The Five Basic Greek And Roman Columns And Arches

Think of the grandeur of the Coliseum and the Parthenon. The ancient Greek and Roman columns and arches continue to influence architectural design even today.

When we think of ancient Greece and Rome, the images that flash into our minds often involve monolithic buildings like the Parthenon and the Coliseum and, especially, the columns which supported them. These columns continue to influence architectural design to this day.

Whether Greek or Roman, columns usually consist of three fundamental parts: the base, which can be round or square; the shaft, which usually is fluted (grooved) or smooth; and the capital, which can be quite ornate.

Five types of columns have become common; however, designers have demonstrated some ingenuity in varying decorative touches.


1. Greek Doric columns are most common. The Parthenon in Athens provides a fine example of these. Greek Doric columns are plain, even to the capital. Unique among the five types, Greek Doric columns have no base.

2. Greek Ionic columns are characterized by a circular base and a shallow capital decorated with curled designs known as volutes.

3. Greek Corinthian columns have elaborate capitals, surpassed in detail only by the Roman Composite, which combined details of both the Corinthian and the Ionic. Corinthian columns feature rows of carved leaves, often extending partly down the shaft, making them particularly eye-catching if ceilings are high enough to support a decorated entablature or faux entablature, the horizontal section.



The Romans recognized a good thing when they saw it. No surprise, then, that early in their history they too incorporated columns into their architecture.

4. Roman Doric columns were similar to those of the Greeks, with the exception that the Romans provided a base.

5. Roman Tuscan columns were refined Doric, but even plainer. The shafts had no fluting, the capitals no decorative carving. These clean lines make them a contemporary favorite in house design.

Other subtle differences distinguish types of columns. For example, the width and depth of flutings of Greek and Roman Doric columns tend to have fewer, shallower flutings than others.

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