Ancient Greek Construction Techniques

Written by deborah cater
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Ancient Greek Construction Techniques
The Temple of Athena at the Parthenon remains standing centuries after its construction. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

The Greeks continued Egyptian principles of construction, such as building with stone, though their architecture was more highly adorned than the Egyptians'. A large number of ancient Greek buildings are still standing today, the most famous being the Parthenon and Acropolis complex in Athens. Prior to the seventh century B.C., buildings were constructed of wood with mud brick walls.

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From the seventh century B.C. onwards, the Greeks moved from wood and mud brick to marble and limestone for their materials. At the height of what is considered the Ancient Greek period in the fifth century B.C., marble and limestone were the primary building materials, with wood used for structural beams and roofs covered in terracotta tiles. The buildings were then painted in bright colours.

Structural Principles

The predominant method employed by the ancient Greeks was the post and lintel method. Post and lintel is a simple architrave where one horizontal beam, or lintel, is supported by two vertical posts. This method limited the design of the buildings, preventing wide spans as the columns or posts had to be close together. Most Greek temples were built around timber beams with stone columns. The beams held up the roof and decorated friezes above.

Construction Method

The ancient Greeks did not use mortar in their construction. Clamps and dowls were used to fasten the pieces together. Blocks of marble or limestone were carefully quarried and measured and then cut to within a millimetre in order to ensure perfect construction. The tools used by the stone masons were hand tools such as the adze, auger, chisel and mallet. Master stonemasons filled the stone columns and plinths with highly decorative carvings. A crane was used to lift the pieces into position.

Orders of Construction

There were different orders or styles of build, including the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Corinthian order used entasis to create optical illusions within the buildings, such as making them appear symmetrical. The Parthenon columns, for example, are wider at the top than the bottom to give the illusion that the building is symmetrical. Similarly, the plinth is actually concave in order to give the appearance of it being a straight line.

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