On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

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

3. Then, in the place previously determined, a cofferdam, with its sides formed of oaken stakes with ties between them, is to be driven down into the water and firmly propped there; then, the lower surface inside, under the water, must be levelled off and

dredged, working from beams laid across; and finally, concrete from the mortar trough—the stuff having been mixed as prescribed above—must be heaped up until the empty space which was within the cofferdam is filled up by the wall. This, however, is possessed as a gift of nature by such places as have been described above. But if by reason of currents or the assaults of the open sea the props cannot hold the cofferdam together, then, let a platform of the greatest possible strength be constructed, beginning on the ground itself or on a substructure; and let the platform be constructed with a level surface for less than half its extent, while the rest, which is close to the beach, slopes down and out.

4. Then, on the water's edge and at the sides of the platform, let marginal walls be constructed, about one and one half feet thick and brought up to a level with the surface above mentioned; next, let the sloping part be filled in with sand and levelled off with the marginal wall and the surface of the platform. Then, upon this level surface construct a block as large as is required, and when it is finished, leave it for not less than two months to dry. Then, cut away the marginal wall which supports the sand. Thus, the sand will be undermined by the waves, and this will cause the block to fall into the sea. By this method, repeated as often as necessary, an advance into the water can be made.

5. But in places where this powder is not found, the following method must be employed. A cofferdam with double sides, composed of charred stakes fastened together with ties, should be constructed in the appointed place, and clay in wicker baskets made of swamp rushes should be packed in among the props. After this has been well packed down and filled in as closely as possible, set up your water-screws, wheels, and drums, and let the space now bounded by the enclosure be emptied and dried. Then, dig out the bottom within the enclosure. If it proves to be of earth, it must be cleared out and dried till you come to solid bottom and for a space wider than the wall which is to be built upon it,

and then filled in with masonry consisting of rubble, lime, and sand.

6. But if the place proves to be soft, the bottom must be staked with piles made of charred alder or olive wood, and then filled in with charcoal as has been prescribed in the case of the foundations of theatres and the city wall. Finally, build the wall of dimension stone, with the bond stones as long as possible, so that particularly the stones in the middle may be held together by the joints. Then, fill the inside of the wall with broken stone or masonry. It will thus be possible for even a tower to be built upon it.

7. When all this is finished, the general rule for shipyards will be to build them facing the north. Southern exposures from their heat produce rot, the wood worm, shipworms, and all sorts of other destructive creatures, and strengthen and keep them alive. And these buildings must by no means be constructed of wood, for fear of fire. As for their size, no definite limit need be set, but they must be built to suit the largest type of ship, so that if even larger ships are hauled up, they may find plenty of room there. I have described in this book the construction and completion of all that I could remember as necessary for general use in the public places of cities. In the following book I shall consider private houses, their conveniences, and symmetrical proportions.


1. IT is related of the Socratic philosopher Aristippus that, being shipwrecked and cast ashore on the coast of the Rhodians, he observed geometrical figures drawn thereon, and cried out to his companions: “Let us be of good cheer, for I seethe traces of man.” With that he made for the city of Rhodes, and went straight to the gymnasium. There he fell to discussing philosophical subjects, and presents were bestowed upon him, so that he could not only fit himself out, but could also provide those who accompanied him with clothing and all other necessaries of life. When his companions wished to return to their country, and asked him what message he wished them to carry home, he bade them say this: that children ought to be provided with property and resources of a kind that could swim with them even out of a shipwreck.

2. These are indeed the true supports of life, and neither Fortune's adverse gale, nor political revolution, nor ravages of war can do them any harm. Developing the same idea, Theophrastus, urging men to acquire learning rather than to put their trust in money, states the case thus: “The man of learning is the only person in the world who is neither a stranger when in a foreign land, nor friendless when he has lost his intimates and relatives; on the contrary, he is a citizen of every country, and can fearlessly look down upon the troublesome accidents of fortune. But he who thinks himself entrenched in defences not of learning but of luck, moves in slippery paths, struggling through life unsteadily and insecurely.”

3. And Epicurus, in much the same way, says that the wise owe little to fortune; all that is greatest and essential is under the direction of the thinking power of the mind and the understanding. Many other philosophers have said the same thing. Likewise the

poets who wrote the ancient comedies in Greek have expressed the same sentiments in their verses on the stage: for example, Eucrates, Chionides, Aristophanes, and with them Alexis in particular, who says that the Athenians ought to be praised for the reason that, while the laws of all Greeks require the maintenance of parents by their children, the laws of the Athenians require this only in the case of those who have educated their children in the arts. All the gifts which fortune bestows she can easily take away; but education, when combined with intelligence, never fails, but abides steadily on to the very end of life.

4. Hence, I am very much obliged and infinitely grateful to my parents for their approval of this Athenian law, and for having taken care that I should be taught an art, and that of a sort which cannot be brought to perfection without learning and a liberal education in all branches of instruction. Thanks, therefore, to the attention of my parents and the instruction given by my teachers, I obtained a wide range of knowledge, and by the pleasure which I take in literary and artistic subjects, and in the writing of treatises, I have acquired intellectual possessions whose chief fruits are these thoughts: that superfluity is useless, and that not to feel the want of anything is true riches. There may be some people, however, who deem all this of no consequence, and think that the wise are those who have plenty of money. Hence it is that very many, in pursuit of that end, take upon themselves impudent assurance, and attain notoriety and wealth at the same time.

5. But for my part, Caesar, I have never been eager to make money by my art, but have gone on the principle that slender means and a good reputation are preferable to wealth and disrepute. For this reason, only a little celebrity has followed; but still, my hope is that, with the publication of these books, I shall become known even to posterity. And it is not to be wondered at that I am so generally unknown. Other architects go about and ask for opportunities to practise their profession; but I have been taught by my instructors that it is the proper thing to undertake a charge only after being asked, and not to ask for it; since a gentleman will

blush with shame at petitioning for a thing that arouses suspicion. It is in fact those who can grant favours that are courted, not those who receive them. What are we to think must be the suspicions of a man who is asked to allow his private means to be expended in order to please a petitioner? Must he not believe that the thing is to be done for the profit and advantage of that individual?

6. Hence it was that the ancients used to entrust their work in the first place to architects of good family, and next inquired whether they had been properly educated, believing that one ought to trust in the honour of a gentleman rather than in the assurance of impudence. And the architects themselves would teach none but their own sons or kinsmen, and trained them to be good men, who could be trusted without hesitation in matters of such importance. But when I see that this grand art is boldly professed by the uneducated and the unskilful, and by men who, far from being acquainted with architecture, have no knowledge even of the carpenter's trade, I can find nothing but praise for those householders who, in the confidence of learning, are emboldened to build for themselves. Their judgment is that, if they must trust to inexperienced persons, it is more becoming to them to use up a good round sum at their own pleasure than at that of a stranger.

7. Nobody, therefore, attempts to practise any other art in his own home—as, for instance, the shoemaker's, or the fuller's, or any other of the easier kinds—but only architecture, and this is because the professionals do not possess the genuine art but term themselves architects falsely. For these reasons I have thought proper to compose most carefully a complete treatise on architecture and its principles, believing that it will be no unacceptable gift to all the world. In the fifth book I have said what I had to say about the convenient arrangement of public works; in this I shall set forth the theoretical principles and the symmetrical proportions of private houses.