5 Classical Architectural Orders of Ancient Greek and Rome

Architecture is the most primary reflection of a civilization in the built environment. Each society has created a unique architectural language in accordance with its needs, beliefs, desires and cultures. There are two great publics that form the foundations of Western civilization. Greeks and Romans. These two great cultures, which caused major innovations and changes in Anatolia, Europe and the Middle East, developed a language that would be effective for thousands of years in the field of architecture. According to this, they designed 5 orders of architecture. Besides three Greek architectural orders, Romans had developed two classical orders in architecture. These are respectively:

  1. Doric Order
  2. Ionic Order
  3. Corinthian Order
  4. Tuscan Order
  5. Composite Order
As an example of classical architectural orders Jupiter Temple of Rome
Temple of Jupiter – Ancient Rome

These classical architecture orders were designed as an outcome of a rational civilization with the principles of proportions and a magnificent composition. Column-beam static, which is still used in today’s architecture, has formed the basic structural understanding of these five classical orders. The first three classical orders of columns in the Western world, Doric, Ionian and Corinthian orders, originated in Ancient Greece. Later, the Romans invented the Tuscan order, which is simpler than Doric, and the Composite order, which is more ornate than Corinthian.

Distinguishing Classic Architectural Orders

Classical architecture has enhanced step by step with the accumulation of architectural knowledge and experience. On the other hand, according to Vitruvius, three basic principles of architecture, utilitas, firmitas and venustas, namely practicality, durability and beauty, served as an important torch in the development of the art of building.

The Greeks used to carefully design temples. That’s why classical styles are also commonly known as temple orders. However, it is possible to see these 5 orders of architecture in many public structures and individual buildings belonging to the nobles.

Columns with ornate capitals, pediments, friezes and architraves are the basic elements of orders. The easiest way to understand the architecture order in which these structures were built is to look at their columns.

5 classical architactural orders of ancient architecture in Greece and Rome
5 Column orders from simple to complex

Columns, the most distinctive element of classical orders, have unique capital designs. These capitals are categorized according to the ornaments and decorations on them and they provide differentiation of orders. Thus, it becomes possible to distinguish classical orders of architecture by looking at their column capitals.

What are the three orders of Greek architecture?

The Greeks were a society that gave great importance to aesthetics. They’ve made various trials to make their buildings look beautiful from the outside, and as a result of these experiments, they created some measurement and proportional rules. Therefore, a rational understanding of beauty has emerged.

Architecture in ancient Greece was not used to produce original looking buildings or very different designs. Instead, the important thing was to apply the architecture, which already has certain rules, in the most correct way.

Architectural traditions and rules, which were shaped with very limited differences, were preserved for centuries and transferred to the next generations. By this means, architectural identities dominated by a common language were built in most local regions of antiquity. The whole of these building design principles in ancient Greek architecture is called the column orders. There are three types of Greek column orders.

1. Doric Order

Athena Parthenon temple which is an example of Greek doric order
Example of a doric temple

Doric order, which greek order is the simplest, consists of a crepis, a column without a base, a simple capital, an entablature, and a triangular pediment. There are two parts named abacus and equinus in the column capital. The architrave, which is the first part of the entablature, is quite plain in the Doric order in Greek architecture. Above pillars, there is a frieze consisting of metopes and triglyphs. Triglyphs are a kind of relief, while metopes are the spaces between these reliefs.

  • The Doric order is the only order without a column base.
  • It has a short and plump appearance. Therefore, it has rough and bulky stance.
  • Doric columns have entasis. This means that the middle part of the column body is wider than the upper part and it narrows upwards.
  • Doric columns have thin shaft channels called grooves that surround the body.

2. Ionic Order

The most important sign of the Ionic order is the volutes, which look like ram horns on the column capitals. Even from these elements alone, it is possible to distinguish an Ionic structure.

Ionic order column capital example
Ionic column capital
  • The Ionic columns, which are thinner and more elegant than the Doric order, are believed to reflect the beauty of a woman.
  • There are column bases.
  • Ionic columns do not have entasis.
  • The height of the column base is half of the diameter of columns.
  • The column base consists of circular shaped moldings called torus and scotia.

3. Corinthian Order

The Corinthian order was frequently used in the Hellenistic age, one of the late Greek periods that developed an aesthetic sense of beauty. It takes its name from the city where the order was first seen. As far as is known, the roots of the Corinthian columns in ancient Greece date back to the 3rd century BC.

Although the Corinthian order has many characteristics of the Ionic order, the most important difference is seen in the column capital. Carrying the delicacy of the Ionic order one step further, Corinth features acanthus leaves with volutes on the capital of the column. These leaves surround slightly the column capital in a more natural form and increase the level of details.

Differences Between Doric Ionic & Corinthian Orders

  • Unlike the other two Greek architecture orders, the Doric order does not have a ground base. The columns sit directly on the stylobate.
  • Corinthian and Ionic columns have slender and long bodies.
  • Corinthian columns have the longest capitals as they contain 2 rows of acanthus leaves, volutes and various floral motifs. This makes the columns appear even longer.
  • Doric columns have entasis.

Architectural Orders in Roman Architecture

Ancient architecture of Rome has achieved to carry the architectural knowledge gained from classical Greek architecture much further. It not only added 2 important orders, but also has diversified the use and design areas of these classic styles.

The Romans, who spread over much wider lands, were very advanced in engineering and had moved away from the prescriptivism of Ancient Greek architectural orders. They brought innovations such as using more than one order together in buildings, developing various architectural structural elements or differentiating the architectural form with new functions. In this direction, you should definitely read our Ancient Roman architecture article.

The two Roman architectural orders that the they developed in addition to the Greek classical orders are the Tuscan and Composite orders.

4. Tuscan Order

The Tuscan style columns, which has an even simpler appearance than the Doric order pillars, has ungrooved bodies. Triglyphs or reliefs are not adorned on the frieze. Thus, Roman Tuscan columns give the impression of an idealized simple structure. Just like the Doric columns, they have the feature of entasis. The height of the pillar base is half of the width of the Tuscan column.

5. Composite Order

Composite order column capital
Composite column capital

The Composite order architecture had developed as a mixture of the 2 Greek temple orders, the Ionic and Corinthian styles. Therefore, when we look at the column capitals and other ornaments, we can see that it has the most ornate and complex motifs among the 5 orders of classical architecture. Composite column capitals are similar to Corinthian capitals since volutes and acanthus leaves are used together. No major differentiation from the Ionic order was observed in the other architectural elements above the pillars.

Consequently, in classical times, the Greeks and Romans developed rational rules for the most accurate design of an architectural structure. With the formation of these rules as a holistic building design style, the term architectural order has emerged. The most basic classic architectural orders are the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders developed by the Greeks, furthermore Tuscany and Composite orders developed by the Romans later on.

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