Jump to content

A Guide to Ancient Archaeological and Architectural Terms


Ken Grubb
  • When you first start exploring the ancient cities of Turkey, it can be hard to know what you're looking at. What's an Agora? A Bouleuterion? A stoa? This guide will help you understand the terms used to describe ancient architecture.

Click on one of the letters below to get to the word you're looking for.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T V X


 

A
Abacus The upper member of a capital
Acropolis Fortified hilltop. Citadel of a city
Acroterion (acroterium) Statues or ornaments at the apex and inner corners of a pediment
Adyton Inner sanctuary of a temple
Aegis Cuirass or shield with Gorgon’s head and ring of snakes
Agora Public square or market-place
Alytarch An official charged with producing games in honour of the emperor
Amazonomachia Combat between Greeks and Amazons
Ambo Pulpit in a Christian basilica; facing pulpits in a church from which the epistle and gospel were read
Amphitheatre An elliptical or circular space surrounded by seats arranged in tiers; used by the Romans for gladiatorial contests
Amphora Two-handled container for wine or water
Analemma Supporting wall at the side of a theatre
Anastylosis Reconstruction
Anatolia (Turkish: Anadolu) from the poetic Greek, ‘the land of the rising sun’, ‘the East’, the land that today makes up the Asiatic part of Turkey
Andron

Men’s apartment, banqueting-hall

Anta Projecting pilasters ending the lateral walls of the ceila of a Greek temple
Antefix Ornament on the eave or cornice of a building; a feature used to hide the end of the tiles
Athemion Flower ornament
Apotropaion A protective symbol to turn away evil
Apse A semicircular recess in a wall, especially in a church or in a Roman law-court
Architrave A lintel or main beam resting on columns.
The lowest member of the entablature. The same as an Epistyle.
Arcosolium Burial niche
Ashlar (Masonry) square cut stones and masonry constructed of these
Astragal A moulding at the top or base of a column
Atlantes Columns in the form of male figures
Atrium The court of a Roman house, roofed at the sides, but exposed to the sky in the centre; the entrance to a Byzantine church

Back to Top

B
Baetyl A sacred meteoric stone
Ballista War machine which catapulted large stones; used to break down defensive walls
Bas-relief Low relief sculpture on a marble or stone slab
Basilica A Roman public hall; a building with a central hall and side halls which were lower in height; a Christian church of this type
Bema Rostrum or a raised section of the chancel of a Byzantine church
Boule City council
Bouleuterion Meeting-place of the Boule, the legislative council of a city. The city hall
Buchranium Sculptured ox skull, usually garlanded

Back to Top

C
Cadticeus The wand carried by Mercury, usually represented with two snakes twined around it
Caique Small wooden trading-vessel frequently found in Greek and Eastern Mediterranean waters
Cantharus Drinking-cup with two vertical handles
Capital The topmost part of column
Caryatid Column in the form of a female figure
Cavea The auditorium of a theatre; name derived from the tact that originally it was dug out of a hill
Cella The great hall of a temple which contained the cult statue
Chiton A tunic worn short by men and long by women
Chlamys Light cloak worn by ephebes
Chthonic Dwelling in or under the ground
Cippus A small column, sometimes without a base or capital, bearing an inscription. Used as a landmark or a funeral monument.
Clepsydra A water-clock
Colonnade (See also stoa and portico), a row of columns which supports an entablature
Columnae caelatae Sculptured columns
Composite capital Corinthian capital with Ionic volutes, which are slightly reduced in size
Conventus Provincial court of justice
Cornice The upper member of the entablature
Crepidoma The stepped platform on which a temple stood
Cuneiform Wedge-shaped characters of ancient Persian and Assyrian inscriptions
Cuneus Wedge-shaped division in the cavea of a theatre
Cybele The ancient mother-goddess of Anatolia.
Cyclopean masonry Masonry composed of enourmus, irregular shaped stones laid out without mortar and not in courses. Stones were so large that ancient people who saw them believed that only a Cyclops could have put them into place.
Cyclopean Wall A wall composed of cyclopean masonry.

Back to Top

D
Deisis Representation of Christ flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St John
Deme A village
Demiourgos (demiourgis) A civic magistrate
Demos The people of a land or city
Dentil Row of small square blocks, part of the decorative series on a cornice
Dexiosis Scene Offering of the right hand, e.g. a Commagene king and Hercules at Nemrut Dağı
Diadochos Plural: Diadochoi. A successor of Alexander the Great
Diazoma A horizontal passage in the cavea of a theatre.
Dipteros A temple surrounded by two rows of columns
Dormition Scene showing the death of the Virgin
Dromos A long narrow entrance to a building, sometimes lined with columns or statues. Passage giving access to a tholos or beehive tomb

Back to Top

E
Egg-and-tongue or egg-and-dart A moulding of alternate eggs and arrowheads
Engaged column Partly detached column
Entablature The stonework resting on a row of columns, including architrave, frieze and cornice
Ephebus Greek youth of 18 or over, usually undergoing training either in the army or at a university Epistyle (Greek), architrave
Epistyle Architrave
Erotes Figures of Eros, the god of love
Exedra Semicircular recess, usually with a seat, in a Classical or Byzantine building
Exonarthex In a Byzantine church, a transverse vestibule preceding the façade

Back to Top

F
Fibula A clasp, buckle or brooch
Flutes The vertical channels cut into the sides of columns
Forum Roman market-place
Frieze The middle member of the entablature

Back to Top

G
Gallus Priest of Cybele and Attis who had castrated himself
Geison (Greek) cornice
Gigantomachia War of or with giants
Gymnasiarch Superintendent of the palaestra who paid the trainers, etc

Back to Top

H
Herin Quadrangular pillar usually adorned with an erect phallus and surmounted by a bust
Heroon Shrine or temple dedicated to a demigod or deified hero
Hieron Temple or sacred enclosure
Hierothesion Funerary sanctuary
Himation An oblong cloak thrown over the left shoulder and fastened over or under the right
Hippodrome A place for horse- or chariot-races
Hoplite Heavily armed foot-soldier
Hydra Jar for carrying water
Hypogeum Underground room or vault

Back to Top

I
Iconostasis Screen bearing icons in a Greek Orthodox church
Impluvium Basin in the centre of the atrium of a Roman house which was filled with water from the roof
In antis With columns between the antae
Insula Detached house or block of houses
Isodomic A term applied to masonry laid in courses of equal height

Back to Top

K
Kantharus Wine-cup with two large curving handles, usually associated with Dionysus
Karum Assyrian trading colony
Katholikos Patriarch of Armenia
Kline Couch, bed or bier
Komast A reveller; often depicted singing or dancing at or following a symposium
Kore Maiden. Archaic female figure
Kouros Boy. Archaic male figure
Kylix Shallow wine-cup

Back to Top

L
Labrys A double-axe; religious symbol of great antiquity
Lekythos A bottle for containing oil

Back to Top

M
Macellum Provision market where flesh, fish and vegetables were sold
Maenad Bacchante. From the Greek
Mandorla Almond-shaped aureole which signifies divinity
Martyrion Shrine of a martyr
Megabyxus Chief priest of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Megale Meter Cybele, the Mother Goddess of Asia Minor
Megaron Large hall of a palace or house
Metope Plain rectangular panel in a Doric frieze, which was replaced in the Classical period by a sculptured relief

Back to Top

N
Naiskos Cella of modest proportions in a Greek temple
Naos A temple or sometimes the cella of a temple
Narthex Narrow vestibule along the west side of a church
Naumachia A mock naval battle staged in a flooded amphitheatre
Neocorus Title borne by a city which possessed a temple dedicated to the imperial cult
Nereids The daughters of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea
Nike The personification of victory
Nymphaeum Literally, ‘Temple of the Nymphs’, an ornamental fountain with statues

Back to Top

O
Odeum (Odeion) Small building with semicircular seating used for concerts and meetings
Oikos A house
Oinochoe Wine-jug
Omphalos A sacred stone commemorating the centre of the earth where the eagles of Zeus met
Opisthodomus The porch at the rear of a temple which was sometimes used to store valuables
Orchestra Large circular space occupied by the chorus and actors in Greek theatres
Orthostats Upright slabs at the base of a wall
Ostothek Funerary urn

Back to Top

P
Palaestra Training area for wrestlers, boxers, etc.
Pancration Athletic contest involving wrestling and boxing; everything except biting or gouging of eyes was permitted
Parodos Space between the cavea and the stage of a theatre
Pediment A low-pitched gable above a portico
Pelike Amphora with a wide mouth and pear-shaped outline
Peplos A mantle in one piece worn draped by women
Periblos A precinct or the circuit around it
Periplous A sailing guide
Peripteros A temple surrounded by a row of columns
Peristasis A row of columns surrounding a temple
Peristyle A row or rows of columns surrounding a building or open court
Petasus Broad-brimmed hat worn by an ephebe
Phiale Saucer or bowl Pilaster, shallow pier or column projecting from a wall
Pithos Large earthenware jar used for storing oil, grain, etc.
Plinth A square block forming the base of a column
Podium A platform, also a low wall or continuous pedestal carrying a colonnade
Polos Stiff high hat
Portico A stoa or colonnade
Portolano Sailing directions
Prohedria Special seat in a theatre reserved for an important person
Pronaos The porch in front of a temple
Propylon Entrance gate to a temenos (plural: propylaia).
Proskenion (Latin: Proscaenium), a raised platform in front of the stage-building used by the actors in a Roman theatre
Prostylos A building with free-standing columns in a row
Prothesis Laying out of a corpse
Prutaneis Member of the executive committee of the Boule
Prytaneion (Prytanaeum) The administrative building in a city. This contained an altar dedicated to Hestia, on which burned a perpetual flame
Pseudo-dipteros A dipteral temple without the inner row of columns
Pteron A row of columns surrounding a Greek temple
Pulpitum A platform of boards, a stage

Back to Top

Q
Quadriga Four-horsed chariot

Back to Top

R
Rhyton A one-handled cup shaped like an animal’s head

Back to Top

S
Satrap Governor of a Persian province
Satyr Follower of Dionysus, usually depicted as half-animal, half-human with tail, hooves and permanently erect phallus
Scaenae froxis Elaborately ornamented front of the stage-building in a theatre
Shaft The body of a column between the base and capital
Silenus An old satyr, the son of Pan or Hermes and a nymph, who reared Dionysus. Usually depicted as a grotesque, fat, drunken old man precariously balanced on the back of a donkey
Sima The gutter of a building
Skene The stage building of a Roman theatre (Latin: Scaenium)
Skyphos A deep cup with two, usually horizontal, handles
Socle Projecting part of a base or pedestal
Soffit The lower surface of an architectural element
Spina Barrier in the centre of a Roman amphitheatre
Stadium Long building in which foot-races and other athletic contests were held
Stater A gold, silver or electrum coin of ancient Greece
Stathmos Quarters for travellers or soldiers
Stele Narrow stone slab set upright bearing writing or a decoration. Often used as a grave stone or marker
Stoa A porch or portico not attached to a larger building (see also colonnade and portico)
Strategos Commander of an army, a general
Strigil An instrument used for scraping the skin after a bath
Stylobate The top step of a crepidoma
Sympolity A federal union of cities or states, a confederation
Synoecism The union of several cities or towns under one capital city
Synthronon Semicircular bench or benches for the clergy in the apse or in rows on either side of the bema

Back to Top

T
Tabula ansata Decorative panel
Temenos A sacred enclosure
Temple-in-antis Simple building in which the side walls were extended to form a porch. This had two columns between the antae
Tetrastoon A square surrounded by four colonnades
Theatron At first applied to the section of the theatre occupied by the audience, later extended to the whole building (from Greek word meaning ‘seeing place’. The latin uses the word auditorium, the ‘hearing place’)
Theme A province (Byzantine)
Theriomorphic Resembling mythical or real animals in art
Tholos A circular building. Term sometimes applied to an underground beehive tomb
Thyrsus Staff, wreathed with vine leaves and ivy and surmounted with a pine-cone, carried by Dionysus and his followers
Torus A large convex moulding, e.g. at the base of a column
Triconchos A building composed of three ‘conches’, i.e. of three semicircular niches surmounted by halfdomes
Triglyph Part of a Doric frieze bearing three vertical grooves, which alternated with the metopes
Triskele Three legs radiating from a common centre
Tyche The deified personification of chance or fortune
Tyxnpanon (tympanum) The area enclosed by the mouldings of a pediment
Trireme A Greek galley rowed by three banks of oars

Back to Top

V
Velum Canvas used to protect spectators in the auditorium of a Roman theatre from the sun
Vomitorium covered exit in a Roman theatre

Back to Top

X
Xoanon a primitive wooden cult statue or idol, frequently believed to have fallen from heaven

  Report Article


Comments only. Please post questions in the forums.


There are no comments to display.


×