Greek Building Technology and Methods
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0055
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0055
Building technology encompasses all human activities involved in the production of buildings, from the alteration of natural resources for the production of building materials to their processing, transport, and assembly. The Greeks made significant contributions to the history of building technology. The Romans perfected several of their innovations, such as techniques for lifting heavy loads, which survived with little change until the Industrial Revolution. This bibliographic article surveys the construction of Greek architecture, along with its economic and social implications. Specifically, it focuses on the construction of monuments, which for the study of Greek construction technologies are paradigmatic for their innovative building methods and the considerable resources they required. This bibliography’s chronological scope thus covers the full range of development of Greek monumental architecture, from approximately the 8th century BCE through the Hellenistic period. Our main sources on Greek building technology and methods include the material remains from ancient buildings, or the impressions they left in the ground; the detailed financial accounts that the Greeks kept for major building projects, some of which are known from inscriptions dating from the 5th century onward; the Latin and Greek works of writers such as Vitruvius, Pliny, and Theophrastus, which include valuable information on natural resources, materials, and construction methods; and ancient (especially Roman) illustrations of working craftsmen or machines involved in the building process. Except in the Greek islands, where walls of unworked stones were always common, the first monumental Greek temples of the 8th to mid-7th centuries BCE were made predominantly of perishable materials, not much different from ordinary houses. The remains of their mud brick walls, timber posts, and thatch or clay roofs are rarely preserved and difficult to detect archaeologically. The shift to permanent materials began in the first half of the 7th century BCE, when temples appeared with roofs of terracotta tiles and walls of stone ashlars. While mud brick walls and thatch or clay roofs continued to be used for houses, terracotta roofing systems and cut-stone masonry soon replaced perishable materials in the construction of monumental architecture. The northern Peloponnese (at Olympia and in the Corinthia) first developed terracotta roof tiles, which soon spread across the Greek world with regional variations. In the early temples at Corinth and Isthmia, terracotta tile roofs were associated with ashlar walls from the outset. Within the first half of the 7th century BCE, ashlar masonry also appeared in Ionia, in the first Temple of Hera at Samos. Roof tiles, however, diffused quicker than cut-stone construction, and mud brick was still used for temple walls throughout the Archaic period, and occasionally beyond. Contingent to the development of cut-stone construction were significant advances in transport and lifting methods, which led to the adoption of the crane in the late 6th century BCE. The Classical and Hellenistic periods saw further advances in building technology. The loading capacity of lifting machines increased steadily to subsequently reach hundreds of tons in the Roman period. Methods for connecting blocks with metal clamps and dowels were also developed and perfected over time. Until the late Classical period, roof frames usually consisted of post-and-lintel structures. While roof trusses may have been experimented with in Sicily as early as the Archaic period, they seem to have appeared in other Greek areas (especially eastern Greece and the Aegean Islands) no earlier than the Hellenistic period. The references collected in this bibliography are organized in sections that address specific aspects of Greek building technology. Each section reviews a selection of studies on a specific topic and, when available, includes both general introductions intended for students and more specialized works intended for researchers. Not all important studies can be listed here, but readers will find them in the bibliographies of the studies that are included. The materials are organized as follows: General Overviews; Reference Works, Bibliographies; Scholarly Journals; Conference Publications; Literary and Epigraphic Sources; Architectural Design and Construction; Greek Engineering and Technology; Ancient Mechanics and Machines; Architects and Builders; the Economics of Construction; Materials, with an emphasis on stone; the process of Stone Construction, including all major stages from quarrying to the final setting and finishing of blocks; Roofing Systems in Terracotta and Marble; Roof Structures and Ceilings; Near Eastern influences on Greek Building Methods in the Larger Geographical Context and External Influences; Soil Subsidence and Foundations: Ancient Approaches and Archaeological Analysis; and Seismic Analysis, comprising works that examine the earthquake response of ancient Greek buildings. These last works were developed by engineers through a process of numerical analysis and tests on scaled replicas of ancient building components. Only marginally considered by archaeologists and architectural historians, this area of research has produced important results for an understanding of ancient Greek structures and building methods.
General overviews are organized thematically rather than chronologically or geographically. They fall into three categories: manuals of Greek building technology and methods; monographs that deal with construction and design or other areas of engineering; and short, introductory reviews of building materials and methods intended for students. Orlandos 1966–1968 (French translation of the Greek original, in 1955–1958) and Martin 1965 (in French) developed an approach still followed today, which draws on ancient sources and archaeological evidence. While their references are out of date, these books remain the most thorough investigations of ancient Greek building materials and construction techniques and are still valuable for both students and researchers. Based on a similar approach, Hellmann 2002 (also in French) provides a comprehensive and largely up-to-date overview, while also addressing design, building organization, style, and decoration. Rich in illustrations and references, it is a necessary resource for advanced students and researchers. Wider in scope, Malacrino 2010 (English translation of the Italian original) and Müller-Wiener 1988 (in German) include more concise overviews of Greek building materials and methods. Cooper 2008, Klein 2016, and Tucci 2014 are introductory reviews in English, principally intended for undergraduate students. For a cross-cultural perspective, see also Bianchini 2010 and Wright 2000–2009 (both cited under Greek Building Methods in the Larger Geographical Context and External Influences).
Cooper, Frederick. “Greek Engineering and Construction.” In The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World. Edited by John P. Oleson, 225–255. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
This unconventional overview addresses how the mechanics of materials and efforts to prevent seismic damage affected temple design. Its overarching idea is that Greek builders had a “scientific” understanding of structures and materials in many ways comparable to those of modern engineers and technicians. Useful, although some concepts are merely asserted without supporting evidence or adequate references. Available online by subscription or library access.
Hellmann, Marie-Christine. L’architecture grecque I: Les principes de la construction. Paris: Picard, 2002.
Provides a comprehensive, richly illustrated, and up-to-date overview of ancient Greek building materials and methods, from the Archaic through the Hellenistic period. Addresses the role of the architect, worksites, design procedures, the architectural orders, and architectural decoration. A necessary resource for both students and scholars, it contains numerous references to specialist sources for further investigation.
Klein, Nancy L. “How Buildings Were Constructed.” In A Companion to Greek Architecture. Edited by Margaret M. Miles, 105–118. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.
A brief, well-balanced review of Greek building materials and methods, with up-to-date references and a useful guide to further readings. Very good starting point for undergraduate students. Available online by subscription.
Malacrino, Carmelo G. Constructing the Ancient World: Architectural Techniques of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Translated by Jay Hyams. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010.
English translation of Ingegneria dei Greci e dei Romani, first published in 2009. Accessible introduction to ancient Greek and Roman building materials and construction techniques. Also includes hydraulics; heating systems; and road, bridge, and tunnel construction. Richly illustrated, with a glossary for students.
Martin, Roland E. Manuel d’architecture Grecque: Matériaux et techniques. Paris: Picard, 1965.
Comprehensive and thorough review of Greek building materials and construction techniques. This book assembles information provided by Greek and Roman authors, ancient art, building accounts, inscriptions, and archaeological evidence known up until the time of its publication. Organized into sections on materials, building organization and methods, and stone masonry. The references are out of date, but on many aspects it remains the most in-depth overview. Includes several detailed tables. Still valuable for researchers as well as students.
Müller-Wiener, Wolfgang. Griechisches Bauwesen in der Antike. Munich: Beck, 1988.
Thematic overview of ancient Greek architecture, with a focus on building materials, tools, and techniques. It includes discussions of design; building organization and the roles of clients, architects, and builders; style and decoration; building types; and city planning. Discussions are mostly concise, and the book is useful in providing a sense of the complex relationships among different aspects of design, and of construction at different scales.
Orlandos, Anastasios K. Les matériaux de construction et la technique architecturale des anciens grecs. 2 vols. Paris: De Boccard, 1966–1968.
French translation of Τα υλικά δομής των αρχαίων Ελλήνων, first published in 1955–1958. Authoritative review of Greek building materials and methods, based on textual and material evidence. Volume 1 examines materials other than stone: wood, clay and terracotta, metal, and mortar. Volume 2 focuses on stone: types of building stones, organization of construction, building methods, masonry, and stone arches and vaults. The references are out of date, but the work remains a valuable resource for scholars and students.
Tucci, Pier Luigi. “The Materials and Techniques of Greek and Roman Architecture.” In The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Art and Architecture. Edited by Clemente Marconi, 241–265. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
The first half of this essay offers a brief overview of Greek building technology. Organized by materials (wood, clay and terracotta, stone, metal) and methods. A good starting point for students. Available online by subscription or library access.
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