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Topic: Vitruvius: the architecture of Rome and the Empire.

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Message: Vitruvius on Tuscan order
Author: teaching again - Franciscus Porcius
Date: Jan 11, 2001 17:35

On the Tuscan style,
Vitruvius, Book IV, chapter VII


1. Text
2. Comment
2.1 General remarks
2.2 The metric system of Vitruvius applied on the Tuscan temple
2.3 Evolution and typology of the Etruscan temple
2.3.1 Temples with a single cella
2.3.2 Temples with three cellae
2.3.3 Temples with a single cella and open alae
2.3.4. Temples with a single cella and closed alae
3. Bibliography


1. Locus, in quo aedis constituetur, cum habuerit in longitudine sex partes, una adempta reliquum quod erit, latitudini detur. Longitudo autem dividatur bipertito, et quae pars erit interior, cellarum spatiis designetur, quae erit in proxima fronti, columnarum dispositione relinquatur.


1. Let the site on which the temple is to be built be six parts in length; five parts are to be assigned to the breadth. Now the length is to be divided in two. The interior half is to be marked out by the dimensions of the sanctuary; the part on the front is to be left for the portico with its columns.

2. Item latitudo dividatur in partes X. Ex his ternae partes dextra ac sinistra cellis minoribus, sive ibi alae futurae sunt, dentur; reliquae quattuor mediae aedi attribuantur. Spatium, quod erit ante cellas in pronao, ita columnis designetur, ut angulares contra antas, parietum extremorum regione, conlocentur; duae mediae e regione parietum, qui inter antas et mediam aedem fuerint, ita distribuantur; et inter antas et columnas priores per medium isdem regionibus alterae disponantur. Eaeque sint ima crassitudine altitudinis parte VII; altitudo tertia parte latitudinis templi; summaque columna quarta parte crassitudinis imae contrahatur.


2. Further let the width be divided into 10 parts. Of these let three parts each on the right and left be given to the lesser sanctuaries, or alternately to the wings; the remaining four parts are to be given to the central shrine. Let the space which is before the sanctuaries in the forecourt be planned for the columns, in such a way that the corner columns are put opposite the pilasters, in line with the ends of the walls. The two middle columns are to be in line with the walls which are between the wings and the middle shrine. Between the pilasters and the columns in front, additional columns are to be put half way in line with them. At the bottom these are to have a diameter of 1/7 of the height. The height is to be one third of the width of the temple. The top of the column is to be diminished ¼ of the diameter at the bottom.

3. Spirae earum altae dimidia parte crassitudinis fiant. Habeant spirae earum plinthum ad circinum, altam suae crassitudinis dimidia parte, torum insuper cum apophysi crassum quantum plinthus. Capituli altitudo dimidia crassitudinis. Abaci latitudo quanta ima crassitudo columnae. Capitulique crassitudo dividatur in partes tres, e quibus una plintho, quae est in abaco, detur, altera echino, tertia hypotrachelio cum apophysi.


3. The bases are to be made half the diameter high. Let the bases have their plinths circular and half the height of the base, with a torus and apophysis as deep as the plinth. The height of the capital is to be half a diameter. The width of the abacus is as great as the diameter of the columns at the base. The height of the capital is to be divided into three parts, of which one is to be given to the plinth or abacus, one to the echinus or ovolo, the third to the hypotrachelium with the apophysis.

4. Supra columnas trabes compactiles inponantur ut altitudinis modulis is, qua magnitudine operis postulabuntur. Eaeque trabes conpactiles ponantur ut eam habeant crassitudinem, quanta summae columnae erit hypotrachelium, et ita sint conpactae subscudibus et securiclis, ut conpactura duarum digitorum habeant laxationem. Cum enim inter se tangunt et non spiramentum et perflatum venti recipiunt, concalefaciuntur et celeriter putrescunt.


4. Above the columns, beams are to be placed bolted together, of such proportionate depth as shall be demanded by the magnitude of the work. And these coupled beams are to have a thickness equal to the hypotrachelium at the top of the column, and they are to be so coupled with dowels and mortices that the coupling allows an interval of two inches between the joists. For when they touch one another and do not admit a breathing space and passage of air, they are heated and quickly decay.

5. Supra trabes et supra parietes traiecturae mutulorum parte IIII altitudinis columnae proiciantur; item in eorum frontibus antepagmenta figantur. Supraque id tympanum fastigii structura seu de materia conlocetur. Supraque eum fastigium, columen, cantherii, templa ita sunt conlocanda, ut stilicidium tecti absoluti tertiario respondeat.


5. Above the beams and walls the mutules are to project ¼ of the height of the column. On the front of these, casings are to be fixed and above them the tympanum of the gable either of stone or wood. Above this the ridge-piece, rafters, and purlins, are to be so placed that the pitch of the roof is one in three.

The figures in the text are borrowed from the edition by Barbaro (1567)

Reconstruction of the Tuscan temple as described by Vitruvius
Wiegand in La Glyptothèque Ny-Carlsberg, München 1896-1912


2.1 General remarks

In this chapter Vitruvius describes the Etruscan temple architecture as it was applied in his days. First of all it is remarkable that he gives this order as the last order in this treatise, and only with a short notice. First he described the ‘Greek’ orders: Doric (IV,3), Ionic (III,5), and Corinthian (IV,1). Only when this is done he comes back to traditional Italic architecture. Why did he do so, while in his preface of the first book he pretends to give the rules of architecture seen from an Augustean point of view “Back to the roots and glory to the greatness of Rome, its arts and culture”? Nevertheless Roman culture was overwhelmed by Hellenistic influences, in literature, sculpture and – of course – also in architecture. Maybe this is the reason why Vitruvius described first the Hellenistic tendencies – greatly influenced by Hermogenes – and that he, only after this, comes back to the original Italic traditions.
I even have the impression that he finds the Tuscan order rather unesthetic; this is particularly clear when we read again the phrase of book III, 3, 5 where he describes the aerostyle temple as heavy and ponderous. Further he gives no measures for this type of building. Where in all the other chapters dedicated to Doric, Ionic and Corinthian the measures of the temple, and its subdivisions are related to the module, the Tuscan order is only treated in general terms, without any reference to modules.

His description is not the description of ‘THE’ Etruscan temple. There are several variations of this highly characteristic type. Vitruvius describes two of them but does not claim that they were archetypes: he just wished to re-establish an ideal arrangement and proportion, and therefore choses two types which were most in vogue in his day, because they were used for Roman Capitolia. He omits variations, though they may have been as old and typical as the two kinds which he has chosen: great temples with large open pronai, on a quadrangular plan, with either three cellas against the closed rear wall or open wings (alae).
Vitruvius was further misled by later Roman and Etruscan temples with their many innovations. Both the Etruscans and the Romans started in the third century B.C. to build stone temples on the old Etruscan plan, but with Greek columns. A good example of this mixture of Etruscan plan with Greek columns can be seen in the Tempio della Pace at Paestum, first build in 273 B.C. This is a temple with a high podium, stairs only in front, alae, a closed rear wall and a large open pronaos, which are typical Etruscan features, but with Corinthian columns and small intercolumniations from which it can be concluded that there was a stone entablature instead of a wooden as is necessary in the Tuscan style.
With this short enumeration the principal characteristics of Etruscan temple architecture are given.
Typical of all Etruscan temples is the division of the length in two parts: one part is given to the cellae while the other is given to the pronaos.
This division in two is indicated by the word ‘bipertito. There has been a lot of discussion among scholars about the exact meaning of this word. Some have argued that it means ‘divided in two equal parts’ while others think that it means ‘divided in two parts (which are not necesseraly equal)’. If we compare the most important Tuscan temples we find mostly a division of the length in two (nearly) equal parts. Moreover I tend to a translation as ‘two equal parts’ since Vitruvius gives exact rules for the planning of the Tuscan temple: six parts for the length, five parts for the breadth, division of the cellae in three, four and three parts. Why, among these exact proportions, should he give suddenly a vague indication of a division of the length in two (not further defined) unequal parts?
The front of the temple is formed by a roomy colonnaded pronaos in front of the cellae with the entrance only on the front. The temple thus had an innate axial tendency, which was also visible in the early temple areas at Bolsena and Orvieto. In Roman times this was emphasized by altars placed in front of the centre of the entrance. This practice is described by Vitruvius in IV,5 where he says that temples must ‘look towards the western quarter of the sky, so that those who come to the altar to sacrifice may look towards the eastern Heaven and the image in the temple’ and in IV,9 ‘Let the altars look to the east and be always placed lower than the images which shall be in the temple’. These two statements refer to the axiality of the whole temple precinct.
Common to all the various temples with this general arrangement are wide spaces between the columns. The reason for this is simple: according to sentence 2 of this chapter there are only four columns in front and an additional row of four columns is put between the front row and the tripartite cella, or the cella and alae. On the front this gives very wide intercolumniations since the columns are placed in the axes of the walls of the cellae, wich gives a division of 3-4-3 parts; further the length of the temple is divided in two, and one part is given to the pronaos, this can only result in a very wide intercolumniation at the sides.
For these wide intercolumniations only a wooden entablature is possible. Over such a distance every stone architrave would break under its own weight, and under the pressure of the higher parts of the roof. This is the reason why in the Tempio della Pace at Paestum the columns were placed close to each other: this temple had a stone entablature in the Greek manner. Vitruvius points clearly to the use of wood in sentence 4: ‘… And they are to be so coupled with dowels and mortices that the coupling allows an interval of two inches between the joists.’. When stone had been used this notice would have been completely superfluous.
Other features are the use of podia and the presence of flights of stairs or ramps on the front.
Another characteristic is the presence of a back wall whis is always closed, but sometimes with extensions right and left of the cella(s) if the temples had side rooms or alae, with columns outside the walls of the central cella(s).

2.2 The metric system of Vitruvius applied on the Tuscan order

For the other temple types Vitruvius starts from a ‘modulus’. In the Tuscan order he gives only a general lay-out of the plan, with an enumeration of the different ratios. If we read this chapter without any kwowledge of the metric rules which laid at the base of his architectural concept it should be impossible to build this temple. When we go back to book III, 1, 2 it is clear that the foot and its subdivisions is the base of the metric system used by Vitruvius. Therefore it must be possible to relate this foot (29,5 cm) to the metrically undefined modulus.
We can define the modulus as the lower diameter of the column. Vitruvius uses this definition in his description of the other temple types and there is no reason to doubt why in the Tuscan order he should have used an other basic measure.
Since the lower diameter = 1/7 of the height, and the height = 1/3 of the width, the lower diameter = 1/21 of the width of the temple. Thus the module = 1/21. If we consider the fact that the columns were placed in the axis of the walls and that it is possible that the proportions are reckoned starting from a grid layed out on the axes of walls and columns we can omit 1 module (2 x ½ module of the outmost columns). The width of the temple is thus 20 modules. From this we can deduce the width of the three cellae to 6-8-6 modules, measured on the axes of the dividing walls.
Module and foot can be further divided. In Roman times the foot was divided in 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64. 1/64 was the smallest subdivision, it equals 0,46 cm. On the other side, when we consider all the measures given in the Tuscan temple, the smallest subdivision of the module is 1/12. If we accept that the smallest subdision of the module equals the smallest subdivision of the foot than 1/12 module = 1/64 foot or the module should be 12/64 (= 3/16) foot.
To have a workable unit wich corresponds with a possible lower diameter of the column this last measure is far to small. To have a measure which gives satisfactory results we must keep in mind that the Roman metric system was principally based on doubling a basic measure. With this knowledge we are able to multiply our result of 3/16 until we got a workable diameter. Further it is assumed that this diameter must be between 2 and 3 foot or 59 and 88,5 cm. In that case a module (or lower diameter of the column) of 2 and 5/8 foot gives the best results.
Indeed, the given length/width proportion of 6:5 can be clearly defined. We demonstrated already that the width of the temple is 20 modules. 20 x 2 5/8 = 52 1/2 foot. Divided by 5 this gives a value of 10,5 foot. Taken this 6 times for the length we got a value of 63 foot. So the groundplan has a ratio of 6:5 or 63 x 52 1/2 foot (18,58 x 15,48 meter). The length is divided in two; each part measures 63 foot : 2 = 31 1/2 foot (9,29 meter). The back part is reserved for the cellae which have a ratio of 3 – 4 – 3 parts. It means that the whole width is divided by 10 of which three parts are given to the cella on the left, 4 to the central cella and again 3 to the cella on the right. This gives following measures: 52 1/2 foot : 10 = 5 1/4 foot. Multiplied with 3 and 4 we have a subdivision of the three cellae in 15 ¾ - 21 – 15 ¾ foot (4,64 – 6,19 – 4,64 meter).
Also for the proportions of the columns we have satisfactory results. The height of the column should be 1/3 of the width of the temple or 52 ½ foot : 3 = 17 ½ foot (5,16 meter).
The same can be done for the smaller parts: the height of the bases of the columns equals ½ of the lower diameter or 1 5/16 foot. Etc. Every measure we try to reckon back falls within the chain of divisions of the foot in 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64 parts.

2.3 Evolution and typology of the Etruscan temple

2.3.1. Temples with a single cella

The oldest examples of Etruscan temples have a very simple ground plan. A quadrangular cella is preceeded by a pronaos only formed by two columns placed in the axis of the side walls of the cella. We find this type of temple in many terracotta models from 500 B.C. onwards.
This type gave birth to a great and important group of Roman temples. These temples had a cella without alae and with four columns or more in the pronaos. The pronaos tends to occupy the front half of the building. This type occurs in our Roman material from ± 200 B.C. The earliest examples are temples B and D and the Port temple at Cosa, the larger temple on the acropolis of Norba.
From these temples, with a single cella, we can deduce that the tripartition of the cella, which is mostly described as typical for Etruscan temples, is not at all the typical arrangement. This tripartition was later necessitated by the fact that several deities were whorshipped in the same temple: each deity got his own cella.
In his more elaborate form this type evolved to the two types described by Vitruvius: a building plot with a ratio of 6 to 5 of which the length is divided in two. The rear part is given to the cella(s), while the front part is reserved for the pronaos. From the proportions of the ground plan Vitruvius passes on to the inner arragement, giving the first place to the three-cella temples and merely mentioning the possibility of temples with one cella and (open) alae.

2.3.2. Temples with three cellae

A good example of the three-cella temple with pronaos and temenos is the so called Belvedere temple at Orvieto, build in the fifth century B.C. He has a tripartite cella which occupies nearly half the ground surface, preceeded by a deep pronaos with two rows of columns placed in the axes of the walls. This disposition accords completely to the codification of Vitruvius. Another old example of this type is a temple at Pyrgi (the actual Santa Severa), the harbour of Caere, build around 450 B.C. Here again we find a tripartite cella with columns placed in the axis of the walls, but this temple has elongated antae. Between these antae two rows of two columns are placed, in front of this four additional columns form a front colonnade. This type is described by Vitruvius in the following chapter of this book: he calls it a mixture of Tuscan and Greek style:

Vitruvius, IV, 8, 5

Nonnulli etiam de tuscanicis generibus sumentes columnarum dispositiones transferunt in corinthiorum et ionicorum operum ordinationes, et quibus in locis in pronao procurrunt antae, in isdem e regione cellae parietum columnas binas conlocantes efficiunt tuscanicorum et graecorum operum communem ratiocinationem.

(For some taking the arrangement of the columns from the Tuscan style, transfer them to the design of Corinthian and Ionic buildings. And where the pilasters run forward in the forecourt, they place two columns in line with the walls of the cella and produce a system common to Tuscan and Greek forms of building.

An interesting group of this type are the so called Capitolia.

The oldest example, of course, is the temple of Iupiter Optimus Capitolinus at Rome, dedicated in 509 B.C. We find the typical Tuscan features: nearly square ground plan with a ratio of 7:6 (Vitruvius prescribes 6:5), closed rear wall, columns placed in the axis of the walls. In addition alae were added, which resulted in a hexastyle front. The tripartite cella was necessitated by the worship of the capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno, Minerva.
The earliest example of this type outside Rome is the so called capitolium temple of Cosa, build around 150 B.C. Here the pronaos was half enclosed by long antae, which take the place of the outer columns of the inner row.
Other examples can be seen in the capitolium of Firenze, discovered near the actual Piazza della Repubblica and in the capitolium of Signia.
All these temples come close to the proportions given by Vitruvius and it is even possible that Vitruvius had these temples in mind when describing the Tuscanicae dispositiones.
But none of these temples has the exact measures and proportions as given by Vitruvius. Therefore it is assumed that Vitruvius intended to give the ideal proportions for this kind of temple. In reality it is impossible to find a building in which these proportions are realised.

Plans of the principal capitolia
Capitolium of Cosa Capitolium of Firenze Capitolium of signia

2.3.3. Temples with a single cella and open alae

This is the second type described by Vitruvius. A single cella is placed against the rear wall. The rear wall has extensions to the right and to the left. From this extensions start the alae formed by a colonnade.
That this type was typically Etruscan is proven by the Tomba Ildebranda at Sovana, where this kind of temple was imitated in the façade of a tomb.

Tomba Ildebranda
Actual situation Reconstruction

A good example of this kind of temple in Roman context can be seen in temple C of the Largo Argentina at Rome. This temple was dedicated to the goddess Feronia and build around the beginning of the third century B.C.
Towards the Late Republic and the beginning of the Empire this type was hellenized and used e.g. as base for the groundplan of the temple of Augustus on his forum. Here we see a combination of the single cella with alae, and hellenistic columns close to each other, just as we already saw in the Tempio della Pace at Paestum.

2.3.4. Temples with a single cella and closed alae

This type is not mentioned by Vitruvius. Here the alae are changed to lateral corridors with closed side walls along the entire length of the temple. Columns are placed on the front between the ends of these side walls, which formed elongated antae.
A good example of this type can be seen in Fiesole, near Firenze, where a third century B.C. temple was found under the rests of a republican temple of the first century B.C.

The single cella temple of Fiesole
Plan of the excavation Axonometric reconstruction


S.P.Platner-T.Ashby, A topographical dictionary of ancient Rome, London, 1929.
F.E.Brown-E.H.Richardson-L.Richardson, Cosa II, The temples of the arx, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 26, 1960.
A. Boëthius-J.B.Ward-Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture, Harmondsworth, 1970.
F.Coarelli, Guida archeologica di Roma, Rome, 1974.
H.Knell, Der Tuskanische Tempel nach Vitruv, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung, band 90, 1983, (1), pp. 91-101.
H.Knell, Vitruvs Architekturtheorie: Versuch einer Interpretation, Darmstadt, 1985.
D.Theodorescu, Le forum et le temple “Dorique-Corinthien” de Paestum: une experience pré-Vitruvienne, in Munus non ingratum, Proceedings of the International Symposium on Vitruvius’ De Architectura and the Hellenistic and Republican Architecture, Leiden, 1989, pp. 114-125.

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