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MEEF - Middle East Engineering - Roman Architecture Glossary - previous page


Adyton - Inner room of a temple.

Agora - Marketplace of a town. It is a Greek term and is used to refer to the forum of a Roman city founded in Greek lands.

Alae - Wings off of the atrium of a Roman house.

Apodyterion - The change rooms of bath houses (see caldarium, tepidarium, frigidarium, hypocausts, natatio, heliocaminus, laconicum, sudatorium).

Ashlar masonry - Stone masonry cut into rectangles and laid to create a wall.

Astragal - A molding. A simple convex, semicircle molding.

Atrium - The main room of a Roman house out of which one had access to other parts of the house (see alae). There were many types including ones that were completely roofed (testudinate), ones with openings to the sky (compluvium), which had, underneath the openings in the house floor, as small rectangular depression to catch rainwater (impluvium).

Basilica - An important Roman building type consisting of a large central hall often flanked by side aisles. There were many variations.

Bipedales - Roman bricks measuring two Roman feet a side.

Beed and Reel - A molding. A thin line of decorative molding alternating between sets of beadlike elements and cylindrical elements.

Bucrania - Decorative reliefs of the skulls or heads of cattle or oxen. At times linked by swags of vegetal motifs such as on the Ara Pacis.

Caldarium - The hot bath and 'sauna' of a Roman bath complex.

Castrum - Fortress for any military purpose.

Clerestory - A level of wall above an arcade or loggia in which windows allow light into a structure such as a basilica.

Coffer - An inset decoration in a ceiling, vault, or dome. They range from the undecorative types such as in the inner dome of the Pantheon, to more ornate ones decorated with moldings and rosettes.

Compluvium - The open roof of an atrium in a Roman house (see impluvium, atrium).

Composite Capital (order) - An order consisting of a hybrid of Corinthian and Ionic elements, normally with the acanthus motifs of the Corinthian order surmounted by Ionic volutes at the corners.

Cornice - The part of a building's entablature or roof element, which projects away from the vertical of the wall.

Cryptoporticus - Usually a slightly sunken arcade or barrel vault creating a long walkway or storage area. Architecturally, they often also function as buttressing for larger, adjacent structures. Often lit by openings piercing the upper part of the vault.

Curia - A governing body and name of the building which housed it. The Curia was a meeting place for the Senate or the town council of a Roman town.

Cyma Recta - A molding consisting of double elements, concave above, convex below.

Cyma Reversa - A molding opposite of the cyma recta, here concave below, convex above.

Dentil - A molding consisting simply of a row of small rectangles resembling teeth (hence, 'dentil'). Normally found in ionic style entablatures under the cornice.

Domus - The Roman word for house. A single family dwelling like many of those from Pompeii.

Egg and Dart - A molding consisting of an arrow-like element alternating with an egg-shaped element.

Egg and Tongue - A molding consisting of a egg-shaped element alternating with a downward pointing tongue. Easily confused with egg and dart.

Entablature - The roof elements of a structure consisting of the cornice, architrave and frieze.

Exedra - A semicircular niche or hemicycle.

Fascia - A molding simply of a thin, blank band.

Fauces - A small entry room of a Roman house, just as one enters the front door. Leads to atrium.

Fornix - Older Roman term for an arch. Used also as a description of an arch which is flanked by engaged columns which in turn support an entablature above the arch.

Forum - Main square or marketplace of a Roman town. In Roman towns in Greek lands, the Greek term agora is often used instead. The forum was often surrounded by the most important governmental institutions such as a curia building, temple to Jupiter Capitolium, basilica or other such structures.

Frieze - The section of an entablature between the cornice and the architrave. It can be decorated with continuous reliefs (as in Ionic), divided into metopes and triglyphs (as in Doric), or left plain or filled with an inscription (as in the Corinthian favored by the Romans).

Frigidarium - The cooling off pool in a Roman Bath complex (do not confuse with natatio).

Guilloche - A decorative molding, usually used circled around the top of a column base, of plaited or braided elements.

Heliocaminus - Room in a Roman bath complex with large, thermal windows used to gather heat from the sun.

Horrea - Roman warehouse.

Hypocausts - Small column-like elements used to support a floor in the caldarium of a Roman bath complex. Hot air from a furnace is pumped into the spaces around the hypocausts and under the floor, thus heating the floor and/or the water above.

Impluvium - In the atrium of a Roman house, the depression in the floor below the compluvium or opening in the roof which lets rainwater in. The water collects in the impluvium.

Insula - An apartment style building with many domestic units. Sometimes term is also used by archaeologists to refer simply to a room designated by ruined walls.

Laconicum - Hot, dry room of a roman bath complex.

Lararium - The shrine area in a roman house, usually at the back, where household gods are worshipped and their images housed.

Lateres - Roman bricks. These could be fired clay (coctus) or simply dried mud like adobe (crudus).

Macellum - A market structure furnishing meats and poultry and other provisions.

Meta - The points where chariots turned in races in a Roman circus (such as the Circus Maximus). The first turn was called the meta prima, the second the meta secunda.

Modillion - A sort of decorative bracket supporting the cornice, normally with a double scroll motif.

Narthex - The enclosed portion of a church before the nave; a sort of entrance area or covered porch.

Natatio - The swimming pool in a Roman bath complex.

Nymphaeum - A rocky outcrop or fountain house, either natural or artificially made, which supplies water. The sites were dedicated to the Nymphs.

Oculus - Circular opening in a roof or on a wall, such as the oculus in the center of the dome of the Pantheon.

Odeion - (or Odeon) A small theater roofed off from the sky, unlike theaters which were open air.

Oecus - The living room of a Roman house (domus). Sometimes used as a dining room or for entertaining.

Orchestra - The circular area which functioned as a stage for action in Greek theater. In the Roman theater, scene structures and built up stages were created for the action, and the circular orchestra was thus truncated to a semi-circular area.

Palaestra - (or Palestra) A large square or rectangular space, open to the air, surrounded by porticos held up by rows of columns. Such structures were used for athletic training and wrestling. At times associated with Roman Bath complexes. Originally a Greek building type.

Peristyle - A court or garden (as at Pompeii) surrounded by porticos with columns.

Pilaster - Similar to an engaged column, but a rectangular strip standing out slightly from a wall.

Podium - Roman temples were often raised up on high masonry bases called podiums.

Pozzolana - A rust colored volcanic ash, found in the regions in central Italy around the town of Pozzuoli, which was a crucial component in Roman concrete.

Praetorium - The residence of the Governor of a Roman province or Legion Commander.

Principia - In a Roman castrum or fortification where the Standard of the Legion were kept. It was also a place of meeting.

Quadriga - A four hourse chariot.

Quoins - Finished stones that construct the corner of a building.

Rotunda - Domed building, circular in plan, such as the Pantheon.

Spina - The center strip running down the middle of a circus.

Sudatorium - Sweat room, steam room of a Roman bath complex.

Taberna - A small shop.

Tablinum - A central room off the atrium of a Roman house. Used as master bedroom.

Temenos - Sacred area surrounding a temple; temple precinct, often walled off from surroundings.

Tepidarium - Warm bath of a Roman bath complex.

Tetrakionia - A monument with four architectural elements placed at the crossing of two major street intersections in a Roman town or city, as at Palmyra.

Tetrapylon - Also known as a quadrifronic arch. An arch monument at a major street intersection which has two vaults so people may pass through in all directions, as at the ruined arch at Lepcis Magna.

Tribunal - A raised speaker's platform upon which a general or emperor addressed the troops.

Triclinium - Dining area of a Roman house (domus), consisting of three couch like platforms around the three sides of the room upon which diners would recline.


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