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Book I
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Book III

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio:
de Architectura, Book II

Introduction

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Dinocrates the architect, relying on the powers of his skill and ingenuity, whilst Alexander was in the midst of his conquests, set out from Macedonia to the army, desirous of gaining the commendation of his sovereign. That his introduction to the royal presence might be facilitated, he obtained letters from his countrymen and relations to men of the first rank and nobility about the king's person; by whom being kindly received, he besought them to take the earliest opportunity of accomplishing his wish. They promised fairly, but were slow in performing; waiting, as they alleged, for a proper occasion. Thinking, however, they deferred this without just grounds, he took his own course for the object he had in view. He was, I should state, a man of tall stature, pleasing countenance, and altogether of dignified appearance. Trusting to the gifts with which nature had thus endowed him, he put off his ordinary clothing, and having anointed himself with oil, crowned his head with a wreath of poplar, slung a lion's skin across his left shoulder, and carrying a large club in his right hand, he sallied forth to the royal tribunal, at a period when the king was dispensing justice.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The novelty of his appearance excited the attention of the people; and Alexander soon discovering, with astonishment, the object of their curiosity, ordered the crowd to make way for him, and demanded to know who he was. "A Macedonian architect," replied Dinocrates, "who suggests schemes and designs worthy your royal renown. I propose to form Mount Athos into the statue of a man holding a spacious city in his left hand, and in his right a huge cup, into which shall be collected all the streams of the mountain, which shall then be poured into the sea."a

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. Alexander, delighted at the proposition, made immediate inquiry if the soil of the neighbourhood were of a quality capable of yielding sufficient produce for such a state. When, however, he found that all its supplies must be furnished by sea, he thus addressed Dinocrates: "I admire the grand outline of your scheme, and am well pleased with it: but I am of opinion he would be much to blame who planted a colony on such a spot. For as an infant is nourished by the milk of its mother, depending thereon for its progress to maturity, so a city depends on the fertility of the country surrounding it for its riches, its strength in population, and not less for its defence against an enemy. Though your plan might be carried into execution, yet I think it impolitic. I nevertheless request your attendance on me, that I may otherwise avail myself of your ingenuity."

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. From that time Dinocrates was in constant attendance on the king, and followed him into Egypt; where Alexander having perceived a spot, at the same time naturally strong, the centre of the commerce of the country, a land abounding with corn,º and having those facilities of transport which the Nile afforded, ordered Dinocrates to build a city whose name should be Alexandria. Dinocrates obtained this honour through his comely person and dignified deportment. But to me, Emperor, nature hath denied an ample stature; my face is wrinkled with age, and sickness has impaired my constitution. Deprived of these natural accomplishments, I hope, however, to gain some commendation through the aid of my scientific acquirements, and the precepts I shall deliver.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. In the first book I have treated of architecture, and the parts into which it is divided; of the walls of a city, and the division of the space within the walls. The directions for the construction of sacred buildings, their proportions and symmetry, will follow and be explained: but I think they will be out of place, unless I previously give an account of the materials and workmanship used in their erection, together with an investigation of their several properties and application in different cases. Even this I must preface with an inquiry into the origin and various species of the earliest buildings, and their gradual advance to perfection. In this I shall follow the steps of Nature herself, and those who have written on the progress from savage to civilized life, and the inventions consequent on the latter state of society. Thus guided, I will proceed.

Chapter 1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Mankind originally brought forth like the beasts of the field, in woods, dens, and groves, passed their lives in a savage manner, eating the simple food which nature afforded. A tempest, on a certain occasion, having exceedingly agitated the trees in a particular spot, the friction between some of the branches caused them to take fire; this so alarmed those in the neighbourhood of the accident, that they betook themselves to flight. Returning to the spot after the tempest had subsided, and finding the warmth which had thus been created extremely comfortable, they added fuel to the fire excited, in order to preserve the heat, and then went forth to invite others, by signs and gestures, to come and witness the discovery. In the concourse that thus took place, they testified their different opinions and expressions by different inflexions of the voice. From daily association words succeeded to these indefinite modes of speech; and these becoming by degrees the signs of certain objects, they began to join them together, and conversation became general.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Thus the discovery of fire gave rise to the first assembly of mankind, to their first deliberations, and to their union in a state of society. For association with each other they were more fitted by nature than other animals, from their erect posture, which also gave them the advantage of continually viewing the stars and firmament, no less than from their being able to grasp and lift an object, and turn it about with their hands and fingers. In the assembly, therefore, which thus brought them first together, they were led to the consideration of sheltering themselves from the seasons, some by making arbours with the boughs of trees, some by excavating caves in the mountains, and others in imitation of the nests and habitations of swallows, by making dwellings of twigs interwoven and covered with mud or clay. From observation of and improvement on each others' expedients for sheltering themselves, they soon began to provide a better species of huts.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. It was thus that men, who are by nature of an imitative and docile turn of mind, and proud of their own inventions, gaining daily experience also by what had been previously executed, vied with each other in their progress towards perfection in building. The first attempt was the mere erection of few spars united together by means of timbers laid across horizontally, and covered the erections with reeds and boughs, for the purpose of sheltering themselves from the inclemency of the seasons. Finding, however, that flat coverings of this sort would not effectually shelter them in the winter season, they made their roofs of two inclined planes meeting each other in a ridge at the summit, the whole of which they covered with clay, and thus carried off the rain.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. We are certain that buildings were thus originally constructed, from the present practice of uncivilized nations, whose buildings are of spars and thatch, as may be seen in Gaul, in Spain, in Portugal, and in Aquitaine. The woods of the Colchi, in Pontus, furnish such abundance of timber, that they build in the following manner. Two trees are laid level on the earth, right and left, at such distance from each other as will suit the length of the trees which are to cross and connect them. On the extreme ends of these two trees are laid two other trees transversely: the space which the house will inclose is thus marked out. The four sides being thus set out, towers are raised, whose walls consist of trees laid horizontally but kept perpendicularly over each other, the alternate layers yoking the angles. The level interstices which the thickness of the trees alternately leave, is filled in with chips and mud. On a similar principle they form their roofs, except that gradually reducing the length of the trees which traverse from angle to angle, they assume a pyramidal form. They are covered with boughs and smeared over with clay; and thus after a rude fashion of vaulting, their quadrilateral roofs are formed.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The Phrygians, who inhabit a champain country destitute of timber, choose natural hillocks, which they pierce and hollow out for their accommodation, as well as the nature of the soil will permit. These dwellings they cover with roofs constructed of logs bound together, covered with reeds and straw, and coated with a large quantity of earth. This species of covering protects the hut from the extreme heat of the summer, as well as from the piercing cold of the winter. The weeds which grow in the vicinity of pools are used in other parts of the covering of the huts. Each nation, in short, has its own way of building, according to the materials afforded and the habits of the country. At Marseilles the roofs are covered with straw and earth mixed up together, instead of tiles. At Athens, even to this day, the Areopagus, an example of remote antiquity, is covered with clay; and the house of Romulus in the capitol, by its thatched roof, clearly manifests the simple manners and habits of the ancients.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. It is from such specimens we are enabled to form just ideas of the early method of building. Daily practice made the original builders more skilful, and experience increased their confidence; those who took more delight in the science making it their exclusive profession. Thus man, who, in addition to the senses which other animals enjoy in common with him, is gifted by nature with such powers of thought and understanding, that no subject is too difficult for his apprehension, and the brute creation are subject to him from his superiority of intellect, proceeded by degrees to a knowledge of the other arts and sciences, and passed from a savage state of life to one of civilization.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. From the courage which his gradual success naturally excited, and his engagement in those various speculations with which the arts are connected, his ideas expanded; and from building huts he soon proceeded to the erection of houses constructed with brick walls or with stones, whose roofs were of timber covered with tiles. Thus by experience and observation the knowledge of certain proportions was attained, which in the beginning were fluctuating and uncertain; and advantage being taken of the bounty of nature, in her supply of timber and other building materials, the rising art was so cultivated that by the help of other arts mere necessity was lost sight of; and by attending to the comforts and luxuries of civilized society, it was carried to the highest degree of perfection. I shall now, to the best of my ability, proceed to treat of those materials which are used in building, their quality, and use.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. Lest any one object that the order of my treatise on the matters in question be not well arranged, and that this book should have had precedence of the last, I think it proper to state, that in writing a Dissertation on Architecture I considered myself bound, in the first place, to set forth those branches of learning and science with which it is connected, to explain its origin and different species, and to enumerate the qualifications which an architect should possess. Hence, having first adverted to those principles on which the art depends, I shall now proceed to an explanation of the nature and use of the different materials employed in the practice of it. This work not being intended for a treatise on the origin of architecture; that origin, and the degrees by which it passed to its present state of perfection, is only incidentally mentioned.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. This book is consequently in its proper place. I shall now proceed to treat, in an intelligible manner, of the materials which are appropriate for building, how they are formed by nature, and of the analysis of their component parts. For there is no material nor body of any sort whatever which is not composed of various elementary particles; and if their primary composition be not duly understood, no law of physics will explain their nature to our satisfaction.

Chapter 2

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Thales thought that water was the first principle of all things. Heraclitus, the Ephesian, who, on account of the obscurity of his writings, was called σκοτεινὸς by the Greeks, maintained a similar doctrine in respect of fire. Democritus, and his follower Epicurus, held similar opinions with regard to atoms; by which term is understood such bodies as are incapable of being cut asunder, or, as some say, of further division. To water and fire the philosophy of the Pythagoreans added air and earth. Hence Democritus, though loosely expressing himself, seems to have meant the same thing, when he calls the elements indivisible bodies; for when he considers them incapable of corruption or alteration, and of eternal duration and infinite solidity, his hypothesis makes the particles not yet so connected as to form a body.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Since, therefore, all bodies consist of and spring from these elements, and in the great variety of bodies the quantity of each element entering into their composition is different, I think it right to investigate the nature of their variety, and explain how it affects the quality of each in the materials used for building, so that those about to build may avoid mistakes, and be, moreover, enabled to make a proper choice of such materials as they may want.

Chapter 3

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I shall first treat of bricks, and the earth of which they ought to be made. Gravelly, pebbly, and sandy clay are unfit for that purpose; for if made of either of these sorts of earth, they are not only too ponderous, but walls built of them, when exposed to the rain, moulder away, and are soon decomposed, and the straw, also, with which they are mixed, will not sufficiently bind the earth together, because of its rough quality. They should be made of earth of a red or white chalky, or a strong sandy nature. These sorts of earth are ductile and cohesive, and not being heavy, bricks made of them are more easily handled in carrying up the work.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The proper seasons for brick-making are the spring and autumn, because they then dry more equably. Those made in the summer solstice are defective, because the heat of the sun soon imparts to their external surfaces an appearance of sufficient dryness, whilst the internal parts of them are in a very different state; hence, when thoroughly dry, they shrink and break those parts which were dry in the first instance; and thus broken, their strength is gone. Those are best that have been made at least two years; for in a period less than that they will not dry thoroughly. When plastering is laid and set hard on bricks which are not perfectly dry, the bricks, which will naturally shrink, and consequently occupy a less space than the plastering, will thus leave the latter to stand of itself. From its being extremely thin, and not capable of supporting itself, it soon breaks into pieces; and in its failure sometimes involves even that of the wall. It is not, therefore, without reason that the inhabitants of Utica allow no bricks to be used in their buildings which are not at least five years old, and also approved by a magistrate.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. There are three sorts of bricks; the first is that which the Greeks call Didoron (διδῶρον), being the sort we use; that is, one foot long, and half a foot wide. The two other sorts are used in Grecian buildings; one is called Pentadoron, the other Tetradoron. By the word Doron the Greeks mean a palm, because the word δῶρον signifies a gift which can be borne in the palm of the hand. That sort, therefore, which is five palms each way is called Pentadoron; that of four palms, Tetradoron. The former of these two sorts is used in public buildings, the latter in private.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. Each sort has half bricks made to suit it; so that when a wall is executed, the course on one of the faces of the wall shews sides of whole bricks, the other face of half bricks; and being worked to the line on each face, the bricks on each bed bond alternately over the course below. Besides the pleasant varied appearance which this method gives, it affords additional strength, by the middle of a brick, on a rising course, falling over the vertical joints of the course thereunder. The bricks of Calentum in Spain, Marseilles in France, and Pitane in Asia, are, when wrought and dried, specifically lighter than water, and hence swim thereon. This must arise from the porosity of the earth whereof they are made; the air contained in the pores, to which the water cannot penetrate, giving them a buoyant property. Earth of this sort being, therefore, of such a light and thin quality, and impervious to water, be a lump thereof of whatever size, it swims naturally like pumice-stone. Bricks of this sort are of great use for building purposes; for they are neither heavy nor liable to be injured by the rain.

Chapter 4

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. In buildings of rubble work it is of the first importance that the sand be fit for mixing with the lime, and unalloyed with earth. The different sorts are these; black, white, deep red, and bright red. The best of each of these sorts is that which, when rubbed between the fingers, yields a grating sound. That, also, which is earthy, and does not possess the roughness above named, is fit for the purpose, if it merely leave a stain or any particles of earth on a white garment, which can easily be brushed away.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. If there be no sand-pits where it can be dug, river sand or sifted gravel must be used. Even sea sand may be had recourse to, but it dries very slowly; and walls wherein it is used must not be much loaded, unless carried up in small portions at a time. It is not, however, fit for those walls that are to receive vaulting. In plastered walls, built with new pit sand, the salt which exudes destroys the plaster;

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. but plaster readily adheres to and dries on walls built with new pit sand, and vaulting may safely spring from them. If sand have been dug a long time, and exposed to the sun, the moon, and the rain, it loses its binding quality, and becomes earthy; neither when used does it bind the rubble stones together so as to prevent them sliding on their beds and falling out: nor is it fit to be used in walls where great weights are to be supported. Though pit sand is excellent for mortar, it is unfit for plastering; for being of such a rich quality, when added to the lime and straw, its great strength does not suffer it to dry without cracks. The poorness of the river sand, when tempered with beaters, makes the plastering as hard as cement.

Chapter 5

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Having treated of the different sorts of sand, we proceed to an explanation of the nature of lime, which is burnt either from white stone or flint. That which is of a close and hard texture is better for building walls; as that which is more porous is better for plastering. When slaked for making mortar, if pit sand be used, three parts of sand are mixed with one of lime. If river or sea sand be made use of, two parts of sand are given to one of lime, which will be found a proper proportion. If to river or sea sand, potsherds ground and passed through a sieve, in the proportion of one third part, be added, the mortar will be better for use.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The cause of the mass becoming solid when sand and water are added to the lime, appears to be, that stones, like other bodies, are a compound of elements: those which contain large quantities of air being soft, those which have a great proportion of water being tough, of earth, hard, of fire, brittle. For stones which, when burnt, would make excellent lime, if pounded and mixed with sand, without burning, would neither bind the work together, nor set hard; but having passed through the kiln, and having lost the property of their former tenacity by the action of intense heat, their adhesiveness being exhausted, the heat being partially retained, when the substance is immersed in water before the heat can be dissipated, it acquires strength by the water rushing into all its pores, effervesces, and at last the heat is excluded.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. Hence, limestone, previous to its burning, is much heavier than it is after having passed through the kiln: for, though equal in bulk, it is known, by the abstraction of the moisture it previously contained, to lose one-third of its weight by the process. The pores of limestone, being thus opened, it more easily takes up the sand mixed with it, and adheres thereto; and hence, in drying, binds the stones together, by which sound work is obtained.

Chapter 6

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. There is a species of sand which, naturally, possesses extraordinary qualities. It is found about Baiæ and the territory in the neighbourhood of Mount Vesuvius; if mixed with lime and rubble, it hardens as well under water as in ordinary buildings. This seems to arise from the hotness of the earth under these mountains, and the abundance of springs under their bases, which are heated either with sulphur, bitumen, or alum, and indicate very intense fire. The inward fire and heat of the flame which escapes and burns through the chinks, makes this earth light; the sand-stone (tophus), therefore, which is gathered in the neighbourhood, is dry and free from moisture. Since, then, three circumstances of a similar nature, arising from the intensity of the fire, combine in one mixture, as soon as moisture supervenes, they cohere and quickly harden through dampness; so that neither the waves nor the force of the water can disunite them.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. That these lands are affected with heat, as surmised, is evident, because in the mountains of Cumæ and at Baiæ, sweating places are excavated, in which the hot vapour rising upwards from the intensity of the fire, strikes through the earth, and so escapes in these places that they are singularly beneficial for the purpose. It is moreover said that in former times fires under Vesuvius existed in abundance, and thence evolved flames about the fields. Thus that which we call sponge-stone, or Pompeian pumice-stone, burnt from another species of stone, appears to be acted on by fire so as to possess a quality of this sort.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The species of sponge-stone, however, thence obtained, is not found except in the neighbourhood of Ætna and the hills of Mysia, which the Greeks call κατακεκαυμένοι, and places of such description. If, therefore, in these places hot springs and heated vapours are found in the cavities of the mountains, and the spots are recorded by the antientsº to have been subject to fires issuing out of the lands, it seems certain that the moisture is extracted from the sand-stone and earth in their neighbourhood, by the strength of the fire, as from lime-stone in a kiln.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. Dissimilar and unequal actions being thus concentrated towards the same end, the great want of moisture quickly supplied by water binds and strongly cements them, and also imparts a rapid solidity, by means of the heat common to both the bodies. It is needless to enquire why, as there are many other springs in Tuscany, we do not there find a powder, which, for the same reason, would harden under water: should I be thereon questioned, I would thus explain the circumstance.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. All lands do not possess similar qualities; nor is stone universally found. Some lands are earthy, others gravelly, others gritty, others sandy: in short, the quality of land, in different parts of the earth, varies as much as even the climate itself. For instance; on the side of the Apennines towards Tuscany, sand-pits are found in abundance; whereas, on the other side of the Apennines, facing the Adriatic, none are discoverable: so also in Achaia, Asia, and universally on the other side of the sea, such things are not known. It does not therefore follow, that in all places abounding with hot springs all other circumstances should be similar. Nature has not made all things to suit the convenience of man, but differently and fortuitously.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. Hence, in places where the mountains are not earthy, but of stone, the force of the fire escaping through the chinks burns that which is soft and tender, whilst that which is hard is left. Thus the earth of Campania, when burnt, becomes a powder; that of Tuscany a coal. Both of these are of great use in building, one species being very serviceable in land works, the other in works under water. In Tuscany, however, the quality of the material is softer than sandstone, but harder than earth; and from its entire subjection to the action of the sub-existing fire, it becomes that sort of sand which is called carbunculus.

Chapter 7

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I have described the different species of lime and sand, and their qualities. Stone quarries, from which square and rubble stones are procured and prepared for the purposes of building, will now be considered. The qualities of these differ very much. Some stone is soft; the red, for instance, found in the neighbourhood of Rome, in the countries of the Pallienses, Fidenates, and Albanæ. Some moderately so, as the Tiburtine, Amiternine, Soractine, and those of that sort. Others are hard, even as flints. There are many other species, as the red and black sandstone (tophus) of Campania, and the white sort of Umbria, Picenum, and Venice, which is cut with a saw like wood.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The soft species have this advantage, that when recently taken from the quarry they are easily worked, and answer well under cover; but when used in open and exposed situations, and subjected to the action of the frost and rain, they soon become friable, and moulder away. They are also much affected by the salt near the sea-shore, and are not capable of preserving their strength when exposed to great heat. The Tiburtine stones, and those of a similar nature, resist great weights no less than the action of the weather, but are easily injured by fire. The instant they are exposed to that they are ruined, from their possessing so small a quantity of moisture; their earthy particles, also, are few, and the quantity of air and fire in them considerable. Hence, from the small portion of earth and water which they contain, the fire easily acts upon them, and, occupying the interstices, drives out the air with accumulated violence, and communicates its own hot quality to them.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. There are many quarries on the borders of the Tarquinienses, called the Anician quarries, in colour much resembling the Alban stone. They are worked in most abundance in the neighbourhood of the Volscinian lake, and in the prefecture of Statonia. This stone has numberless good qualities; neither frost nor fire affects it. It is hard and durable, from its containing but little air and fire, but a moderate quantity of moisture, and much earth. Close in texture, it is not injured by the weather nor by heat.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The monuments about Ferentinum,b which are built of this stone, prove its durability; among these may be observed large statues well executed, bas-reliefs on a smaller scale, and acanthus leaves and flowers elegantly carved, which, though long since wrought, appear as fresh as though they were but recently finished. From the stones of the above quarries the metal founders make their casting moulds, for which they are well calculated. If this stone were to be had near Rome, it would be used in all works about the city, to which it is indeed worthy to be applied.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. But as necessity, on account of proximity to the quarries, obliges us to use the red sort of stone, that of the Pallienses and other species in the immediate vicinity of the city, in order to find that which is least defective, let it be selected as follows. Two years before the commencement of the building, the stones should be extracted from the quarries in the summer season; by no means in the winter; and they should then be exposed to the vicissitudes and action of the weather. Those which, after two years' exposure, are injured by the weather, may be used in the foundations; but those which continue sound after this ordeal, will endure in the parts above ground. These rules apply equally to squared as to rubble or unsquared stone work.

Chapter 8

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The different species of walls are, the RETICULATUM (net-like), a method now in general use, and the INCERTUM (uncertain), which is the antientº mode. The reticulatum is the most beautiful, but is very liable to split, from the beds of the stones being unstable, and its deficiency in respect of bond. The incertum, on the contrary, course over course, and the whole bonded together, does not present so beautiful an appearance, though stronger than the reticulatum.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Both species should be built of the smallest sized stones, that the walls, by sucking up, and attaching themselves to, the mortar, may last the longer. For as the stones are of a soft and porous nature, they absorb, in drying, the moisture of the mortar, and this, if used plentifully, will consequently exercise a greater cementing power; because from their containing a larger portion of moisture, the wall will not, of course, dry so soon as otherwise; and as soon as the moisture is absorbed by the pores of the stone from the mortar, the lime, losing its power, leaves the sand, so that the stones no longer adhere to it, and in a short time the work becomes unsound.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. We may see this in several monuments about the city, which have been built of marble or of stones squared externally; that is, on the face, but filled up with rubble run with mortar. Time, in these, has taken up the moisture of the mortar, and destroyed its efficacy, by the porosity of the surface on which it acted. All cohesion is thus ruined, and the walls fall to decay.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. He who is desirous that this may not happen to his work, should build his two face walls two feet thick either of red stone or of brick or common flint, binding them together with iron cramps run with lead, and duly preserving the middle space or cavity. The materials, in this case, not being thrown in at random, but the work well brought up on the beds, the upright joints properly arranged, and the face walls, moreover, regularly tied together, they are not liable to bulge, nor be otherwise disfigured.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. In these respects one cannot refrain from admiring the walls of the Greeks. They make no use of soft stone in their buildings: when, however, they do not employ squared stone, they use either flint or hard stone; and, as though building with brick, they cross or break the upright joints, and thus produce the most durable work. There are two sorts of this species of work; one called ISODOMUM, the other PSEUDISODOMUM.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. The first is so called, because in it all the courses are of an equal height; the latter received its name from the unequal heights of the courses. Both these methods make sound work: first, because the stones are hard and solid, and therefore unable to absorb the moisture of the mortar, which is thus preserved to the longest period; secondly, because the beds being smooth and level, the mortar does not escape; and the wall moreover, bonded throughout its whole thickness, becomes eternal.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. There is still another method, which is called ἔμπλεκτον (EMPLECTUM), in use even among our country workmen. In this species the faces are wrought. The other stones are, without working, deposited in the cavity between the two faces, and bedded in mortar as the wall is carried up. But the workmen, for the sake of despatch, carry up these casing walls, and then tumble in the rubble between them; so that there are thus three distinct thicknesses; namely, the two sides or facings, and the filling in. The Greeks, however, pursue a different course, laying the stones flat, and breaking the vertical joints; neither do they fill in the middle at random, but, by means of bond stones, make the wall solid, and of one thickness or piece. They moreover cross the wall, from one face to the other, with bond stones of a single piece, which they call διατόνοι, (DIATONI) tending greatly to strengthen the work.c

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. He, therefore, who is desirous of producing a lasting structure, is enabled, by what I have laid down, to choose the sort of wall that will suit his purpose. Those walls which are built of soft and smooth-looking stone, will not last long. Hence, when valuations are made of external walls, we must not put them at their original cost; but having found, from the register, the number of lettings they have gone through, we must deduct for every year of their age an eightieth part of such cost, and set down the remainder of the balance as their value, inasmuch as they are not calculated to last more than eighty years.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. This is not the practice in the case of brick walls, which, whilst they stand upright, are always valued at their first cost. Hence, in some states, not only public and private buildings, but even royal structures, are built of brick. We may instance that part of the wall at Athens towards Mounts Hymettus and Pentelicus, the temples of Jupiter and Hercules, in which the cells are of brick, whilst the columns and their entablatures are of stone, in Italy the antientº and exquisitely wrought wall of Arezzo, and at Tralles a palace for the Attalic kings, which is the official residence of the priest. Some pictures painted on brick walls at Sparta, after being cut out, were packed up in wooden cases and transported to the Comitium to grace the Ædileship of Varro and Murena.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 10. In the house of Croesus, which the Sardians call Gerusia, established for the repose and comfort of the citizens in their old age, as also in the house of Mausolus, a very powerful king of Halicarnassus, though all the ornaments are of Proconnesian marble, the walls are of brick, are remarkably sound at the present day, and the plastering with which they are covered is so polished that they sparkle like glass. The prince who caused them to be thus built was not, however, restrained by economy; for, as king of Caria, he must have been exceedingly rich.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 11. Neither could it be urged that it was from want of skill and taste in architecture, that he did so. Born at Mylasa, and perceiving that Halicarnassus was a situation fortified by nature, and a place well adapted for commerce, with a commodious harbour, he fixed his residence there. The site of the city bears a resemblance to a theatre, as to general form. In the lowest part of it, near the harbour, a forum was built: up the hill, about the middle of the curve, was a large square in the centre of which stood the mausoleum, a work of such grandeur that it was accounted one of the seven wonders of the world. In the centre, on the summit of the hill, was the temple of Mars, with its colossal statue, which is called ἀκρόλιθος, sculptured by the eminent hand of Leocharis. Some, however, attribute this statue to Leocharis; others to Timotheus. On the right, at the extreme point of the curve, was the temple of Venus and Mercury, close to the fountain of Salmacis.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 12. It is a vulgar error, that those who happen to drink thereat are affected with love-sickness. As, however, this error is general, it will not be amiss to correct the impression. It is not only impossible that the water should have the effect of rendering men effeminate and unchaste; but, on the contrary, that alluded to is clear as crystal, and of the finest flavour. The origin of the story, by which it gained the reputation of the above quality, is as follows. When Melas and Arevanias brought to the place a colony from Argos and Troezene, they drove out the barbarous Carians and Lelegæ. These, betaking themselves to the mountains in bodies, committed great depredations, and laid waste the neighbourhood. Some time afterwards, one of the colonists, for the sake of the profit likely to arise from it, established close to the fountain, on account of the excellence of its water, a store where he kept all sorts of merchandize; and thus it became a place of great resort of the barbarians who were drawn thither. Coming, at first, in small, and at last in large, numbers, the barbarians by degrees shook off their savage and uncivilized habits, and changed them, without coercion for those of the Greeks. The fame, therefore, of this fountain, was acquired, not by the effeminacy which it is reputed to impart, but by its being the means through which the minds of the barbarians were civilized.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 13. I must now, however, proceed to finish my description of the city. On the right summit we have described the temple of Venus and the above named fountain to have been placed: on the left stood the royal palace, which was planned by Mausolus himself. This commanded, on the right, a view of the forum and harbour, and of the whole circuit of the walls: on the left, it overlooked a secret harbour, hidden by the mountains, into which no one could pry, so as to be aware of what was transacting therein. In short, from his palace, the king, without any person being aware of it, could give the necessary orders to his soldiers and sailors.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 14. After the death of Mausolus, the Rhodians, indignant at his wife, who succeeded to the government, governing the whole of Caria, fitted out a fleet, for the purpose of seizing the kingdom. When the news reached Artemisia, she commanded her fleet to lie still in the secret harbour; and having concealed the sailors and mustered the marines, ordered the rest of the citizens to the walls. When the well appointed squadron of the Rhodians should enter the large harbour, she gave orders that those stationed on the walls should greet them, and promise to deliver up the town. The Rhodians, leaving their ships, penetrated into the town; at which period Artemisia, by the sudden opening of a canal, brought her fleet round, through the open sea, into the large harbour; whence the Rhodian fleet, abandoned by its sailors and marines, was easily carried out to sea. The Rhodians, having now no place of shelter, were surrounded in the forum and slain.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 15. Artemisia then embarking her own sailors and marines on board of the Rhodian fleet, set sail for Rhodes. The inhabitants of that city seeing their vessels return decorated with laurels, thought their fellow citizens were returning victorious, and received their enemies. Artemisia having thus taken Rhodes, and slain the principal persons of the city, raised therein a trophy of her victory. It consisted of two brazen statues, one of which represented the state of Rhodes, the other was a statue of herself imposing a mark of infamy on the city. As it was contrary to the precepts of the religion of the Rhodians to remove a trophy, they encircled the latter with a building, and covered it after the custom of the Greeks, giving it the name ἄβατον.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 16. If therefore, kings of such great power did not despise brick buildings, those who, from their great revenue and spoils in war, can afford the expence not only of squared and rough stone, but even of marble buildings, must not despise brick structures when well executed. I shall now explain why this species of walls is not permitted in the city of Rome, and also why such walls ought not to be permitted.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 17. The public laws forbid a greater thickness than one foot and a half to be given to walls that abut on a public way, and the other walls, to prevent loss of room, are not built thicker. Now brick walls, unless of the thickness of two or three bricks, at all events of at least one foot and a half, are not fit to carry more than one floor, so that from the great population of the city innumerable houses would be required. Since, therefore, the area it occupies would not in such case contain the number to be accommodated, it became absolutely necessary to gain in height that which could not be obtained on the plan. Thus by means of stone piers or walls of burnt bricks or unsquared stones, which were tied together by the timbers of the several floors, they obtained in the upper story excellent dining rooms. The Roman people by thus multiplying the number of stories in their houses are commodiously lodged.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 18. Having explained why, on account of the narrowness of the streets in Rome, walls of brick are not allowed in the city, I shall now give instructions for their use out of the city when required, to the end that they may be durable. On the top of a wall immediately under the roof, there should be a course of burnt bricks, about one foot and a half in height, and projecting over the walls like the corona of a cornice; thus the injury to be guarded against in such a wall, will be prevented; for if any tiles should be accidentally broken or dislodged by the wind, so as to afford a passage for the rain, the burnt brick, a protection to it, will secure the wall itself from damage, and the projection will cause the dropping of the water to fall beyond the face of the wall and thus preserve it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 19. To judge of such burnt bricks as are fit for the purpose is not at first an easy matter; the only way of ascertaining their goodness is to try them through a summer and winter, and, if they bear out through these undamaged, they may be used. Those which are not made of good clay are soon injured by the frost and rain; hence if unfit to be used in roofs they will be more unfit in walls. Walls built of old tiles are consequently very lasting.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 20. As to wattled walls, would they had never been invented, for though convenient and expeditiously made, they are conducive to great calamity from their acting almost like torches in case of fire. It is much better, therefore, in the first instance, to be at the expense of burnt bricks, than from parsimony to be in perpetual risk. Walls moreover, of this sort, that are covered with plaster are always full of cracks, arising from the crossing of the laths; for when the plastering is laid on wet, it swells the wood, which contracts as the work dries, breaking the plastering. But if expedition, or want of funds, drives us to the use of this sort of work, or as an expedient to bring work to a square form, let it be executed as follows. The surface of the foundation whereon it is to stand must be somewhat raised from the ground or pavement. Should it ever be placed below them it will rot, settle, and bend forward, whereby the face of the plastering will be injured. I have already treated on walls, and generally on the mode of preparing and selecting the materials for them. I shall now proceed to the use of timber in framing, and to a description of its several sorts, as also of the mode of fitting timbers together, so that they may be as durable as their nature will permit.

Chapter 9

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Timber should be felled from the beginning of the Autumn up to that time when the west wind begins to blow; never in the Spring, because at that period the trees are as it were pregnant, and communicate their natural strength to the yearly leaves and fruits they shoot forth. Being empty and swelled out, they become, by their great porosity, useless and feeble, just as we see females after conception in indifferent health till the period of their bringing forth. Hence slaves about to be sold are not warranted sound if they be pregnant; for the foetus which goes on increasing in size within the body, derives nourishment from all the food which the parent consumes, and as the time of delivery approaches, the more unwell is the party by whom it is borne: as soon as the foetus is brought forth, that which was before allotted for the nourishment of another being, once more free by the separation of the foetus, returns to reinvigorate the body by the juices flowing to the large and empty vessels, and to enable it to regain its former natural strength and solidity.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. So, in the Autumn, the fruits being ripened and the leaves dry, the roots draw the moisture from the earth, and the trees are by those means recovered and restored to their pristine solidity. Up to the time above-mentioned the force of the wintry air compresses and consolidates the timber, and if it be then felled the period will be seasonable.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. In felling, the proper way is to cut through at once to the middle of the trunk of the tree, and then leave it for some time, that the juices may drain off; thus the useless liquor contained in the tree, running away through its external rings, all tendency to decay is removed, and it is preserved sound. After the tree has dried and the draining has ceased, it may be cut down and considered quite fit for use.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. That this should be the method pursued, will appear from the nature of shrubs. These, at the proper season, when pierced at the bottom, discharge from the heart through the holes made in them all the redundant and pernicious juices, and thus drying acquire strength and durability. On the contrary, when those juices do not escape, they congeal and render the tree defective and good for nothing. If, therefore, this process of draining them whilst in their growing state does not destroy their vigour, so much the more if the same rules are observed when they are about to be felled, will they last for a longer period when converted into timber for buildings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The qualities of treesd vary exceedingly, and are very dissimilar, as those of the oak, the elm, the poplar, the cypress, the fir, and others chiefly used in buildings. The oak, for instance, is useful where the fir would be improper; and so with respect to the cypress and the elm. Nor do the others differ less widely, each, from the different nature of its elements, being differently suited to similar applications in building.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. First, the fir, containing a considerable quantity of air and fire, and very little water and earth, being constituted of such light elements, is not heavy: hence bound together by its natural hardness it does not easily bend, but keeps its shape in framing. The objection to fir is, that it contains so much heat as to generate and nourish the worm which is very destructive to it. It is moreover very inflammable, because its open pores are so quickly penetrated by fire, that it yields a great flame.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. The lower part of the fir which is close to the earth, receiving by its proximity to the roots, a large portion of moisture, is previous to felling straight and free from knots; the upper part, throwing out by the strength of the fire it contains, a great many branches through the knots, when cut off at the height of twenty feet and rough squared, is, from its hardness, called Fusterna. The lower part, when cut down, is sawed into four quarters, and after the outer rings of the tree are rejected, is well adapted to joinery works, and is called Sapinea.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. The oak, however, containing among its other elements a great portion of earth, and but a small quantity of water, air, and fire, when used under ground is of great durability, for its pores being close and compact, the wet does not penetrate it; in short its antipathy to water is so great that it twists and splits very much the work in which it is used.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. The holm oak (esculus), whose elements are in very equal proportions, is of great use in buildings; it will not however stand the damp which quickly penetrates its pores, and its air and fire being driven off, it soon rots. The green oak (cerrus), the cork tree, and the beech soon rot, because they contain equal quantities of water, fire, and earth, which are by no means capable of balancing the great quantity of air they contain. The white and black poplar, the willow, the lime tree (tilia), the withy (vitex), are of great service in particular works on account of their hardness. They contain but a small portion of earth, a moderate proportion of water, but abound with fire and air. Though not hard on account of the earth in them, they are very white, and excellently adapted for carving.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 10. The alder, which grows on the banks of rivers, and is to appearance an almost useless wood, possesses nevertheless most excellent qualities, inasmuch as it contains much air and fire, not a great deal of earth, and less water. Its freeness from water makes it almost eternal in marshy foundations used for piling under buildings, because, in these situations, it receives that moisture which it does not possess naturally. It bears immense weights and does not decay. Thus we see that timber which above ground soon decays, lasts an amazing time in a damp soil.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 11. This is most evident at Ravenna, a city, the foundations of whose buildings, both public and private, are all built upon piles. The elm tree and the ash contain much water and but little air and fire, with a moderate portion of earth. They are therefore pliant, and being so full of water, and from want of stiffness, soon bend under a superincumbent weight. When, however, from proper keeping after being felled, or from being well dried while standing to discharge their natural moisture, they become much harder, and in framings are, from their pliability, capable of forming sound work.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 12. The maple tree,e which contains but little fire and earth, and a considerable portion of air and water, is not easily broken, and is, moreover, easily wrought. The Greeks, therefore, who made yokes for oxen (called by them ζυγὰ) of this timber, call the tree ζυγεία. The cypress and pine are also singular in their nature; for though they contain equal portions of the other elements, yet, from their large proportion of water, they are apt to bend in use; they last, however, a long time, free from decay; the reason whereof is, that they contain a bitter juice, whose acrid properties prevent the rot, and are not less efficacious in destroying the worm. Buildings, in which these sorts of timber are used, last an amazing number of years.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 13. The cedar and juniper trees possess the same qualities as the two last named; but as the cypress and pine yield a resin, so the cedar tree yields an oil called cedrium, with which, whatsoever is rubbed, as books, for instance, will be preserved from the worm as well as the rot. The leaves of this tree resemble those of the cypress, as also the ceilinged roof in the temple of Diana at Ephesus, are made of it; and it is used in many other celebrated temples, on account of its great durability. These trees grow chiefly in the island of Crete, in Africa, and in some parts of Syria.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 14. The larch, which is only known in the districts on the banks of the Po and the shores of the Adriatic, on account of the extreme bitterness of its juices, is not subject to rot and attack of the worm, neither will it take fire or burn of itself, but can only be consumed with other wood, as stone is burnt for lime in a furnace; nor even then does it emit flame nor yield charcoal, but, after a long time, gradually consumes away, from the circumstance of its containing very little fire and air. It is, on the contrary, full of water and earth; and being free from pores, by which the fire could penetrate, it repels its power, so that it is not quickly hurt thereby. Its weight is so great, that it will not float in water, when transported to any place, and is either conveyed in vessels, or floated on fir rafts.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 15. This property of the wood was discovered under the following circumstances. Julius Cæsar, being with his army near the Alps, ordered the towns to supply him with provisions. Among them was a fortress called Larignum, whose inhabitants, trusting to their fortifications, refused to obey the mandate. Cæsar ordered his forces to the spot immediately. In front of the gate of this fortress stood a tower built of this species of timber, of considerable height, and constructed after the manner of a funeral pile, with beams alternately crossing each other at their extremities, so that the besieged might, from its top, annoy the besiegers with darts and stones. It appearing that the persons on the tower had no other arms than darts, which, from their weight, could not be hurled any great distance from the walls, orders were given to convey bundles of fire-wood and torches to the tower, which were quickly executed by the soldiers.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 16. As soon as the flames, reaching almost to the heavens, began to encompass the tower, every one expected to see its demolition. But as soon as the fire was extinct, the tower appeared still unhurt; and Cæsar, wondering at the cause of it, ordered it to be blockaded out of arrow's flight, and thus carried the town, which was delivered up to him by its trembling inhabitants. They were then asked where they obtained this sort of wood, which would not burn. They shewed him the trees, which are in great abundance in those parts. Thus, as the fortress was called Larignum, so the wood, whereof the tower was built, is called larigna (larch). It is brought down the Po to Ravenna, for the use of the municipalities of Fano, Pesaro, Ancona, and the other cities in that district. If there were a possibility of transporting it to Rome, it would be very useful in the buildings there; if not generally, at least it would be excellent for the plates under the eaves of those houses in Rome which are insulated, as they would be thus secured from catching fire, since they would neither ignite nor consume, nor burn into charcoal.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 17. The leaves of these trees are similar to those of the pine-tree; the fibres of them straight, and not harder to work in joinery than the pine-tree. The wood contains a liquid resin, of the colour of Attic honey, which is a good remedy in cases of phthisis. I have now treated of the different sorts of timber, and of their natural properties, as well as of the proportion of the elements in each. It only remains to enquire, why that species of fir, which is known in Rome by the name of Supernas, is not so good as that which is called Infernas, whose durability in buildings is so great. I shall therefore explain how their good and bad qualities arise from the situations in which they grow, that they may be clearly understood.

Chapter 10

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The Apennines begin from the Tyrrhene Sea, extending to the Alps on one side, and the borders of Tuscany on the other; and their summits spreading in the shape of a bow, almost touch the shores of the Adriatic in the centre of their range, which ends near the Straits of Sicily. The hither side of them towards Tuscany and Campania, is in point of climate extremely mild, being continually warmed by the sun's rays. The further side, which lies towards the upper sea, is exposed to the north, and is enclosed by thick and gloomy shadow. The trees, therefore, which grow in that part being nourished by continual moisture, not only grow to a great size, but their fibres being too much saturated with it, swell out considerably. When hewn, therefore, and squared, and deprived of their natural vegetation, they change in drying the hardness of the grain, and become weak and apt to decay, on account of the openness of their pores. They are, therefore, of little durability in the buildings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. On the contrary, those which grow on the side opposite to the sun, not being so porous, harden in drying, because the sun draws the moisture from trees no less than from the earth. Hence, those which grow in open sunny places, are more solid, on account of the closeness of their pores, and when squared for use, are exceedingly lasting. The fir, which goes by the name of Infernas, brought from the warm open parts, is therefore preferable to the sort called Supernas, which comes from a closely and thickly wooded country.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. To the best of my ability I have treated on the materials necessary for building, and their natural temperaments in respect of the different proportions of the elements which they contain, as well as on their good and bad qualities, in order that those who build may be well informed thereon. Those who follow my directions, and choose a proper material for the purpose whereto it is applied, will do right. Having thus considered the preparations to be made, we shall proceed, in the following books, to the considerations of buildings themselves, and first, to that of the temples of the immortal gods, and their symmetry and proportions as the importance of the subject requires, which will form the subject of the following book.


Thayer's Notes:

a Plutarch — or his MSS. — calls him Stasicrates, and adds several interesting details (Life of Alexander, LXXII.5‑8); Strabo, or his MSS., calls him Cheirocrates (XIV.1.23).

b Ferentinum might be any one of a number of places; here, Vitruvius has just mentioned towns in southern Etruria and north of Rome, so he may mean the Etruscan town, but it's by no means a given. For the hornet's nest of places named Ferentum or something similar, see my page on the subject.

c See also this long and useful note by the 19c scholar George Dennis.

d Although tree species are admittedly easier to identify than other plants, partly because they are fewer in number, it should still be borne in mind that no single area of antiquarian studies is quite as difficult, probably, as botanical identification.

North American readers have an additional obstacle to be aware of. A European translator may well have rendered correctly a work (such as the de Architectura) that discusses European trees; but North American species are quite different, yet are often referred to by the same common names.

Finally, an acquaintance with Linnean nomenclature confers us no immunity against errors. The Latin of modern botanical names and that of antiquity do not by any means always correspond.

e The Latin word carpinus includes maples, but also the hornbeam; see Plin. H. N. XVI.67.


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