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Ancient Greek Temples Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The ancient Greeks constructed massive temples to worship their gods and practice their religion. These temples could have other uses, however, including storing treasure. Learn about the different types and functions of Greek temples in this lesson.

God in Charge

How many times in your life has one of your parents told you that you have to do something you don't want to do, or else you might be punished? It happens to everyone, including adults, and not many people are happy about it. In ancient times, gods were seen as pretty similar to parents telling you what to do: they each wanted something, and if you didn't give it to them, you risked them becoming upset and destroying your home or sinking your ship or making you sick. So the ancient Greeks built huge temples to honor and worship these gods, giving them great gifts and treasures to keep them happy.

The most famous Greek temple, the Parthenon of Athens
Parthenon photo

Come Out and Pray

Most of today's religions are based on group worship, visiting a holy building like a church with friends and family. Greek temples were different: the temple was thought to be the home of a god or goddess who watched over the city. These gods controlled things like the weather, the sea, or the health of the people, and keeping them happy was the biggest part of Greek religion. In fact, anyone who blasphemed, or spoke against a god or goddess, could be put to death out of fear that they would bring harm to a city. Since a god could become angry for just about any reason, it was in everyone's interest to keep them happy with offerings and prayers.

Old photo of the ruins of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia
Temple of Zeus

Every temple would have a statue of their god or goddess. Some were small, while others were huge: the statue of Zeus at his temple in Olympia is thought to have been over 40 feet tall and made of gold, ivory, and gems. It's considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but sadly was destroyed about 1,500 years ago.

Layout

Greek temples, like many Greek buildings, were not enclosed by walls, but rather they were supported by columns, huge pillars of stone. This made a sort of curtain around the inner sacred space. Since these columns were particularly strong, they could support very high, heavy ceilings, so Greek temples grew larger and larger. What's more, the roof of a temple would usually be decorated with a type of horizontal sculpture called a frieze, showing a picture of gods, humans, heroes, and creatures from myth like titans or giants.

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