On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

1. THE foundations of these works should be dug out of the solid ground, if it can be found, and carried down into solid ground as far as the magnitude of the work shall seem to require, and the whole substructure should be as solid as it can possibly be laid. Above ground, let walls be laid under the columns, thicker by one half than the columns are to be, so that the lower may be

stronger than the higher. Hence they are called “stereobates”; for they take the load. And the projections of the bases should not extend beyond this solid foundation. The wall-thickness is similarly to be preserved above ground likewise, and the intervals between these walls should be vaulted over, or filled with earth rammed down hard, to keep the walls well apart.

2. If, however, solid ground cannot be found, but the place proves to be nothing but a heap of loose earth to the very bottom, or a marsh, then it must be dug up and cleared out and set with piles made of charred alder or olive wood or oak, and these must be driven down by machinery, very closely together like bridge-piles, and the intervals between them filled in with charcoal, and finally the foundations are to be laid on them in the most solid form of construction. The foundations having been brought up to the level, the stylobates are next to be put in place.

3. The columns are then to be distributed over the stylobates in the manner above described: close together in the pycnostyle; in the systyle, diastyle, or eustyle, as they are described and arranged above. In araeostyle temples one is free to arrange them as far apart as one likes. Still, in peripterals, the columns should be so placed that there are twice as many intercolumniations on the sides as there are in front; for thus the length of the work will be twice its breadth. Those who make the number of columns double, seem to be in error, because then the length seems to be one intercolumniation longer than it ought to be.

4. The steps in front must be arranged so that there shall always be an odd number of them; for thus the right foot, with which one mounts the first step, will also be the first to reach the level of the temple itself. The rise of such steps should, I think, be limited to not more than ten nor less than nine inches; for then the ascent will not be difficult. The treads of the steps ought to be made not less than a foot and a half, and not more than two feet deep. If there are to be steps running all round the temple, they should be built of the same size.

5. But if a podium is to be built on three sides round the

temple, it should be so constructed that its plinths, bases, dies, coronae, and cymatiumare appropriate to the actual stylobate which is to be under the bases of the columns.

The level of the stylobate must be increased along the middle by the scamilli impares; for if it is laid perfectly level, it will look to the eye as though it were hollowed a little. At the end of the book a figure will be found, with a description showing how the scamilli may be made to suit this purpose.


1. THIS finished, let the bases of the columns be set in place, and constructed in such proportions that their height, including the plinth, may be half the thickness of a column, and their projection (called in Greek e)kfora/) the same.[*](Reading aeque tantam as in new Rose. Codd. sextantem; Schn. quadrantem.) Thus in both length and breadth it will be one and one half thicknesses of a column.

2. If the base is to be in the Attic style, let its height be so divided that the upper part shall be one third part of the thickness of the column, and the rest left for the plinth. Then, excluding the plinth, let the rest be divided into four parts, and of these let one fourth constitute the upper torus, and let the other three be divided equally, one part composing the lower torus, and the other, with its fillets, the scotia, which the Greeks call troxi/los.

3. But if Ionic bases are to be built, their proportions shall be so determined that the base may be each way equal in breadth to the thickness of a column plus three eighths of the thickness; its height that of the Attic base, and so too its plinth; excluding the plinth, let the rest, which will be a third part of the thickness of a column, be divided into seven parts. Three of these parts constitute the torus at the top, and the other four are to be divided equally, one part constituting the upper trochilus with its astragals and overhang, the other left for the lower trochilus. But the lower will seem to be larger, because it will project to the edge of the plinth. The astragals must be one eighth of the trochilus. The projection of the base will be three sixteenths of the thickness of a column.

4. The bases being thus finished and put in place, the columns are to be put in place: the middle columns of the front and rear porticoes perpendicular to their own centre; the corner columns, and those which are to extend in a line from them along the sides

of the temple to the right and left, are to be set so that their inner sides, which face toward the cella wall, are perpendicular, but their outer sides in the manner which I have described in speaking of their diminution. Thus, in the design of the temple the lines will be adjusted with due regard to the diminution,

5. The shafts of the columns having been erected, the rule for the capitals will be as follows. If they are to be cushion-shaped, they should be so proportioned that the abacus is in length and breadth equivalent to the thickness of the shaft at its bottom plus one eighteenth thereof, and the height of the capital, including the volutes, one half of that amount. The faces of the volutes must recede from the edge of the abacus inwards by one and a half eighteenths of that same amount. Then, the height of the capital is to be divided into nine and a half parts, and down along the abacus on the four sides of the volutes, down along the fillet at the edge of the abacus, lines called “catheti” are to be let fall. Then, of the nine and a half parts let one and a half be reserved for the height of the abacus, and let the other eight be used for the volutes.

6. Then let another line be drawn, beginning at a point situated at a distance of one and a half parts toward the inside from the line previously let fall down along the edge of the abacus. Next, let these lines be divided in such a way as to leave four and a half parts under the abacus; then, at the point which forms the division between the four and a half parts and the remaining three and a half, fix the centre of the eye, and from that centre describe a circle with a diameter equal to one of the eight parts. This will be the size of the eye, and in it draw a diameter on the line of the “cathetus.” Then, in describing the quadrants, let the size of each be successively less, by half the diameter of the eye, than that which begins under the abacus, and proceed from the eye until that same quadrant under the abacus is reached.

7. The height of the capital is to be such that, of the nine and a half parts, three parts are below the level of the astragal at the top of the shaft, and the rest, omitting the abacus and the channel,

belongs to its echinus. The projection of the echinus beyond the fillet of the abacus should be equal to the size of the eye. The projection of the bands of the cushions should be thus obtained: place one leg of a pair of compasses in the centre of the capital and open out the other to the edge of the echinus; bring this leg round and it will touch the outer edge of the bands. The axes of the volutes should not be thicker than the size of the eye, and the volutes themselves should be channelled out to a depth which is one twelfth of their height. These will be the symmetrical proportions for capitals of columns twenty-five feet high and less. For higher columns the other proportions will be the same, but the length and breadth of the abacus will be the thickness of the lower diameter of a column plus one ninth part thereof; thus, just as the higher the column the less the diminution, so the projection of its capital is proportionately increased and its breadth [*](Codd. altitudo)is correspondingly enlarged.

8. With regard to the method of describing volutes, at the end of the book a figure will be subjoined and a calculation showing how they may be described so that their spirals may be true to the compass.

The capitals having been finished and set up in due proportion to the columns (not exactly level on the columns, however, but with the same measured adjustment, so that in the upper members there may be an increase corresponding to that which was made in the stylobates), the rule for the architraves is to be as follows. If the columns are at least twelve feet and not more than fifteen feet high, let the height of the architrave be equal to half the thickness of a column at the bottom. If they are from fifteen feet to twenty, let the height of a column be measured off into thirteen parts, and let one of these be the height of the architrave. If they are from twenty to twenty-five feet, let this height be divided into twelve and one half parts, and let one of them form the height of the architrave. If they are from twenty-five feet to thirty, let it be divided into twelve parts, and let one of

them form the height. If they are higher, the heights of the architraves are to be worked out proportionately in the same manner from the height of the columns.