On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

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

1. IF our designs for private houses are to be correct, we must at the outset take note of the countries and climates in which they are built. One style of house seems appropriate to build in Egypt, another in Spain, a different kind in Pontus, one still different in Rome, and so on with lands and countries of other characteristics. This is because one part of the earth is directly under the sun's course, another is far away from it, while another lies midway between these two. Hence, as the position of the heaven with regard to a given tract on the earth leads naturally to different characteristics, owing to the inclination of the circle of the zodiac and the course of the sun, it is obvious that designs for houses ought similarly to conform to the nature of the country and to diversities of climate.

2. In the north, houses should be entirely roofed over and sheltered as much as possible, not in the open, though having a warm exposure. But on the other hand, where the force of the sun is great in the southern countries that suffer from heat, houses must be built more in the open and with a northern or northeastern exposure. Thus we may amend by art what nature, if left to herself, would mar. In other situations, also, we must make modifications to correspond to the position of the heaven and its effects on climate.

3. These effects are noticeable and discernible not only in things in nature, but they also are observable in the limbs and bodies of entire races. In places on which the sun throws out its heat in moderation, it keeps human bodies in their proper condition, and where its path is very close at hand, it parches them up, and burns out and takes away the proportion of moisture which they ought to possess. But, on the other hand, in the cold regions

that are far away from the south, the moisture is not drawn out by hot weather, but the atmosphere is full of dampness which diffuses moisture into the system, and makes the frame larger and the pitch of the voice deeper. This is also the reason why the races that are bred in the north are of vast height, and have fair complexions, straight red hair, grey eyes, and a great deal of blood, owing to the abundance of moisture and the coolness of the atmosphere.

4. On the contrary, those that are nearest to the southern half of the axis, and that lie directly under the sun's course, are of lower stature, with a swarthy complexion, hair curling, black eyes, strong legs, and but little blood on account of the force of the sun. Hence, too, this poverty of blood makes them over-timid to stand up against the sword, but great heat and fevers they can endure without timidity, because their frames are bred up in the raging heat. Hence, men that are born in the north are rendered over-timid and weak by fever, but their wealth of blood enables them to stand up against the sword without timidity.

5. The pitch of the voice is likewise different and varying in quality with different nations, for the following reasons. The terminating points east and west on the level of the earth, where the upper and lower parts of the heaven are divided, seem to lie in a naturally balanced circle which mathematicians call the Horizon. Keeping this idea definitely in mind, if we imagine a line drawn from the northern side of the circumference (N) to the side which lies above the southern half of the axis (S), and from here another line obliquely up to the pivot at the summit, beyond the stars composing the Great Bear (the pole star P), we shall doubtless see that we have in the heaven a triangular figure like that the musical instrument which the Greeks call the “sambuca.”


6. And so, under the space which is nearest to the pivot at the bottom, off the southern portions of the line of the axis, are found nations that on account of the slight altitude of the heaven above them, have shrill and very high-pitched voices, like the string nearest to the angle in the musical instrument. Next in order come other nations as far as the middle of Greece, with lower elevations of the voice; and from this middle point they go on in regular order up to the extreme north,where, under high altitudes, the vocal utterance of the inhabitants is, under natural laws, produced in heavier tones. Thus it is obvious that the system of the universe as a whole is, on account of the inclination of the heaven, composed in a most perfect harmony through the temporary power of the sun.

7. The nations, therefore, that lie midway between the pivots at the southern and the northern extremities of the axis, converse in a voice of middle pitch, like the notes in the middle of a musical scale; but, as we proceed towards the north, the distances to the heaven become greater, and so the nations there, whose vocal utterance is reduced by the moisture to the “hypatès” and to “proslambanomenon,” are naturally obliged to speak in heavier tones. In the same way, as we proceed from the middle point to the south, the voices of the nations there correspond in extreme height of pitch and in shrillness to the “paranetès” and “netès”

8. That it is a fact that things are made heavier from being in places naturally moist, and higher pitched from places that are hot, may be proved from the following experiment. Take two cups which have been baked in the same oven for an equal time, which are of equal weight, and which give the same note when struck. Dip one of them into water and, after taking it out of both. This done, there will be a great difference in their notes, and the cups can no longer be equal in weight. Thus it is with men: though born in the same general form and under the same all-embracing heaven, yet in some of them, on account of the heat in their country, the voice strikes

the air on a high note, while in others, on account of abundance of moisture, the quality of tones produced is very heavy.

9. Further, it is owing to the rarity of the atmosphere that southern nations, with their keen intelligence due to the heat, are very free and swift in the devising of schemes, while northern nations, being enveloped in a dense atmosphere, and chilled by moisture from the obstructing air, have but a sluggish intelligence. That this is so, we may see from the case of snakes. Their movements are most active in hot weather, when they have got rid of the chill due to moisture, whereas at the winter solstice, and in winter weather, they are chilled by the change of temperature, and rendered torpid and motionless. It is therefore no wonder that man's intelligence is made keener by warm air and duller by cold.

10. But although southern nations have the keenest wits, and are infinitely clever in forming schemes, yet the moment it comes to displaying valour, they succumb because all manliness of spirit is sucked out of them by the sun. On the other hand, men born in cold countries are indeed readier to meet the shock of arms with great courage and without timidity, but their wits are so slow that they will rush to the charge inconsiderately and inexpertly, thus defeating their own devices. Such being nature's arrangement of the universe, and all these nations being allotted temperaments which are lacking in due moderation, the truly perfect territory, situated under the middle of the heaven, and having on each side the entire extent of the world and its countries, is that which is occupied by the Roman people.

11. In fact, the races of Italy are the most perfectly constituted in both respects—in bodily form and in mental activity to correspond to their valour. Exactly as the planet Jupiter is itself temperate, its course lying midway between Mars, which is very hot, and Saturn, which is very cold, so Italy, lying between the north and the south, is a combination of what is found on each side, and her preeminence is well regulated and indisputable. And so by her wisdom she breaks the courageous onsets of the

barbarians, and by her strength of hand thwarts the devices of the southerners. Hence, it was the divine intelligence that set the city of the Roman people in a peerless and temperate country, in order that it might acquire the right to command the whole world.

12. Now if it is a fact that countries differ from one another, and are of various classes according to climate, so that the very nations born therein naturally differ in mental and physical conformation and qualities, we cannot hesitate to make our houses suitable in plan to the peculiarities of nations and races, since we have the expert guidance of nature herself ready to our hand. I have now set forth the peculiar characteristics of localities, so far as I could note them, in the most summary way, and have stated how we ought to make our houses conform to the physical qualities of nations, with due regard to the course of the sun and to climate. Next I shall treat the symmetrical proportions of the different styles of houses, both as wholes and in their separate parts.