The Elgin Marbles, carved under the direction of the great fifth-century B.C. master Phidias, consist of three groups of sculptures that occupied designated positions on the Parthenon, the temple to Athena that is the preeminent achievement of Athens’s Acropolis (see plan below):

Pediment statuary. Originally, 20 life-size statues, carved completely in the round, adorned the gables at each end of the Parthenon. Lord Elgin removed 18 of them, 11 from the east pediment depicting the Birth of Athena and 7 from the west pediment showing the Battle of Athena and Poseidon for the Domination of Attica.

Metopes. Phidias’s sculptors placed pictorial plaques, called metopes (met-«-peµz), below the Parthenon’s pediments—15 of them are now in the British Museum. Carved in high relief, the metopes depict scenes from the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, symbolizing the struggle between civilization and barbarism.

Frieze. A continuous narrative frieze, carved in low relief, ran along the top of the main chamber of the temple. The frieze shows the Panathenaic Procession, a parade held every four years in honor of Athena, Athens’s patron goddess.a Of the frieze’s original length of 524 feet, almost half (247 feet) was removed by Elgin and placed in the British Museum.

Elgin also removed a caryatid—one of six columns in the form of women (see photo of Erechtheum) supporting the South Porch of the Erechtheum, the Parthenon’s Ionic neighbor on the Acropolis.