On circular temples

1. Fiunt autem aedes rutundae, e quibus aliae monopteroe sine cella columnatae constituuntur, aliae peripteroe dicuntur. Quae sine cella fiunt, tribunal habent et ascensum ex suo diametro tertiae partis. Insuper stylobata columnae constituuntur tam altae, quanta ab extremis parietibus est diametros stylobatarum, crassae altitudinis suae cum capitulis et spiris decumae partis. Epistylium altum columnae crassitudinis dimidia parte. Zophorum et reliqua, quae insuper inponuntur, ita uti in III volumine de symmetriis scripsi.


1.Circular temples are also built, of which some are monopteral built with columns but not enclosing a cella; others are peripteral. Those which are without a cell have a raised floor and a flight of steps one third of the diameter in height. Above the pedestal (stylobate) the columns are put of such a height as is the diameter of the pedestals from side to side; the diameter is to be 1/10 of the height including the capitals and bases. The architrave is to be half a diameter high. The frieze and the other members which are placed above are to follow the proportions given in the third book.

2. Sin autem peripteros ea aedes constituetur, duo gradus et stylobata ab imo constituantur. Deinde cellae paries latitudinis quintam, medioque valvarum locus ad aditus relinquatur; eaque cella tantam habeat diametrum praeter parietes et circumitionem, quantam altitudinem columna. Supra stylobata columnae circum cellam isdem symmetriisque disponantur.


2. But if the temple is peripteral, two steps and the stylobate are to be built from the foundation; then the wall of the cella is to be built set back from the edge of the stylobate about 1/5 of the width. In the middle is to be left an opening with folding doors for the approach. The cella within the walls and colonnade, is to have a diameter equal to the height of the column. On the stylobate, let columns be disposed round the cella and of the same proportions.

3 In medio tecti ratio ita habeatur, uti, quanta diametros totius operis erit futura, dimidia altitudo fiat tholi praeter florem; flos autem tantam habet maginitudinem, quantam habuerit columnae capitulum, praeter pyramidem. Reliqua, uti supra scripta sunt ea, proportionibus atque symmetriis facienda videntur.


3. In the middle let the proportions of the roof be such that the height of the dome, apart from the terminal, is half the diameter of the whole work. Let the terminal have the magnitude of the capital of the column in addition to the pyramid (on which the flower rests). The other parts are to be constructed of the proportions and symmetries as is above described.

4. Item generibus aliis constituuntur aedes ex isdem symmetriis ordinatae et alio genere dispositiones habentes, uti est Catoris in circo Flaminio et inter duos lucos Veiovis, item argutius Nemori Dianae columnis adiectis dextra ac sinistra ad umeros pronai. Hoc autem genere primo facta est, uti est Castoris in circo, Athenis in arce et in Attica Sunio Palladis Minervae. Earum non aliae sed eaedem sunt proportiones. Cellae enim longitudinibus duplices sunt ad latitudines uti reliquae; ex is omnia quae solent esse in frontibus, ad latera sunt translata.


4. Further, temples of other orders are laid out and built with the same symmetries, yet having the arrangements of another order than the Tuscan; such as the temple of Castor in the Circus Flaminius, of Veioivis between the Two Groves, and with more subtle proportions the temple of Diana Nemorensis with columns added right and left on the sides of the pronaos. The first temples built in the manner of that of Castor in the Circus, were those of Pallas (Minerva) in the Acropolis at Athens, and at Sunium in Attica, of the same and not different proportions. For like the others, the cells are double in length compared to the breadth. In these temples also, all the features which are customary on the front are transferred to the flanks.

5. Nonnulli etiam de Tuscanicis generibus sumentes columnarum dispositiones transferunt in corinthiorum et ionicorum operum ordinationes, et quibus in locis in pronao procurrunt antae, in isdem e regione cellae parietum columnas binas conlocantes efficiunt tuscanicorum et graecorum operum communem ratiocinationem.


5. For some taking the arrangements of the columns from the Tuscan style, transfer them to the design of Corinthian and Ionic buildings. And where the pilasters run forward in the forecourt, they place two columns in line with the walls of the cella and produce a system common to the Tuscan and Greek forms of building.

6. Alii vero removentes parietes aedis et adplicantes ad intercolumnia pteromatos, spatii sublati efficiunt amplum laxamentum cellae; reliqua autem proportionibus et symmetriis isdem conservantes aliud genus figurae nominisque videtur pseudoperipterum procreavisse. Haec autem genera propter usum sacrificiorum convertuntur. Non enim omnibus diis isdem rationibus aedes sunt faciundae, quod alius alia varietate sacrorum religionum habet effectus.


6. Others again, removing the walls of the shrine and putting them in the intercolumniations of the colonnade, produce a large extension of the cella by the space thus gained; keeping the other parts, however, of the same proportions and symmetries, they seem to have created another kind of plan and of name, the pseudoperipteral. The styles of building vary to suit the needs of sacrifice. For temples are not to be built to all the gods in the same styles. For the several gods by the variety of their worship give rise to different religious effects.

7. Omnes aedium sacrarum ratiocinationes, uti mihi tradiae sunt, exposui ordinesque et symmetrias eorum partitionibus distinxi, et quorum dispares sunt figurae et quibus discriminibus inter se sunt disparatae, quoad potui significare scriptis, exposui. Nunc de areis deorum inmortalium, uti aptam constitutionem habeant ad sacrificiorum rationem dicam.


7. I have set forth all the plans of temples as they have been taught me, and have distinguished in detail their orders and symmetries, the difference of their forms and the details by which they are distinguished from one another, as far as I could indicate by writing. Now I shall speak of the precincts of the immortal gods so that they may have an arrangement suitable for the purpose of sacrifices.


In this chapter on temple building Vitruvius describes some divergent types. Since he gives them only a short note it is clear that he didn’t like this kinds of building. The only good style in his eyes is the eustylos (as was described in III,3 with references to his example Hermogenes) in the Ionic style (elaborately described in III, 5).
The first sentence, where we find a description of the so called monopteros poses immediately a problem. The monopteros is characterized by the lack of a cella. But in 'Roman' archaeology such a temple construction, formed by a circular open colonnade, is unknown. But remarkably enough, by the time Vitruvius was writing his treatise such a monopteros was built on the Athenian Acropolis. He is known as the temple of Roma and Augustus. Only the ground plan remains: a monopteros consisting of a circle of nine Ionic columns. But the further characteristics which Vitruvius enumerates (high stylobate, flight of steps) are missing.
Further we find this temple form in Roman frescos of Pompeii (Casa del Labirinto) and in the villa of Oplontis.
From these facts we can deduce that the type really existed.
There has been much confusion about the interpretation of this monopteros throughout the centuries. The monopteros was compared to the Pantheon, characterized by an inner colonnade encircling an open space. The edition of Barbaro (1567) put an end to this discussion. The illustrations for this edition were made by Palladio who produced the only possible design for this monopteros.
The peripteros, as described in the second sentence, can be compared to the Greek tholos. There are many Roman examples of this type of building. The most famous are the temple of Vesta at Tivoli, the round temple on the Forum Boarium and the Vesta temple on the Forum Romanum.

Not very much is known about the temples mentioned in sentence 4.
The temple of Castor in the circus Flaminius. In antique literature there are only two references to this temple and nothing has been found.
The temple of Veiovis between the two groves was situated in the depression between the Arx and the Capitolium. He was dedicated in 198 B.C. Nothing has been found.
The temple of Diana Nemorensis is only mentioned in this fragment. Nothing is known about this building.
Vitruvius compares these temples to the Parthenon in Athens and to a temple on Cape Sounion also dedicated to Pallas Athena (Athenis in arce et in Attica Sunio Palladio Minervae). The difference between these temples and his canonic prescriptions must be found in the proportions of the cella of wich the length was twice the width. Vitruvius must have meant the inner of the cella. We can refer to IV, 4 where he says that the cella itself is to be a fourth part longer than its breadth, including te wall which contains the doors. In the case of the temple at Sounion the irregularity was caused by the addition of an Ionic colonnade along the east flank and the south front of an already existing structure before 450 B.C.
In sentence 6 Vitruvius describes a mixture of the Tuscan plan (see IV, 7) with Ionic or Corinthian order. The large intercolumniations of the Tuscan order are combined with Ionic or Corinthian columns, further the antae are replaced by columns. An example of this mixture of Italian type with a Greek hexastyle peripteral building can be found in a temple on the Forum Holitorium in Rome. Here we see clearly how the antae of the Tuscan style were replaced by two columns while a peripteral colonnade, in Greek manner, was added.

For the last type, where the side walls are pushed outward and are built between the columns we can refer to the Maison Carrée at Nîmes.

It is clear that with these types of temples we are far from the decor as described in I, 2. Decor is the result of fixed proportions in a fixed order. Both of them go back to the past with no possibility of interchange. From the short notices without further details and from the starting words of the sentences which are in sharp contrast to the starting elaborate sentence of the eustyle temple in III, 3, 6 'We must now render an account of the eustyle, which is specially to be approved, and has proportions set out for convenience, beauty and strength’, we can deduce that Vitruvius was disapproving this kinds of innovation.


M. Vitruvii Pollionis de architectura libri decem cum commentariis Danielis Barbari, Venetiis, 1568.
Les dix livres d'architecture de Vitruve, Corrigés et traduits en 1684 par C. Perrault, Paris, 1684.
Vitruvius, De Architectura libri X, ed. F. Granger, London, 1962.
Ton Peters, Vitruvius, Handboek bouwkunde, Amsterdam, 1999.
W.B.Dinsmoor, The architecture of Ancient Greece, London, 1950.
A.Boëthius-J.B.Ward-Perkins, Etruscan and Roman architecture, Harmondsworth, 1970.
H.Knell, Vitruvs Architekturtheorie, Darmstadt, 1985.

Chapter 9
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