Judith M. Barringer’s lecture gives an overview of her work, which focuses on the sculptural monuments at Olympia as part of a changing, dynamic landscape. She investigates patrons’ intentions and how activities (religious, athletic, political) at Olympia, together with existing monuments, influenced viewer perception and the siting of later monuments.
Olympia was one of the most important sites in the ancient world. While it was famed for its prestigious and important Panhellenic athletic games, Olympia also was a chief sanctuary in antiquity, a sacred space where politics and prestige were played out. To hold political and military power in the ancient world meant making a mark at Olympia. Cities and rulers gravitated to the site and used the placement of their monuments and imagery to vie with, and outdo, one another again and again. Cities victorious in battle erected lavish monuments to trumpet their successes. The Olympic games were not purely sport, but were part of a religious ritual honoring Zeus. An Olympic athletic victory was the most prestigious athletic achievement one could attain: successful Olympic victors were entitled to erect statues of themselves at the site. And this victory on the racing track prepared young men for triumph on the battlefield. These various patrons, as well as the Olympic officials, recruited monuments—buildings and sculpture—to foster and propagate ideas about religion and politics, about themselves, their accomplishments, and Olympia itself to the thousands of visitors to the site.