A Text-Book of the History of Architecture
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"Text-Book of the History of Architecture" by Alfred D. F. Hamlin takes you on an exciting journey through architectural wonders, from the pyramids of Egypt to modern marvels. It covers the history of styles and movements, and is a passionate ode to the power of architecture to inspire us.

A Text-Book of the History of Architecture

Alfred D. F. Hamlin

The Parthenon, Athens, as Restored by Ch. Chipiez. (From model in Metropolitan Museum, New York.)The Parthenon, Athens, as Restored by Ch. Chipiez.
(From model in Metropolitan Museum, New York.)


The aim of this work has been to sketch the various periods and styles of architecture with the broadest possible strokes, and to mention, with such brief characterization as seemed permissible or necessary, the most important works of each period or style. Extreme condensation in presenting the leading facts of architectural history has been necessary, and much that would rightly claim place in a larger work has been omitted here. The danger was felt to be rather in the direction of too much detail than of too little. While the book is intended primarily to meet the special requirements of the college student, those of the general reader have not been lost sight of. The majority of the technical terms used are defined or explained in the context, and the small remainder in a glossary at the end of the work. Extended criticism and minute description were out of the question, and discussion of controverted points has been in consequence as far as possible avoided.

The illustrations have been carefully prepared with a view to elucidating the text, rather than for pictorial effect. With the exception of some fifteen cuts reproduced from Lübke’s Geschichte der Architektur (by kind permission of Messrs. Seemann, of Leipzig), the illustrations are almost all entirely new. A large number are from original drawings made by myself, or under my direction, and the remainder are, with a few exceptions, half-tone reproductions prepared specially for this work from photographs in my possession. Acknowledgments are due to Messrs. H. W. Buemming, H. D. Bultman, and A. E. Weidinger for valued assistance in preparing original drawings; and to Professor W. R. Ware, to Professor W. H. Thomson, M.D., and to the Editor of the Series for much helpful criticism and suggestion.

It is hoped that the lists of monuments appended to the history of each period down to the present century may prove useful for reference, both to the student and the general reader, as a supplement to the body of the text.

A. D. F. Hamlin.

Columbia College, New York,
January 20, 1896.

The author desires to express his further acknowledgments to the friends who have at various times since the first appearance of this book called his attention to errors in the text or illustrations, and to recent advances in the art or in its archæology deserving of mention in subsequent editions. As far as possible these suggestions have been incorporated in the various revisions and reprints which have appeared since the first publication.

A. D. F. H.

Columbia University,
October 28, 1907.


A history of architecture is a record of man’s efforts to build beautifully. The erection of structures devoid of beauty is mere building, a trade and not an art. Edifices in which strength and stability alone are sought, and in designing which only utilitarian considerations have been followed, are properly works of engineering. Only when the idea of beauty is added to that of use does a structure take its place among works of architecture. We may, then, define architecture as the art which seeks to harmonize in a building the requirements of utility and of beauty. It is the most useful of the fine arts and the noblest of the useful arts. It touches the life of man at every point. It is concerned not only in sheltering his person and ministering to his comfort, but also in providing him with places for worship, amusement, and business; with tombs, memorials, embellishments for his cities, and other structures for the varied needs of a complex civilization. It engages the services of a larger portion of the community and involves greater outlays of money than any other occupation except agriculture. Everyone at some point comes in contact with the work of the architect, and from this universal contact architecture derives its significance as an index of the civilization of an age, a race, or a people.

It is the function of the historian of architecture to trace the origin, growth, and decline of the architectural styles which have prevailed in different lands and ages, and to show how they have reflected the great movements of civilization. The migrations, the conquests, the commercial, social, and religious changes among different peoples have all manifested themselves in the changes of their architecture, and it is the historian’s function to show this. It is also his function to explain the principles of the styles, their characteristic forms and decoration, and to describe the great masterpieces of each style and period.

Style is a quality; the “historic styles” are phases of development. Style is character expressive of definite conceptions, as of grandeur, gaiety, or solemnity. An historic style is the particular phase, the characteristic manner of design, which prevails at a given time and place. It is not the result of mere accident or caprice, but of intellectual, moral, social, religious, and even political conditions. Gothic architecture could never have been invented by the Greeks, nor could the Egyptian styles have grown up in Italy. Each style is based upon some fundamental principle springing from its surrounding civilization, which undergoes successive developments until it either reaches perfection or its possibilities are exhausted, after which a period of decline usually sets in. This is followed either by a reaction and the introduction of some radically new principle leading to the evolution of a new style, or by the final decay and extinction of the civilization and its replacement by some younger and more virile element. Thus the history of architecture appears as a connected chain of causes and effects succeeding each other without break, each style growing out of that which preceded it, or springing out of the fecundating contact of a higher with a lower civilization. To study architectural styles is therefore to study a branch of the history of civilization.

Technically, architectural styles are identified by the means they employ to cover enclosed spaces, by the characteristic forms of the supports and other members (piers, columns, arches, mouldings, traceries, etc.), and by their decoration. The plan should receive special attention, since it shows the arrangement of the points of support, and hence the nature of the structural design. A comparison, for example, of the plans of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak (Fig. 11, h) and of the Basilica of Constantine (Fig. 58) shows at once a radical difference in constructive principle between the two edifices, and hence a difference of style.

Structural Principles. All architecture is based on one or more of three fundamental structural principles; that of the lintel, of the arch or vault, and of the truss. The principle of the lintel is that of resistance to transverse strains, and appears in all construction in which a cross-piece or beam rests on two or more vertical supports. The arch or vault makes use of several pieces to span an opening between two supports. These pieces are in compression and exert lateral pressures or thrusts which are transmitted to the supports or abutments. The thrust must be resisted either by the massiveness of the abutments or by the opposition to it of counter-thrusts from other arches or vaults. Roman builders used the first, Gothic builders the second of these means of resistance. The truss is a framework so composed of several pieces of wood or metal that each shall best resist the particular strain, whether of tension or compression, to which it is subjected, the whole forming a compound beam or arch. It is especially applicable to very wide spans, and is the most characteristic feature of modern construction. How the adoption of one or another of these principles affected the forms and even the decoration of the various styles, will be shown in the succeeding chapters.

Historic Development. Geographically and chronologically, architecture appears to have originated in the Nile valley. A second centre of development is found in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, not uninfluenced by the older Egyptian art. Through various channels the Greeks inherited from both Egyptian and Assyrian art, the two influences being discernible even through the strongly original aspect of Greek architecture. The Romans in turn, adopting the external details of Greek architecture, transformed its substance by substituting the Etruscan arch for the Greek construction of columns and lintels. They developed a complete and original system of construction and decoration and spread it over the civilized world, which has never wholly outgrown or abandoned it.

With the fall of Rome and the rise of Constantinople these forms underwent in the East another transformation, called the Byzantine, in the development of Christian domical church architecture. In the North and West, meanwhile, under the growing institutions of the papacy and of the monastic orders and the emergence of a feudal civilization out of the chaos of the Dark Ages, the constant preoccupation of architecture was to evolve from the basilica type of church a vaulted structure, and to adorn it throughout with an appropriate dress of constructive and symbolic ornament. Gothic architecture was the outcome of this preoccupation, and it prevailed throughout northern and western Europe until nearly or quite the close of the fifteenth century.

During this fifteenth century the Renaissance style matured in Italy, where it speedily triumphed over Gothic fashions and produced a marvellous series of civic monuments, palaces, and churches, adorned with forms borrowed or imitated from classic Roman art. This influence spread through Europe in the sixteenth century, and ran a course of two centuries, after which a period of servile classicism was followed by a rapid decline in taste. To this succeeded the eclecticism and confusion of the nineteenth century, to which the rapid growth of new requirements and development of new resources have largely contributed.

In Eastern lands three great schools of architecture have grown up contemporaneously with the above phases of Western art; one under the influence of Mohammedan civilization, another in the Brahman and Buddhist architecture of India, and the third in China and Japan. The first of these is the richest and most important. Primarily inspired from Byzantine art, always stronger on the decorative than on the constructive side, it has given to the world the mosques and palaces of Northern Africa, Moorish Spain, Persia, Turkey, and India. The other two schools seem to be wholly unrelated to the first, and have no affinity with the architecture of Western lands.

Of Mexican, Central American, and South American architecture so little is known, and that little is so remote in history and spirit from the styles above enumerated, that it belongs rather to archæology than to architectural history, and will not be considered in this work.

Note.—The reader’s attention is called to the Appendix to this volume, in which are gathered some of the results of recent investigations and of the architectural progress of the last few years which could not readily be introduced into the text of this edition. The General Bibliography and the lists of books recommended have been revised and brought up to date.

Chapter I.
Primitive and Prehistoric Architecture

Early Beginnings. It is impossible to trace the early stages of the process by which true architecture grew out of the first rude attempts of man at building. The oldest existing monuments of architecture—those of Chaldæa and Egypt—belong to an advanced civilization. The rude and elementary structures built by savage and barbarous peoples, like the Hottentots or the tribes of Central Africa, are not in themselves works of architecture, nor is any instance known of the evolution of a civilized art from such beginnings. So far as the monuments testify, no savage people ever raised itself to civilization, and no primitive method of building was ever developed into genuine architecture, except by contact with some existing civilization of which it appropriated the spirit, the processes, and the forms. How the earliest architecture came into existence is as yet an unsolved problem.

Primitive Architecture is therefore a subject for the archæologist rather than the historian of art, and needs here only the briefest mention. If we may judge of the condition of the primitive races of antiquity by that of the savage and barbarous peoples of our own time, they required only the simplest kinds of buildings, though the purposes which they served were the same as those of later times in civilized communities. A hut or house for shelter, a shrine of some sort for worship, a stockade for defence, a cairn or mound over the grave of the chief or hero, were provided out of the simplest materials, and these often of a perishable nature. Poles supplied the framework; wattles, skins, or mud the walls; thatching or stamped earth the roof. Only the simplest tools were needed for such elementary construction. There was ingenuity and patient labor in work of this kind; but there was no planning, no fitting together into a complex organism of varied materials shaped with art and handled with science. Above all, there was no progression toward higher ideals of fitness and beauty. Rudimentary art displayed itself mainly in objects of worship, or in carvings on canoes and weapons, executed as talismans to ward off misfortune or to charm the unseen powers; but even this art was sterile and never grew of itself into civilized and progressive art.

Yet there must have been at some point in the remote past an exception to this rule. Somewhere and somehow the people of Egypt must have developed from crude beginnings the architectural knowledge and resource which meet us in the oldest monuments, though every vestige of that early age has apparently perished. But although nothing has come down to us of the actual work of the builders who wrought in the primitive ages of mankind, there exist throughout Europe and Asia almost countless monuments of a primitive character belonging to relatively recent times, but executed before the advent of historic civilization to the regions where they are found. A general resemblance among them suggests a common heritage of traditions from the hoariest antiquity, and throws light on the probable character of the transition from barbaric to civilized architecture.

Prehistoric Monuments. These monuments vary widely as well as in excellence; some of them belong to Roman or even Christian times; others to a much remoter period. They are divided into two principal classes, the megalithic structures and lake dwellings. The latter class may be dismissed with the briefest mention. It comprises a considerable number of very primitive houses or huts built on wooden piles in the lakes of Switzerland and several other countries in both hemispheres, and forming in some cases villages of no mean size. Such villages, built over the water for protection from attack, are mentioned by the writers of antiquity and portrayed on Assyrian reliefs. The objects found in them reveal an incipient but almost stationary civilization, extending back from three thousand to five thousand years or more, and lasting through the ages of stone and bronze down into historic times.

The megalithic remains of Europe and Asia are far more important. They are very widely distributed, and consist in most cases of great blocks of stone arranged in rows, circles, or avenues, sometimes with huge lintels resting upon them. Upright stones without lintels are called menhirs; standing in pairs with lintels they are known as dolmens; the circles are called cromlechs. Some of the stones are of gigantic size, some roughly hewn into shape; others left as when quarried. Their age and purpose have been much discussed without reaching positive results. It is probable that, like the lake dwellings, they cover a long range of time, reaching from the dawn of recorded history some thousands of years back into the unknown past, and that they were erected by races which have disappeared before the migrations to which Europe owes her present populations. That most of them were in some way connected with the worship of these prehistoric peoples is generally admitted; but whether as temples, tombs, or memorials of historical or mythical events cannot, in all cases, be positively asserted. They were not dwellings or palaces, and very few were even enclosed buildings. They are imposing by the size and number of their immense stones, but show no sign of advanced art, or of conscious striving after beauty of design. The small number of “carved stones,” bearing singular ornamental patterns, symbolic or mystical rather than decorative in intention, really tends to prove this statement rather than to controvert it. It is not impossible that the dolmens were generally intended to be covered by mounds of earth. This would group them with the tumuli referred to below, and point to a sepulchral purpose in their erection. Some antiquaries, Fergusson among them, contend that many of the European circles and avenues were intended as battle-monuments or trophies.

There are also walls of great antiquity in various parts of Europe, intended for fortification; the most important of these in Greece and Italy will be referred to in later chapters. They belong to a more advanced art, some of them even deserving to be classed among works of archaic architecture.

The tumuli, or burial mounds, which form so large a part of the prehistoric remains of both continents, are interesting to the architect only as revealing the prototypes of the pyramids of Egypt and the subterranean tombs of Mycenæ and other early Greek centres. The piling of huge cairns or commemorative heaps of stone is known from the Scriptures and other ancient writings to have been a custom of the greatest antiquity. The pyramids and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus are the most imposing and elaborate outgrowths of this practice, of which the prehistoric tumuli are the simpler manifestations.

These crude and elementary products of undeveloped civilizations have no place, however, in any list of genuine architectural works. They belong rather to the domain of archæology and ethnology, and have received this brief mention only as revealing the beginnings of the builder’s art, and the wide gap that separates them from that genuine architecture which forms the subject of the following chapters.

Monuments: The most celebrated in England are at Avebury, an avenue, large and small circles, barrows, and the great tumuli of Bartlow and Silbury “Hills;” at Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, great megalithic circles and many barrows; “Sarsen stones” at Ashdown; tumuli, dolmens, chambers, and circles in Derbyshire. In Ireland, many cairns and circles. In Scotland, circles and barrows in the Orkney Islands. In France, Carnac and Lokmariaker in Brittany are especially rich in dolmens, circles, and avenues. In Scandinavia, Germany, and Italy, in India and in Africa, are many similar remains.

Chapter II.
Egyptian Architecture

Land and People. As long ago as 5000 B.C., the Egyptians were a people already highly civilized, and skilled in the arts of peace and war. The narrow valley of the Nile, fertilized by the periodic overflow of the river, was flanked by rocky heights, nearly vertical in many places, which afforded abundance of excellent building stone, while they both isolated the Egyptians and protected them from foreign aggression. At the Delta, however, the valley widened out, with the falling away of these heights, into broad lowlands, from which there was access to the outer world.

The art history of Egypt may be divided into five periods as follows:

I. The Ancient Empire (cir. 4500?-3000 B.C.), comprising the first ten dynasties, with Memphis as the capital.

II. The First Theban Monarchy or Middle Empire (3000–2100 B.C.) comprising the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth dynasties reigning at Thebes.

The Hyksos invasion, or incursion of the Shepherd Kings, interrupted the current of Egyptian art history for a period of unknown length, probably not less than four or five centuries.

III. The Second Theban Monarchy (1700?-1000 B.C.), comprising the eighteenth to twentieth dynasties inclusive, was the great period of Egyptian history; the age of conquests and of vast edifices.

IV. The Decadence or Saitic Period (1000–324 B.C.), comprising the dynasties twenty-one to thirty (Saitic, Bubastid, Ethiopic, etc.), reigning at Sais, Tanis, and Bubastis, and the Persian conquest; a period almost barren of important monuments.

(Periods III. and IV. constitute together the period of the New Empire, if we omit the Persian dominion.)

V. The Revival (from 324 B.C. to cir. 330 A.D.) comprises the Ptolemaic or Macedonian and Roman dominations.

The Ancient Empire: The Pyramids. The great works of this period are almost exclusively sepulchral, and include the most ancient buildings of which we have any remains. While there is little of strictly architectural art, the overwhelming size and majesty of the Pyramids, and the audacity and skill shown in their construction, entitle them to the first place in any sketch of this period. They number over a hundred, scattered in six groups, from Abu-Roash in the north to Meidoum in the south, and are of various shapes and sizes. They are all royal tombs and belong to the first twelve dynasties; each contains a sepulchral chamber, and each at one time possessed a small chapel adjacent to it, but this has, in almost every case, perished.

Three pyramids surpass all the rest by their prodigious size; these are at Ghizeh and belong to the fourth dynasty. They are known by the names of their builders; the oldest and greatest being that of Cheops, or Khufu; the second, that of Chephren, or Khafra; and the third, that of Mycerinus, or Menkhara. Other smaller ones stand at the feet of these giants.

Fig. 1.—Section of Great Pyramid.a, King’s Chamber; b, Queen’s Chamber; c, Chamber cut in Rock.Fig. 1.—Section of Great Pyramid. a, King’s Chamber; b, Queen’s Chamber; c, Chamber cut in Rock.

The base of the “Great Pyramid” measures 764 feet on a side; its height is 482 feet, and its volume must have originally been nearly three and one-half million cubic yards (Fig. 1). It is constructed of limestone upon a plateau of rock levelled to receive it, and was finished externally, like its two neighbors, with a coating of polished stone, supposed by some to have been disposed in bands of different colored granites, but of which it was long ago despoiled. It contained three principal chambers and an elaborate system of inclined passages, all executed in finely cut granite and limestone. The sarcophagus was in the uppermost chamber, above which the superincumbent weight was relieved by open spaces and a species of rudimentary arch of Λ-shape (Fig. 2). The other two pyramids differ from that of Cheops in the details of their arrangement and in size, not in the principle of their construction. Chephren is 454 feet high, with a base 717 feet square. Mycerinus, which still retains its casing of pink granite, is but 218 feet in height, with a base 253 feet on a side.

Fig. 2.—Section of King’s Chamber.Fig. 2.—Section of King’s Chamber.

Among the other pyramids there is considerable variety both of type and material. At Sakkarah is one 190 feet high, constructed in six unequal steps on a slightly oblong base measuring nearly 400 × 357 feet. It was attributed by Mariette to Ouenephes, of the first dynasty, though now more generally ascribed to Senefrou of the third. At Abu-Seir and Meidoum are other stepped pyramids; at Dashour is one having a broken slope, the lower part steeper than the upper. Several at Meroë with unusually steep slopes belong to the Ethiopian dynasties of the Decadence. A number of pyramids are built of brick.

Fig. 3.—Plan of Sphinx Temple.Fig. 3.—Plan of Sphinx Temple.

Tombs. The Ancient Empire has also left us a great number of tombs of the type known as Mastabas. These are oblong rectangular structures of stone or brick with slightly inclined sides and flat ceilings. They uniformly face the east, and are internally divided into three parts; the chamber or chapel, the serdab, and the well. In the first of these, next the entrance, were placed the offerings made to the Ka or “double,” for whom also scenes of festivity or worship were carved and painted on its walls to minister to his happiness in his incorporeal life. The serdabs, or secret inner chambers, of which there were several in each mastaba, contained statues of the defunct, by which the existence and identity of the Ka were preserved. Finally came the well, leading to the mummy chamber, deep underground, which contained the sarcophagus. The sarcophagi, both of this and later ages, are good examples of the minor architecture of Egypt; many of them are panelled in imitation of wooden construction and richly decorated with color, symbols, and hieroglyphs.

Fig. 4.—Ruins of Sphinx Temple.Fig. 4.—Ruins of Sphinx Temple.

Other Monuments. Two other monuments of the Ancient Empire also claim attention: the Sphinx and the adjacent so-called “Sphinx temple” at Ghizeh. The first of these, a huge sculpture carved from the rock, represents Harmachis in the form of a human-headed lion. It is ordinarily partly buried in the sand; is 70 feet long by 66 feet high, and forms one of the most striking monuments of Egyptian art. Close to it lie the nearly buried ruins of the temple once supposed to be that of the Sphinx, but now proved by Petrie to have been erected in connection with the second pyramid. The plan and present aspect of this venerable edifice are shown in Figs. 3 and 4. The hall was roofed with stone lintels carried on sixteen square monolithic piers of alabaster. The whole was buried in a rectangular mass of masonry and revetted internally with alabaster, but was wholly destitute internally as well as externally of decoration or even of mouldings. With the exception of scanty remains of a few of the pyramid-temples or chapels, and the temple discovered by Petrie in Meidoum, it is the only survival from the temple architecture of that early age.

Fig. 5.—Tomb at Abydos.Fig. 5.—Tomb at Abydos.

The Middle Empire: Tombs. The monuments of this period, as of the preceding, are almost wholly sepulchral. We now encounter two types of tombs. One, structural and pyramidal, is represented by many examples at Abydos, the most venerated of all the burial grounds of Egypt (Fig. 5). All of these are built of brick, and are of moderate size and little artistic interest. The second type is that of tombs cut in the vertical cliffs of the west bank of the Nile Valley. The entrance to these faces eastward as required by tradition; the remoter end of the excavation pointing toward the land of the Sun of Night. But such tunnels only become works of architecture when, in addition to the customary mural paintings, they receive a decorative treatment in the design of their structural forms. Such a treatment appears in several tombs at Beni-Hassan, in which columns are reserved in cutting away the rock, both in the chapel-chambers and in the vestibules or porches which precede them. These columns are polygonal in some cases, clustered in others. The former type, with eight, sixteen, or thirty-two sides (in these last the arrises or edges are emphasized by a slight concavity in each face, like embryonic fluting), have a square abacus, suggesting the Greek Doric order, and giving rise to the name proto-Doric (Fig. 6). Columns of this type are also found at Karnak, Kalabshé, Amada, and Abydos. A reminiscence of primitive wood construction is seen in the dentils over the plain architrave of the entrance, which in other respects recalls the triple entrances to certain mastabas of the Old Empire. These dentils are imitations of the ends of rafters, and to some archæologists suggest a wooden origin for the whole system of columnar design. But these rock-cut shafts and heavy architraves in no respect resemble wooden prototypes, but point rather to an imitation cut in the rock of a well-developed, pre-existing system of stone construction, some of whose details, however, were undoubtedly derived from early methods of building in wood. The vault was below the chapel and reached by a separate entrance. The serdab was replaced by a niche in which was the figure of the defunct carved from the native rock. Some of the tombs employed in the chapel-chamber columns of quatrefoil section with capitals like clustered buds (Fig. 7), and this type became in the next period one of the most characteristic forms of Egyptian architecture.

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