Height: 1.01 m
Length: 1.395 m
Width: 0.595 m
Marble from Penteli
On block VIII a bearded rider tries to restrain his spirited horse by pulling decisively the reins which were once rendered in bronze. In order to keep his balance, the horseman braces his right foot firmly against a rock whereas the resistance of the horse is shown by its swelling veins. The horseman wears an exomis, and above it a chlamys that flaps out behind him in deep folds. The cap on his head is of fox skin (alopeke), while on his feet he wears boots, their fold-over tops also originally made of added bronze. His face is a copy of the original which was lost between 1802 and 1870.
This block stands out because of its inventive composition and skillful execution which indicate a creator of exceptionally high standards, perhaps Pheidias himself. The rider is usually identified with one of the two Hipparchoi, the commanders of the Athenian cavalry. Others say he may be a Thracian ally of the Athenians, since his attire is characteristically Thracian, as is the case with the bearded horseman on block IV (Ακρ. 20018). Those who attribute a mythological interpretation to the frieze consider the horseman to be the mythical king of Athens, Theseus, who united the scattered settlements of Attica and founded the celebration of the Panathenaia.
The frieze on the west side of the Parthenon shows the riders preparing to take part in the procession of the Athenian people during the Panathenaic festival, in honour of the protectress of the city, Athena. The procession's destination was the Temple of Athena Polias on the Acropolis. Its purpose was the transportation of the Panathenaic peplos destined to adorn the age-old xoanon of the goddess and the offer of a grand sacrifice of animals at the Great Altar outside of the temple.
The horsemen on the west frieze are in the Kerameikos, where the procession started. Some converse, some others fasten their sandals, some of them bridle their horses or try to soothe them, while a few horsemen are already galloping in loose formation.
The west frieze is preserved almost intact as the bombardment of the Parthenon by the Venetians under the command of the general Francesco Morosini in 1687 did not affect this side of the temple. Its total length is 21.18 m and is composed of sixteen blocks. Fourteen of them are displayed in the Acropolis Museum after they were removed from the Parthenon in 1993 and kept in the old Acropolis Museum for fifteen years. Blocks I and II are in the British Museum in London, where they ended up after they were forcibly removed by Thomas Bruce, lord of Elgin, between 1801 and 1804, when Greece was still under Ottoman occupation.
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