“Of all the architectural forms which have apparently no definite structural significance, there is none which has persisted with so little variation as the…Greek Doric Order. Modern copies of course prove nothing, our taste being as eclectic as that of the Romans; but that the Greeks themselves used this form continuously for a period of over four hundred years without showing the slightest variation in the arrangement of regulae, taenia, triglyphs, metopes, mutules, and cornia, or even in the number and disposition of the guttae, and practically no change in the relative proportions of these parts, is a fact unparalleled in architectural history.”
So, how did the Greek Doric temple, such as the Parthenon, evolve to its classic form? No one can argue with Holland's assertion that Doric temple entelechy appears almost completely articulated from its earliest onset. Not only did the style and overall configuration of the Doric temple emerge without much deviation from its initial prototype, but the basic proportions in the temple form indicate an obsession with conformity. Indeed, the very earliest Doric temple, like that of Aoollo at Thermon constructed around 640 BC, is not so different than that of the Asklepion at Kos built more than four hundred years afterward. So, why was this conformity to a structure enough to monumentalize the earliest mud-brick and wooden examples into the monumental stone buildings that became the centerpiece of Greek architectural art?
One must first remember that as far back as the Neolithic Period, there was a wide movement of people throughout the southern Mediterranean, many of those moving into Greece from as far north as Germany and as far south as Egypt. Sea levels were lowering due to the global temperatures dropping and the accumulation of snow holding water in the upper Danube. With marginally longer winters in that region, there was less arable land to cultivate, forcing those northern tribes to seek more temperate areas to the south. Those displaced peoples moved into Illyrian territory then drifted even further south into Thessaly. Exposure to an architectural style by northern migrants and influencing the indiginous people of Greece seems assured, whether the new arrival of imigrants brought with them any one particular architectural form that was, subsequently, copied or imitated.
At the same time, there is another social element that should be added to the calculation and needs explaining. Before the wholesale migrations into Greece from the north, there was a period when an individual traced their lineage through the mother, since progeny may have resulted from more than one male donors. This matrilineal form of succession had another caveat; it meant the princess of the clan controlled the wealth, while the king upheld the ruling and administrative authority. Thus, a prince of one clan, in order to acquire power and riches, needed to find a princess outside the community. The end result was a network of trading relations cemented through family ties. In Homer’s Odyssey, for example, while Odysseus is away at the war, suitors linger about the castle hoping Penelope will choose one of them to be her new king. Conversely, those coming from other regions brought with them a system of patralineal succession, so that once the prince brings a wife to his kingdom, as with Paris when he abducts the beautiful Helen, both the wealth and power are now combined. Subsequently, the old family trading alliances dissolve into a grab for territory and resources.
To illustrate the point, in the Iliad, Achilles conducts a series of raiding adventures along the Anatolian territory. Achilles says to Agamemnon, ‘The plunder we took from captured towns has been distributed and it is more than we can ask…’ He goes on to say, ‘We went to Thebe, Eëtion’s sacred city; we sacked the place and brought back all our plunder, which the army shared out in the proper way…’ And then again, ‘I have captured twelve towns from the sea, besides eleven that I took by land in the deep-soiled realm of Troy. From each I got a splendid haul of loot, the whole of which I brought back every time….’
Homer's words detail the battles against the Phrygian territory and the destruction of Aeolis. Not only that, but Homer recounts the boatloads of gold, bronze, ivory and precious artifacts taken during those raids. He also describes the women and slaves taken to their camps, human gratuity considered as prize cargo. Homer weaves a tapestry of political intrigue, chronicling a classic struggle for power between patriarchal tribes, which eventually leads to a Pelasgian League consisting of groups banding together. Subsequently, the Pelasgians, Achaeans, Phthians, and Hellenes, referred to collectively as Myrmidons, or the ‘People of the Sea’ by modern historians, abandon their homeland in order to search out new lands. They allied themselves with many of the Trojan refugees displaced from the war. Other Palasgian groups, under the name Tyrrhenians, also set sail for new territory, eventually settling in the Po region of Italy. To make matters worse, the entire Middle Eastern region was under a sustained drought that may have reduced the ability to effectively trade with other areas contributing to a massive undoing of the political and social structure.
Eventually, the Pelasgian League attacks Egypt. The Egyptian army under Ramesses III, however, utterly destroys the Thessilian tribes in 1179 B.C. There is an inscription on an Egyptian wall that reads in part: ‘Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjekeri, Shekelesh, Daanyan, and Uashasha, lands united. They laid their hands upon the lands to the very circuit of the earth…. Those who had assembled ahead of them by sea…were dragged, capsized, and laid low upon the strand; slain and made into heaps from stern to bow of their ships. Their possessions were cast upon the water.’ There is a clay tablet from the king of Ugarit to the king of Alashia that reads, ‘behold, the enemy’s ships come here; my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country…and inflicted much damage upon us.’
The Peleset are one and the same as the Pelasgians, Hellenes and Achaeans, from Thessaly; for which the Egyptians label Philistines, just another name for Pelasgians. The ultimate result from the chaos throughout the region which allowed the Dorians to infiltrate the area of Greece from the north, also brought with them a new pantheon of male gods and a architectural style that firmly cemented the gable roof tradition into the sacred shrines which emerge as Doric temples.
As the gabled roof style found its way into Greece, the Minoans deployed the style over their megaron structure [MacKenzie 1904]. It is likely that later megaron buildings of Mycenae adapted the pitched roofs as well [Dorpfeld 1942]. We might further conclude the megaron form with a gabled roof made a gradual evolution arising from communication and trade with those migrating into the region from the Danube areas, Thessaly, and Asia Minor. Consequently, by the 13th century B.C., the Mycenaean megaron was so well established in its scale and design that one can logically conclude its construction was no longer experimental.
Regardless of how the Greek Doric temple evolved from the nuances of construction and form, it materializes in the Archaic period as an offshoot of the megaron. Thus, by the Late Helladic, or Mycenaean period, the change in culture and architecture that first appeared in the Middle Helladic period, is now fully articulated in the “sacred house” of kings described by Homer. The Megaron, thus, becomes the perfect choice for the glorification of pre-Dorian culture as a way to house and to sanctify their cult religion. Below is a plan of the temple of Epidaurus Asklepios. It is easy to see the classic megaron structure in the floor plan. There is a pronaos with two columns such as those at Minoan Crete and the Mycenaean megaron. The central sanctuary or cella (Naos), makes up the fundamental elements built within the surrounding colonnade.
As a definition, the megaron is a rectangular structure, which consists of a main hall entered at one end and entered through an open porch with inantea columns. The structure usually had an interior hearth, often surrounded by four columns to support the roof. The gabled roof was initially, in its earliest form, covered with waddle and clay daub, then later transitioned to baked clay tiles. The real question is how the smoke from the hearth was allowed to escape. One theory suggests a clearstory, either at the gable ends or along the roof margin. An example of the pitched room employed at Mycenae is illustrated from two Minoan seals. The later megaron with stone walls replacing sun-dried brick, and a wooden entablature.
A longstanding debate has raged as to whether the wooden entablature, resting on a sun-dried brick structure, incorporated the triglyph/metope style as a functional structural element, or something purely decorative. In either case, the triglyph motif must have served some functional purpose, since it was kept and maintained throughout the total range of the Doric temple style. Certainly, the builders of Doric temples were not compelled to emulate the Minoan traditions of literal decorations, and that various architectural elements evolved due to a long functioning heritage, which was then fossilized from the earlier wooden prototype. Pausanias claims the temple of Hera at Olympia, for example, had wooden columns and wooden entablature. Euripides also makes a reference to the existence of a wooden entablature, but it is the Roman historian Vitruvius who specifically states the Doric entablature was originally made of wood and wrote that “…the triglyph [was] painted with a waxen composition of blue color, so that the ends of the beams…might not be unpleasant to the eye.”
It must certainly mean that the triglyph, whether a structural component or stylistic whim, was so deeply imbedded in tradition that it cannot be arbitrarily replaced by the caprice impulse of a few Classical builders. Thus, in most modern temple prototype reconstructions, the triglyph represents wooden beam ends, or else they are solid piers to anchor the roof to the walls. The space between the triglyph piers must have served as the clearstory for smoke to dissipate from the sacred fire that burned within.
An example of how the facing triglyphs might be used against the structural beans can be seen in the Choisy reconstruction. Here the artist has followed Vitruvius to the letter.
On the other hand, if we assume the earliest wooden entablature temples, and prototypes for the later stone ones had need of a clearstory, then the Guadet reconstruction suits the purpose.
As the temple structures became larger, other elements were added. An additional portico, similar to the pronaos, was attached to the back of the building, an addition called the opisthodomos, and likely served to establish some sense of design uniformity. This structure is termed double in antes and becomes the fundamental standard from which most Doric temple designs are patterned.
Not withstanding the design traits, the Doric temple existed unaltered in its fundamental structure and form throughout the last part of the Archaic period and throughout the Classical or Hellenistic periods. To fully understand the reasons for this, go to the section on this site dedicated to temple proportions.
The Doric Column
The Doric columns stood directly on the temple stylobate without a base. The columns were squat compared to other Orders, their vertical shafts fluted with usually 20 concave grooves running the height. The Doric capital, or echinus, named after a genus of sea urchin which the capital resemble; that flared from the column to meet a square abacus at the intersection with the architrave. IThe Doric style was most popular in the Archaic Period (750-480 BC) in mainland Greece, and also found in Magna Graeca. In the Archaic Period, the Doric capitals spread wide from the column compared to later Classical forms.
Triglyph and Metope Distribution following contraction of the corner columns
Centered above every column on the frieze is the triglyph, and where the corners of the entablature meet, it creats an inharmonious mismatch because it is the only place along the peripteron where the triglyph does not sit directly above the column. Originally the triglyphs were positioned at the ends of wooden beams, and marked a place where every column supported the beam above it. This arrangement may have been fine for the early prototypes, but as the temples converted to stone, the final triglyph was moved to the end loccation to form a uniform corner, although this left a disturbing excess to the metope associated with the corresponding column. The resulting problem is called the doric corner conflict. Because the metopes are somewhat flexible in their proportions, the modular space between columns (“intercolumniation”) can be adjusted by the architect. Often the last two columns were set slightly closer together (corner contraction), to give a subtle visual strengthening to the corners. These stylistic maneuvers prevented the end triglyph from either being excessively large, or employ a small remnant metope at the corner in order to keep the triglyph the same size as all the others by sitting directly over the column. It was a refinement that had several derivations, the ones in the western colonies going so far as to use a double contraction of the end columns to even further reduce the metope exaggeration.