Ancient History & Civilisation

Appendix B

Glossary of Architectural Terms


A dwelling for deities; though most often used synonymously with “temple,” aedes can also refer to a sanctuary or shrine.

aedicule (pl. aediculae).

An architectural frame of two (engaged) columns and a pediment.


Having columns in front of the chamber on both the front and the rear.


An architectural form originally called spectacula and developed for the viewing of entertainment from all sides; consists of an arena encircled by seats set upon vaulting, built on mounds, or carved from the earth. Especially associated with wild animal hunts (venatio), mock sea battles (naumachia), and gladiatorial fights (munera).


The changing room in a bath complex.


A channel engineered to bring water from natural springs to settlements using gravity. While aqueducts are most famous for the built arches running through the countryside to support their channels, most aqueduct channels run underground.




A series of connected arches within or along the exterior facade of a building, or independent of other structures, often covered as a colonnade, where people may stroll and vendors may set up shop; the series of arches supporting an aqueduct may also be called an arcade.

balnea (pl. balneae).

Privately owned bathhouses (as opposed to imperially funded thermae); the term applied whether the bathhouse offered a dry sweat bath or a wet, hot water plunge.


The wall running along the concourse (praecinctio) that divides the upper and lower seating in the cavea of a theater.

barrel vault.

Roof of a semicircular shape, created by placing arches directly adjacent and parallel to each other.


A rectangular structure with colonnades along its interior, creating space for commerce, banking, and legal hearings, often with an apse at one end. This form was adopted by Christian architects when erecting churches.


The space between two vertical supports such as (but not limited to) columns, pilasters, or piers.




The chamber of a bathhouse housing the hot bath.


A flat area of (open) ground, generally translated as a field, roughly equivalent to Greek pedion.

castellum (aquae).

Distribution chamber for water brought in by aqueduct; from the castellum; the water would leave through pipes (fistulae), destined for specific locations and purposes.

cavea (pl. caveae).

The sloped seating area of a theater; in the Greek tradition, built on a hillside; in the Roman tradition, built on man-made vaults.


The sacred chamber of a temple (Greek naos).

cippus (pl. cippi).

Stone boundary marker, often engraved with the defining terms of the boundary.


A racetrack for horse and chariot races, originally applied to a defined circuit with temporary, if any, architecture for seating, eventually codified as a Roman architectural genre incorporating specific elements such as starting gates (carceres), a central dividing wall (spina or euripus), and sloped seating on a hillside or vaults.




A sunken panel, as on the ceiling of the Pantheon.


A row of columns set at a uniform distance from each other and supporting a roof (cf. stoa, portico).

Corinthian column.

A column with a flared capital decorated with leaves; of a style generally accepted as having developed after the Doric and Ionic orders. The order may have been first used in Rome in the Portico of Octavius. It was later used on the columns of the top level of the Colosseum and (thought to be also on) the top level of the Theater of Marcellus.


A covered corridor lit from windows placed high in the wall near the vault (Crypta Balbi).


Assembly house.

Doric column.

A column with no base and a pillow-like capital; the style of column (order) of the Parthenon in Athens, found on the ground level of the Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus.

encaustic painting.

A decorative art whereby heated, pigmented wax is applied to a surface to create designs and pictures.


The portion of a building between the capitals and the pediment, generally broken into three ascending layers: the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice.


A calculated tapering of a column from bottom to top.


An artificial channel of water created along the ground, named for a narrow strait between the island of Euboea and mainland Greece.


A semicircular recess.


Outside the sacred boundary of the pomerium.

fistula (pl. fistulae).


Forma Urbis Romae.

See Severan Marble Plan.

forum (pl. fora).

Open area generally surrounded with public buildings, shops, and temples and originally used as a public square and marketplace and later for lawcourts, meetings of the Senate and public administration. The three major fora in republican Rome were the Roman Forum, southeast of the Capitoline and north of the Palatine Hills; the Forum Holitorium, on the southern end of the Campus Martius; and the Forum Boarium, between the base of the Capitoline and base of the Aventine.


The chamber of a bathhouse housing the cold bath.

giallo antico.

A marble (usually yellowish) from North Africa.


A space dedicated to physical training and exercise, originally a Greek construct, and eventually associated with bath complexes. Nero introduced the first gymnasium in Rome in connection with the Thermae Neronianae.


Having six columns.


A device for marking the passage of the sun based on the shadow cast by a gnomon along a line that runs north-south, and often used as a solar meridian to note noon at different times of the year.


Warehouses for the storage of goods, especially grain.

hortus (pl. horti).


insula (pl. insulae).

A term for a group of apartments or possibly a single, large apartment building where families lived in separate living quarters.

Ionic column.

A column on a base topped by a capital with volutes (curls), slimmer than a Doric column and more abstract than a Corinthian column; the Ionic order was considered to fall between the Doric and the Corinthian and can be found on the second levels of the Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus.


Public basin providing drinking water.

manubial temple.

A temple financed through the acquisition of war booty (manubiae).


An above-ground tomb. This term derives from the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, counted by Herodotus as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The tomb of Augustus built on the Campus Martius is a mausoleum.


The sacred chamber of a temple; Roman cella.


Greek for sea battle, used for describing both mock sea battles and the structures built to house them (ex. Julius Caesar's Naumachia Caesaris built in 46 B.C.E.).




A recess built into a wall, either small, as if to hold a statue or small shrine, or large, as an exedra.


A large, monolithic column of stone (usually granite) with a pyramidal tapered point, often covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Augustus brought the first obelisks to Rome from Egypt as trophies, erecting the Obelisk of Psammetichus II as the gnomon for his horologium and placing the Obelisk of Seti I / Ramses II on the center barrier (euripus/spina) of the Circus Maximus.


Having eight columns.


A round opening in the ceiling of a structure, as in the Pantheon.


A small, roofed theater for musical performance and recitations.

opera publica.

Translated as “public works,” this is a category of buildings in Rome as described by Frontinus that were supplied by the aqueducts.

opus latericium.

Ancient Roman brickwork, often facing concrete.


The circular floor of a theater where the chorus would dance and sing; developed into the semicircular space in front of the stage in the Roman theater.


Arranged at right angles; Roman city planning began to plot streets at right angles to each other, resulting in an orthogonal, or gridlike, plan.

ovilia (ovile).

Meaning “sheep pens,” this term applied to the enclosed voting precinct in the Campus Martius later replaced by the Saepta Julia (though still sometimes called ovilia/ovile).


The triangular space created by a pitched roof above the facade of a building and atop the entablature; also a similarly shaped decorative element above aediculae.


Having columns along the exterior walls of the cella.


A courtyard surrounded by four porticoes (quadriporticus), often found in Roman domestic architecture to provide a central garden sheltered from the exterior.


Architectural support having a square or rectangular base, often used for supporting arches.


An ornamental detail along a wall mimicking an engaged column but not actually bearing weight.


The support for a column, pedestal, or statue.

podium (pl. podia).

The base of a temple, elevating the floor of the chamber from ground level.


The mythical plow line that defined the limits of the city proper. Certain activities, such as burial and arming of troops, were required to take place outside of the pomerium.

porticus (portico).

A roofed walkway, generally with a solid wall supporting the roof along one side and a series of columns (colonnade) on the other side (cf. stoa, colonnade, quadriporticus), less commonly with rows of columns along both sides.


The porch of a temple, literally the area “before the naos.”

propylon (propylaeum).

A monumental gate.


A stone stage raised above the orchestra where actors would perform.


Having columns in front of the cella.


Four porticoes connected at the corners, open to a courtyard in the center, often containing a temple or other structure.


A circular building, often roofed with a dome (ex. Pantheon).

scaenae frons.

The set building of a theater.


Lecture halls.

Servian Wall.

Fourth-century B.C.E. wall likely built after the 390 B.C.E. sack of Rome by the Gauls. Livy erroneously attributes this wall to the sixth-century B.C.E. king Servius Tullius and the association has remained.

Severan Marble Plan (Forma Urbis Romae).

A highly detailed map of Rome and the buildings within the city believed to have been created between 203 and 211 C.E. during the reign of Septimius Severus. It was incised on 150 marble slabs that were attached with iron clamps to a wall in the Forum Pacis.


The original name for amphitheaters.


The channel that carries the water within an aqueduct.


Stables for horses; there were four stables in Rome, collectively referred to as the Stabula IIII Factionum.


A venue built for viewing foot races, shaped like an elongated horseshoe with sloped seating above the arena. Domitian built Rome's first stadium. Originally a Greek architectural type placing the seats on banked earth, Domitian's stadium put the seating atop vaults of stone.


A covered walkway with a roof supported by columns on one side and a wall along the other (cf. porticus, colonnade).


The chamber of a bathhouse housing the sweat bath.


An architectural frame of two (engaged) columns and a pediment (see aedicule).


A sacred building erected to serve as the house of a deity and containing its image and treasure.


The chamber of a bathhouse housing the warm bath.


Having four columns.


A building for viewing dramatic performances, consisting of an orchestra, a stage (proscaenium), a set building (scaenae frons), and tiered seating (cavea). Originally a Greek architectural type built into hillsides to support the sloped seating, Roman engineering eventually employed vaults under the seating to create a freestanding structure (ex. Theater of Pompey).


Large bathhouses somewhat like modern recreation centers.


A circular building with a conical or vaulted roof (cf. rotunda).


A limestone used extensively in Roman construction (ex. Colosseum).


A mound of earth or stones built over a grave.

Tuscan column.

An unfluted column with a circular base and simple, unadorned capital; less embellished than the Doric order, the Tuscan order is a Roman aesthetic.

ustrinum (bustrum).

Funerary pyre.


Originally Latin for “sail,” this word also came to be used for the large canvas awnings that provided shade at entertainment venues.

vicus (pl. vici).

Neighborhoods whose areas were defined by imperial order in 7 B.C.E.

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