The Erechtheum housed the tomb of Erechtheus, the statue of Athena Polias and the cult of Poseidon. Erechtheus was an early king of Athens and was regarded, along with Cecrops, another early king, as the original ancestor1 of all Athenians.2 The Erechtheum also housed the cults of Athena Polias ('Athena, Guardian of the City') and Poseidon. Both Cecrops, who was thought of as half-man and half-snake, and Erectheus were autochthonous3 figures. The Athenians belief in their descent from these autchthonous figures confirmed their ownership of and close attachment to, their homeland. Both Erechtheus and Cecrops were eponymous tribal heroes.
Note the olive tree in the center. This is the spot where, according to the myth, Athena caused an olive tree to grow when she was contesting Poseidon for the honor of being the patron divinity of Athens. Poseidon created a salt-water spring on the Acropolis, but Athena's olive tree won over the judges and she was victorious. Sculpture in the west pediment of the Parthenon depicted this contest.
1. Logically, of course,
there can be only one original ancestor, but myths are notoriously inconsistent
and contradictory. Return to text.
2. In poetry the Athenians are often called either Cecropidai (descendants of Cecrops) or Erechtheidai (descendants of Erechtheus. Return to text.
3. "Born from the earth," with no human parents. Return to text.