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Introduction to Roman Columns

An Introduction to Roman Columns


Ancient Roman columns were basically new and revised versions of the three main orders of columns that had been developed over the centuries by the ancient Greeks.  The Romans were known to assimilate and use whatever they found attractive or useful from civilizations they conquered.  Roman architectural columns were no exception and were based on the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns of Greece.  When Romans used them, however, they modified them to suit their own needs and tastes.


Doric Roman Columns were very similar to Greek columns.  They featured fluted shafts that were surmounted by a capital usually consisting of a round, donut-like shape topped with a square piece.  The Romans added a base (usually two square slabs in descending size) which gave Roman Doric columns a feeling of more substance and weight.  They also changed the flutes slightly and, in some cases, even left the fluting out altogether.  Roman columns of the Doric order were also proportioned differently, with the height equaling about eight times the diameter of the shaft.


Roman columns also relied heavily on Ionic and Corinthian styles from the Greeks, although they again edited them to suit their own needs.  The elegant scroll at the top of Ionic columns tended to be more elaborate in Roman interpretations, sometimes becoming quite large and detailed.  They also often featured a motif known as "egg and dart" in the open space between the scroll ends.  This was a repeating pattern of oval shapes with darts or arrows in a repeating pattern.  They once again alternated between columns with and without flutes, giving a wide range of options to the Roman Ionic column.


Tuscan Roman Columns


Roman columns also took traditional Greek columns and used them to create completely new styles.  The most popular was the Tuscan style column, which reduced the column down to its simplest form.  These Roman columns had no fluting and no decorative carving on the base or capital.  These columns were sometimes, though not always, tapered from top to bottom.  Today, a variation of the Tuscan column is the popular arts and crafts style column that has no flutes but is square instead of round.  A plain cap and base were the only ornamentation on Tuscan columns.  These are particularly popular today in gardens and on simple but elegant homes with a touch of rustic charm.


Composite Roman Columns


The Romans loved pomp, drama and detail.  The final evidence of their love for exuberance is the composite column, which featured a particularly detailed capital using the Corinthian style of richly developed leaves and flowers. Not satisfied with just these, the Romans began topping their Corinthian columns with the two sided scroll detailing of Ionic columns.  They also featured a stacked base that could include several base units stacked by size and supporting the column.  This ornate style of column had never been seen in Greece and was a uniquely Roman development that allowed architectural freedom and lots of room to grow and expand the concept of the column.


Roman Columns use an optical illusion to great effect to give buildings with columns grace and simplicity.  Each Roman column has a slight bulge in the center so that, when you look up at a column, it appears to be the same size all the way up.  Without this bulge (sometimes called entasis), columns would appear to become narrow or concave as the eyes followed them upward.  Entasis gave ancient Roman columns the appearance of a clean, straight line from base to capital. 


The Romans discovered exquisite architectural details in Greece that they imported and used in their own structures, often using columns to support arches and entablatures that represented the strength and durability of Roman power.  As is always the case with a conquering country, they then took the various styles of Greek columns and modified them so that the end results were uniquely Roman columns. 


Today, you can refer to ancient Roman columns while designing your own home's unique style.  There are decorative Roman columns available in Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles that will add dramatic interest to your home inside or out.  Supportive fiberglass Roman columns can proudly support your porch, entryway or back yard arbor with style, and Roman Tuscan columns can add a bit of rustic old world Italy to your home.


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