fully preserved metopes that can give some clue as to their true meaning.

#18. Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) Around 447 BC

Athena Parthenos

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The Athena Parthenos statue was sculpted by Pheidias using chryselephantine and stood nearly 38 ft tall to depict Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. It was stored in the Parthenon temple until the Roman expansion that led to the Acropolis being sacked.

The original is forever lost but there have been a number of Roman duplications during the ancient period. Many replicas were also created in modern times.

#19. Zeus at Olympia Around 435 BC

Olympia

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Zeus at Olympia is undeniably Pheidias’ greatest creations and possibly the most glorious sculpture ever made in classical Greece. It depicts Zeus sitting on his throne in Olympia. The sculpture is said to have stood 41 ft tall and adorned with gold panels and precious stones.

It’s considered today as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The statue, however, no longer exists — it was either lost or destroyed around 500 AD.

#20. Marathon Youth (Ephebe of Marathon) Around 400 BC

Marathon Youth

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Also known as “Marathon Boy,” this statue is speculated to have been made in commemoration of an athletic victory. Not much is known about its true identity or the competition it was made for.

The statue was discovered in the Aegean Sea in 1925. It portrays an average-sized young man weighing himself unevenly on each foot, giving him a more natural stance. This style of depiction is often referred to as Contrapposto.

A Few Parting Words

Much of the history of ancient Greece still eludes archaeologists and historians, despite all the artifacts and sites recovered. But the fact that the eras inextricable link to a plethora of contemporary ideas, language, and art is undeniable.

Looking at the famous Greek statues and how they get more realistic with time, it’s clear they tell a tale of progress. And demonstrate just how much the Greeks revered the idea of raising the human being’s potential and using it to solve real-world problems through rational inquiry.

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