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p1053 Spira

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p1053 of

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

SPIRA (σπεῖρα), dim. SPIRULA (Servius in Virg. Aen. II.217), the base of a column.

This member did not exist in the Doric order of Greek architecture [Columna], but was always present in the Ionic and Corinthian, and, besides the bases properly belonging to those orders, there was one called the Attic, which may be regarded as a variety of the Ionic [Atticurges]. The term occurs frequently in Vitruvius (III.3 §2; 4 §1, 5; 5 §1‑4, IV.1 §7, V.9 §4, ed. Schneider) and in Pliny (H. N. XXXVI.5 s4; 23 s56). They adopted it from the writings of Greek architects, whose works have perished. It is in fact the Greek term σπεῖρα, which was supplied to this member of a column (Pollux, VII.121) probably on account of its resemblance to a coil of rope. In ancient Greek inscriptions σπείρα denotes the base of Ionic and Corinthian pillars, being applied to those of the temples of Minerva Polias at Athens (C.O. Müller, Min. Pol. Sacra, pp35, 50; Böckh, Corp. Inscr. Gr. I. pp261‑286), and of Jupiter at Labranda (C. Fellows, Exc. in Asia Minor, pp262, 331).

In the Tuscan and the Roman Doric the base consisted of a single torus (Festus, s.v. Spira), sometimes surmounted by an astragal. In the Ionic and Attic it commonly consisted of two tori (torus superior and torus inferior) divided by a scotia (τρόχιλος), and in the Corinthian of two tori divided by two scotiae. The upper torus was often fluted (ῥαβδωτός), and surmounted by an astragal [Astragalus], as in the left-hand figure of the annexed woodcut, which shows the form of the base in the Ionic temple of Panops on the Ilissus. The right-hand figure in the same woodcut shows the corresponding part in the temple of Minerva Polias at Athens. In this the upper torus is wrought with a plaited ornament, perhaps designed to represent a rope or cable.


[image ALT: A schematic representation of the base of a Graeco-Roman column and its various sections.]

In these two temples the spira rests not upon a plinth (plinthus, πλίνθος), but on a podium. In Ionic buildings of a later date it rests on a square plinth corresponding in its dimensions with the Abacus. For other examples, see Mauch, Architektonische Ordnungen.


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Page updated: 30 Jun 13