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Greek Doric Temple Proportions

"I will…proceed to explain the method of using the Doric order as instructed by my masters; [so] that if any one desire it, he will here find the proportions detailed, and so amended, that he may, without a defect, be able to design a sacred building of the Doric order."

[Vitruvius IV,3,3]

Vitruvious [De arch. 4.3.3] wrote that he could dictate the proportional formula for constructing Doric Temples based on a modular system determined by the spaces between columns.  He very clearly describes the various temple styles in his Ten Books on Architecture, specifically mentioning DIASTYLE (intercolumniations three times the column base), and SYSTYLE (intercolumniations two times that of the column base), and PYCNOSTYLE (intercolumniations one and a half times the lower column diameter) structures. Having taken his proportional scheme from local Roman structures, his thinking must have been that the formula applied equally to them as well as those from Greece. In fact, he may never have had possessed this information since his results show he used Roman models to make his prediction for the design of Greek temples, an enormously glaring oversight. Whether by design or neglect, he omits his proportional formula for PYCNOSTYLE temples; structures that comprise the bulk of the peripteral Greek Doric temple design, and are central to the temple issue. The fact that Vitruvius failed to assign a proportional formula for Pycnostyle temples may indicate that he did not know one. Thus, rather than a modular classification that works for actual Greek structures, Vitruvius bequeathed only the description of a style. This omission in Vitruvius’ architectural pastiche, however, has not daunted generations of researchers [Adams, J.P., (RA 1973:219-236); Amandry, P., (Hesperia 21 1952:242); Bell, M., (RA 45-46 1955:121); Coulton, J.J., (BSA 69 1974:61-87; BSA 70 1975:59-99; AJA 82 1978:151-160); Wurster, W.W., (AA 1973:200-211)] from reworking his old figures, and molding their research on some form of modular system and exploring the Vitruvian Doric Temple proportional model in an attempt to recreate a solutions to his missing formula.

Subsequently, previous attempts to explain Doric temple proportional modeling have simply re-applied the modular concept first laid down by Vitruvius. The modules he outlines were merely sub-multiples of the larger temple relationship. What he was attempting to express was the ratio, or quantitative comparison, between linear measurements. Vitruvius obviously knows of a Doric temple proportional phenomena, stating that he had learned it from his masters, although could not, as it turns out, reproduce it accurately himself. As D. S. Robertson [1940:153] points out, Hermogenes, a 3rd cent. B.C. architect, “…was the principal master of Vitruvius.” Vitruvius, it seems, directly channeled the ideas of Hermogenes to his own writings, although Hermogenes may not have revealed the prevailing temple proportional secret him.


Subsequently, Doric Temple classifications put forth by a Vitruvian framework, define Doric temple by it form with conventional intuitive identifications, relying on descriptive and subjective identifications rather than quantification of the data sets.  For example, when a temple is referred to by ancient authors like Pausanias as Doric, an image of that structure is immediately registered against all other structures like it, and forms a crystal clear image of what that building looks like.  But what attributes are there that makes that model so clearly defined? Certainly there are basic elements that make up a Doric temple and shape the style, but what are they? That is the overriding question. Researchers, therefore, continue to scout for a mathematical “canon” that predicts the proportions of Doric Temples laid down by Vitruvius, which have up till now produced no practical formula. We are, therefore, left with the unfortunate consequence expressed by Berve and Gruben who writes: "The goal, the idea of the 'perfect temple,' which appeared indistinctly to the architects of the sixth and fifth centuries…were developed, principally to do with the proportioning of the elements of the structure to each other. Yet, there has never been any immutable ‘canon’ in the sense of a precisely defined design, such as Vitruvius…handed down."

[Berve and Gruben, (1963:308)]


Thus, we are sadly left with the thoughts of John Boardman who states that “…trying to elicit standards of measurement from extant buildings continue to excite scholars. The most that they generally demonstrate is that one basic standard was employed in a single building without necessarily exact correspondence with that used in any other. Much, if not all, must have been determined by the mason’s rod, marked and subdivided, but not checked against any national or even local standards. Hardly more encouraging is the search for detailed principles of proportion employed in designing all the parts of a building…. We record so much about the Greek artist’s sensitive appreciation of proportions that we might expect that he not only commanded elaborate and generally agreed standards of measurement, but also rigorously applied them to art and architecture. This is far from the truth….”

[John Boardman (1967:12)]

Even contemporary researches continue to vacillate on the existence of a code developed to augment the ancient temple architect in formulating a standard design principal, continuing to state that, "...modular readings and proportional rules may be criticized as only being applicable with relative certainty to a few buildings in specific periods. It is unclear if the modern measurements utilized to help calculate the ancient design techniques are sufficiently accurate for such a purpose and likely theat the formulated design rules are overly complex, were probably only applicable in certain circumstances and subject to diverse local conditions." [Woodward (2012: 52)]

Regardless of the disparaging point of view taken by John Boardman and Woodward, the Doric peripteral temple remains one of the most recognizable architectural forms of the ancient world. It is, as Leicester B. Holland [1917:117] states, “the single most architectural form that has persisted with so little variation…that the Greeks themselves used this form continuously for a period of over four hundred years without showing the slightest variation…and [with] practically no change in the relative proportions….”

A further question might be whether the temple architects embraced a uniform code? The process must begin by establishing a useful model for Doric Temple design before moving to the next step of establishing a proportional model. Unquestionably, much of today’s anthropological research is conducted with an eye toward using statistical methods as a means to employ science as a way to define a coherent architectural model. [after Longacre 1980]. But, can we make the inference from the physical evidence to some sort of template or profile the architects might have used? Can we use this scientific discipline to make the transition from temple dimensions and measurements to the explanation of human behavior as it relates to proportions? Whether or not discovering an explanation for temple design from the empirical data is possible, one must at least explore the possibility that it is, and then, if at all possible, apply those results to establishing a uniform proportional convention.

With this thought in mind, this hypothetical method begins by ignoring established taxonomic models [Binford, Lewis AA 23(24) 1964: 425-444], and begin to establish a Doric Temple proportional formula derived from various CLASSES of temples that make up the data file.  The data was then subjected to a correlation and regression statistical test based on a formal taxonomy of specific attribute sets .

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