A large marble relief depicting a prancing horse believed to have been part of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Italy, has been recovered from the seabed.
The relief, discovered in the seabed off the coast of San Leone, near the mouth of the Akragas River, was discovered in late 2022 but has only just been recovered by a diving team.
Divers from the carabinieri’s Diving unit along with representatives from the Superintendency of the Sea, the Carabinieri’s cultural heritage protection unit and a volunteer organization called Underwater group of BCsicilia, recovered the temple decoration.
Coated in concretions, the relief, believed to be made of Proconnesian marble, measures two meters and is 35cm thick. It was found around 300 meters from the coast at a depth of nine meters.
Although already documented as an underwater archaeological artifact, the marble block had not been closely studied until October 2022, when, under the direction of engineer Gaetano Lino, divers photographed the object extensively and created a highly detailed 3D photogrammetry composite image. The photographs captured the significance of the piece, revealing the horses.
The Superintendency of the Sea ordered that the piece be recovered so the layers of concretions could be cleaned off and the relief’s details revealed. It took three attempts to recover, with turbulence in the sea ruining the first two attempts.
Temple of Olympian Zeus Just one of Several Ancient Greek Temples in Italy
The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily – one of the areas of southern Italy known as Magna Graecia, that were extensively populated by Greek settlers from around the 8th century BC onwards – was the largest Doric temple ever constructed. However it was never completed and now lies in ruins.
It is located in the Valle dei Templi with several other major Greek temples.
The history of the temple is not entirely known, though some historians believe it was likely built to commemorate the Battle of Himera (480 BC), during which the Greek cities of Akragas (Agrigento) and Syracuse, Magna Graecia, defeated the carthainians under Hamilcar.
According to the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, the structure was built using Carthaginian slave labor; made up of defeated soldiers after the battle. The ancient Greek historian Polybius also remarks on the temple briefly in a 2nd-century BC description of Akragas, stating that “other temples and porticoes which adorn the city are of great magnificence, the temple of Olympian Zeus unfinished but second it seems to none in Greece in design and dimensions.”
Diodorus reported that the temple remained unfinished due to the Carthaginian conquest of the city in 406 BC, with the siege of Akragas. The temple’s roof was already missing at this time.