The Temple of Athena Nike is the smallest structure on the Athenian Acropolis, but holds no less importance than its neighboring shrines. Built to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory, the site upon which the temple was constructed has ceremonial roots that date back to the Bronze Age. When the newer, Classical temple was built in the fifth century B.C., it no doubt did double duty: it stood as a shrine to Athens’ patron goddess, and also acted as a symbol of Athens’ military and political strength.
The location of the Temple of Athena Nike is on the southwest corner of the Acropolis, adjacent to the Propylaia. The position of the temple, on a rocky projection of the outcropping, was particularly vulnerable to attack. The Mycenaeans constructed a wall there to supplement the natural citadel of the Acropolis, and began worshipping there.
ewel in the crowning reconstruction of the Athenian Acropolis initiated by Perikles and his circle in the middle of the 5th century. While the dates and phases of construction within the sanctuary of Athena Nike remain controversial, it is almost certain that her cult was fully active by: a decree confirming the salary of the priestess of Athena Nike was passed in this year, and the remaining epigraphical and physical evidence strongly suggests that the final phase of the temple's construction was begun at this time. In its finished state, the Nike temple's sculptural program occupied one of the most prominent architectural positions on the Acropolis. Because of its location, atop the Mycenaean bastion which overlooked the West Slope's great ramp, the Nike temple's parapet, friezes, pediments, and akroteria were in an ideal position both to capture the attention of all who entered Athena's great sanctuary and to project a definite, readable message to ward the population of the surrounding city.
There is archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age that suggests this spot was highly important to the worship of Nike, or victory, deities. By the sixth century B.C., also known as the Archaic period, a cult of Athena Nike was established and a small, earlier temple was built on the site. When the Persians sacked Athens and destroyed the Acropolis in 480 B.C., the temple to Athena Nike was also left in ruins.
The idea of the construction in the Acropolis of Athens, arose in 449 B.C., after the peace with the Persian ones. Nevertheless, Perikles objected to the raising of the same one and the works were not begun up to 421 B.C., begun already the War of the Peloponnese (431-404 B.C.)
The Temple of Athena Nike is a tetrastyle, because it has got four column, Ionic structure with a colonnaded portico at both front and rear facades, amphiprostyle, designed by the architect Kallikrates. This building was erected on top of the remains of an earlier sixth century temple to Athena, demolished by the Persians in 480 B.C. The total height from the stylobate to the acme of the pediment while the temple remained intact was a modest 23 feet. The ratio of height to diameter of the columns is 7:1, the slender proportions creating an elegance and refinement not encountered in the normal 9:1 or 10:1 of Ionic buildings. Constructed from white pentelic marble, it was built in stages as war-starved funding allowed.
A cult statue of Athena Nike stood inside the small 5 m x 5 m naos. The account by ancient writer Pausanias describes the big statue as made of wood, holding a helmet in her left hand, and a pomegranate (symbol of fertility) in the right. Nike was originally the "winged victory" goddess. The Athena Nike statue's absence of wings led Athenians in later centuries to call it Nike Apteros (wing-less victory), and the story arose that the statue was deprived of wings so that it could never leave the city.
The friezes of the building's entablature were decorated on all sides with relief sculpture in the idealized classical style of the 5th century B.C. The north frieze depicted a battle between Greeks entailing cavalry. The south freize showed the decisive victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The east frieze showed an assembly of the gods Athena, Zeus and Poseidon, rendering Athenian religious beliefs and reverence for the gods bound up in the social and political climate of 5th Century Athens.
Some time after the temple was completed, around 410 B.C a parapet was added around it to prevent people from falling from the steep bastion. The outside of the parapet was adorned by exquisitely carved relief sculptures showing Nike in a variety of activities, the best-known Olympian.
After three separate restorations the small Temple of Athena Nike/Apteros still stands on the Acropolis, together with the Erechtheum and the Parthenon, a survivor of antiquity. The main structure, stylobate and columns are largely intact, minus the roof and most of the typanae. Fragments of the sculpted frieze are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum; copies of these are fixed in their place on the temple.