Greek Public Monuments of the Persian Wars

III. Panhellenic Monuments of the Persian Wars in General

25. Gilded tripod supported by column of three entwined serpents, dedicated at Delphi.

Syll.3 31; Herodotus 9.81; Thucydides 1.132.2-3; Ps-Demosthenes 59.97; Diodorus 11.33; Pausanias 10.13.9; Schol. on Thucydides 1.132.

Column.In the Hippodrome, Istanbul.-

Base.In Delphi. [See Bommelaer, Guide de Delphes: le site (1991) 166-167, no. 407: Delphi Guide]

Inscription on the column. Syll.3 31; SEG 14.412; 16.337.

Frick and Curtius 1856; Ross 1856: 265-268; Frick 1858-1860: 487-555; Schubart 1861; Frick 1862; Schubart 1862; Wieseler 1864; Dethier and Mordtmann 1864; Newton 1865, 2: 25-35; Schubart 1865; Roehl 1882: 70; Fabricius 1886; Hicks 1882: 12; Bauer 1887; Roberts 1887: 259; Hitzig and Blümner 1896,3: 709-712; Hicks and Hill 1901: 19; Roehl 1907: 101; Hill, Sources 1: 1; Macan 1907,1: 763-764; Janell 1906: 128; Fürtwängler 1904: 413-417; Reisch 1905: 1688-1689; How and Wells 1912, 2: 2321-324; Frazer 1913, 5: 299-307; Schwyzer 1923: 11; Domaszewski 1920; Solmsen 1930; 21; Pomtow 1924: 1405-1407; Studniczka 1928; Jones 1928: 43; Dinsmoor 1942: 214; Larsen 1944: 151,154; Carpenter 1945: 456; Gomme 1945-1956,1: 434; Tod1945-1948,1: 19; Meritt, Wade-Gery, McGregor 1939-1953,3: 95-100; Buck 1955: 69; Meister 1957; Bengtson1962,2: 130; Burn1962: 6,382-383,441-442,523-524; Jeffery 1961: 102-104; Menage 1964.

I. [T]h[ese the] V Phliasians IX Styrans
  war [have]   Trozenians   wAleans
  fou[ght]   hErmionaeans   Potidaeans
II. La[c]e[daemonians] VI Tirynthians X. Leukadians
  Athenian[s]   Plataeans   wAnactorians
  Cor[i]nthians   Thespians   Kythnians
III. Tegea[ns} VII. Mycenaeans    
  Sicyon[ians]   Keans XI. Ambracians
  Aigenetans   Melians   Lepreans
IV. Megarians   Tenians    
  Epidaurians VIII. Naxians    
  Erchomenians   Eretrians    

Herodotus 9.81 (The subject of this sentence which is given only in part here is “the Greeks.”): “Gathering the goods together and setting aside a tithe for the god in Delphi, from which the gilded tripod set upon the three-headed bronze snake near the altar was made . . . (For the remainder of this passage see nos. 26 and 27).”

Thucydides 1.132.2-3 (Pausanias is the subject.):

“. . . and because on the tripod in Delphi, which the Greeks dedicated as a thank offering from the Medes, he deemed it worthy to inscribe in private this elegiac couplet:

Leader of the Greeks when he conquered the army of the Medes

Pausanias set up this monument to Phoebus.

The couplet the Lacedaemonians promptly erased from the tripod and inscribed on the dedication the names of the cities which had fought againbst the barbarian as dedicators of the offering.”

Ps-Demosthenes 59.97:

“Arrogant toward them (the Greeks) Pausanias, king of the Lacedaemonians inscribed on the tripod in Delphi, which the Greekas who had fought against the barbarian in the battle at Plataea and the naval battle at Salamis had dedicated, as first fruits to Apollo from the barbarians:

Leader of the Greeks . . . etc. as if the deed and the dedication were his own and not of the allies in common.”

Diodorus 11.33:

“The Greeks, setting aside a tithe from the spoils, made and dedicated the gilded tripod at Delphi, inscribing on it:

Saviors of wide-wayed Greece dedicated this having saved the cities from hateful slavery.”

Pausanias 10.13.9:

“In common the Greeks dedicated from the deed at Plataea a gilded tripod set upon a bronze snake. The bronze part of the dedication is still preserved in my time, but the resrt, the gilded part, the Phocian leaders removed.”

Cf. Schol. Thucydides 1.132:

“The tripod . . . which the Roman Emperors took and transferred to the Hippodrome of Byzantium.”

The gilded tripod dedicated to Apollo at Delphi after the battle of Plataea was the most famous of Greek votive offerings. It was set on the heads of three bronze serpents whose heads intertwined to form a tall column. The tripod and serpent column were part of a great Panhellenic dedication after Plataea, which also included a statue of Zeus at Olympia and one of Poseidon at the Isthmus (nos. 26 and 27).

There are two theories as to the manner in which the column supported the tripod. Fabricius (1886) believed that the heads of the serpents supported only the bowl of the tripod and that the legs were attached to it between the heads and extended down to the base. Part of this base is preserved at Delphi. French scholars no longer consider the large base in front of the temple to be that of the serpent column but now consider a more modest base near it to be the correct one (See Guide de Delphes, pp. 165-167, no. 407). Nevertheless the large base was thought to be the relevant one in the 1880’s, and the remainder of this discussion, dealing with Fabricius’ views at the time, refers to the large base. The uppermost course is not extant. Of the four preserved courses the uppermost is apparently that next to the top. It bears rough traces of three cuttings arranged in a circle whose radius is about half that of the course and whose center is the base’s center. [1]

Furtwängler has suggested that the legs of the tripod fit into these cuttings (1904: 413-417). In this view the upper course was a socle of smaller radius than any of the lower courses. Upon this socle stood the column and the tripod legs extended to the base. The evidence of the base is far from conclusive, however. The cuttings are faint, hollowed impressions on the second course and may not have had anything to do with the upper course at all. Since the radius of their circle is small, they may have served as fittings associated with the column, perhaps even for the tails of the serpents. The chief objection to the theory of Fabricius and Furtwängler is that it makes the tripod of enormous size, far larger than any known tripod and certainly not in keeping with the simplicity of Greek art of the early fifth century.

The other theory was proposed by Dethier and Mordtmann (1864). According to them, the tripod was of suitably modest proportions and its legs rested upon the heads of the serpents. The tripod was removed from the column and its gold melted down by the Phocians during the third Sacred War (355-346 B. C.; see Bengtson1960: 303), but the dedication is referred to as a tripod and not as merely a column even by later writers (Sozomenus, Hist. Eccl. 2.5; Eusebius, Vit. Const. 3.54; Socrates, Hist. Eccl. 1.16; Zosimus 2.31; Paulus Diaconus, Hist. misc. 11; p. 228; Nicephorus Callistus, Hist. Eccl. 8.33). It seems likely, therefore, that part of the tripod was merely gilded and that part or all of its legs were left standing on the serpents’ heads. Both theories as to the manner of support of the tripod are conveniently summarized by Frazer (1913,5: 306-307).

The first coil contains a brief introductory sentence: “The following fought the war.” The remaining ten coils contain the names of the cities, three per coil except for the seventh and tenth coils which have four names, the second from the bottom which has four, and the final coil which has two. The fourth names on coils five and two are those of the Tenians and the Siphnians. They are poorly engraved and were probably added at a later time. Herodotus in fact says that the Tenians were given a place on the list because they brought important intelligence to the Greeks on the eve of the battle of Salamis (8.82).

The early history of the monument was as follows. After the battle of Plataea the Greek force under the Spartan Pausanias gathered together its booty and set aside a tithe for Apollo at Delphi. From this a gilded tripod was made, as a dedicatory offering, and was supported by a bronze column of three intertwined snakes. The dedication was a memorial for the battle of Plataea. Pausanias thereupon caused to be inscribed upon the column a boastful dedicatoryt epigram in which he claimed to have defeated the army of the Medes (Thuc. 1.132.2-3). The epigram greatly displeased the Spartans. They prompyly erased it and inscribed in its place the names of the cities whih had taken part in the war, as we have them. The character of the monument was thereby changed. It now became a monument for the victory over Xerxes in general (both Salamis and Plataea) instead of remaining a memorial for Plataea alone.

Diodorus (11.33) says that, in place of the epigram of Pausanias, the Greeks inscribed another dedicatory epigram. He is the only authority to mention the Greek epigram but his testimony is generally accepted (Frazer 1913,5: 300). This epigram probably appeared on the base as the official dedication of the monumnt. The list of cities is, as it were, an afterthought clarifying the nature of the monument and emphasizing the unity of the Greek confederation.

The list of names must refer to Salamis and Plataea and not to Plataea alone, since the Keans, Melians, Tenians, Naxians, Cythnians, and Siphnians (ll. 11-23, 31-32) did not fight at Plataea. Furthermore Thucydides phrase hosai xugkathelousai ton barbaron implies that the monument with the list inscribed was intended to refer to the Persian war in general.

Herodotus (9.81) says that from the booty of Plataea the Greeks in common made two other important dedications. They dedicated a bronze statue of Zeus ten cubits tall at Olympia and one of Poseidon at the Isthmus, neither of which is extant (nos. 26 and 27). According to Pausanias (5.23.1-2) they inscribed on the base of the statue of Zeus a list of cities which had taken part in the war, similar to the list on the serpent column. The two lists, which do not agree in every particular, may be compared as follows:The Delphian list contains thirty one names and the Olympian list twenty seven, although the former contains every name that appears on the latter. The four additional names are the Thespians, Eretrians, Leukadians, and Siphnians. There is some evidence that the Delphian list was an official list (Meritt, Wade-Gery, McGregor 1939-1953,3: 95). Herodotus says that the Tenians were added to the list because of their services before Salamis (8.82). In Thucydides the Plataeans, threatened with destruction by Sparta, appeal to its authority (3.58). There numerous references to the serpent column throughout antiquity. [7] It has been assumed that the discrepancies are due to the fact that the Olympian list has been imperfectly reported (Frazer 1913,5: 304-306; Meritt, Wade-Gery, McGregor 1939-1953,3: 95). One may in fact observe that the Olympian list closely parallels the Delphian in the order of names.

Delphi Olympia
Lacedaemonians Lacedaemonians
Athenians Athenians
Corinthians Corinthians
Tegeans Sikyonians
Sikyonians Aigenetans
Aigenetans Megarians
Megarians Epidaurians
Epidaurians Tegeans
Orchomenians Orchomenians
Phliasians Phliasians
Troezenians Troezenians
Hermionaians Hermionaians
Tirynthians Tirynthians
Plataeans Plataeans
Thespians Mykenaians
Mykenaians Keans
Keans Melians
Melians Ambrakians
Tenians Tenians
Naxians Lepreans
Eretrians Naxians
Chalkidians Kythnians
Styraians Styraians
Eleans Eleans
Potidaians Potidaians
Leukadians Anaktorians
Anaktorians Chalkidians

Of the first five names of the Delphian list (three coils of the serpent column) only one name, the Tegeans, is out of order on the Olympian list (eighth instead of fourth). Among the next nine names the Thespians are omitted from the Olympian list but there is exact correspondence otherwise. For the remaining names the correspondence is upset to a greater degree but some order may still be discerned. The Eretrians, Leukadians, and Siphnians are omitted entirely from the Olympian list, but apart from the fact that the Kythnians and Chalkidians have exchanged places – a natural error since they both begin with a similar letter – the last seven names of the Olympian list appear in the same order as on the Delphian list. The Ambrakians and Lepreans, on the lowest coil of the serpent column, are greatly displaced on the Olympian list, occurring tenth and eighth from the end. They do, however, keep the same order relative to themselves and only one name occurs between them.

The order of names in the two lists seems to indicate that the Olympian list was copied from the Delphian list. It kept the same order of names but showed mistakes of careless copying. This inference seems to be supported by the fact that only Pausanias knew of an Olympian list while many writers, early and late, speak of the Delphian tripod and its serpent column.

We may in conclusion examine the order of names on the serpent column. Domaszewski (1920) claimed that, as the names of the Lacedaemonians, Athenians, and Corinthians occur first in the enumeration, they indicate the three smaller hegemonies or spheres of influence which combined to form the alliance known to modern historians as the Hellenic League. In this interpretation he is followed by Meritt, Wade-Gery, and McGregor 1939-1953.

The Spartan list comes first (thirteen names with three displaced); the Athenian list next (eleven names with two displaced); and the Corinthian list last (four names with one displaced). The separate lists may be illustrated as follows (Cf. Meritt, Wade-Gery and McGregor 1939-1953,3:96).

Sparta Athens Corinth
Tegea Plataea Potidaea
Sikyon (Thespiai?) Leukas
Aigina Keos Anaktorion
Megara Melos  
Epidaurus Tenos Ambrakia
Orchomenus Naxos  
Phlius Eretria  
Troezen Chalkis  
Hermionai Styra  
Mykenai Siphnos  

The suggestion that the cities were arranged in an order which indicated the leaders of their individual spheres of interest is, indeed, attractive. Meritt, Wade-Gery and McGregor (1939-1953) have used the serpent column to determine the charter members of the Delian confederacy.

Significantly none of the Ionian states, who fought at Mykale, are given a place on the column. The tripod and column was therefore a memorial for the battles of mainland Greece by which the invasion of Xerxes was repulsed. It is primarily a monument to the unity of the Greek states during that invasion.

26. Bronze statue of Zeus dedicated at Olympia..

Herodotus 9.81; Pausanias 5.23.1-2, 6.10.6, 10.14.5.

Hitzig and Blümner 1896,2: 431-432; Macan 1907,1: 764; How and Wells 1912,2: 320-324; Frazer 1913,3; 630-631; Wiesner 1939: 151-152.

Herodotus 9.81:

“. . . and taking out something for the god in Olympus, from which they dedicated the ten cubit bronze statue of Zeus . . .”( cf. nos. 25 and 27).

Pausanias 5.23.1-2:

“To one going alongside the exit to the Council house a statue of Zeus stands with no inscription and again, when one turns to the north there is also an image of Zeus. This is turned to the rising sun, and it is a dedication of the Greeks who fought at Plataea against Mardonius and the Medes. On the base are inscribed on the right the cities who took part in the deed, the Lacedaemonians first, after them the Athenians, third and fourth the Corinthians and the Sikyonians, fifth the Aigenetans, after the Aigenetans the Megarians and Epidaurians, the Tegeans of Arcadia and the Orchomenians, after them those who inhabit Phlius, Troezen, and Hermionae, the Tirynthians from the land of Argos, the Plataeans alone of the Boeotians, and the Mycenaeans of the Argives, then the islanders Keians and Melians, the Ambracians of the mainland of Thesprotis, the Tenians and the Lepreans, the Lepreans alone of Triphylia, and next the Naxians and Kythnians, the Styrans of Euboea, and after them the Eleans, Potidaeans, and Anaktorians, and finally the Chalkidians, who are on the Euripos.”

Pausanias 6.10.6 (referring to the chariot, at Olympia, of Cleosthenes of Epidamnus):

“This is the work of Agelas, and it stands behind the Zeus which had been dedicated by the Greeks for the battle of Plataea.”

Pausanias 10.14.5:

“The Greeks who fought against the King dedicated the bronze Zeus at Olympia . . . (cf. no. 29).

As part of the great panhellenic dedication after Plataea a colossal bronze statue of Zeus was dedicated at Olympia (Hdt. 9.81; see nos. 25 and 27). The statue itself is now lost but Dörpfeld has suggested a base among the remains at Olympia upon which it might have stood (Olympia Ergebnisse 1, 86, cited by Wiesner 1939: 152). It is not in the temple or connected with it but lies on the western side of the road leading to the temple, about fifteen feet from the wall of the Altis. Frazer (1913,3: 631), however, notes that Pausanias’ route through Olympia (assumed by Dörpfeld to be along the Altis) is too uncertain to permit such an identification.

Pausanias (5.23.1-2) says that the Greeks inscribed upon the pedestal of the statue the names of the cities which took part in the war. They had also done this with the serpent column (no, 25).

Although Pausanias states that the statue was dedicated by the Greeks who fought at Plataea against Mardonius, the list of cities contains names of some that did not take part in that battle (Ceos, Melos, Tenos, Naxos, Cythnos; cf. Hdt. 9.28,30). Like the serpent column its character was changed by the list of names, if originally it was meant to be a dedication for Plataea alone. See the discussion in no. 25 of the comparison between the Delphian and Olympian lists.

It is quite possible that the Olympian list was an imperfect copy of an official list which was reproduced more faithfully on the serpent column. On the other hand, Pausanias culd have copied the inscription from a book, rather than directly from the stone, and thereby obtained false information.

27. Bronze statue of Poseidon dedicated at the Isthmus.

Herodotus 9.81.

Rouse 1902: 127; Macan 1907,1: 764-765; How and Wells 1912,2: 324; cf. Fimmen 1916: 2263. See bibliography for nos. 25 and 26.

Herodotus 9.81:

… καὶ τῷ ἐν Ἰσθμῷ θεῷ, ἀπ᾿ ἧς ἑπτάπηχυς Ποσειδέων ἐξεγένετο … (cf. nos. 25 and 26).

Herodotus 9.81:

“. . . and for the god at the Isthmus, from which the seven cubit statue of Poseidon was made . . .” (cf. nos. 25 and 26).

The statue was dedicated from the booty of Plataea and one may naturally infer that it was a memorial for that battle like the Zeus at Olympia (no. 26) and the tripod for Apollo at Delphi (no. 25). Since a list of the cities that took part in the entire war was later inscribed on these two dedications, they are doubtless meant to commemoratre the entire war and not merely the battle of Plataea alone. The bronze statue of Poseidon must likewise be so considered, as it was a part of the original Panhellenic dedication. There is no evidence that it, too, bore a list of cities, although this is suggested by How and Wells (1912,2: 324). The statue is not extant.


[ back ] 1. A drawing of the uppermost preserved course by H. Bulle is given in SBAW (1904) 414; a picture and brief description of the base is in Bourguet 1914: 160-162.

[ back ] 2. Excavations revealed that the column rested on a rough stone plinth of the Byzantine period. Near the plinth were the remains of an ancient aqueduct of cylindrical pipes and of a small tank of tiles. The column itself was found to be hollow and within it was discovered a lead pipe with a Byzantine inscription. The column was doubtless placed in the center of the tank and used as a fountain at one stage of its history.

[ back ] 3. Discovered by the architect Fossati in 1848 during an excavation near the mosque of St. Sophia; see Frazer 1913,5: 302 and Devambez 1937: 9-12 and pl. 11.

[ back ] 4. For drawings of the preserved column see Roehl 1882: 70 and 1907; 101,16, the latter reproduced in Jeffery 1961: 104. No lettering is decipherable in Jones 1928: 43. For a drawing of the column with the heads of the serpents intact, copied from a Turkish miniature of the sixteenth century, see Frick 1858-1860, fig. 1 (after p. 555).

[ back ] 5. First published by Frick and Curtius 1856. See also Dethier and Mordtmann 1864 and Fabricius 1886. Other texts are derivative, although R. Meister1957 reads [T]o[n Medon] in line one.

[ back ] 6. The serpent column itself, however, which was famous in antiquity, may have been the source of Plutarch’s information. Yet Herodotus does imply, in his notice about the Tenians (8.82) that the column’s list was more or less official.

[ back ] 7. Besides those cited as significant testimonia, cf. Plutarch, De Herodoti malignitate 39,42; Pausanias 3.8.2; Nepos, Pausanias 1; Aristides 2,175 and 281 Dindorf; Schol. on Aristides 3,159 Dindorf and Suidas, s. v. Pausanias.

[ back ] 8. The Mykenaians, Lepreaians, and Eleans, which should be on the Spartan list, are mingled with the others; the Kythnians and the Siphnians, which should be with Athens, are mingled with the Corinthian allies.

[ back ] 9. It is even possible that the column may not be three snakes at all but only one snake with three heads. Herodotus (9.81) and Pausanias (10.13.9) in fact call it a three-headed snake.