Arkitekten i antiken


  • Kristian Jeppesen


architect, arkitekt, antik, antiquity


The Architect in Antiquity

The word "architect" in modern languages is derived from the Latin "architectus", and this again is a loan-word based on the Greek "architekton". Tekton means "one who creates", and was used particularly for artisans. "Architekton" therefore signifies an artisan-in-chief or master builder. Ancient literature testifies that the Greek artists were, in fact, considered non-intellectual craftsmen, while architects were not popular like painters and sculptors, who could appeal to the public taste for mythology and life-like imagery.

Historians of late antiquity, however, such as Pliny and Pausanias, have handed down important facts respecting architects and architecture, while the Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote ten books about architecture, was chiefly inspired by Greek architectural tradition. Moreover original building inscriptions (descriptions, technical instructions, presentations of accounts) tell us quite a lot about conditions under which architects worked.

The Greek architects were strongly committed to the traditional pure orders: Ionic and Doric - (deviations such as the capital in fig. 2 are exceptional in the prime of Greek architecture). In the 4th century they began to combine them, but the attempts were abandoned and subsequently the Ionic style was preferred, though the Doric survived. This development probably was due mainly to a strict formulation of architectural theory in the terms of the so called "symmetry", which seems to be of mathematical origin. The Greek mathematicians of Plato's age established a definition of "symmetry" in contrast to "asymmetry", after they had discovered by geometrical methods the existence of incommensurable linear quantities. By this theory two linear quantities were symmetrical only if they had a common denominator, a "module".

Vitruvius gives only a vague idea of the adaptation of "symmetry" to architecture in Greece, but an analysis of buildings such as the Erechtheum (fig. 3) and the Arsenal at the Piraeus (fig. 1, 4), from the second halves of the 5th and 4th century respectively, shows what happened. The ratios of the measurements in the Erechtheum are rather complicated (e. g. 13/22 or -19/47), whereas the arsenal was designed with a module of 2½ ft., which involved simple proportions like 1/2, 2/3, 3/5, and 3/8. It is clear that the problem of "angle contraction" in the Doric style (due to the difference in width between triglyphs and columns) became hopeless when irregular proportions were considered incompatible with a pure "symmetrical" design. For the rest, the methods of the ancient architects were in the main like those of today.

The design comprised plan, elevation, perspective representation or model (Vitruvius). The Greeks and Romans knew how to plan on a large scale, but functionalism in the modem sense was unknown.

Vitruvius, who is such a valuable source of information about Greek architects, was also a practising architect, but probably not of great importance. He won fame exclusively as the learned man who emerged from oblivion when the monuments of ancient architecture had fallen in ruins. For the architects of the Renaissance, who knew little about the famous artists on whom he based his eclecticism, he was not only a classical writer, but - undeservedly - an oracle, who had fixed for eternity the principles of Classical Architecture.

Kr. Jeppesen.





Jeppesen, K. (1954). Arkitekten i antiken. Kuml, 4(4), 78–91. Hentet fra