Ancient Greek architecture is characterised by its focus on logic and order, which prioritised function over decoration, and which used mathematical principles in the design of the aesthetic decorative elements. One of the most interesting effects of this unified logical approach to architectural design is that it produced a style that was strongly and distinctly national, reflecting the values and culture shared throughout the Ancient Greek civilisation. The buildings were often constructed following a template which specified characteristics such as dimensions and laid down rules for design; there is a sense of unity, therefore, to this style of architecture. Classic Ancient Greek architecture is constructed from finished and sculpted stone – usually limestone. Ancient Greeks had no royalty, so rather than a focus on palaces as architectural monuments, there was instead a focus on public and religious buildings, with Temples being particularly numerous and illustrative of typical Ancient Greek Design (Encyclopaedia of Art and Design, n.p.).
Two good examples of Ancient Greek architecture are the Temple of Athena Nike in Athens, and The Parthenon. The Temple of Athena Nike features a geometric and symmetrical design of sheer, straight walls, with front and rear facades of quartets of Ionic columns. The slender, fluted columns appear light and elegant, enhanced by the white marble used in construction. The temple furthermore features statuary and sculpture typical of Ancient Greek architecture, such as the stature of Athena adjusting a scandal in which mathematical proportions and calculations have been utilised to create both detail and realism (Encyclopaedia of Art and Design, n.p.). The Parthenon on the Athens Acropolis is one of the most famous and well-known examples of Ancient Greek architecture, and similarly features mathematically symmetrical columns, compartments, and sculptural friezes. The slender, fluted columns which surround the structure are constructed in such a way that they appear proportionally straight to the viewer, creating an impression of order and precision (Encyclopaedia of Art and Design, n.p.).
Ancient Roman architecture was heavily influenced by Ancient Greek architecture, and for that reason there are a great many similarities between these two styles of architecture. Ancient Roman architecture, like Ancient Greek architecture, utilised mathematical principles and templates to create structures which were characterised by order, symmetry, and logic. However, the Ancient Romans adapted the classic styles and forms of Ancient Greek architecture to suit their own society and cultural needs and preferences. This resulted, for example, in new types of structure such as basilicas and aqueducts, and new materials such as lime mortar and concrete (Cartwright, n.p.).
Two good examples of the combination of tradition and innovation in Ancient Roman architecture are the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, and the Pantheon in Rome. The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia features the graceful symmetrical style familiar from Ancient Greek architecture, including Corinthian columns which are directly influenced by Ancient Greek style. At the same time, however, the Sanctuary utilises concrete extensively in its construction, showing Roman innovation of design. The Pantheon, although innovative in its use of architectural features and such as the rotunda – a large, concrete dome – nevertheless features a façade of symmetrical, proportioned columns very similar to that of the Parthenon (Cartwright, n.p.).
As can be seen, then, Ancient Greek and Roman architecture shared a focus on symmetry and proportion, but could differ in complexity, function, and materials, with Roman architecture both building upon and departing from the classic Greek templates and models.
- Cartwright, M. (2013, October 5). “Roman Architecture.” Retrieved from: http://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Architecture/.
- Encyclopaedia of Art and Design (2016). “Greek Architecture (c.900-27 BCE).” Retrieved from: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/architecture/greek.htm.