The purpose of this essay is to identify the differences between the Greek and Roman architecture of Antiquity. Although Greek and Roman architecture have various similarities, it is important to identify the differences and the ways the Romans chose to adapt their influences. The five architectural orders were highly favoured in both Greek and Roman architecture.
Greek architecture is a very influential and historical movement which is used to inspire many architects today. This movement was based on the post and lintel system which is simply a system made up of columns. Although the concept of columns may seem simple, the Greeks carved the columns into something beautiful – including carvings of mythological creatures. They created some of the most precise and distinctive designs in the history of architecture. The Greeks interest in simplicity and proportion in their buildings went on to influence Roman architects.
There are five main architectural orders in classical architecture which are Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite – which were all named by the Romans. Greek architects created the first three and took part in influencing the latter two “which were composites rather than genuine innovations” (Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2009-2014). The differences in these styles were best recognised by the décor that existed at the top of each column.
(Doric, Ionic and Corinthian)
The Doric Order
The Doric Order was the first of the architectural orders to be introduced, the top of the column is plain and undecorated while the column itself is fluted with parallel grooves.
They stood directly on the temple without a base. Prominent features of both Greek and Roman versions of the Doric order are the alternating “triglyphs” and “metopes” (Essley, J). Three vertical grooves make up the triglyphs and imitate the wooden end-beams, which are supported by the architrave that takes up the lower half of the entablature (superstructure of mouldings and bands which lie horizontally above columns). Under each triglyph are peglikedrops that maintain the structure. A triglyph is placed in the centre above every column with another between columns. “The Greeks felt that the corner triglyph should form the corner of the entablature to create a contrast with the supporting column. The spaces between the triglyphs are themetopes” (Princeton, Online).
(Temple of Hephaestus in (Sharon Mollerus)
Athens, Greece, 449-415 BC)
The Ionic Order
The Ionic Order was the second to be invented and can be recognised by its scrolled design at the top of each column – the columns are also fluted and sit on a base. This order is more slender that the Doric but very similar.
(Column of the Erechtheion, Acropolis of Athens, 421-406 BC) (Guillaume Piolle)
The Corinthian Order
The Corinthian Order was the latest order to be produced, the late classical period was where the earliest example was found. It is best recognised for its ornate capital – apart from this factor, it is the same as the previous ionic order. The Corinthian Order was favoured by the Roman architects in a lot of their work.
(The Pantheon in Rome, 126 AD) (Rosengarten. A, 1898)
The Greek tradition in architecture was continued on by the Romans, their interest is evident in many of their buildings – especially their use of the Corinthian Order. The Romans were known as “great innovators” because of the way they adopted new techniques and new materials and the way they adapted on existing techniques. The Romans introduced the use of domes and arches to create a new architectural style. They continued to use the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders – however adapting the capital of the Corinthian to make it more decorative.
The Tuscan column is very similar to the Doric column but with a smaller design at the top. The Tuscan column was used most “in domestic architecture such as peristyles and verandahs” (Ancient History Encyclopaedia, 2009 – 2014).There became a stage where columns were no longer used for structure, but were purely decorative.
The differences between Greek and Roman Architecture
Greek and Roman architecture is relatively similar, they were inspired by the Greeks existing work and adapted their own styles around it.
“As noted on the Palomar Educational Style Guide, the Greeks preferred a post and lintel construction method, while the Romans favoured a true arch construction”. (Faller, M)
Although the Romans were inspired by the Greeks which resulted in many similarities, there are still many differences, such as the materials they chose to use. They both commonly constructed their buildings from marble or limestone – but, the Romans perfected the use of concrete in buildings which allowed them to create more free-flowing structures.
In relation to the styles of columns they used, they were all favoured by both the Greeks and the Romans and made a persistent appearance in most of their buildings. Although, the Greeks did prefer the use of the Doric and Ionic orders, whereas the Romans preferred the more ornate Corinthian order.
The purpose of the Greeks and Romans architecture was also different. Most of the existing Greek architecture was designed as art to honour their gods which resulted in a less ornate interior. Due to the Romans advances in material technology, a greater variety of Roman buildings still exist today. Roman architecture was beautiful internally and externally, mirroring “the pursuit of pleasure, an essential part of Roman culture” (Faller, M)
In relation to more of the construction details, the Greeks work was more equilateral which was known as “post and lintel construction”. The Romans took great credit for grasping the arch and the dome, which are a prominent feature in ancient Roman architecture, but not in Greek architecture.
The Parthenon and the Pantheon
The Parthenon and the Pantheon are both ancient temples – the Parthenon was built in Greece for their god Athena and the Pantheon was constructed in Rome to celebrate the Roman gods. The Parthenon was first to be constructed in 126 AD and the Pantheon was constructed about six centuries later around 447 – 438 BC.
(The Parthenon) (The Pantheon)
Both these temples have many similarities and differences due to the Romans adapting the Greeks processes. The majority of the exterior design of the Pantheon is adapted from traditional, ancient Greek architecture, such as that of the Parthenon. It is said that both of these temples functioned as churches during the middle ages and have both faced rebuilding. The religious links of the Pantheon prevented it from being damaged by loots, but unfortunately many parts of the Parthenon were stolen in the 1700s.
Of course, the Parthenon was a Doric temple which was supported by Ionic columns. The floor was constructed wholly of marble, where the base was constructed from limestone – typical materials used by the Greeks. “The east pediment narrates the birth of Athena, while the west pediment shows the contest between Athena and Poseidon to become the city’s patron god” (Diffen, Online).
This creates a contrast to the Pantheon, which was a concrete dome supported by the ornate Corinthian columns. They were interested in capturing more beauty with small, distinctive details. Again, typical materials such as marble and concrete were used to construct this temple.
Architectural history is what formed the architecture of today, both Greek and Roman architecture has played a huge influence in numerous modern buildings. The majority of their work is very similar but they still continued to work in numerous different ways in order to make their statement in architecture. Without the Romans – who mastered the use of concrete – may have resulted in a different use of materials in which we use today. Both the Greeks and Romans have created the basis of architecture to form the process we have today.
Word count: 1277
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Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Photograph, viewed 12th December 2014,
PRINCETON. Doric Order. [Online] Available from: https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Doric_order.html. [Accessed 12th December 2014].
Essley, J. Pediment and tympanum, Metopes and Triglyths. Terms from Greek temples. [Online] Available from: http://www.house-design-coffee.com/metopes.html. [Accessed 12th December 2014].
Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, Greece, 449-415 BC. Photograph, viewed 13th December 2014,
Sharon Mollerus / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph, viewed 13th December 2014,
Guillaume Piolle/ public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph, viewed 13th December 2014,
Column of the Erechtheion, Acropolis of Athens, 421-406 BC. Photograph, viewed 13th December 2014,
The Pantheon in Rome, 126 AD. Photograph, viewed 13th December,
Rosengarten. A,A Handbook of Architectural Styles,1898. Photograph, viewed 13th December 2014,
ANCIENT HISTORY ENCYCLOPEDIA. (2009 – 2014) Roman Architecture. [Online] Available from: http://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Architecture/. [Accessed 14th December 2014].
Faller, M. Differences between Greek and Roman architecture. [Online] Available from: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5507152_differences-between-roman-greek-architecture.html. [Accessed 14th December 2014].
Diffen. Pantheon vs. Parthenon. [Online] Available from: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Pantheon_vs_Parthenon. [Accessed 15th December 2014].