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Roman Architecture - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )


A. Plans.—Plans display simplicity, beauty, and perfection of proportions which give dignity and grandeur in spite of smallness of scale. Unity and symmetry resulted from the self-contained character of the temples, while varied and unsymmetrical grouping occurs only- in certain buildings like the Erechtheion (pp. 76, 98 F). The Greek ideal of life did not tend towards the erection of utilitarian buildings.

The post and beam or trabeated form of construction made for simplicity and did not lend itself to such variety and boldness of plan as did the arcuated Roman style. There is no mingling of constructive principles in Greek buildings, and the structural limitations of the trabeated style prevented the novel developments to which the arcuated style gave rise.

The true arch with voussoirs was not used, but the Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae, is roofed by a vault with the stones laid horizontal, each stone overlapping the one below, till the crown is reached (p. 70 A). This type of roofing obviously limited the size and form of the building.

Greek temples were usually orientated, so that the rising sun might light up the statue (p. 87 G).

B. Walls.—The employment of marble influenced the style ; for large blocks were rubbed down by slaves after being fixed in position and thus gave the smoothest surface finish. Coarse stone was frequently covered with polished marble stucco to produce the same effect, as at Paestum. The joints between the marble blocks fitted so exactly as to be almost invisible. Mortar was unnecessary because the blocks were so truly laid that the stability of walls depended solely on the laws of gravity. Metal cramps, however, sometimes connected the blocks longitudinally.

The Anta was employed to emphasise and strengthen the angles of naos walls (pp. 97 c, 104 A).

c. Openings.—Colonnades, by providing variety in the play of light and shade on the walls behind, rendered openings in walls of minor importance in the design of the exterior, and indeed colonnades are the out-standing features of Greek Architecture (p. 92 A).

Doorways were square-headed and often crowned with a cornice sup-ported by consoles as in the fine north doorway of the Erechtheion, Athens (p. 115 D).

Windows, except on rare occasions (p. 74), were not used in temples, as light was obtained from doorways, hypaethral or clear-story openings, and perhaps also through trans-parent alabaster roof slabs (p. 77).

D. Roofs.—Extreme care was bestowed upon the construction of the highly finished sloping roofs of temples. These were of timber framing (p. 79 E) covered with large slabs of marble, finished at the eaves with carved antefixae (pp. 79 H, 86 G). The acroteria or blocks of marble at the apex and lower angles of the pediment, also carved with statuary or ornaments, were characteristic features (pp. 86 A, B, c, 87 D).

Ceilings of peristyles were coffered in square or rectangular panels of carved marble, as in the Theseion (p. 85 H, J), the Parthenon (p. 8 E, F), and Temple of Apollo Epicurius (p. 91 B, c). Coffered timber ceilings were probably employed over the naos.

E. Columns.—The Orders were necessary features of the trabeated system of construction and the column with the beam or entablature is the essence of Greek architecture (p. 116). Columns were usually constructed in " drums " and the fluting was carried out after the shafts were in position.

Orders were never superimposed, except in interiors of temples (pp. 81 B, 82 A, B, 86 E, r, 87 E, F). They stood on stepped stylobates, and the only instance of pedestals supporting columns appears to have been in the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus (p. 103). There were only three Orders and their proportions seem to have been determined experimentally.

The Tuscan Order, an even simpler form than the Doric, was not used by the Greeks.

The Doric Order (pp. 8o, 116 A), sturdy and dignified, was their national Order and used in the most important buildings, which were temples. It was without a base but on a stylobate, and the capital has a plain, square abacus, beneath which is the echinus, which has a varying outline (p. 8o). Columns are usually fluted, and from being extremely sturdy became more slender in their proportions. The vertical plane of the architrave projects in advance of the face of the column, and the triglyphs are over the central axes of the columns except at the angles, where the triglyph is at the extremity of the frieze (p. 88).

The channels in triglyphs are rounded at the top.

The mutules, over triglyphs and metopes, slope downwards with the soffit and project beneath it.

The Ionic Order (pp. 93, 116 c) was used with great refinement of line by the Greeks. The distinctive capital has the scrolls showing on two sides only, although angle volutes are found at Basse (p. 93 c).

The Corinthian Order (pp. 105, 116 E) was little used by the Greeks and was introduced late in the Hellenic period, although the earliest known example in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bass, dates from B.C. 430. The Order appears to have been used principally in small buildings, such as the Monument of Lysicrates and the Tower of the Winds, Athens (pp. 105 J, 1o6). The Olympieion, Athens, may be considered a Roman building or rather a Greek design mainly carried out by Roman craftsmen (p. 111). The acanthus leaves surrounding the " bell " of the capital were of the prickly acanthus type (Acanthus spinosus) having pointed leaves of V-shaped section (p. 105 n). Shafts of columns were fluted, as described at the commencement of this section.

The Composite Order was unknown to the Greeks, but a somewhat similar treatment is seen in the carved anthemion ornament on the necking of the capitals in the Erechtheion.

F. Mouldings (pp. 119, 120).-The Greeks relied for effect on the graceful contour of their mouldings, which approach conic sections in profile and are often decorated with carving of so delicate a character as not to obscure but enhance the grace of the outlines. Executed in fine marble, mouldings were often undercut so as to produce a fretted effect.

Greek dentils are far apart and occupy the whole depth of the moulding.

Greek consoles were used only as vertical brackets to door cornices, as in the Erechtheion (p. 115 E).

G. Ornament (pp. 123, 124, 125).-The sculpture of the Greeks has never been equalled, whether executed in isolated groups of statuary or within the boundaries of an architectural framing, as in the pediments, me-topes, and friezes of the Parthenon. It is generally held that exteriors of temples were coloured on a care-fully prepared fine cement or marble surface, and this must have added greatly to the general effect. Polygnotus and other great artists were employed for decorative painting upon temples and other buildings, and part of the Propylna was known as the Painted Loggia. The early frescoes were probably in the style of the vase paintings of that period, while the later, if judged from the provincial imitations at Pompeii, must have been grand and decorative. See " Comparative Analysis " under Greek Architecture (p. 127).

The Anthemion or Honeysuckle was the characteristic motif of Greek surface ornament and also of cyma recta mouldings (pp. 124 D, 125 A).

The Greeks, consciously or unconsciously, practised extreme simplicity in art, and the fine-grained marble that they worked encouraged the tendency to leave purity of outline to speak for itself. Thus, whether on the grand scale of a temple building like the Parthenon or in the single human figure as the Hermes of Olympia, they were content with beauty unadorned by distracting ornament.

The perfection of Greek art lies in its simplicity. The Greeks were artists by nature, and Greek art was the outward expresson of the national love of beauty.


A. Plans.—Plans convey an impression of vastness and magnificence, and are characteristic of a powerful and energetic race. The Romans were pre-eminently great constructors, and by the invention of concrete were able to erect public buildings of enormous size, like the thermae and basilicas (pp. 157 B, E, 158 n), besides many types of utilitarian structures, such as aqueducts and bridges required by the expanding civilisation of the Roman Empire (pp. 143 B, E, H, 153 B).

The arch, vault, and dome were the keynotes to the system of construction. The arch made it possible to span wide openings ; vaults and domes could be thrown over large and complicated plans in which square and semicircular recesses (p. 183) give boldness and variety, while the combination of trabeated and arcuated styles permits of novel types of plans.

The true arch with wedge-shaped blocks was continued from Etruscan times. Intersecting vaults concentrated the weight of the super-structure on piers, instead of distributing it along a continuous wall as in the Temple of Diana, Nimes (a step towards Gothic methods of construction).

Roman temples, regardless of orientation, faced the adjacent forum so as to be easy of access.

B. Walls.—The Romans revolutionised wall construction by the use of concrete. This novel and durable building material was not special to any country, as it was made up of fragments of hard stone, or quarry debris mixed with lime, found in all parts of the Roman Empire. This concrete was faced externally with various materials, such as stone, brick, and stucco, and was decorated internally with beautiful marble, alabaster, and porphyry attached to the walls by metal cramps (p. 135). These walls were composite in character and thus differed essentially from those of the Greeks. The various types of walling are described elsewhere (p. 134).

The Pilaster, which corresponded to the Anta, was used decoratively on walls instead of half-columns (pp. 43 F, 154 A).

c. Openings. Colonnades and the new system of arcades were both in use internally and externally, and the latter occur in storeys one above the other as in the Colosseum (pp. 165 A, 166 A). Thus colonnades were largely superseded by arches and column-faced piers.

Doorways were both square and semicircular-headed and became decorative features of importance in the external design of large public buildings, as in the Pantheon, Rome (p. 115 A).

Windows, generally semicircular-headed, were frequently divided vertically by two mullions ; but sometimes they were segmental, a shape produced after the removal of the wooden centering, by filling in the side space vertically above the springing line (p. 135 F).

D. Roofs.—Vaults and domes (pp. 135, 302 A, B, 303 A) constituted the chief architectural change, and were often coffered, as in the thermae and the Pantheon (p. 153 A). Timber framing also appears to have been employed for temples, and according to Horace there were splendid wooden coffered ceilings in the larger houses. Roof coverings were of terra-cotta, as amongst the Etruscans, of marble or of bronze as in the Pantheon. Vitruvius says flat roofs were used, as in the thermae.

Ceilings of peristyles were coffered with geometric patterns of octagons and squares in combination, as in the temples at Baalbek, Syria (p. 151 c).

Apses of temples and basilicas were covered with coffered semi-domes, as in the Temple of Venus and Rome (p. 148 E).

E. Columns.—The Orders (p. 116) were often used in conjunction with the pier and arch and then lost their structural importance and became chiefly decorative, as in the Colosseum and Triumphal Arches. Columns were usually unfluted monoliths, fluting being unsuitable to granite and veined marble.

Orders were often superimposed, as in the Colosseum (p. 162 A). The Romans introduced pedestals on which they placed the column to secure greater height. Canons of proportions, as formulated by Vitruvius, were gradually standardised for all the Orders, which the Romans increased to five by adding the Tuscan and Composite.

The Tuscan Order (p. 133) has an unfluted shaft with base and simple capital and entablature (p. 757 B).

The Doric Order (p. 116 13), little used by the Romans, was perhaps too severely simple for the style of buildings they required. The Temple of Hercules, Cora, is the only Roman temple in this style, but engaged Doric columns occur in the Theatre of Marcellus. The Romans added a base, varied the abacus and echinus, and added a dentil course to the cornice. The columns were less sturdy and flutes were sometimes omitted. The architrave does not project beyond the face of the column, but is in the same plane with it, and the triglyphs in the frieze were over the central axes of the columns, even at the angles.

The channels in triglyphs are rectangular at the top.

The mutules, usually over the triglyph only, are but slightly inclined, and do not project below the soffit.

The Ionic Order (p. 116 n) of the Romans was less refined. Some late examples, such as those at Pompeii and the Temple of Saturn, have angle volutes, thus showing the scroll on all four sides (p. 143 G, J).

The Corinthian Order (p. 116 F) was the favourite of the Romans, and was used in the largest temples, as those of Castor and Pollux (p. 147) and Vespasian, Rome. The capital is very ornate and the leaves surrounding the " bell" are often naturalistic and derived from the leaves of the Acanthus mollis, which are blunt-ended and flat in section (p. 105 E), or from the olive leaf, as in the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The entablature is rich in carved ornament ; the architrave has many decorated mouldings ; the frieze is frequently carved with acanthus scroll or figure ornaments, while the cornice has carved mouldings, surmounted by modillions (consoles, brackets, or corbels) which give an apparent support to the corona and have sculptured coffers between them. Shafts of columns were fluted or plain.

The Composite Order (pp. 133, 178 G, 281 G), invented by the Romans, was used. in Triumphal Arches, and the entablature follows the Corinthian Order.

F. Mouldings (pp. 119, 120).—The Romans on the contrary relied for effect on the abundant carving on their mouldings rather than on the con-tours, which are usually parts of circles in profile. Ostentation re-places refinement, and when every moulding is covered with carving a wealth of surface decoration is produced though often coarse in workmanship, which is sometimes due to the stone employed.

Roman dentils are close together, and finished with a fillet below.

Roman consoles were used also horizontally in cornices (p. 147 c) and vertically as keystones (p. 178 A).

G. Ornament (pp. 193, 194, 197).-The Romans recognised the pre-eminence of the Greeks in sculpture or painting, and so Greek artists were employed and Greek sculpture was prized and copied. In later times both vaults and floors were covered with mosaic, often very coarse in treatment. In the marble wall-facings and floors good effects were produced, as the Romans were connoisseurs in the use of marble. The ox-heads connected by garlands, so frequently carved in Roman friezes, originated in the actual skulls and garlands hung on the altars after the beasts themselves had been slain. A fine marble cement was frequently used as a covering to walls and stone columns, to form a ground on which paintings could be executed, as at Pompeii. The frescoes on the walls of the Roman Thermae largely influenced the fresco decorations of the Renaissance period (p. 194 B).

The Acanthus scroll, boldly carved with continuous stem and spirals, is specially characteristic of Roman ornament and friezes (p. 193 M),

The Romans never seem to have been satisfied till they had loaded their monumental buildings with every possible ornamental addition. Here too again the influence of material is apparent ; for concrete demanded a disguise, and coarse limestone did not permit of delicate purity of line and thus called for extraneous ornament, so the Romans completed the magnificence of their monuments by a wealth of decoration.

The characteristic of Roman art lies in its forcefulness. The Romans were rulers by nature, and Roman art was the outward expression of the national love of power.

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