McArver Ancient History Greek Architecture glossary  



Abacus: a slab of stone at the top of a classical capital, just under the architrave. 

Acroterion (Akroteria): the figures or ornaments at the lower angles or apex of a pediment. Carvings that were placed where the roof and the cornice meet and at the top of the pediment. They were often statues or faces of mythological creatures. 

Ambulatory: continuous aisle in a circular building or a covered walkway 

Antefixa: an upright ornament along the eaves of a tiled roof to conceal joints between the rows of tiles. An ornament (usually sculptured to resemble a lotus flower or an acanthus leaf) which usually covered the ends of each row of jointed tiles which composed the roof a Greek temple 

Anta (Antae): the front end of a wall of a Greek temple, thickened to produce a pilaster-like member (corner post) of slight projection terminating the end of the lateral walls of a cella and serving as a respond to a column. In the latter case the columns are said to be in antis. 

Apse: semicircular area; a semicircular or polygonal niche, usually domed projection of a building, especially the altar or east end of a church. 

Arch: curved structure used to span an opening 

Architrave: a horizontal lintel in stone or beam of timber carried from the top of one column or pier to another; the lowest member of an entablature. It rests directly on top of the columns. 

Ashlar masonry: regular masonry of squared stone, with horizontal courses and approximately vertical joints. 

Atlas: column in the shape of a man. Atlantis: male figures used as columns. 

Capital (column): the top of a column, pillar, pier of pilaster. The three orders as derived from the Greeks are: the Doric, a flat slab; the Ionic, shaped like a cushion; the Corinthian, decorated with stylized acanthus leaves 

Caryatid: a sculptured female figure used as an architectural support such as a column. 

Cella (naos): interior of a Greek temple which housed the image of the god; also referred to as the naos. The principal enclosed room of a temple . 

Coffered ceiling (coffer): a decorative sunken panel: a ceiling with decorative sunken panels. A recessed, geometrically shaped panel in a ceiling or a ceiling decorated with these panels. 

Colonnade: a row of columns, each set equidistant apart. A series of regularly spaced columns supporting a lintel or entablature. 

Corinthian column: differs from the Ionic only in the acanthus capital. The Corinthian capital is ornate and looks somewhat like leave. 

Cornice: upper part of an entablature which extends beyond the frieze. The roof overhang above the frieze. The projecting framing members of a classical pediment including the horizontal one beneath and the two sloping or “raking” ones above. 

Course (of a wall): a level layer of brick or stone making up part of a wall 

Cripidoma: the steps forming the base of a columned Greek temple 

Cyclopean masonry: a primitive style of masonry characterized by the use of massive unhewn stones of irregular shape and size whose interstices are filled with rubble 

Decastyle: a portico of 10 columns 

Dentils: tooth-like blocks in Ionic and Corinthian cornices 

Diazoma: term for a horizontal passage, which separates the several ranges of seats in the theater or stadium 

Dipteral: a Greek temple having a double range of columns on each of its sides 

Distyle in antis: two columns between the antae 

Dodecastyle: temple front with 12 columns 

Doric column: placed directly on the stylobate with no base; tapered upwards like tree trunks, with entasis, broad and concave flutes meet each other at a sharp angle. Capitals consists of two parts: a round cushion with a curved profile (echinus) supporting a square abacus upon which the frieze rests. 

Dromos: a long, uncovered narrow passage leading to an underground tholos or chamber tomb 
Echinus: in the Doric or Tuscan order, the round, cushion-like element between the top of the shaft and the abacus. 

Engaged column: a semi-detached column exactly or slightly more than semicircular in plan. 

Entablature: a horizontal superstructure supported by columns and consisting of architrave, frieze and cornice. Upper portion of a building. In the classical sense, the entire structure above the columns. 

Entasis: convex curve or swelling along the outline of a column shaft, designed to counteract the optical illusion which gives a column shaft bounded by straight lines the appearance of curving inwards. The swelling of a column that the architect employs to create the optical illusion of a straight column. 

Exedra: semicircular recess or alcove with a raised seat 

Flute (fluting): decorative grooves in a column. Flute: one of the long parallel grooves, usually with rounded inner surfaces, incised on the shaft of a column as a decorative motif. 

Frieze: a long horizontal panel encircling the roof of a structure; the second horizontal line where the ends of the beams running the length of the building are supported. Often sculptured in low relief but it might be plain. Doric frieze: square metopes, sometimes bearing relief sculpture, alternate with grooved triglyps, and the projecting cornice whose two members, horizontal and sloping, frame the pediments at the facades. Ionic frieze: continuous frieze. 

Guttae: small conical drops or cones or pegs (peglike projections) above the frieze; one group of small drop-like ornaments under the triglyphs and mutules of the Doric entablature 

Hexastyle: six columns in front and rear of a Greek building 

Intercolumniation: the distance between the columns of a colonnade, defined in terms of the lower diameter of the columns. 

Ionic columns: volute capitals, elaborately molded base; slimmer shafts than Doric; deeper fluting than Doric 

Lintel: the horizontal beam covering a door or window opening or spanning the interval between two columns or piers. 

Megaron: rectangular royal audience hall in Mycenaean architecture. 
Meiosis: slightly smaller diameter at the upper part of a column 

Metopes: square spaces between the triglyphs of a Doric frieze; the plain opening between the roof joists; often adorned with finely sculptured figures; an opening or hole in a frieze for a beam or any square areas whether plain or decorated in a Doric frieze. 

Mutules: projecting inclined blocks in Doric cornices, derived from ends of wooden beams 

Naos: term given to the cella of a Greek temple; chamber where the image of the god stood. 

Octastyle: eight columns in front or rear of a Greek temple 

Opisthodomos (treasury): special chamber where the offerings of the worshipers were in place. False porch at the rear of the cella often included for the sake of symmetry. 

Order (Architectural): “An architectural system based on the column and its entablature, in which the form of the elements themselves (capital, shaft, base, etc.) and their relationships to each other are specifically defined. The five classical orders are the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.” 

Orthostate course: the bottom course of masonry of a Greek building, which was usually substantially larger than the courses resting above it 

Parapet: a low, protective wall or railing along the edge of a roof, balcony or similar structure 

Pediment: triangular space above both ends of a Greek temple; a low-pitched gable. The triangular area created by the pitch of the roof and cornice. “In classical architecture, a low gable, typically triangular, framed by a horizontal cornice below and two raking cornices above; frequently filled with relief sculpture.” 

Pentastyle: five columns in front and rear 

Peribolos: a precinct, but often archaeologically the circuit around it such as a peribolos wall (temenos) 

Peripteral: building surrounded by a single row of columns (peri--around; pteron – wing); a continuous veranda with an outer row of columns all round the building 
Peristyle: term given to a) a covered colonnade which surrounds a building; 2) to an inner court lined with a colonnade. 

Pilaster: a column which does not stand free of the wall and hence is decorative rather than functional. “A flat, vertical element projecting from a wall surface, and normally having a base, shaft, and capital.” It usually has a decorative rather than structural function. 

Polygonal masonry: blocks assembled with joints on several sides 

Portal: a doorway, entrance, or gate, especially one that is large and imposing – monumental. 

Portico: a porch or entrance into a building; a passage with its roof supported on one side by columns and open to the air 

Post and lintel: two posts hold up a beam or lintel. “A basic system of construction in which two or more uprights, the “posts” support a horizontal member, the “lintel.” The lintel may be the topmost element, or support a wall or roof.” 

Pronaos: porch in front of the naos or cella. An open vestibule in front of the cella. 

Propylon (propylaea): entrance gate to a temenos; in plural form when there is more than one door. A monumental gateway 

Pylon: gate 

Raking cornice: the sloping cornice of a pediment above the tympanum 

Retaining wall: a wall built up from low ground to hold the higher ground in place 

Shaft (of a column): the cylindrical part of a column between the capital and the base. Usually composed of column drums. 

Sterobate: the foundation of a stone building; its top course sometimes being the stylobate. The substructure of the Greek temple, which is often partly underground. 

Stoa: building with roof supported by rows of columns parallel to the rear wall or a porch or portico not attached to a larger building. “In Greek architecture, a covered colonnade, sometimes detached and of considerable length, used as a meeting place or promenade. 
Stylobate: upper step of a Greek temple which formed a platform for columns or a continuous base for a row of columns. The top three steps of the sterobate. The columns rest on the top step. “A platform or masonry floor above the stereobate, forming the foundation for the columns of a classical temple. 

Superimposed columns: at least two tiers or levels of columns 

Temenos (peribolus or hieron): the sacred enclosure in which one or more Greek temples stand 

Tetrastyle: a portico of four columns 

Tholos: a circular building or tomb 

Triglyph: section of a Doric frieze composed of three vertical channels usually centered over each column and over the spaces between the columns. Three short vertical pieces, which were originally the ends of the three beams running the length of the building. 

Tristyle in antis: portico having three columns between the antae. 

Volute: scroll or spiral occurring in Ionic or Corinthian capitals. 

Greek Architecture: Overview of Greek Temples 

I.       Design – consists of 
      A.       Function 
      B.       Ground Plan 
      C.       Elevation 
      D.       Construction 
      E.       Materials 
      F.       Scale 

II.       Greek Temple 
      A.       Function 
            1.       Glorify the god 
            2.       Place for god to visit 
            3.       Cult statue symbolized the god 
            4.       Sacrifices made outside of the temple at the altar 
      B.       Materials 
            1.       Usually limestone or marble 
            2.       Wood for roof support 
            3.       Terra-cotta tile for roofs 

      C.       Construction – post and lintel 
            1.       Entrance doors tall – two-thirds the height of the lofty naos 
            2.       Doors when opened allowed light to illuminate the cult statue in the cella 
            3.       Windows rare 
      D.       Scale – stress on 
            1.       Balance 
            2.       Harmony 
            3.       Symmetry 

III.       Orders 
      A.       Doric – originated on the mainland (Corinth, second half of the 7th century) -- centers on linear composition and guarantees transition and movement between horizontal planes and vertical features, from the base of the stylobate to the top of the pediment. The clear-cut fluting of the columns results in powerful vertical movement. These grooves finally expand into the capital. From this point the style presents alternating vertical and linear interplay: the architrave is horizontal, the frieze is a series of successive triglyphs and metopes, and the horizontal cornice provides transition to the pediment. Doric architecture is essentially linear and geometrical and possibly could have been conceived within the framework of the luminous Greek landscape. 
      B.       Ionic – derived from the civilizations of Anatolia. The shafts of the columns were slimmer, more deeply fluted. They contained a molded base and a sculptured capital. The scroll-like capital was clearly influenced by the lotus buds in Egyptian architecture. Thus, naturalistic forms took precedence over the geometric. 
      C.       Corinthian -- introduced a steadily increasing influx of decorative motifs and may have simply been a pragmatic solution to a sculptor’s attempts to soften or animate the severe lines of the public monuments. As a central Greek order, this latest style did not take hold until the early 3rd century; in Rome, however, it was readily adopted 
      D.       Differences between the orders 
            1.       Proportions of columns 
                  a.       Doric -- thicker and shorter – heavy -- entasis 
                  b.       Ionic – taller and slimmer – lighter – spaced farther apart than Doric – eight or nine meters high, instead of four or five – no entasis 
            2.       Capitals of columns 
                  a.       Doric – square slab over a round cushion 
                  b.       Ionic – shaped like a flat cushion rolled into volutes at the sides 
                  c.       Corinthian – looks like and inverted bell, covered with curling shoots and leaves of the acanthus; plant – seem to sprout from the top of the column’s shaft 
            3.       Fluting of columns 
                  a.       Doric – shallower 
                  b.       Ionic – deeper 
            4.       Entablature 
                  a.       Ionic lighter than Doric 
                  b.       Frieze 
                        i.       Doric – series of metopes (sculpted or unsculpted) and triglyphs 
                        ii.       Ionic -- continuous 
            5.       Base of columns 
                  a.       Doric – no base 
                  b.       Ionic – have base 
                  c.       Corinthian -- base 
            6.       Refinements 
                  a.       Doric – more likely to be plain 
                  b.       Ionic – more likely to have molding (egg and dart or beaded) and finely undercut steps – fussier and more ornate than Doric – more elegant, more decorative 
                        i.       carved cyma (double curve) molding 
                        ii.       ovolo (convex curve) molding 
            7.       Corinthian – not as widely used – combined elements of other two orders 
                  a.       fancier and more detail than other orders 
                  b.       majesty and bigness of Doric order 
                  c.       Decorative elegance of the Ionic 
                  d.       Columns as thick and tall as the Doric 
                  e.       Slimmer flutes like the Ionic 
                  f.       No entasis on columns 
                  g.       Base for column 
                  h.       Entablature as thick and heavy as Doric 
      E.       Orders might be mixed – Doric on exterior and Ionic on interior or Doric columns with Ionic features elsewhere 

V.       Styles 
      A.       Henostyle: one column 
      B.       Distyle: two columns 
      C.       Tristyle: three columns 
      D.       Tetrastyle: four columns 
      E.       Pentastyle: five columns 
      F.       Hexastyle: six columns 
      G.       Hepastyle: seven columns 
      H.       Octastyle: eight columns 
      I.       Decastyle: ten columns 
      J.       Duodecastyle: twelve columns