Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.30

Barbara A. Barletta, The Origins of the Greek Architectural Orders.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2001.  Pp. xi + 220.  ISBN 0-521-79245-2.  $70.00.  

Reviewed by Rhys F. Townsend, Clark University (
Word count: 2223 words

Discussion, debate, and determination of the origin of the Greek architectural orders is at least as old as Vitruvius. Modern scholarly literature on the subject is exhaustive, and, one might think, largely exhausted. Surely, there are few issues more central to the history of Greek architecture, but at this point it is not too much to ask, "What more can be said?" Barletta demonstrates that the answer is "a good deal." Her relatively short book, considering the vast sweep of the topic, is succinct but thorough in its appraisal of scholarship (she even cites at one point a reference to a lost manuscript by Drerup(!) and at another a forthcoming article by Mark Wilson Jones that appeared in print just as this review was being written). For this contribution alone, as an up-to-date synthetic review of a difficult subject, The Origins of the Greek Architectural Orders represents a valuable contribution. But Barletta has her own theory about "what happened," too, one that is grounded in a rigorous, if conservative examination of the archaeological evidence. As such, hers is a book primarily for the specialist, for someone familiar with the history of Greek architecture; this audience will read it to advantage.

An introductory discussion of Vitruvius' explanations about the origins of the orders sets the stage for the examination of the archaeological evidence in the four succeeding chapters. Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture, as canonized by Alberti and others in the Renaissance, has formed the basis of all subsequent discussions of the subject. Barletta contends that even most modern scholarship, with the added perspective provided by a large body of archaeological evidence, has given pride of place to the Vitruvian notion of a long evolutionary process from wood to stone as the underlying principle for the establishment of both the Doric and Ionic orders. But, setting aside for the moment authority of Vitruvius, what does the examination of the archaeological material tell us, Barletta asks. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 address this question by looking successively at the "pre-order" period of the Proto-geometric through 7th centuries B.C., the Archaic Doric order, and finally 6th century B.C. Ionic architecture. In brief, Barletta argues that the Doric order does not appear until ca. 580-570 B.C. and the Ionic shortly thereafter. At the core of this assessment is a methodological principle that Barletta adopts in examining the archaeology of early Greek architecture: a consistent, conservative reading of the evidence, both for the chronology and reconstruction of the buildings in question. Given a range of time for the construction of a building, Barletta accepts a later rather than earlier date. If the evidence allows for, but does not firmly establish the existence of the order, Barletta argues that the building in question is not Doric or Ionic, but still at a stage in the "pre-order" state. The advantage of this approach is that it does not run the risk of making false assumptions, and thus of the author being accused of "special pleading," i.e., seeming to interpret equivocal evidence in a way that favors her argument. The disadvantage is that it tacitly assumes that lack of evidence equates with the absence of a feature rather than simply poor state of preservation.

Barletta deals in this manner with the many knotty problems involved in the emergence of the Doric and Ionic orders. Thus, the number of certain examples of early peripteral temples is reduced to a very few: the 8th-century Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, the hekatompedon at the remote site of Ano Mazaraki in Achaia, and the Old Temple of Hera at the Argive Heraion, the latter two both of the 7th century. She questions and implicitly rejects the peristyles in buildings like Megaron B at Thermon, Hekatompedon I/II on Samos, the early Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia, even the Temple of Apollo (C) at Thermon. In none of these cases does Barletta offer a new interpretation of the evidence herself; rather she adopts what might be called the "reformist" restorations of archaeologists who themselves have examined the sites relatively recently and whose views often conflict with original or earlier interpretations of the evidence. Even in the case of the 10th century Heroon at Lefkandi, whose peristyle is incontrovertible, Barletta stresses that the building may well not have served a religious purpose. She concludes therefore that the peristyle was only slowly adopted for sacred architecture and remained sporadic in its use until the 6th century B.C.

Barletta "deconstructs" the evidence for the early appearance of the orders in elevation in a similar fashion. It is not until the 6th century that Doric elements are certainly present in architectural models. At Samos in east Greece, a few models from the 7th century seem to show dentils, indicating that this motif occurred before the 6th century; but isolated features do not an order make. The buildings themselves support this conclusion. Although the temples of Apollo at Corinth and Poseidon at Isthmia mark the introduction of monumental stone architecture in the first half of the 7th century, neither can be called Doric; the Temple of Poseidon has a stone geison, but there is no reason to presume it displayed Doric traits. Even the painted terracotta panels from the Temple of Apollo at Thermon, though accepted by Barletta as an incipient element of the Doric order, are not necessarily metopes per se and thus do not prove the existence of the Doric order in that building.

In chapter 3 Barletta emphasizes that Doric features do not develop as separate members of an entire system but appear in a more piecemeal fashion with considerable variation from region to region. The experimental nature of the first Doric elements is well illustrated, for example, by the mutular geison; even after it first appears, the form varies considerably, well into the 6th century. Because she follows recent tendencies to push dates downward, Barletta argues further that the first certain appearance of decidedly Doric characteristics does not occur before the end of the 7th century; some elements, like Doric stone capitals, the first of which was once dated to ca. 650 B.C., are lowered by half a century. Moreover, the proportions of these capitals do not adhere to a consistent development, again emphasizing the experimental nature of early forms. Barletta's methodology becomes strained occasionally, as when she proposes that the experimental nature of the Doric frieze is demonstrated by early examples where the triglyphs do not align with columns and intercolumnar spaces as in canonical Doric. The instances she cites, however -- the early Tholos at Delphi, the Monopteros at Delphi, and the Temple of Apollo at Syracuse -- all have extraordinary problems of structure and design that may just as readily explain their failure to adhere to the normal rule, a fact that Barletta barely acknowledges. In sum, the first element of the Doric order does not occur before the last decade of the 7th century, but thereafter the order evolves rapidly and is fully established by 580-570 B.C., in the Temple of Artemis at Korkyra. In reaching this conclusion Barletta upholds Vitruvius' idea of an evolutionary emergence of the order but rejects any notion that this took place over a long period of time.

Just as a painted panel does not verify the presence of the Doric order, neither does a simple cylindrical column base establish the Ionic order in a given building. Among the first elements to evolve, the base nevertheless is not articulated enough to be called Ionic until its appearance in the fourth Temple of Dionysos at Yria on Naxos around 580-570 B.C. Even so, neither this base, or the "Samian" form in the Rhoikos Temple of Hera on Samos (ca. 570-560 B.C.), nor the "Ephesian" type in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos (ca. 560-550 B.C.) can be considered canonical. The second hallmark of the Ionic order is the column capital; the first confirmed architectural use of this feature, combining connected volutes and a leaf-ringed echinus, also appears in the fourth Temple of Dionysos at Yria. Like the column base, it too underwent continuous experimentation well into the 6th century. Regional variations in the Ionic order are perhaps even stronger and persist longer than in the Doric. Throughout Chapter 4, Barletta stresses in particular the role of Cycladic Ionic architecture, the importance of which has only emerged in the past 20 years or so. It is in this region during the early 6th century that the frieze course first appears; here, too, the form of the base that will become canonical is introduced. By the second quarter of the 6th century, most Ionic features are established, but evolution continues into the second half of the century; the first appearance of the three-fasciaed architrave is at the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, begun around 540 B.C., for example.

A consequence of Barletta's conservative approach, focusing almost exclusively on the extant evidence, results in the postponement until Chapter 5 of any discussion about the possible origin of the orders in wooden forms. Thus, the Temple of Hera at Olympia is not taken up in any detail until page 127 (out of 156 pages of text). As may be expected, Barletta questions the existence of a triglyph and metope frieze in the original construction. No trace of it exists, but its presence in wood has been assumed on the basis of corner contraction of the columns; Barletta maintains that this element could have been added later. More importantly for Barletta's thesis, however, is her contention that even if the Hera Temple frieze was wood, it would not support the argument for the origin of the order in this material. According to Barletta, wooden forms did not exist as a distinct, earlier stage in the development of the orders, one that eventually "petrified" into stone, but rather existed alongside the early experimentation in stone and other materials like terracotta. Although some elements of the orders probably do have antecedents in wood, adoption of one motif does not require that other elements have similar antecedents. The architectural feature whose possible wooden origins historically have been most discussed is the Doric frieze. In brief, Barletta stresses that the origin of the Doric frieze (and for that matter, the entire Doric temple) makes no more sense in wood than in stone. As for the Ionic order, the only element that may lay claim to a wooden antecedent is the dentil course. As Barletta notes, this is just as Vitruvius states; all theories about wooden origins of the Ionic capital or architrave are modern. And Barletta agrees with Vitruvius, too, in stressing an important ornamental component in the evolution of the orders. Ornament as an elaboration of structural forms was the driving force behind the evolution of both Doric and Ionic design. The sources were multiple, drawn from different media and different regions. This process occurs over roughly two to three generations: in the case of the Doric order this transpires from the end of the 7th century to the beginning of the second quarter of the 6th century, while the Ionic order evolves slightly later and takes slightly longer to firm up.

Barletta stresses the following major aspects of the emergence of the orders: the process occurred relatively late and relatively quickly but was evolutionary nonetheless, and it involved contributions by anonymous architects and builders from several different regions. This conclusion has particular significance for the Doric order because it discards the idea that the order was "invented" in the Corinthia and that it may have been the creation of a single architect or school of architects working over the course of essentially one generation. While each order represents a distinct part of the Greek world, Barletta recognizes more or less equal contributions from different regions that meld together into each style. This explanation is most problematic in the case of the Doric order because it does not account for the extraordinary integration of the various components of the order into what is really a complex and unique system. It is hard to see how the Doric order could happen "by committee," so to speak. For Barletta, the architectural development she outlines fits into a broader social context, one that moves from multiplicity to unity, a kind of "melting pot" in which different regional traditions evolve into a more unified "national" identity. As fitting as this mentalité may be in the context of the last one hundred years of "America's century," or in connection with the multi-cultural globalization of the world village of the 21st century, it is not necessarily applicable to the Greek world of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. In this regard, one may note that the theory of the evolution of the Doric order from wood to stone as if from a more primitive form to one more complex (and advanced) first emerged around the middle of the 19th century. And that, of course, was the time of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), in which he espoused the natural ascent of man through progressive biological evolution. That we view history through the prism of our own time is hardly a criticism, however. Barletta has made a significant contribution in this book, one that has most definitely enhanced the debate on the origins of the Greek architectural orders.

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