Caryatides are marble statues of women that take the place of columns in some famous Greek temples, such as the Erechtheum.
Somebody’s good idea—to use a pretty woman to hold up a roof?
Somebody’s MEAN idea.
Vitruvius, the Roman architect, explains the origin:
“Caryae, a state in Peloponnesus, sided with the Persian armies against Greece; later the Greeks, having gloriously won their freedom by victory in the war, made common cause and declared war against the people of Caryae. They took the town, killed the men, abandoned the State to desolation, and carried off their wives into slavery, without permitting them, however, to lay aside the long robes and other marks of their rank as married women, so that they might be obliged not only to march in the triumph but to appear forever after as a type of slavery, burdened with the weight of their shame and so making atonement for their State. Hence the architects of the time designed for public buildings statues of these women, placed so as to carry a load, in order that the sin and punishment of Caryae might be known and handed down even to posterity.” Vitruvius, Book I, 5
Yet scholars say the device is older than those Persian wars. These may be statues of priestesses of the temple. Here is the one Lord Elgin brought to England two hundred years ago and so saved from further deterioration.