- Achitecture Defined
- Methods of Building
- Temple Construction
- Famous Buildings of Ancient Greece
- Parthenon, Temple of Athena at Athens
- Decoration of Buildings
- Caryatids as Decoration of Buildings
- Houses of Ancient Greece
- Furniture of Ancient Greece
- Golden Mean
- Columns in Greek Architecture
- Pictures of Ancient Greek Architecture
- Resources for further Study with Links
- Questions and Answers about Ancient Greek Architecture
Architecture relates to the design and construction of buildings, temples, houses and other structures used for human habitation. In Ancient Greece public buildings were often made of marble because it wasreadily available. They used post and lintel construction so the roof was supported on tall columns. This was the same method of construction that was used in ancient Egypt. Walls were kept to a minimum because they shut out light from the sun. Heating was done on open fires and chimneys were not used. Fires were usually located in a courtyard. The structure was built up of smaller blocks of marble joined with metal pins. No mortar was used. The size of a room was limited by the length of the lintel. Wood was used for larger lintels while stone was used in ones that lasted longer. On surviving buildings some are missing their roofs because the wood lintels have rotted away. Water was provided to public fountains that could be in such a room but not part of a house.
The ancient Greeks built public buildings as a direct result of their religious practice. Many public buildings were temples for worship with a secondary purpose. The local temple of Hestia maintained a fire so the local people could get a light if their home fire went out. Some of the temples were used a treasuries. Others were used a meeting places.
Buildings were made of wood or stone. The wooden buildings were post and lintel. The stone buildings were made of stones set without mortar. A metal key was used to keep the stones from sliding. Roof beams were built from wall to wall with extra support provided by columns. Above the lintels roof beams formed a triangle so tile could be layed on the upper surface of the roof. Overlapping of the tile assured that rater would run off the roof.
Buildings were divided into separate rooms that allowed the separation of the sexes as was practiced in the society. Even though the Greek wives were secluded in the Greek homes, they were able to enjoy the architecture of the culture because they left their homes when they participated in the religious festivals. The temples and public buildings were often decorated with sculptures and images that included both men and women.
Architects role in Greek society
Ancient Greece included architects whose names are known. The architect draws up the plan. A need or a goal can be specified, but the architect fills in the details so the goal can be met in a realistic way. The archictect has the experience of previous projects with details
about where materials can be acquired, how to put things together so they are safe and functional, and how to organize people to get the job done. In ancient Greece architects used aesthetic rules to produce building of great and lasting beauty often using fairy simple materials and methods.
Art, Architecture and Religion in Ancient Greece
There is a high correlation between art and religious worship in ancient Greece. But there was no organized religion as we know it. The Greeks had a belief in the nature of the universe which included deities who needed to be appeased. This belief was based on their observation of the realities of the world. They thought that the art that they produced was pleasing to the deities with the result that they would receive favor from the deities. They
used this art to decorate temples, marketplaces, cemeteries, and other places where the deities would need to be influenced. For the most part such art was public and little was used to decorate homes. They did produce much more art than was needed for these purposes so the art was exported. And it was a popular and profitable export. But when the old religion was broken by the influx of Christianity in 125 AD, the art stopped too.
Stereotypes about Women in Ancient Greece?
The literature suggest that women in classical Greece were confined to their homes, separated from men and restriced in their activity. But their depiction in art and in the decoration in the architecture does not support this. Most of the deities of the ancient Greeks were women and they were depicted as beautiful and powerful. Literature even documents a slave culture which is hard to identify in the art of the time. Many have suggested that there were stereotypes about women, but this idea is not supported by their art. The art reveals a wonderful variety of roles and types.
Question: what exactly is Doric architecture?
Answer: The Dorians were the first immigrants to Greece who built buildings
that we would recognize as classical Greek architecture. As a result Doric
is the oldest form of Greek architecture. It is simpler and more solid than
the other forms which include the Ionic and Corinthian orders.
Capital, Corinth, Temple of Apollo
Facade, Delphi, Treasury of the Athenians (XI)
- Frieze, Image of Cora
Method of Building
Question: What building methods and materials did the Ancient Greeks use?
Answer:They used wood and stone in a post and lintel construction. Lead was used to pour pins into the stone and clay was fired into partly cylindrical tiles for the roof. The building methods and materials used by the Greeks came from Egypt where they had been in use at least a thousand years. What was unique about the Greeks was not the materials or the methods, but the design. The Romans incorporated new methods and materials such as arches, vaults, facades, and concrete, but they stuck to the Greek designs.
Various construction types from ancient Greek to contemporary.
Question: How did they use their building tools?
Answer: Mainly they used hand tools. They held the tool in their hands when they used them. A chisel was held in one hand while the hammer was held in the other. The hammer was used to strike the chisel. Some compound tools included cranes and bellows. When they carved a large block a projection called a boss was carved on each side. A rope looped over both projections allowed the block to be lifted by the crane.
Question: What is a adze, auger, chisel, mallet,and dressing tool?
- adze — an adze is similar to an ax but the blade is perpendicular to the handle. It is used mainly on wood to smooth a board.
- auger — an auger is used to drill holes. It is often just a rod with a flattened triagular point on one end. The other end is square and passes through a perpendicular handle. When the pont is placed against wood the handle can be turned and a hole made in the wood.
- chisel — a chisel is a round bar with a flattened end ground to a sharp edge. When used with stone it is held in the hand and the other end is hit with a mallet or a hammer.
- mallet — a large chunk of wood or leather with a bar handle through the middle and projected out. It is held by the handle and used to pound things such as pegs or chisels. It differs from a hammer only in that a hammer is made of steel.
- A dressing tool — This is a chisel with a straight edge that can be used to smooth stone and make it flat. A chisel with a curved edge is call a gouge.
adze, auger, chisel, mallet, dressing tool, simple tools of ancient Greece.
The ancient Greek buildings were built with simple tools. Most work was done by hand. Two wheeled wagons were drawn by oxen. The main compound machine was the crane:
The crane used by the ancient Greeks was probably developed from the use of spars and masts on ships.
Question: how was a theatre made?
Answer: The Greeks used a hillside or a natural depression in the earth.
The lowest point was formed into a circular dance floor with an alter in
the center. The seats were stone blocks set in circles up the hill.
Opposite the seats a raised stage would be set.
In Ancient Greece in the Clasical times and before only the Temples were decorated. Arches were developed by the Romans and did not really appear in ancient Greece. It was the Romans who first adapted the Greek temple decoration to every sort of building and structure. In fact the Greek temple had a rather exact method of decoration. The classical Greek roof was of marble slabs with timber framing and sloped gently. It rested on columns in a post and lintel construction. The inner chamber of the temple is called the naos. In front of the naos is the nave surrounded by columns. Surrounding the naos and the nave is another row of columns. Just inside these columns are aisles. Greeks preferred a peripetal design with the naos in the center of the building. Inside the naos was often a cult statue and a plinth that served as an altar. A naos may also contain an adyton, an inner area restricted to access by the priests. The naos is typically a simple, windowless, rectangular room with a door or open entrance at the front behind a colonnaded portico facade. A pronaos is the inner area of the portico of a Greek or Roman Temple, situated between the portico’s colonnade or walls and the entrance to the naos. Entasis refers to the slight tapering of the columns as they rise, to counter the optical effect of looking up at the temple. The effect of these subtle curves is to make the temple appear more symmetrical than it actually is. The Greeks also employed tile drains and conduits as well as tiles for roofing. Their architectural ceramics were mostly confined to cornices and cornice adornments and are customarily classed as terra-cotta.
The entablature is the part of a classical temple above the columns between a capital and the roof. It consists of the architrave, frieze and cornice. The architrave is the lowest part of an Entablature that rests immediately on the Capitals of the columns. The triangular space just below the ends of the roof, the pediment, contain the friezes. The cornice is the highest projecting part of an entablature above the frieze. The antefix are covers at the edges of a roof on all four sides of a building. The cover tiles are the second layer that cover the joints of the first layer of tiles on the roof and end in decorative relief representations. The pediment is the triangular gable between a horizontal entablature and a sloping roof. The metope is a slab of stone sculpted with reliefs that on a Doric frieze alternate with triglyphs. These are panels of decoration around the temple above the columns and below the roof.
Every Greek temple has a peaked roof running the length of the building. The triangular space just below the ends of the roof are decorated with a frieze. This is a slab of stone sculpted with reliefs that on a Doric frieze alternate with Triglyphs. A Triglyph is a decorative element of the Doric Frieze that alternates with the Metopes and is formed by three grooves, or glyphs. The shaft, the tall part of the column, supports the capital, often decorated. The column sit on the base except in the Doric order which has no base. The Metopes and the Friezes are typically decorated with reliefs. The topics reference the myths of ancient Greece and perhaps more.
Corinthian architecture is The most ornate of the three orders of classical Greek architecture. The columns have bell-shaped capitals with adornments based on acanthus leaves. The Corinthian capitals have flowers and leaves below a small scroll. The flowers and leaves are based on the acanthus plant
Doric Architecture is the oldest and simplest of the three orders of classical Greek architecture. It is characterized by a column with no base, a fluted shaft, and a plain capital. In the Doric order the columns have a polygonal cross section.
Ionic Architecture is neither simple nor ornate. Columns are decorated with flutes except in the Doric order. Ionic capitals consist of a scrolls above the shaft.
Famous Buildings of Ancient Greece
- The Heraeum, Olympia, c. 700 BCE
- Temple of Apollo, Corinth, VII century BCE
- Treasury of the Siphians, Delphi, 525 BCE
- Temple of Demeter, Paestrum, c. 520 BCE
- Treasury of the Athenians, Delphi, 515 BCE
- The Olympieum, Acragas, 480 BCE
- Temple of Zeus, Olympia, 465 BCE
- Temple of Poseidon, Paestrum, 460 BCE
- Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae, c. 450 BCE.
The Parthenon, Athens, 447-432 BCE, Ictinus and Callicrates, architects.
Parthenon from NW
- The Erechtheum, Athens, 420 BCE
- Temple of Athena Nike, Athens, 426 BCE
- The Propylea, Athens, 437 BCE
- The Theseum, Athens, 421 BCE
- The Mausoleum, Halicarnassus, 353-340 BCE
- Theater, Epidaurus, 350 BCE
- Tholos, Epidaurus, 350 BCE
- Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, Athens, 335-334 BCE
Question: what do the buildings look like?
Answer: Here is a link to a painting of the Acropolis at Athens as it would
have appeared during the Golden Age of Greece:
Question: Where there any palaces or kingdoms in greece? If so are the well
known? and what is there names? and how did they look?
Answer: The palaces built in ancient Greece were mostly Minoan, but some
were Mycenaean. The best known were the ones at Cnossos, Mycenae, Tiryns,
and Pylos. These seem to have influenced images of the deities in classical Greece.
- Palace from S end of court, Phaistos, Palace
- Central area of palace from W, Ayia Triada, Palace
- Distant overall view, Knossos, Palace of Minos
- Aerial view, Mallia
- Hades and Persephone in a palace
, Munich 3297
Parthenon, Temple of Athena at Athens:
The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens is the most famous building from
ancient Greek times
The Parthenon was completed in 438 BCE for use as a temple for
Athena. It served as a temple for the worship of Athena until the sixth
century AD. It served as a Christian church until 1204, at which time it
became a Latin church. Turkish conquers converted it to a Mosque in 1458.
During a war it was used as a powder magazine and it blew up in 1687. It
has been a ruin ever since.
The Elgin Marbles are a group of marble statues that originally were
on the Parthenon. Lord Elgin brought them from Greece to the British Museum
during the 19th century. Greece contends they were stolen and wants them back.
The Parthenon was, after all, a temple to the goddess Athena. As
a result women are powerfully and sensitively portrayed, as would be beffitting
a goddess. The sculptures include:
- West Pediment
- East Pediment
- Frieze on the North Side
- Frieze on the West Side
- Frieze on the East Side
- The Parthenon Naos with the statue of Athena by Phidias (Athena Parthenos)
- South Metope Click Here
- North Metope Click Here
- Plan, History, Dimensions, and Images
- The Parthenon
- The Parthenon Marbles
- J. J. Coulton, “Ancient Greek Architects at work”, Oxford, 1981
Decoration of Buildings
Question: Origin of the carvings on greek architecture for longevity. The greek key design
Answer: “the earliest known vestiges of Greek architecture,
Greek sculpture, and Greek decorative art are copied from Egyptian sources.”
“Chapter 5: Egypt the Birthplace of Greek Decorative Art.” by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892)
Publication: Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers. by Amelia Edwards. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891.
(First edition.) pp. 158-192.
The Greek key design is also reminiscent of the Labryinth. There is a similar looping but square pattern though the Labyrinth is more complex. One interpretation of the Labyrinth pattern is that it is a dance pattern. The Greek Key may have a similar interpretation
Question: was the fresco of the dolphins orginally on the floor as a mosaic
Answer: Although mosaics are not always on the floor, frescos are always on
the wall. Minoans did not make much use of mosaics. Mosaics are made of pieces
of stone while frescos are made of plaster or cement. The design of a mosaic
is often quite thick, 2-3 inches, and may withstand centuries of wear, while
the design of a fresco is quite thin, 1/8 of an inch.
Question: What is the Greek symbol for sports or peace of mind or travel?
Answer: The laurel wreath of the victor is perhaps the best symbol of the
Olympics, but winners were often awarded victory vases which could serve as
a symbol as well. In the Odyssey Athena brings peace of mind to Odysseus.
The symbol for Athena is the Owl. Winged boots seem to be the symbol of
travel for Hermes. These are illustrated as follows:
Caryatids as Decoration of Buildings
A Caryatid is a column in the form of a draped female usually dressed in a peplos. The Erectheum at Athens had such columns. Also karatid, kartid is a sculptured female figure serving as an ornamental support in place of a column or pilaster. It was a frequently used motif in architecture, furniture, and garden sculpture during the Renaissance, the 18th cent., and notably, the classic revival of the 19th cent., when caryatids were popular as mantelpiece supports. The motif appeared in Egyptian and Greek architecture; the most celebrated example extant is the Porch of the Caryatids, forming part of the Erechtheum. Here six beautifully sculptured figures, acting as columns, support an entablature on their heads. Caryatids were used also in two small treasuries (6th cent. B.C.) at Delphi. Male supporting figures are called atlantes.
The Caryatids from the south porch of the Erectheion were done about 420 BCE. They supported the roof of the south porch of the Erechtheion, and probably were the work of Alkamenes, a student of the great sculptor Pheidias. Each wears a peplos, with apoptygma, and a short cloak (perhaps doubled) over her shoulders. This is the costume worn by many other female figures in the late fifth and the fourth century of ancient Greece. In Vitruvius 1.1.5 he states: The female figures in architecture that supported burdens are said to have been called Caryatids in token of the abject slavery to which the women of Caryae (a town in Laconia near the borders of Arcadia, originally belonging to the territory of Tegea in Arcadia) were reduced by the Greeks, as a punishment for joining the Persians at the invasion of Greece.” But this is not likely true because they do not appear to be suffering. Furthermore they seem to be wearing the polos, a headress usually reserved for a goddess. Rather they are more likely derived from a statue of Artemis in Caryae. Because of their multiplicity they do not appear to be statues of Artemis. Nor are they statues of followers of Artemis as they would be dancing as was the custom in Caryae. The idea of using females for support seems to go back to Phoenician art but I cannot find any examples of this. Anopther possible influence is the fact that the women of ancient Greece carried water in jars on their heads. An example is: Two women with jars on their head.
Images of the Erectheion
Atlantes atlantz [Latin plural of Atlas], sculptured male figures serving as supports of entablatures, in place of a column or pier. The earliest (c.480-460 B.C.) and most important example from antiquity is in the Greek temple of Zeus at Agrigento, Sicily. The baroque architecture of the 17th cent. made considerable use of atlantes, as did the classical revival in the early 19th cent. ” Reference.
Houses of Ancient Greece
A record of houses in archaic Greece and possibly Mycenae is in the Odyssey. The palace of Alcinous is described (Book VII): “Meanwhile Odysseus went to the famous palace of Alcinous, and his heart was full of many thoughts as he stood there or ever he had reached the threshold of bronze. For there was a gleam as it were of sun or moon through the high-roofed hall of great-hearted Alcinous. Brazen were the walls which ran this way and that from the threshold to the inmost chamber, and round them was a frieze of blue, and golden were the doors that closed in the good house. Silver were the door-posts that were set on the brazen threshold, and silver the lintel thereupon, and the hook of the door was of gold. And on either side stood golden hounds and silver, which Hephaestus wrought by his cunning, to guard
the palace of great-hearted Alcinous, being free from death and age all their days. And within were seats arrayed against the wall this way and that, from the threshold even to the inmost chamber, and thereon were spread light coverings finely woven, the handiwork of women. There the Phaeacian chieftains were wont to sit eating and drinking, for they had continual store. Yea, and there were youths fashioned in gold, standing on firm-set bases, with flaming
torches in their hands, giving light through the night to the feasters in the palace. And he had fifty handmaids in the house, and some grind the yellow grain on the millstone, and others weave webs and turn the yarn as they sit, restless as the leaves of the tall poplar tree: and the soft olive oil drops off that linen, so closely is it woven. For as the Phaeacian men are skilled beyond all others in driving a swift ship upon the deep, even so are the women the most cunning at the loom, for Athene hath given them notable wisdom in all fair handiwork and cunning wit. And without the courtyard hard by the door is a great
garden, off our ploughgates, and a hedge runs round on either side. And there grow tall trees blossoming, pear-trees and pomegranates, and apple-trees with bright fruit, and sweet figs, and olives in their bloom. The fruit of these trees never perisheth neither faileth, winter nor summer, enduring through all the year. Evermore the West Wind blowing brings some fruits to birth and ripens others. Pear upon pear waxes old, and apple on apple, yea and cluster ripens upon cluster of the grape, and fig upon fig. There too hath he a fruitful vineyard planted, whereof the one part is being dried by the heat, a sunny plot on level ground, while other grapes men are gathering, and yet others they are treading in the wine-press. In the foremost row are unripe grapes that cast the blossom, and others there be that are growing black to vintaging. There too, skirting the furthest line, are all manner of garden beds,
planted trimly, that are perpetually fresh, and therein are two fountains of water, whereof one scatters his streams all about the garden, and the other runs over against it beneath the threshold of the courtyard, and issues by the lofty house, and thence did the townsfolk draw water. These were the splendid gifts of the gods in the palace of Alcinous.” The Queen, Arete, had Odysseus sleep on a “… bedstead in the portico and to furnish it with the finest purple rugs, spread sheets over these and add warm blankets on top for covering.” (Book VII)
House and Home in ancient Athens
A house with a courtyard was the general plan. The entrance from
the street led directly to the courtyard while the other roooms
opened into the courtyard. A porch with columns was built on the
north side of the courtyard which faced south for maximum
sunlight. At ground level was a living room with a central hearth
surrounded by a kitchen and bathroom. A men’s room was fitted
with about seven couches around the perimeter for dining. The
remaining rooms on the ground floor were for storage. The
women’s quarters and bedrooms were built above the northern
half of the house. Slaves and family lived together like one big
Walls might have been decorated, but no paintings survived.
Draperies and carpets could have been hung for warmth. These
were decorated in the same manner as the cloths illustrated on the
vase paintings. Sometimes a doorway was fitted with a wooden
door, but curtains were more common. Flooring was often dirt,
but sometimes pebbles or stone. Upper stories had wooden floors.
The buildings themselves were made of stone, rubble and mud,
and wood. The roofs had the curved tiles that are still common in
Some houses had running water delivered from high springs
through aqueducts and clay pipes. These homes had a room with a
fountain for water and a privy-like hole for wastes which were
washed away by the running water. But most houses had water
carried in from fountain houses and wastes carried out to the fields
for disposal. Women traditionally carried the water in large water
jars on their heads. Houses were often crowded together for
protection and separated by narrow streets and alleys.
None of the rooms had openings for smoke so fires were out in the courtyard. This is where cooking was done. Archeological remains indicate that mud brick, stone, and timber
were used for construction. People that lived in tents would have left no remains. Wood was used in the rafters, beds and doors, though some doors were actually made of stone. There were no hinges on the doors which turned on pins instead. Many doors were probably covered with cloth. Floors were dirt or stone and often rough. For this reason furniture was often three-legged. There was no plumbing so water had to be carried in and wastes carried out. In the Odyssey Homer describes a dung pile by the front door. Cooking was done over a open fire, probably in the courtyard. Stone beehive ovens were used to bake bread. Liquids were stored in amphora.
The house of Odysseus is described as (Book XVII):
“There are buildings beyond buildings; the coutyard wall with
its battlements is a fine piece of work and those folding doors are
true defenses.” This house also had a portico, for that was where Odysseus
Images of Houses
- Interior of a Greek house looking through a doorway into a bed., Louvre CA 587
- Door of a house and a column of a porch?
The drawing of a house from Pompeii during the Roman period fits the
description of a Greek house fairly well: Click here. This house seems to have
Resources for Houses
- Nevett, Lisa C., “House and Society in the Ancient Greek World” (New
Studies in Archaeology), Cambridge University Press, July 1999, ISBN:
- Malam, John/ Bergin, Mark (Ilt), “Ancient Greek Temple : The Story of the
Building of the Temples of Ancient Greece (Magnifications)”, Peter Bedrick
Books, July 2001, ISBN: 0872266524 , ISBN: 0872266524
- The Plan of a Greek House
- Coulton, J. J., “Ancient Greek Architects at Work”, Cornell University
Press, May 1982, Dimensions: 8.99″ x 6″ x 0.57″, Paperback, ISBN: 0801492343
- Furniture of Ancient Greece
Homer describes a feast given by Alcinous as follows: (Book VII)
“And he found the
captains and the counsellors of the Phaeacians pouring
forth wine to the keen-sighted god, the slayer of Argos;
for to him they poured the last cup when they were minded
to take rest….
‘Alcinous, this truly is not the more seemly way, nor is it
fitting that the stranger should sit upon the ground in the
ashes by the hearth, while these men refrain them, waiting
thy word. Nay come, bid the stranger arise, and set him on
a chair inlaid with silver, and command the henchmen to mix
the wine, that we may pour forth likewise before Zeus,
whose joy is in the thunder, who attendeth upon reverend
suppliants. And let the housewife give supper to the
stranger out of such stores as be within.’
Now when the mighty king Alcinous heard this saying, he
took Odysseus, the wise and crafty, by the hand, and raised
him from the hearth, and set him on a shining chair, whence
he bade his son give place, valiant Laodamas, who sat next
him and was his dearest. And a handmaid bare water for the
hands in a goodly golden ewer, and poured it forth over a
silver basin to wash withal, and drew to his side a
polished table. And a grave dame bare wheaten bread and set
it by him and laid upon the board many dainties, giving
freely of such things as she had by her. So the steadfast
goodly Odysseus did eat and drink: and then the mighty
Alcinous spake unto the henchman:
‘Pontonous, mix the bowl and serve out the wine to all in
the hall, that we may pour forth likewise before Zeus,
whose joy is in the thunder, who attendeth upon reverend
So spake he, and Pontonous mixed the honey-hearted wine,
and served it out to all, when he had poured for libation
into each cup in turn.”
- In Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 712 the word ‘ἀνδρών’ (andron), which in context means men’s room. This is the room where the symposium is held. This word is from Indo-European ner(-t)- ‘vital force; man’ and ‘reu̯ə-‘, ‘to open; wide’.
- ‘ἄντρον’, ‘cave, groto’, In Aeschylus, Eumenides 193, Indo-European for cave is ‘antro-m’, ‘cave, hollow’
- ‘χρηστήριον’, ‘(seat of an) oracle’, In Aeschylus, Eumenides 194, dhēs- (used in religious terms) and ‘4. ter-‘, ‘to cross, get over, etc.’, This seems more religious communication than chair or tripod. Instead of ‘and not inflict pollution on all near you in this oracular shrine.’ the translation should simply be ‘and not speak as a god’.
- In Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 942 the word ‘δόμος’, ‘house, home’ is used. This is from Indo-European ‘dem-‘, ‘to build; house’. line 800 δῶμα’, ‘house, palace, mansion’
- In Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 806 appears the phrase ‘καλῶς κτίμενον ὦ μέγα ναίων στόμιον’ which is translated ‘mighty, gorgeously built cavern’ but which is literally translated ‘beautiful (cavern) be inhabited in the mouth’. I wonder if the IE root of ‘κτίμενον’ is ‘kē̆t-‘, ‘room, dwelling place’ and ‘1. men-‘, ‘to rise, tower’ which implies a temple rather than a cave.
- In Aeschylus, Eumenides 21 ‘προναία’ is used. This means ‘before a temple’. Typically the altar was in front of the temple and this is where most of the festivities were held. This is from Indo-European ‘2a. per-‘, ‘to pass over/beyond’ and ‘1. nāus-‘, ‘boat, ship’
- In Aeschylus, Eumenides 39: ‘πολυστεφής’, ‘ wide space decked with many a wreath’ used to describe the inner part of the shrine at Delphi. From Indo-European ‘polo-‘, ‘big, fat, thick, swollen’ and ‘steb(h)- ‘stump, post, pillar; to support, etc.’ (It seems more likely to mean many posts rather than many wreaths)
Furniture of Ancient Greece
Ancient vase with woman sitting on klismos chair. The object in front of her could be a basket. She is dressed in a peplos and holds a mirror in her hand.
Furniture was fairly simple but with a distinctive Greek style.
Tripods and other things were often three-legged so the furniture would rest
flat on a rough floor. Greek furniture was made of wood and bronze.
Beds were like those of Egypt except they had higher legs. When a symposium
was held beds were lined against the wall of the room. This allowed the guests
to lounge on the beds while they drank, ate, watched, and discussed. Greek
vases clearly show that when a guest was done with food the scraps were tossed
on the floor to waiting dogs. Perhaps the legs were high because the dogs were
big. The bed (or couch) was called a kline and appears as follows:
At a meal with tables only one person had a chair to sit upon. This was
the throne of the most important person at the meal. Everyone else sat upon
a three legged stool. The following picture shows the mistress of the house in the throne. During the classical period only the Cretans sat at tables to eat. Other Greeks lounged on beds while they ate. Even so if there was a chair only the most important person sat in it. Normally the table was beside the chair and not over it. Important women are pictured in chairs of the klismos type.
The tripod is an important piece of ancient Greek furniture with great status
attached. Specifically it is a three-legged support for a cauldron or an altar
stone. But it also seems to refer to the cauldron with the three legs
attached. It was often offered as a prize in a competition or as a gift to show
great honor. They were probably made of bronze. A fire could be placed in
the cauldron so it serves as a firebox, or a fire could be placed under the
cauldron to boil water. The following picture illustrates a goddess about to
present two tripods to two heroes.
The klimos chair with its curved legs was developed by the ancient Greeks. It is usually shown occupied by an important woman. The material was probably brass. In the following picture a bride prepares for her wedding. But she is not seated in a Klismos chair. A slave-girl prepares food on a feast table.
A table on which a knatharos rests
- wine-making scene
bride sitting on a couch or bed
Danae and Perseus in chest
an with open chest
Resources on Furniture:
Euclid describes the golden section in Proposition VI,
30. Eudoxus (c. 370) had worked on this. The sectioning of a
segment in mean and extreme ratio (golden section) is found in the
star pentagram, the symbol of health and the distinguishing mark
among the pythagoreans. The Greek historian Herodotus relates
that the Egyptian Priests had told him that the proportions of
the great pyramid of Gizeh were chosen so that the area of a
square whose side is the height of the great pyramid equals the
area of a face triangle. This means that the ratio of the
altitude of a face triangle to half the base length is the Golden
ratio. A golden rectangle has this ratio among its sides. This
was believed to be an aesthetically pleasing shape.
Rectangles in art and architecture were often made to conform to the
golden rectangle. But this was not based on scientific fact. More than likely it was a matter of numerology. One of the theorems that was discovered relating to the construction of the golden mean was discovered by Pythagoras. It was he that proposed that number was the unchanging matrix of the universe. So it seems likely that the
The Golden Mean
Construct a golden Rectangle with side of length AB.
- Bisect AB at M.
- Construct perpendicular OB at B with OB = AM.
- Draw line AO forming Right Triangle AOB.
- Mark off OD on AO so that OD = OB = AM.
- Construct pependicular to AB at A and mark off AE with AE = AD.
- Mark off F on BO so that BF = AE and draw EF.
- AEFB is the Golden Rectangle.
- Let a = length of AM = MB = OB and let b = length of AO
- By the Pythagorean Theorem b^2 = a^2 + (2a)^2 and b = SQRT(5)*a
- Let c = length of AE = b – a = SQRT(5)*a -1
- Let d = CB = 2a – c
- Then the ratio of the mean and extreme is expressed as d/c=c/2a
- By algebric evaluation both sides of this equation = (SQRT(5) – 1)/2) = φ
One justification of the notion of the golden mean is given when Aritotle states: “it will follow that virtue has the quality of hitting the mean” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 2.6.9). Interestingly Aristotle discusses only an arithmetic mean. The ratio of the golden mean is indicated as φ. One of the advantages of the golden mean is that it is both arithmetic and geometric since it is true that φ + 1 = φ* φ. The golden mean is also used in the construction of the regular pentagon.
Columns in Greek Architecture
The Greeks did post and lintle construction and the column was the
post. Their true purpose was to please their divinities. Their style was
peculiar to the Greek culture and can only be illustrated.
The three orders of Greek architecture are the Doric, Ionic, and
Corinthian. Image links follow:
The Doric order is the oldest and it evolved during the 7th century
BCE. The Ionic was more slender with deeper fluting and it stood on a base.
It was developed in the sixth century BCE. The Corithian developed in the
5th century BCE with changes to the capitals. Acanthus leaves decorated the
An Ionic column was used in Sparta:
The type of leaves are on the Greek columns are acanthus leaves which
grow on a plant native to Greece.
Pictures of Ancient Greek Architecture
A number of ancient Greek buildings can be reviewed at:
Ancient Greeks did not make pictures of their architecture.
Notice in the following picture of naked women in a building that all
you get of the building is a column:
In the following panel about the death of Argos a single Doric column
represents a building:
A reconstruction of the Acropolis is available at
Acropolis SW view
Pictures of ancient Greek Temples:
One of the best sources on-line is the Perseus Project. This is
an evolving digital library of resources for the study of the
ancient world and beyond. Collaborators initially formed the project
to construct a large, heterogeneous collection of materials, textual and
visual, on the Archaic and Classical Greek world. Its address is:
A directory of images of ancient Greek architecture is located at:
Another index is located at:
An article on ancient Greek architecture is located at:
An article on ancient Greek chairs is at:
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