Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.]

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Book IV
[image ALT: a blank space]
This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, let me know!
Drawings and other material remain to be added.

[image ALT: link to next section]
Book VI

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio:
de Architectura, Book V


[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Those, O Emperor, who at great length have explained their inventions and doctrines, have thereby given to their writings an extended and singular reputation. Would that such were the case with my labours, so that amplification might bring reputation with it. That, however, I believe is not probable, since a treatise on Architecture is not like History or Poetry. History interests the reader by the various novelties which occur in it; Poetry, on the other hand, by its metre, the feet of its verses, the elegant arrangement of the words, the dialogue introduced into it, and the distinct pronunciation of the lines, delighting the sense of the hearer, leads him to the close of the subject without fatigue.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. This cannot be accomplished in Architectural works, because the terms, which are unavoidably technical, necessarily throw an obscurity over the subject. These terms, moreover, are not of themselves intelligible, nor in common use; hence if the precepts which are delivered by authors extend to any length, and are otherwise explained than in few and perspicuous expressions, the mind of the reader is bewildered by the quantity and frequent recurrence of them. These reasons induce me to be brief in the explanation of unknown terms, and of the symmetry of the parts of a work, because the matter may thereby be more easily committed to and retained by the memory.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. I am moreover inclined to be concise when I reflect on the constant occupation of the citizens in public and private affairs, so that in their few leisure moments they may read and understand as much as possible. Pythagoras and his followers wrote the precepts of their doctrines in cubical arrangement, the cube containing two hundred and sixteen verses, of which they thought that not more than three should be allotted to any one precept.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. A cube is a solid, with six equal square faces, which, however it falls, remains steady and immoveable till removed by force: such are the dice which are thrown on a table by gamesters. From this circumstance they seem to have adopted the cube, since like the cube, this number of verses makes a more lasting impression on the memory. The Greek comic poets also divided the action of their stories, by the interposition of the chorus to ease the principal actors, so that a cubical proportion is observed.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. Since the ancients therefore used these methods, founded on the observance of natural effects, seeing that the subject I treat of will be new and obscure to many, I thought it would be preferable to divide it into small portions, that it might more easily strike the understanding of the reader. The subjects are so arranged, that those of the same nature are classed together. Thus, O Cæsar, I explained the proportions of temples in the third and fourth books; in this I intend to describe the arrangement of public buildings; and that of the forum first, because therein public no less than private affairs are regulated by the magistrates.

Chapter 1

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The Greeks make their forum square, with a spacious and double portico, ornamenting it with columns placed at narrow intervals, and stone or marble epistylia, and forming walks above on the timber framed work. In the cities of Italy, however, this practice is not followed, because the antientº custom prevails of exhibiting the shows of gladiators in the forum.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Hence, for the convenience of the spectators, the intercolumniations must be wider; and the bankers' shops are situated in the surrounding porticos with apartments on the floors over them, which are constructed for the use of the parties, and as a depôt of the public revenue. The size of the forum is to be proportioned to the population of the place, so that it be not too small to contain the numbers it should hold, nor have the appearance of being too large, from a want of numbers to occupy it. The width is obtained by assigning to it two-thirds of its length, which gives it an oblong form, and makes it convenient for the purpose of the shows.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The upper columns are to be made one-fourth less than those below; and that because the latter being loaded with a weight, ought to be the stronger: because, also, we should follow the practice of nature, which, in straight growing trees, like the fir, cypress, and pine, makes the thickness at the root greater than it is at top, and preserves a gradual diminution throughout their height. Thus, following the example of nature, it is rightly ordered that bodies which are uppermost should be less than those below, both in respect of height and thickness.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The basilica should be situated adjoining the forum, on the warmest side, so that the merchants may assemble there in winter, without being inconvenienced by the cold. Its width must not be less than a third part, nor more than half its length, unless the nature of the site prevent it, and impose a different proportion; if, however, that be longer than necessary, a chalcidicum is placed at the extremity, as in the Julian basilica and the one at Aquileia.​a

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The columns of basilicæ are to be of a height equal to the breadth of the portico, and the width of the portico one-third of the space in the middle. The upper columns, as herein above described, are to be less than those below. The parapet between the upper columns should be made one-fourth less than those columns, so that those walking on the floor of the basilica may not be seen by the merchants. The proportions of the architrave, frieze, and cornice may be learnt from what has been said on columns in the third book.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. Basilicæ, similar to that which I designed and carried into execution in the Julian colony of Fano, will not be deficient either in dignity or in beauty. The proportions and symmetry of this are as follow. The middle vault, between the columns, isone hundred and twenty feet long, and sixty feet wide. The portico round it, between the walls and columns, istwenty feet wide. The height of the columns, including the capitals, isfifty feet, their thicknessfive feet, and they have pilasters behind themtwenty feet high, two feet and a half wide, and one and a half thick, supporting beams which carry the floor of the portico. Above these, other pilasters are placed,eighteen feet high, two feet wide, and one foot thick, which also receive timbers for carrying the rafters of the portico, whose roof is lower than the vault.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. The spaces remaining between the beams, over the pilasters and the columns, are left open for light in the intercolumniations. The columns in the direction of the breadth of the vault are four in number, including those on the angles right and left; lengthwise, in which direction it joins the forum, the number is eight, including those at the angles; on the opposite side, including all the angular columns, there are six columns, because the two central ones on that side are omitted, so that the view of the pronaos of the temple of Augustus may not be obstructed: this is placed in the middle of the side wall of the basilica, facing the centre of the forum and the temple of Jupiter.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. The tribunal is in the shape of a segment of a circle; the front dimension of which isforty-six feet, that of its depthfifteen feet; and is so contrived, that the merchants who are in the basilica may not interfere with those who have business before the magistrates. Over the columns round the building architraves are placed. These are triple, each of themtwo feet in size, and are fastened together. At the third column, on the inside, they return to the antæ of the pronaos, and are carried on to meet the segment on the right and left.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. Over the architraves, upright with the capitals, piers are builtthree feet high and four feet square, on which are laid beams well wrought, joined together in two thicknesses oftwo feet each, and thereon the beams and rafters are placed over the columns, antæ, and walls of the pronaos, carrying one continued ridge along the basilica, and another from the centre thereof, over the pronaos of the temple.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 10. Thus the two-fold direction of the roof gives an agreeable effect outside, and to the lofty vault within. Thus the omission of the cornices and parapets, and the upper range of columns, saves considerable labour, and greatly diminishes the cost of the work; and the columns in one height brought up to the architrave of the arch, give an appearance of magnificence and dignity to the building.

Chapter 2

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The treasury, prison, and curia are to adjoin the forum, to which their dimensions are to be proportionate. First of the curia, which must be suitable to the importance of the community or state. If square, its height is to be once and a half its width; but if oblong, the length and width must added together, and one half of their sum assigned for the height up to the lacunaria.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The walls, moreover, at half their height, are to have cornices run round them of wood or plaster. For if such be not provided, the voices of the disputants meeting with no check in their ascent, will not be intelligible to the audience. But when the walls are encircled round with cornices, the voice, being thereby impeded, will reach the ear before its ascent and dissipation in the air.

Chapter 3

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. When the forum is placed, a spot as healthy as possible is to be chosen for the theatre, for the exhibition of games on the festival days of the immortal gods, according to the instructions given in the first book respecting the healthy disposition of the walls of a city. For the spectators, with their wives and children, delighted with the entertainment, sit out the whole of the games, and the pores of their bodies being opened by the pleasure they enjoy, are easily affected by the air, which, if it blows from marshy or other noisome places, infuses its bad qualities into the system. These evils are avoided by the careful choice of a situation for the theatre,

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. taking especial precaution that it be not exposed to the south;​b for when the sun fills the cavity of the theatre, the air confined in that compass being incapable of circulating, by its stoppage therein, is heated, and burns up, extracts, and diminishes the moisture of the body. On these accounts, those places where bad air abounds are to be avoided, and wholesome spots to be chosen.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The construction of the foundations will be more easily managed, if the work be on a hill; but if we are compelled to lay them on a plain, or in a marshy spot, the piling and foundations must be conducted as described for the foundations of temples in the third book. On the foundations, steps (gradationes) are raised, of stone and marble.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The number of passages (præcinctiones) must be regulated by the height of the theatre, and are not to be higher than their width, because if made higher, they will reflect and obstruct the voice in its passage upwards, so that it will not reach the upper seats above the passages (præcinctiones), and the last syllables of words will escape. In short, the building should be so contrived, that a line drawn from the first to the last step should touch the front angle of the tops of all the seats; in which case the voice meets with no impediment.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The entrances (aditus) should be numerous and spacious; those above ought to be unconnected with those below, in a continued line wherever they are, and without turnings; so that when the people are dismissed from the shows, they may not press on one another, but have separate outlets free from obstruction in all parts. A place which deadens the sound must be carefully avoided; but, on the contrary, one should be selected in which it traverses freely. This will be effected, if a place is chosen wherein there is no impediment to sound.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. The voice arises from flowing breath, sensible to the hearing through its percussion on the air. It is propelled by an infinite number of circles similar to those generated in standing water when a stone is cast therein, which, increasing as they recede from the centre, extend to a great distance, if the narrowness of the place or some obstruction do not prevent their spreading to the extremity; for when impeded by obstructions, the first recoil affects all that follow.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. In the same manner the voice spreads in a circular direction. But, whereas the circles in water only spread horizontally, the voice, on the contrary, extends vertically as well as horizontally. Wherefore, as is the case with the motion of water, so with the voice, if no obstacle disturb the first undulation, not only the second and following one, but all of them will, without reverberation, reach the ears of those at bottom and those at top.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. On this account the antientº architects, following nature as their guide, and reflecting on the properties of the voice, regulated the true ascent of steps in a theatre, and contrived, by musical proportions and mathematical rules, whatever its effect might be on the stage (scena), to make it fall on the ears of the audience in a clear and agreeable manner. Since in brazen or horn wind instruments, by a regulation of the genus, their tones are rendered as clear as those of stringed instruments, so by the application of the laws of harmony, the antientsº discovered a method of increasing the power of the voice in a theatre.

Chapter 4

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Harmony is an obscure and difficult musical science, but most difficult to those who are not acquainted with the Greek language; because it is necessary to use many Greek words to which there are none corresponding in Latin. I will therefore explain, to the best of my ability, the doctrine of Aristoxenus, and annex his diagram, and will so designate the place of each tone, that a person who studiously applies himself to the subject may very readily understand it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The inflexion of the voice is two-fold; first, when it is monotonous, second, when it proceeds by intervals. The first is not limited by cadences at the close, nor in any other place; no perceptible difference of tone being discoverable between its beginning and ending, the time between each sound is however distinctly marked, as in speaking, when we pronounce the words, sol, lux, flos, nox. Herein the ear does not perceive any difference of tone between the beginning and ending, by the voice rising higher or descending lower; neither, that from a high pitch it becomes lower, nor the contrary. But when the voice moves by intervals, it is differently inflected, being sometimes at a high pitch, and sometimes at a low one, and resting at different times on different tones; by doing which with quickness and facility, it appears unfixed. Thus in singing, the variety of inflexion produces an air. In short, by the use of different intervals, the tones are so marked and determined, that we perceive the pitch at which it begins, and that at which it finished, though the intermediate tones are not heard.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. There are three sorts of modulation, the enharmonic (ἁρμονία), the chromatic (χρῶμα), and the diatonic (διάτονος), so called by the Greeks. The enharmonic is so constructed by art, as to be full of majesty and pathos. The chromatic by the skilful contrivance and closeness of its intervals has more sweetness. The diatonic, whose intervals are more simple, is most natural. The disposition of the tetrachords, in these genera, are dissimilar. The enharmonic tetrachord consists of two dieses, and two whole tones; a diesis being the fourth part of a tone, and two of them consequently equal to a semitone. In the chromatic tetrachord, there are two consecutive semitones, and the third interval contains three semitones. The diatonic tetrachord has two consecutive tones, and an interval of a semitone. Thus in each genus, the whole tetrachord is equal to two whole tones and a semitone. But the intervals in each genus, differ when considered separately.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. For nature has made the divisions of tones, semitones, and tetrachords, and has established those proportions of the intervals, by which workmen are guided in making and assigning their just proportions to instruments.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. Each genus consists of eighteen sounds, which the Greeks call φθόγγοι (phthongi). Of these, eight sounds in each of the genera, vary neither in sound nor situation. The remaining ten in each are not common to the other two genera. Those which do not vary, contain between them the variable sounds, and are the limits of the tetrachords in all the genera. Their names are as follow: proslambanomenos, hypatè hypatôn, hypatè mesôn, mesè, netè synèmmenôn, paramesè, netè diezeugmenôn, netè hyperbolæôn. The variable, which lie between those that are not variable, change their places according to the genus. Their names are parhypatè hypatôn, lichanos hypatôn, parhypatè mesôn, lichanos mesôn, tritè synèmmenôn, paranetè synèmmenôn, tritè diezeugmenôn, paranetè diezeugmenôn, tritè hyperbolæôn, paranetè hyperbolæôn.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. Those sounds which shift their places, change also their nature, and are at different intervals, as, for instance, the interval between hypatè and parhypatè, which in the enharmonic genus is only a diesis or quarter tone, in the chromatic genus a semitone. So the lichanos is only a semitone distant from the hypatè in the enharmonic genus; whereas in the chromatic it is two semitones distant, and in the diatonic three semitones. Thus, the ten sounds, by their situation in the different genera, make three different sorts of melody.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. There are five tetrachords. The Greeks call the lowest ὕπατον (hypaton); the second, which is in the middle, μέσον (meson). The third, which is joined to the two preceding, is called συνημμένον (synèmmenon). The fourth, which is disjoined, called διεζευγμένον (diezeugmenon). The fifth, which is the highest, the Greeks call ὑπερβόλαιον(hyperbolæon). The natural consonances, which the Greeks call συμφωνίαι (symphoniæ), are six in number; diatessarôn (fourth), diapente (fifth), diapasôn (octave), diapasôn with diatessarôn (eleventh), diapasôn with diapente (twelfth), and disdiapasôn (fifteenth).

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. These names are given them from the number of tones which the voice passes through in going to them, counting that on which the voice begins as one; thus, moving through them to the fourth sound is called diatessarôn; to the fifth, diapente. to the eighth diapasôn, to the eleventh diapasôn with diatessarôn, to the twelfth diapasôn with diapente, to the fifteenth disdiapasôn.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. For between two intervals, either in a melody sung by a voice, or played on a stringed instrument, neither with the third, sixth nor seventh can there be consonances, but only, as above shewn, with the diatessarôn and diapente up to the diapasôn do natural consonances arise, and those are produced by an union of those sounds which the Greeks called φθόγγοι (phthongi).

Chapter 5

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. On the foregoing principles, the brazen vases​c are to be made with mathematical proportions, depending on the size of the theatre. They are formed so, as when struck, to have sounds, whose intervals are a fourth, fifth, and so on consecutively to a fifteenth. Then, between the seats of the theatre, cavities having been prepared, they are disposed therein in musical order, but so as not to touch the wall in any part, but to have a clear space round them and over their top: they are fixed in an inverted position, and on the side towards the scene are supported by wedges not less thanhalf a foot high: and openings are left towards the cavities on the lower beds of the steps, eachtwo feet long, and half a foot wide.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The following is the rule for determining the situations of these vases. If the theatre be of moderate size they must be ranged round at half its height. Thirteen cavities are prepared at twelve equal distances from each other, so that those tones above-named, producing netè hyperbolæon, are to be placed in the cavities at the extreme ends; second, from the ends, the vessels are to be of the pitch of netè diezeugmenon, bearing an interval of one fourth from the last mentioned. The third netè paramesôn, an interval of another fourth. The fourth, netè synemmenôn, another fourth. The fifth, mesè, a fourth. The sixth, hypatè mesôn, a fourth: in the centre of the range, hypatè hypatôn, a fourth.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. By the adoption of this plan, the voice which issues from the scene, expanding as from a centre, and striking against the cavity of each vase, will sound with increased clearness and harmony, from its unison with one or other of them. If, however, the theatre be on a larger scale, the height is to be divided into four parts, so that three ranges of cavities may be provided, one for harmonic, the second for chromatic, and the third for diatonic vases. That nearest the bottom is for the harmonic genus as above described, for a lesser theatre.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. In the middle range on the extremities, vases producing the chromatic hyperbolæon are placed: in the second cavities the chromatic diezeugmenon, a fourth from the last: in the third, at another interval of a fourth, the chromatic synèmmenon: in the fourth, the chromatic meson, another fourth: in the fifth, the chromatic hypaton, another fourth: in the sixth, the paramesè, which is a fifth to the chromatic hyperbolæon, and a fourth to the chromatic meson.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. In the centre none are to be placed, because no other sound in the chromatic genus can be in consonance therewith. In the upper division and range of the cavities, the vases on the extremities are constructed to produce the tones of the diatonic hyperbolæon: in the next cavities, those of the diatonic diezeugmenon, a fourth: in the third, of the diatonic synèmmenon, a fourth: in the fourth, of the diatonic meson, a fourth: in the fifth, of the diatonic hypaton, a fourth: in the sixth, proslambanomenos, a fourth: in the centre, mesè, between which and proslambanomenos is an octave, and a fifth between it and the diatonic hypaton.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. He who is desirous of more fully understanding these matters, must refer to the musical diagram at the end of the book, which is that left to us by Aristoxenes, who with much intelligence and labour, formed a general scale of the tones. Hence, he who carefully attends to these rules, to the nature of the voice, and to the taste of the audience, will easily learn the method of designing theatres with the greatest perfection.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. Some one may perchance urge, that many theatres are yearly built in Rome, without any regard to these matters. But let him not be herein mistaken, inasmuch as all public theatres which are constructed of wood, have many floors, which are necessarily conductors of sound. This circumstance may be illustrated, by consideration of the practice of those that sing to the harp, who when they wish to produce a loud effect, turn themselves to the doors of the scene, by the aid of which their voice is thrown out. But when theatres are constructed of solid materials, that is of rubble, squared stones or marble, which are not conductors of sound, it is necessary to build them according to the rules in question.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. If it be asked what theatre in Rome can be referred to as an example of their utility, we cannot produce one, but such may be seen in some of the provinces in Italy, and many in the Grecian States. We moreover know that L. Mummius on the destruction of the theatre at Corinth, brought to Rome some of its brazen vases, and dedicated them as spoils at the temple of Luna. Many clever architects who have built theatres in small cities, from the want of other, have made use of earthen vessels, yielding the proper tones, and have introduced them with considerable advantage.​d

Chapter 6

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. The form of a theatre is to be adjusted so, that from the centre of the dimension allotted to the base of the perimeter a circle is to be described, in which are inscribed four equilateral triangles, at equal distances from each other, whose points are to touch the circumference of the circle. This is the method also practiced by astrologers in describing the twelve celestial signs, according to the musical division of the constellations. Of these triangles, the side of that which is nearest the scene will determine the face thereof in that part where it cuts the circumference of the circle. Then through the centre a line is drawn parallel to it, which will separate the pulpitum of the proscenium from the orchestra.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Thus the pulpitum will be more spacious than that of the Greeks, and be better, on account of our actors remaining chiefly on the scena. In the orchestra, seats are assigned to the senators, and the height of its pulpitum must not exceedfive feet, so that those who sit in the orchestra may be enabled to see all the motions of the actors. The portions between the staircases (cunei) of the theatre are so divided that the angles of the triangles, which touch the circumference, point to the directions of the ascents and steps between the cunei, on the first præcinction or story. Above these steps are placed alternately, and form the upper cunei in the middle of those below.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The angles thus pointing to staircases will be seven in number, the remaining five will mark certain points on the scene. That in the middle, for instance, will mark the situation of the royal doors, those on the right and left, the doors of guests, and those at the extremities, the points at which the road turns off. The seats (gradus) on which the spectators sit arenot to be less than twenty inches in height, nor more than twenty-two. Their width must not bemore than two feet and a half, nor less than two feet.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The roof of the portico, which is on the last step, should be on a level with the top of the scene; by which arrangement the voice will extend and be distinct to those on the upper seats and roof. For if it be not equally high, where that height is deficient, the voice, first striking thereon, will be stopped.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. One sixth part of the diameter of the orchestra is taken between the lowest steps, and level with that dimension the lower seats are disposed. A continuation of this line on the scene marks the height of the entrances: for thus proportioned, they will be of sufficient altitude.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. The length of the scene must be double the diameter of the orchestra. The height of the podium, or pedestal, with its cornice and base, from the level of the pulpitum, is a twelfth part of the diameter of the orchestra. The columns on the podium, with their capitals and bases, are to be one-fourth of its diameter high. The architraves and cornices of those columns one-fifth of their height. The upper pedestal, including the base and cornice, half the height of the lower pedestal. The columns on this pedestal one-fourth less in height than the lower columns. The architrave and its cornice a fifth of the columns. If there is to be a third order, the upper pedestal is to be half the height of that under the middle order, and the architrave and cornice a fifth of the columns.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. It is not, however, possible to produce the same effect in every theatre by the same proportions; but it behoves the architect to consider the proportions which symmetry requires, and those adapted to the nature of the place or the size of the work. Some things there are which their use requires of the same size in a large as in a small theatre; such as the steps, præcinctions, parapets, passages, stairs, pulpita, tribunals, and others which occur; in all which, the necessity of suiting them to their use, makes it impossible to form them symmetrically. So, also, if the materials are not provided in sufficient quantity, such as marble, wood, and the like, the diminution of or addition to the dimensions, so that it be not too much, and made with judgment, may be permitted: and this will be easily managed by an architect who is a man of experience, and who possesses ingenuity and talent.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. The parts of the scene are to be so distributed, that the middle door may be decorated as one of a royal palace; those on the right and left, as the doors of the guests. Near these are the spaces destined to receive the decorations; which places the Greeks call περιάκτοι, from the turning triangular machines. Each of these machines has three species of decoration, which, when the subject changes, or on the appearance of a god, are moved round with sudden claps of thunder, º and alter the appearance of the decoration. Near these places the turnings run out, which give entrance to the scene from the forum and from the country.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. There are three sorts of scenes, the Tragic, the Comic, and the Satyric. The decorations of these are different from each other. The tragic scenes are ornamented with columns, pediments, statues, and of the royal decorations. The comic scene represents private buildings and galleries, with windows similar to those in ordinary dwellings. The satyric scene is ornamented with trees, caves, hills, and of the rural objects in imitation of nature.

Chapter 7

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. In the theatres of the Greeks the design is not made on the same principles as those above mentioned. First, as to the general outline of the plan: whereas, in the Latin theatre, the points of four triangles touch the circumference, in the theatres of the Greeks the angles of three squares are substituted, and the side of that square which is nearest to the place of the scene, at the points where it touches the circumference of the circle, is the boundary of the proscenium. A line drawn parallel to this at the extremity of the circle, will give the front of the scene. Through the centre of the orchestra, opposite to the proscenium, another parallel line is drawn touching the circumference on the right and left, with a radius equal to the distance from the left point, describe a circle on the right and scene of the proscenium, and placing the foot of the compasses on the left hand point, with the distance of the right hand interval, describe another circle on the left side of the proscenium.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. Thus describing it from three centres, the Greeks have a larger orchestra, and their scene is further recessed. The pulpitum, which they call λογεῖον, is less in width: wherefore, among them, the tragic and comic performers act upon the scene; the rest going through their parts in the orchestra. Hence the performers are distinguished by the names of Scenici and Thymelici.​e The height of the pulpitum isnot less than ten feet, nor more than twelve. The directions of the stairs, between the cunei and seats, are opposite to the angles of the squares on the first præcinction. Above it the other stairs fall in the middle between the lower ones, and so on according to the number of præcinctions.

Chapter 8

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. When these matters are arranged with great care and skill, particular attention must be bestowed on the choice of a place where the voice falls smoothly, and reaches the ear distinctly without an echo. Some places are naturally unfavourable to the diffusion of the voice. Such are the dissonant, which in Greek are called κατηχοῦντες; the circumsonant, which the Greeks call περιηχοῦντες; the resonant, which they call ἀντηχοῦντες; and the consonant, which they call συνηχοῦντες. The dissonant places are those in which the voice, rising first upwards, is obstructed by some hard bodies above, and, in its return downwards, checks the ascent of its following sounds.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The circumsonant are those where the voice, wandering round, is at last retained in the centre, where it is dissipated, and, the final syllables being lost, the meaning of words is not distinguished. The resonant are those in which the voice, striking against some hard body, is echoed in the last syllables so that they appear doubled. Lastly, the consonant are those in which the voice, aided by something below, falls on the ear with great distinctness of words. Hence, if due care be taken in the choice of the situation, the effect of the voice will be improved, and the utility of the theatre increased. The differences of the figures consist in this, that those formed by means of squares are used by the Greeks, and those formed by means of triangles by the Latins. He who attends to these precepts will be enabled to erect a theatre in a perfect manner.

Chapter 9

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Behind the scenes porticos are to be built; to which, in the case of sudden showers, the people may retreat from the theatre, and also sufficiently capacious for the rehearsals of the chorus: such are the porticos of Pompey, of Eumenes at Athens, and of the temple of Bacchus; and on the left passing from the theatre, is the Odeum, which, in Athens, Pericles ornamented with stone columns, and with the masts and yards of ships, from the Persian spoils. This was destroyed by fire in the Mithridatic war, and restored by king Ariobarzanes. At Smyrna was the Strategeum: at Tralles were porticos on each side over the stadium, as in the scenes of theatres. In short, in all cities which possess skilful architects, porticos and walks are placed about the theatre,

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. which ought to be constructed double, with their exterior columns of the Doric order, whose architraves, and cornices are to be wrought after the Doric method. Their width is to be thus proportioned: the height of the exterior columns is equal to the distance from the lower part of the shaft of the exterior columns to that of those in the middle, and from them to the walls which surround the walks of the portico is an equal distance. The middle range of columns is one fifth part higher than the exterior range; and is of the Ionic or Corinthian order.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The proportions and symmetry of these columns are not to be guided by the rules delivered for those of sacred buildings. For the style used in the temples of the gods should be dignified; whereas, in porticos and similar works, it may be of a lighter character. If, therefore, the columns be of the Doric order, their height, including the capitals, is to be divided into fifteen parts, of which one is taken as a module. By this all the work is set out, making the thickness of the lower part of the column equal to two modules. The intercolumniation is of five modules and a half. The height of a column, exclusive of the capital, fourteen modules; the height of the capital one module, the width of it two modules and a sixth. The proportions of the rest of the work are to be the same as those described for sacred buildings in the fourth book.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. If Ionic columns be used, the shaft, exclusive of the base and capital, is to be divided into eight parts and a half, of which one is assigned to the thickness of the column. The base, with its plinth, is half a module high; and the formation of the capital is to be as shewn in the third book. If Corinthian, the shaft and base are to be the same as the Ionic; but the capital is to be proportioned as directed in the fourth book; and the addition on the pedestal is made by the scamilli impares, mentioned in the third book. The architraves, coronæ, and all the other parts, are set out in proportion to the columns as explained in the foregoing books.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The central space between the porticos should be ornamented with verdure, inasmuch as hypæthral walks are very healthy; first, in respect of the eyes, because the air from green plants being light and volatile, insinuates itself into the body when in motion, clears the sight, removing the gross humours from the eyes, leaves the vision clear and distinct. Moreover, when the body is heated by the exercise of walking, the air, extracting its humours, diminishes corpulency, dissipating that which is superabundant in the body.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. That this is the case, may be proved by observing, that from fountains in covered places, or those which are under ground, no moist vapours rise; whilst in open places exposed to the air, when the rising sun darts his rays upon the earth, he raises the vapours from humid and marshy places, and, gathering them into masses, carries them into the air. If, therefore, in open places, the noxious humours of bodies are carried off by the air, as they are from the earth by means of clouds, there can be no doubt of the necessity of making spacious and pleasant walks open to the air in every city.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. That they may always be dry and free from mud, the following method must be adopted. They must be dug out and drained to the lowest possible level; and on the right and left sewers must be constructed; and in the walls thereof, towards the walk, drains are laid, with an inclination to the sewer. When this is done, the place is filled in with coals; over which the walks are strewed with gravel, and levelled. Thus, from the natural porosity of the coals, and the inclination of the drains towards the sewer, the quantity of water is carried off, and the passages remain dry and unaffected by the moisture.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 8. In these places the antientsº also made depôts for the reception of things necessary for the use of the city. For in case of the city being under blockade, all things are more easily provided than wood. Salt is with facility laid in beforehand; corn,º from the public or private stores, is soon collected; and the want of that is remedied by the use of garden herbs, flesh, or pulse. Water is obtained either by digging new wells, or by collecting it from the roofs of buildings; but wood, which is absolutely necessary for cooking the food, is provided with difficulty and trouble; and that which is slowly procured is quickly consumed.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 9. In such times these walks are opened, and an allowance distributed to the tribes, according to their numbers. Thus they are conducive to two good purposes; to health in time of peace, and to preservation in time of war. If walks are provided after these directions not only behind the scene of the theatre, but also adjoining the temples of all the gods, they will be of great utility in every city. As they have been sufficiently explained, the method of arranging the different parts of baths will now follow.

Chapter 10

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. First, as warm a spot as possible is to be selected, that is to say, one sheltered from the north and north-east. The hot and tepid baths are to receive their light from the winter west; but, if the nature of the place prevent that, at all events from the south, because the hours of bathing are principally from noon to evening. Care must be taken that the warm baths of the women and men adjoin, and have the same aspect; in which case the same furnace and vessels will serve both. The caldrons over the furnaces are to be three in number, one for hot water, another for tepid water, and a third for cold water: and they must be so arranged, that hot water which runs out of the heated vessel, may be replaced by an equal quantity from the tepid vessel, which in like manner is supplied from the cold vessel, and that the arched cavities in which they stand may be heated by one fire.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. The floors of the hot baths are to be made as follows. First, the bottom is paved withºtiles of a foot and a half inclining towards the furnace, so that if a ball be thrown into it, it will not remain therein, but roll back to the mouth of the furnace; thus the flame will better spread out under the floor. Upon this, piers ofeight inch bricks are raised, at such a distance from each other, thatºtiles of two feet may form their covering. The piers are to betwo feet in height, and are to be laid in clay mixed with hair, on which the above-mentioned two feet tilesºare placed, which carry the pavement.

[image ALT: missingALT]

Tiling from the baths at the Roman river port of Castellum Amerinum, now Serípola near Orte: these are indeed sesquipedales, tiles one and a half Roman feet on a side. (I did a rough measurement on the spot.º) Notice the brick stamp.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The ceilings, if of masonry, will be preferable; if, however, they are of timber, they should be plastered on the under side, which must be done as follows. Iron rods, or arcs, are prepared and suspended by iron hooks to the floor as close as possible. These rods or arcs are at such distances from each other, that tiles, without knees, may rest on and be borne by every two ranges, and thus the whole vaulting depending on the iron may be perfected. The upper parts of the joints are stopped with clay and hair. The under side towards the pavement is first plastered with pounded tiles and lime, and then finished with stucco or fine plastering. If the vaulting of hot baths is made double it will be better, because the moisture of the steam cannot then affect the timber, but will be condensed between the two arches.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. The size of baths must depend on the number of persons who frequent them. Their proportions are as follow: their width is to be two thirds of their length, exclusive of the space round the bathing vessel (schola labri) and the gutter round it (alveus). The bathing vessel (labrum) should be lighted from above, so that the bye standers may not cast any shadow thereon, and thereby obstruct the light. The schola labri ought to be spacious, so that those who are waiting for their turn may be properly accommodated. The width of the alveus between the wall of the labrum and the parapet must not be less thansix feet, so that it may be commodious after the reduction oftwo feet, which are allotted to the lower step and the cushion.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. The laconicum and sudatories are to adjoin the tepid apartment, and their height to the springing of the curve of the hemisphere is to be equal to their width. An opening is left in the middle of the dome from which a brazen shield is suspended by chains, capable of being so lowered and raised as to regulate the temperature. It should be circular, that the intensity of the flame and heat may be equally diffused from the centre throughout.

Chapter 11

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. Though not used by the people of Italy, it seems proper that I should explain the form of the palæstra, and describe the mode in which it was constructed by the Greeks. The square or oblong peristylia of palestræ, have a walk round them which the Greeks call δίαυλος, two stadia in circuit: three of the sides are single porticos: the fourth, which is that on the south side, is to be double, so that when showers fall in windy weather, the drops may not drive into the inner part of it.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. In the three porticos are large recesses (exedræ) with seats therein, whereon the philosophers, rhetoricians, and others who delight in study, may sit and dispute. In the double portico the following provision is to be made: the ephebeum is to be in the middle, which is in truth nothing more than a large exedra with seats, and longer by one third than its width, on the right is the coriceum, immediately adjoining which is the conisterium, near which, in the angle of the portico, is the cold bath, which the Greeks call λουτρόν. On the left of the ephebeum is the elæothesium, adjoining that is the frigidarium, whence a passage leads to the propigneum in the angle of the portico. Near, but more inward, on the side of the frigidarium, is placed the vaulted sudatory, whose length is double its width; on one side of this is the laconicum, constructed as before described: on the other side is the hot bath.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. The peristylia of the palæstra are to be carefully set out as above mentioned. Exteriorly three porticos are constructed, one through which those who come out of the palæstra pass; and stadial ones on the right and left, of which, that towards the north is double, and of considerable width. The other is single, and so formed that as well on the side next the wall, as on that where the columns stand, there are margins for paths of not less thanten feet, the centre part is sunkone foot and a half from the path, to which there is an ascent of two steps; the sunken part is not to be less thantwelve feet in width. Thus, those who in their clothing walk round the paths, will not be incommoded by the anointed wrestlers who are practising.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. This species of portico is called xystus (ξυστὸς) by the Greeks; for the wrestlers exercise in covered stadia in the winter time. Xysti ought, between the two porticos, to have groves or plantations, with walks between the trees and seat of cemented work. On the sides of the xystus and double portico are open walks which the Greeks call περιδρόμιδες, but with us they are termed xysti, on which the athletæ exercise themselves, when the weather is fine, in the winter. Behind the xystus the stadium is set out, of such dimensions that a great number of people may commodiously behold the contending wrestlers. I have now given rules for the proper distribution of such buildings as are within the walls.

Chapter 12

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 1. I must not omit to speak of the formation of harbours, but explain in what manner ships are secured therein in stormy weather. If they are naturally well situated, and have rocks or long promontories jutting out, which from the shape of the place, form curves or angles, they are of the greatest utility; because, in that case, nothing more is necessary than to construct porticos and arsenals round them, or passages to the markets; and then erect a tower on each side, wherefrom chains may be suspended across by means of machinery.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 2. But, if the place be not thus fitted by nature, nor secure for ships in stormy weather, and there be no river there to prevent it, but on one side there is a proper shore, then on the other side, by means of building or heaps of stones, a projection is run out, and in this the enclosures of harbours are formed. Building in the sea is thus executed. That powder is procured, which is found in the country between Cumæ and the promontory of Minerva, and is mixed with the water in the proportion of two parts thereof to one of lime.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 3. Then, in the place selected, damsº are formed in the water, of oaken piles tied together with chain pieces, which are driven firmly into the bottom. Between the ranges of piles, below the level of the water, the bed is dug out and levelled, and the work carried up with stones and mortar, compounded as above directed, till the wall fills the vacant space of the dam. If, however, from the violence of the waves and open sea the dams cannot be kept together, then on the edge of the main land, a foundation for a wall is constructed of the greatest possible strength; this foundation is laid horizontally, throughout rather less than half its length; the remainder, which is towards the shore, is made to overhang.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 4. Then, on the side towards the water, and on the flanks round the foundation, margins, projectinga foot and a half, are brought up to the level already mentioned. The overhanging part is filled up underneath with sand, brought up level with the foundation. On the level bed thus prepared, as large a pier as possible is built, which must remains for at least two months to set. The margin which incloses the sand is then removed, and the sand being washed away by the action of the waves causes the fall of the mass into the sea, and by a repetition of this expedient the work may be carried forward into the sea.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 5. When the place does not afford the powder named, the following method is to be adopted. Double dams are constructed, well connected with planks and chain pieces, and the cavity between them is filled up with clay and marsh weed well rammed down. When rammed down and squeezed as close as possible, the water is emptied out with screw pumps or water wheels, and the place is emptied and dried, and the foundations excavated. If the bottom be of loose texture, it must be dug out till a solid bottom is come to, wider than the wall about to be erected, and the wall is then built of stone, lime, and sand.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 6. But if the bottom be very soft, alder, olive, or oak piles, previously charred, must be driven, and the intervals between them filled with coals, as directed above for the foundations of theatres and walls. The wall is then raised with squared stones, the joints of which are to be as long as possible, in order that the middle stones may be well tied in. The inside of the wall is then filled with rubble or masonry; and on this, even a tower might be erected.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] 7. When this is completed, the arsenals are to be constructed chiefly with a northern aspect; for if they are to the south, the heat will generate and nourish the rot, the worm, the ship worm, and other noxious insects; and timber should be sparingly used in these buildings on account of fire. No rule can be given for the size, but they must be suited to receive the largest ships, so that, if drawn ashore, there may be plenty of room for them. In this book, as far as it has occurred to me, I have treated of the public buildings necessary for the use of a city: in that following, I shall treat of the convenience and symmetry of private houses.

Thayer's Notes:

a some manuscripts have iulia aquiliana here, and Gwilt's Latin text may even have had Iulia Aquilina. He thus translates "the Julian basilica on the Aquiline", but this makes no sense: there is no "Aquiline" hill (or anything else) in Rome. An emendation Iulia et Aquiliana leads to the translation adopted above.

b This makes perfect sense for a much simpler reason than the one that follows in the text; no matter the time of day, at least some of the spectators would have the sun in their eyes.

Vitruvius has not laid down a categorical rule here: several Roman theaters are known that face south. Other factors must have included the egregious suitability of some south-facing hill forming a natural theater, which would have dramatically cut the cost of the building: at which point a velarium could always be provided.

I also get the feeling Vitruvius is writing partly in response to having seen such a south-facing theater: by his own admission (praef. 2), he is in fact jumping on the bandwagon a bit late, after a major construction binge during the principate of Augustus. It is known that many theaters, specifically, were built thruout the empire at this time by Agrippa and other "friends of Augustus": so that Vitruvius, as much as he would like to, is not setting down any kind of law regulating new construction; and indeed, some archaeologists have been mistaken in reading the de Architectura as a set of master specifications having force of law.

If you're wondering where all this is leading, it's to an amusing case of "ignorance is bliss", "out of the mouths of babes and children", or "beginner's luck" — take your pick: when I was 13, I 'found' a Roman theater, but was solemnly assured by people who knew archaeology (and presumably Vitruvius) that there could be no theater on that tempting hill, because of course it faces south. Some time after I left Morocco, they found the indubitable if scant remains of a theater; and thanks to Andy Wilson, I found out about it thirty years later: here's his picture of it.

c This reads very theoretically; but instances of such acoustic vessel systems have actually been found. See for example Acoustic Pottery, (Gent. Mag. 215:750‑753) and the article by George Yates linked there; if some of the finds discussed there date only to medieval times, some may go back to Late Antiquity — and the placement of those acoustic vessels in the walls of the Circus of Maxentius in my photo is of firmly Roman date.

d Many such acoustic vessels have been found, both in Roman buildings and in medieval churches. For details, see several related pages, the first of which, "Acoustic Pottery" (Gentleman's Magazine 215:750‑753), includes my own photo of some that can still be seen in the Circus of Maxentius.

e Vitruvius doesn't spell out what his readers know: between the acts of a serious play, like a sherbet between the fish and meat courses, or the danse de caractère in a classical ballet, "the rest", the thymelici, are lesser fare — jugglers, bawdy singers, trained animals and burlesque acts. These second-class performers didn't rate the proper stage; I can just imagine the cattiness and the infighting.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 13 Jul 13