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Glossary of Classical Architectural Terms

Acroterium: a sculptural figure or ornament mounted on the apex or corners of a pediment

Aedes: the place where a god resides; most aedes also were temple buildings, although some, such as the Temple of Vesta, were not.

Anta (-ae): pilaster forming the ends of the lateral walls of a temple cella; when the façade consists of columns set between two antae, the columns are said to be in antis

Architrave: the horizontal element spanning the interval between two columns

Attic: the upper story, situated above the cornice, which served as basis for statuary, especially on monumental arches

Balteus: a broad passage around the cavea of a theater or amphitheater, dividing them into sections

Basilica: a rectangular building with an ambulatory or else a central nave and lateral aisles and lit by a clerestory, the row of windows above the inner colonnades

Bucrania: ox skulls or heads, often decked with fillets; a common sculptural motif for metopes and friezes, often combined with garlands

Caementa: irregular chunks of stone or terracotta used as a aggregate in Roman concrete; by mixing caementa of different weights, domes (such as the Pantheon) could be constructed with heavy bases and lighter crowns).

Caryatid: sculpted female figure used in place of a column to support an entablature; a male figure is a telamon

Cavea: spectator seating of a theater or amphitheater, usually divided by baltei into sections which were assigned to different social classes; these sectors were further divided into wedge-shaped cunei by vertical stairs (scalaria) which come down from the entrances (vomitoria) to the seating area.

Cella: the inner or main chamber of a temple

Chryselephantine: statuary in which the flesh is represented by ivory and the drapery of gold or gilded bronze; the cult statue in the Temple of Saturn is ivory.

Clivus: a Roman street running up an incline. The distinction from a level vicus was strongly felt and a street name sometimes changed when, after running level, it began to ascend a slope.

Coffers: the recessed elements of a monumental ceiling or vault, e.g., the Pantheon or the Basilica Maxentius

Dentils: decorative motif of rectangular blocks in the bed-mold of a cornice

Engaged Order: decorative order projecting from but forming an integral part of the wall against which it stands

Exedra: a semicircular or rectangular recess open on one side to a lobby or court

Loculus: a place for the deposit of valuables, especially a chamber in the podium of a temple, accessible from the exterior; the Temple of Castor and Pollux was ringed with loculi.

Loricate: wearing a cuirass, used to describe a statue in military dress, such as that of Augustus of Prima Porta.

Meta: a tall tapering marker, used in groups of three for the turning posts at the ends of the spina of a circus

Metope: the panel, plain or sculptured, between the triglyphs of a Doric entablature

Modillions (consoles): the brackets supporting the projecting part of a Corinthian cornice

Opisthodomos: the porch at the rear of a temple cella, serving as a back entrance

Patera: a shallow libation bowl, a badge of the pontifices of Rome and a common decorative motif in religious contexts

Peristyle: a colonnade surrounding a building

Plinth: a pedestal supporting a column

Portico: a roofed porch or walkway supported by columns

Pozzolana: the volcanic ash of central Italy, named after the region where its properties were first recognized and, when mixed with lime, the material which gave Roman concrete its strength and ability to harden in water

Pronaos: the porch or entrance hall to the temple cella

Pseudo-peripteral: as peripteral, but with some of the columns engaged instead of free standing

Pteron: the colonnade extending the length of the temple

Quadriga: a four-horse chariot; a quadriga was at the apex of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

Reveal: the side of an opening or recess which is at right angles to the face of the work; especially the vertical side of a doorway, window, or arch

Scaena: the stage building of a theater, consisting of a raised stage and a decorated back wall

Spina: the divider down the middle of a circus, finished with metae at either end

Stylobate: the masonry at ground level on which a column rests

Templum: a space defined by ritual auguries and auspices; many templa were not considered aedes, e.g., the Rostra and Curia.

Togate: describing a statue dressed in the toga, indicative of the subject's civilian status

Triglyph: projecting members separating the metopes of a Doric frieze and divided into three strips by two vertical grooves

Velatium: the awning stretched above a amphitheater to protect spectators from the sun

Via: a broad public road; within Rome during the Republican period only two streets carried this designation, Sacra Via and Nova Via

Vicus: a street of ordinary width with a relatively flat course

References: A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1992) by L. Richardson, Jr.; Roman Imperial Architecture (1981) by J. B. Ward-Perkins.

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