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p868 Paries

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp868‑870 of

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

Woodcuts are from Smith's Dictionary; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

PARIES (τοῖχος), the wall of a house, in contradistinction to Murus (τεῖχος), the wall of a city, and maceries (τείχιον), a small enclosure, such as a court-yard; sometimes τείχιον is used for the wall of a house (see Liddell and Scott). Among the numerous methods employed by the ancients in constructing walls we find mention of the following:—

I. The paries cratitius, i.e. the wattled or the lath-and‑plaster wall, made of canes or hurdles [Crates], covered with clay (Plin. H. N. XXXV.14 s48; Festus, s.v. Solea). These were used in the original city of Rome to form entire houses (Ovid. Fast. III.183, VI.261; Vitruv. II.1); afterwards they were coated with mortar instead of clay, and introduced like our lath-and‑plaster walls in the interior of houses.

II. Vitruvius (l.c.) mentions as the next step, the practice, common in his time among the Gauls, and continued down to our own in Devonshire, of drying square lumps of clay and building them into walls, which were strengthened by means of horizontal bond-timbers (jugamenta) laid at intervals, and which were then covered with earth.

III. The paries formaceus, i.e. the pisé wall, made of rammed earth. [Forma.]

IV. In districts abounding with wood, log-houses were common, constructed, like those of the Siberians and of the modern Americans in the back settlements, of the trunks of trees, which, having been more or less squared, were then laid upon one another in an horizontal position, and had their interstices filled with chips (chidiis), moss, and clay. After this manner the Colchians erected houses several stories high (Vitruv. l.c.; compare Herod. IV.108; Vitruv. II.9).

The paries lateritius, i.e. the brick wall. [Later.] Among the Romans the ordinary thickness of an outside wall was 18 inches (sesquipes), being the length of the common or Lydian brick; but, if the building was more than one story high, the walls at the bottom were either two or three bricks thick (diplinthii aut triplinthii) according to circumstances. The Egyptians sometimes exhibited a chequered pattern, and perhaps other devices, upon the walls of their houses by the alternation of white and black bricks (Ath. V p208C). The Romans, probably in imitation of the Etrurians, often cased the highest part of a brick wall with a range of terra cottas (structura and lorica testacea, Vitruv. II.8; Pallad. de Re Rust. I.11), eighteen inches high, with projecting cornices, and spouts for discharging the water from the roof. [Antefixa.]

VI. The reticulata structura Plin. H. N. XXXVI.22 s51), i.e. the reticulated, or resembling network. This structure consists in placing square or lozenge-shaped stones side by side upon their edges, the stones being of small dimensions and cemented by mortar (materia ex calce et arena). In many cases the mortar has proved more durable than the stone, especially where volcanic tufa is the material employed, as at Baiae in the Bay of Naples, and in the villa of Hadrian near Tivoli. This kind of building is very common in the ancient edifices of Italy. Vitruvius says (II.8), that it was universally adopted in his time. Walls thus constructed were considered more pleasing to the eye, but less secure than those in which the stones lay upon their flat surfaces. The front of the wall was the only part in which the structure was regular, or the stones cut into a certain form, the interior being rubble-work or concrete (caementa, χάλιξ) imbedded in mortar. Only part of the wall was reticulated; to give it firmness and durability the sides and base were built of brick or of squared stones, and horizontal courses of bricks were laid at intervals, extending through the length and thickness of the wall. These circumstances p869are well exemplified in the annexed woodcut, which is copied from the drawing of a wall at Pompeii, executed on the spot by Mr. Mocatta. IMAGE

VII. The structura antiqua or incerta, i.e. the wall of irregular masonry, built of stones, which were not squared or cut into any exact form. The necessary consequence of this method of construction was, that a great part of the wall consisted of mortar and rubble-work (Vitruv. l.c.).

The emplecton, i.e. the complicated wall consisting in fact of three walls joined together. Each side presented regular masonry or brickwork; but the interior was filled with rubble (fartura). To bind together the two outside walls, and thus render the whole firm and durable, large stones or courses of brickwork (coagmenta) were placed at intervals, extending through the whole thickness of the wall, as was done also in the Structura Reticulata. Walls of this description are not uncommon, especially in buildings of considerable size.

IX. The paries e lapide quadrato, i.e. the ashlar wall, consisting entirely of stones cut and squared by the chisel. [Dolabra.] This was the most perfect kind of wall, especially when built of marble. The construction of such walls was carried to the highest perfection by the architects of Greece; the temples of Athens, Corinth, and many cities of Asia Minor still attesting in their ruins the extreme skill bestowed upon the erection of walls. Considerable excellence in this art must have been attained by the Greeks even as early as the age of Homer, who derives one of his similes from the "nicely fitted stones" of the wall of a house (Il. XVI.212). But probably in this the Greeks only copied the Asiatics; for Xenophon came to a deserted city in Mesopotamia, the brick walls of which were capped by a parapet of "polished shell marble" (Anab. III.4 §10). Besides conferring the highest degree of beauty and solidity, another important recommendation of ashlar walls was, that they were the most secure against fire, and advantage, to which St. Paul alludes, when he contrasts the stones, valuable both for material and for workmanship (λίθους τιμίους), and the gold and silver, which were exhibited in the walls of such a temple as that just mentioned, with the logs of wood, the thatch, the straw and cane, employed in building walls of the four first kinds (1 Cor. iii.10‑15). Vitruvius also strongly objects to the paries cratitius on account of its great combustibility (II.8 ad fin.). Respecting walls of this kind see further under Murus.

Cicero, in a single passage of his Topica (§ 4), uses four epithets which were applied to walls. He opposes the paries solidus to the fornicatus, and the communis to the directus. The passage at the same time shows that the Romans inserted arches [Fornix] into their "common" or party walls. The annexed woodcut, representing a portion of the supposed Thermae at Trêves (Wyttenbach's Guide, p60), exemplifies the frequent occurrence of arches in all Roman buildings, not only when they were intended for windows or doorways, but also when they could serve no other use than to strengthen the wall. In this "paries fornicatus" each arch is a combination of two or more concentric arches, all built of brick. This specimen also shows the alternation of courses of brick and stone, which is a common characteristic of Roman masonry. The "paries solidus," i.e. the wall without openings for windows or doorways, was also called "a blind wall" (Virg. Aen. V.589); and the paries communis (Ovid. Met. IV.66; κοινὸς τοῖχος, Thucyd. II.3), which was the boundary between two tenements and common to them both, was called intergerinus, all. intergerivus (Festus, s.v.; Plin. H. N. XXXV.14 s49), and in Greek μεσότοιχος (Athen. VII. p281D), or μεσότοιχον (Eph. ii.14). The walls, built at right angles to the party-wall for the convenience of the respective families, were the parietes directi.

Walls were adorned, especially in the interior of buildings, in a great variety of ways. Their plane surface was broken by panels. [Abacus.] However coarse and rough their construction might be, every unevenness was removed by a coating, two or three inches thick, of mortar or of plaster with rough-cast, consisting of sand together with stone, brick, and marble, broken and ground to various degrees of fineness (Vitruv. VII.3; Acts, xxiii.3).a Gypsum also, in the state which we call plaster of Paris, was much used in the more p870splendid edifices, and was decorated with an endless variety of tasteful devices in bas-relief. Of these ornaments, wrought in stucco (opus albarium), specimens remain in the "Baths of Titus" at Rome.b When the plasterer (tector, κονιάτης) had finished his work (trullissatio, i.e. trowelling; opus tectorium), in all of which he was directed by the use of the square [Norma], the rule, and the line and plummet [Perpendiculum], and in which he aimed at producing a surface not only smooth and shining, but as little as possible liable to crack or decay (Vitruv. VII.3), he was often succeeded by the painter in fresco (udo tectorio, Vitruv. l.c.). In many cases the plaster or stucco was left without any additional ornament; and its whiteness and freshness were occasionally restored by washing it with certain fine calcareous or aluminous earths dissolved in milk (paraetonium, Plin. H. N. XXXV.6 s18; terra Selinusia, 16 s56). A painted wall was commonly divided by the artist into rectangular compartments, which he filled according to his taste and fancy with an endless variety of landscapes, buildings, gardens, animals, &c. (Vitruv. VII.5).

Another method of decorating walls was by encrusting them with slabs of marble (crustae). The blocks, designed for this purpose, were cut into thin slabs by the aid of saw-mills. [Mola.] Various kinds of sand were used in the operation, according to the hardness of the stone; emery (naxia, Plin. H. N. XXXVI.6 s9) being used for the hardest. This art was of high antiquity, and probably Oriental in its origin. The brick walls of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built as early as 355 B.C., were covered with slabs of Proconnesian marble (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.6); and this is the most ancient example upon record. In the time of Pliny (H. N. XXXV.1) slabs of a uniform colour were sometimes inlaid with variously coloured materials in such a way as to represent animals and other objects. In short the beautiful invention now called Florentine Mosaic was then in use for the decoration of the walls of apartments. [Emblema.] The common kind of Mosaic was also sometimes used in walls as well as in floors and ceilings. The greatest refinement was the attempt to produce the effect of mirrors, which was done by inserting into the walls pieces of black glass manufactured in imitation of obsidian (Plin. H. N. XXXVI.26 s67). [Domus p431; Pictura, § XV.]


Thayer's Notes:

a Varro states that marble-plastered walls make the interiors cooler (R. R. I.59.2).

b The work can be very delicate and beautiful, the reliefs sometimes not exceeding three or four millimeters thick. The best surviving example in Rome is that of the Hypogeum of the Porta Maggiore (visitable by permit).


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