Introduction to architectural sculpture
The decoration of public buildings with sculpture was not uncommon in the ancient world, but in Greece, where it is almost confined to sacred and few other public buildings, it has a special significance, not least for its subject matter. Its placing is determined by the main orders of architecture.
On smaller buildings, such as the Archaic Treasuries at Olympia and Delphi, the sculpture can be quite lavish but still determined by the architectural orders. From the 4th century on the larger altars and individual votive monuments may be decorated with appropriate friezes.
Generally all such decoration is high on the building, and with time what seems peculiar to one order - such as the Ionic frieze - may also be incorporated in a Doric building (as in the Parthenon above). Occasionally the oriental practice of using a human figure as a column appears ('Caryatids').
Where the subject matter is narrative it is generally chosen to demonstrate the god of the temple, possibly in action or simply epiphany, or there is a myth scene which is related to the cult or city. Sometimes the relevance is very hard for us to determine.
The following account, roughly chronological, draws attention to the principal complexes and their subject matter. The style of the sculptures corresponds with that of free-standing works but is often the best evidence we have for any period, and avoids the problems of 'original' and 'copy' as well as being more easily datable.