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p469 Epistylium

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on p469 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: An engraving of part of a beam supported by two columns. It is an illustration of the Graeco-Roman architectural element known as an epistylium.]

EPISTY′LIUM (ἄτλαντες), is properly, as the name implies, the architrave, or lower member of an entablature, which lies immediately over the columns (Plut. Per. 13; Paus. pass.; Varr. R. R. III.2; Festus, s.v.; comp. Columna, p324A). The rules for the height of the architrave are given by Vitruvius (III.3 s5, ed. Schn.). In the best examples of the Doric order, the front of the architrave was a plain flat surface, with no carvings, but sometimes ornamented with metal shields affixed to it over each column, as in the Parthenon, where there are also inscriptions between the shields (see Lucas's model). In the Ionic and Corinthian orders it was cut up into two or usually three surfaces (fasciae), projecting beyond one another, the edges of which were afterwards decorated with mouldings (see the woodcuts under Columna.) Originally the architrave was the main beam, laid along the top of the columns to support the roof. When stone was used, a natural limit was set to the length of the pieces of the architrave, and consequently the distance of the columns, by the impossibility of obtaining blocks of stone or marble beyond a certain size. In the temple of Artemis at Ephesus the pieces of the architrave were so large that Pliny wonders how they could have been raised to their places (H. N. XXXVI. 14 s21). When an intercolumniation was of the kind called araeostyle, that is, when the columns were more than three diameters apart, the epistylium was necessarily made of wood instead of stone (Vitruv. III.2 s3 § 5 ed. Schn.); a construction exemplified by the restoration in the annexed woodcut (Pompeii, vol. I p143) of the Doric portico, which surrounds three sides of the Forum at Pompeii. The holes seen at the back of the frieze received the beams which supported an upper gallery.

The word is sometimes also used for the whole of the entablature.


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Page updated: 18 Oct 07