The Elgin marbles are a collection of statues, carved panels and sections from a once-continuous frieze which originally decorated the Parthenon, the sacred temple built entirely of white Pentelic marble between 447 and 432 bc, a Golden Age of peace and plenty.
Inside was a 13.5 metre statue of the goddess Athena, protector of Athens, and a treasure chamber filled with offerings to the goddess and the city's gold. It was the most important of the temples on the Acropolis. The foremost craftsmen of the age decorated it under the guidance of Phidias, regarded as the greatest artist of the ancient world.
The temple was the setting for rituals and games on the goddess's birthday on August 15. Most important of these was the Panathanaic Procession bringing gifts and a new robe to adorn Athena's statue. This ceremony is thought to be the subject of the frieze. The carved panels (metopes) depict scenes of struggle between men, gods, centaurs and giants, echoing battles recently won against the Persians.
Viewed from a distance, the lines of the Parthenon appear straight because of subtle curvatures in its base and the tapering of its columns. The design may have reminded Athenians of the shape of ships or looms - symbols respectively of the city's power and its domestic life.