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A Companion to Greek Architecture

A Companion to Greek Architecture

Edited by Margaret M. Miles. Pp. xxx + 583. Wiley Blackwell, Chichester, U.K., 2016. $195. ISBN 978-1-44433-599-6 (cloth).

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While updated overviews of Greek architecture have recently appeared in French and Italian, comparable reference books in English date from the 1950s, although Tomlinson published his revised edition of Lawrence’s Greek Architecture (Baltimore 1957) in 1996. Over the last six decades, new findings and approaches have greatly expanded our knowledge of Greek architecture, and increasing attention has been devoted to the Archaic and Hellenistic phases. Presenting authoritative, updated syntheses on a broad range of aspects of Greek architecture, Miles’ A Companion to Greek Architecture represents a most welcome step in bridging the gap in the scholarly literature.

The book embraces Greek architecture from the dawn of historical times (eighth century B.C.E.) to Hellenism. Broad in scope, it includes design, engineering, construction, and architectural theory, as well as many other subjects often overlooked in archaeological discussions, ranging from interior design to reception and preservation.

The 30 contributors, 27 of whom are based at British or American institutions, are a mix of well-established and newer scholars. While some chapters provide introductory overviews intended mainly for an undergraduate audience, others introduce original observations or take a critical stance. Whether the focus is chronological or thematic, most of the chapters give a sense of historical development. The references are largely up-to-date, and the “guides to further reading” will prove a helpful resource for both students and scholars approaching a new subject, although the prevalence of texts in English gives the impression that students are the main target audience. One notable omission will serve as an example: though the Companion frequently mentions Vitruvius’ De architectura, it does not cite the essential French editions published by Les Belles Lettres.

The 35 chapters are arranged in four sections. Section 1, “Invention, Design, and Construction” (chs. 1–8), deals with the process of architectural production. Sections 2 and 3, “Temples and Sanctuaries” (chs. 9–16) and “Civic Space” (chs. 17–26), are structured by functional typology, and section 4, “Reception” (chs. 27–35), explores the reception and influence of Greek architecture in both the Roman epoch and the early modern period, as well as present-day questions concerning the preservation of architectural ruins. This arrangement organizes a diverse set of topics into a coherent structure, although with occasional inconsistencies: Mazarakis Ainian’s “Early Greek Temples,” found in the first section, might well belong in the second, whereas Senseney’s “Scale, Architects, and Architectural Theory,” found in the second, would seem better placed in in the first. More puzzling is the absence of a chapter on the Greek architectural orders. While references are made to them throughout the book, only one section in Barletta’s essay (ch. 3) addresses them specifically, and the chapter’s chronological scope does not allow her to include the Corinthian. However, the many references to Barletta’s The Origins of the Greek Architectural Orders (Cambridge 2001) and Wilson Jones’ Origins of Classical Architecture (New Haven 2014) mitigate the lacuna.

The book begins thoughtfully with Robinson’s survey of modern scholarship’s various approaches to ancient Greek landscape, the primary setting of architecture as well as human activity in general. Mazarakis Ainian (ch. 2) examines the emergence of temple architecture in the Late Geometric period, while Barletta (ch. 3) explores the increase in monumentality in early temple architecture with its potential stimuli. Sapirstein’s excellent essay (ch. 4) examines the origins and design of terracotta roofs in the seventh century B.C.E. One of the newer scholars who contributed to the book, Sapirstein has already provided important contributions to this and other aspects of Greek architecture, and one cannot but admire his tridimensional renderings. Senseney (ch. 5) examines the technical challenges mastered in the Archaic period in the Greek East, properly considering Greek achievements within the larger context of technical exchanges with Anatolian populations. Marconi’s admirable synthesis of temple architecture and decoration in South Italy and Sicily (ch. 6), selective by necessity given the wide range of evidence and literature on the subject, neatly delineates major trends and developments from the foundation of the Greek settlements in the eighth century to the advent of Rome. Leonardis addresses the use of geometry in temple design (ch. 7). Though he does cite Coulton’s unsurpassed Ancient Greek Architects at Work: Problems of Structure and Design (Ithaca, N.Y. 1977), he does not consider Coulton’s argument that differences in plan articulation in temples from different periods were a result of different design methods. Rather, Leonardis seems to postulate that a single design method was used throughout the history of Greek architecture. At odds with this suggestion, however, are the Hellenistic period’s crucial developments in modular planning (discussed in Senseney’s ch. 16), likely accompanied by the introduction of comprehensive scale drawings. The first section ends with Klein’s survey of building techniques (ch. 8), which will prove an excellent resource for students.

The second section opens with two interesting chapters on the Panhellenic sanctuaries at Olympia and Delphi. Drawing on her previous studies, Klein (ch. 9) examines the role of the Olympian sanctuary as a center for the dissemination of technical and stylistic innovations. Scott’s consideration of the role of Delphi as a stage for the display of prestige (ch. 10) asks subtle questions about changing dynamics in the competition for prestige in the Greek world. Two subsequent chapters deal with Attica. Rhodes’ engaging narrative explores the peculiar features of the Periclean monuments on the Athenian Acropolis (ch. 11) with reference to history, use, and meaning, while Paga (ch. 13) shifts the discourse to peripheral sanctuaries outside Athens. Both comprehensive and up-to-date, Neils’ survey of architectural decoration in mainland Greece (ch. 12) gives due attention to carved decoration as well as to the often overlooked subject of polychromy. The author mentions the fragments of decorated stucco from Kalapodi and Isthmia (both from ca. 650 B.C.E.), to which should be added similar fragments from the roughly contemporary temple at Corinth. As at Kalapodi, the polychrome decorations at Isthmia most likely come from the cella’s interior, not from the exterior. Barely mentioned in standard syntheses, the interiors of Greek temples are the subject of Miles’ essay (ch. 15), certainly one of the book’s most rewarding chapters. The author’s overview is commendable in encompassing aspects material and immaterial, functional and symbolic, ranging from light to spatial quality and organization, cult statuary and votives, ritual, and accessibility. Pitt (ch. 14) provides a solid and useful synthesis on building inscriptions, which should be compulsory reading for all students and scholars approaching ancient Greek building administration. Senseney’s chapter on architectural theory and design (ch. 16) argues persuasively that scale drawing as an all-encompassing design tool was likely developed during the Hellenistic period. Regrettably, in citing the standard intercolumnar ratios of Vitruvius, the author omits the diastyle (3 diameters), and Coulton’s essay “Incomplete Preliminary Planning in Greek Architecture” (in Le dessin d’architecture dans les sociétés antiques: Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg 26–28 janvier 1984 [Leiden 1985]) could have been added to the general reading list.

The third section forms a consistent thematic unit covering all the main facets of civic space, broadly defined to include houses (Tsakirgis [ch. 19]) and tombs (Palagia [ch. 26]). It opens conveniently with a general introduction to urban planning (Robinson [ch. 17]) and continues with overviews of defense and trade infrastructures (Pope [ch. 18]), Hellenistic royal palaces (Miller [ch. 20]), agoras (Camp [ch. 21]), athletic infrastructures (Romano [ch. 22]), Greek baths (Lucore [ch. 23]), bouleuteria and odeia (Camp [ch. 24]), and theaters (Paga [ch. 25]). These overviews are generally comprehensive and reliable, with occasional repetitions (e.g., both Robinson [247–51] and Camp [305] treat stoas and fountains). The presence of a chapter on Greek baths―a first in a book on Greek architecture―is a most welcome inclusion, and Lucore’s excellent survey reflects recent studies that have vastly expanded our understanding of this subject. Paga explores the various uses of theaters in the Greek world, setting out to explore the relationship between architectural form and function, though confining most of her considerations to the transition from rectilinear to curved koila. Comparison between the geometric designs of Greek theaters and the relevant Vitruvian passages on Greek theater design (5.7.1–2) would have been a thoughtful contribution to the discussion.

The last section turns to the developments and influence of Greek architecture after the Classical period. Three chapters explore the extraordinary architectural production of western Asia Minor between the fourth and the second centuries B.C.E. Here, the cultural interaction between Greeks and Anatolians fostered innovations in style and spatial articulation. The discourse begins with the Hekatomnid sanctuary of Zeus at Labraunda (Umholtz [ch. 27]), which in many ways bridges the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Discussion continues with Pergamon (Seaman [ch. 28]) and its dramatic monumental complexes, sculpted out of the landscape between the third and second centuries B.C.E., which evoked and competed with fifth-century Athens. Both chapters provide solid syntheses and interpret spatial aesthetics with reference to historical, cultural, and ethnic contexts. Wescoat’s excellent essay (ch.29) focuses on the overall spatial composition of Hellenistic sanctuaries, comparing strategies ranging from the hypotactic to the circuitous, clearly illustrated by three contrasting case studies: the sanctuaries of Athena Lindia (Rhodes), Asklepios at Kos, and the Great Gods on Samothrace. Rowland (ch. 30) weaves an imaginative, engaging narrative that describes the history, features, and afterlife of three prominent Hellenistic monuments from the celebrated Seven Wonders of the World: the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Townsend (ch. 31) explores the active dialogue between Hellenistic and Roman architecture, a reflection of the two cultures’ increasingly interwoven histories from the second century B.C.E. onward. Howe (ch. 32) focuses on the Roman reception and adaptation of Greek motifs, building types, and ordering principles. The two chapters that follow turn away from antiquity to treat the reception of Greek architecture in France (Armstrong [ch. 33]) and England (Kelly [ch. 34]) from the 17th to the early 20th century. Both chapters provide critically stimulating syntheses of the European debate that encouraged the first modern explorations of Greece. Besides influencing contemporary design, this cultural debate established the premises for the development of modern preservation culture, the subject of Lambrinou’s essay (ch. 35), which is a natural conclusion to the book. The author neatly delineates the different approaches to archaeological preservation in recent Greek history, as exemplified by her case study of the Parthenon’s east porch.

While this much-awaited companion cannot, and is not intended to, take the place of a systematic narrative of Greek architecture, its broad scope and thoughtful organization, as well as the high level of scholarship in nearly all its chapters, make it a most valuable tool for students as well as for scholars exploring subjects outside their immediate expertise.

Alessandro Pierattini
School of Architecture
University of Notre Dame

Book Review of A Companion to Greek Architecture, edited by Margaret M. Miles

Reviewed by Alessandro Pierattini

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 1 (January 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1231.pierattini

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