top of page

The Elegance & Creative Beauty of Columns Through the Ages

"The alternatives to descriptive and practical forms of knowledge do not help us to ascertain what kind of knowledge and expertise was needed to produce the Pantheon’s portico columns. Rather, as we work in the field of the epistemology of architecture, we realized that spatial knowledge requires many different forms of knowledge. Reconstructing such knowledge thus requires methodological tools that are capable of describing these forms of knowledge and providing appropriate means to justify the results.." from the article below - Decoding the Pantheon Columns

The Elegance & Creative Beauty of Columns Through the Ages

We take Columns or pillars for granted in our world today as part of our architecture.

They are part of our cultural building mateirals are today are used as much for decoration as for actual structural support.

We as a civilization in this time of history have developed amazing technology that would seem like magic to those in the ancient world. Yet for all of that we do not know or understand how all of these columns were built!

The evidence of construction methods is scant, but more and mor is coming to light. With ongoing research we are staring to see the genius and ingenuity of the ancient builders.

Evidence of machined building features including many columns is overwhelming.

Pompey's Pillar
Pompey's Pillar

Pompey’s Pillar is a third century Ancient Roman column in Alexandria in Egypt

"Pompey’s Pillar is an incredible solitary granite column in Alexandria, Egypt and one of the few Roman remains to have survived in the city.

Whilst called “Pompey’s Pillar”, this 25 metre tall structure was actually dedicated to the Emperor Diocletian, who ruled Rome from 284 to 305 AD. It was completed towards the end of the third century AD, was one of the largest of its type to be built anywhere in the Empire.

Pompey’s Pillar history

The pillar was constructed in honour of Diocletian in 292 AD and is located in situation Kom el-Dekka in Alexandria. The pillar bears the inscription “Postumas a governor of Alexandria erected this pillar in honour of a just emperor Diocletian.”

The story of the misleading name of the columns follows that crusaders believed that the head of Pompey, a Roman general, was buried within the pillar. Pompey was allegedly killed by Cleopatra’s brotherin the year 48 BC and the column was erected in the year 292 AD. The column is made from rose granite and has a Corinthian-style capital.

The ruins of the great temple of Serapis, the hybrid Greek and Egyptian god of Alexandria are below the column. There was also once an offshoot library form the Great Lirary of Alexandria housed here.

Alexandria developed into the stronghold of Christianity when the religion was first introduced to Egypt. Gradually Christianity became dominant in Egypt, reducing the significance of ancient traditions and pagan gods.

The Serapeum, dedicated to Alexandria’s patron god, Serapis, was a symbol of this ancient tradition, which conflicted with the increasingly popular ideas of Christianity.

The temple was attacked during the Jewish Revolt in 155 AD yet remained standing. In 391 AD the temple was destroyed entirely apart from the pillar when Theophilus, leader of the Church of Alexandria, led a Christian mob to raize the Seapeum and other symbols of paganism.." from the article: Pompey’s Pillar

Types of Early Columns
Types of Early Columns

What is a Column?

"The Column was an architectural invention that allowed for the support of ceilings without the use of solid walls. Columns increase the space which can be spanned by a ceiling, allowing the entrance of more light. Columns also offer an alternative aesthetic to building exteriors.

In the ancient world, columns were used particularly in the peristyles of temples and in colonnades along stoas. Columns could also be incorporated (engaged) within walls or be free-standing and so carry sculptures to commemorate particular events or people.

Early Architectural Columns

The first use of columns was as a single central support for the roof of relatively small buildings but from the Bronze Age (3000-1000 BCE) more sophisticated columns with other functions beyond direct structural support appeared in the Egyptian, Assyrian and Minoan civilizations. Whilst the former civilizations employed stone for their columns, the Minoans used whole tree-trunks, usually turned upside down in order to prevent re-growth, stood on a base set in the stylobate (floor base) and topped by a simple round capital. These were then painted as in the most famous Minoan palace of Knossos. The Minoans employed columns to create large open-plan spaces, light-wells and as a focal point for religious rituals. These traditions were continued by the later Mycenaean civilization, particularly in the megaron or hall at the heart of their palaces. The importance of columns and their reference to palaces and therefore authority is evidenced in their use in heraldic motifs such as the famous lion-gate of Mycenae where two lions stand each side of a column. Being made of wood these early columns have not survived, but their stone bases have and through these we may see their use and arrangement in these palace buildings..." from the article: Column

Worlds Most Astonishing Ancient Pillars?

Video from Mystery History

The Pantheon Columns

Decoding the Pantheon Columns

"The shafts of the Pantheon’s portico columns are composed of granite monoliths, forty Roman feet tall, which were excavated from two Egyptian quarries. The eight light gray columns of the front row of the portico originated from the imperial quarry at Mons Claudianus (Stevens 1924), while the pink column shafts of the middle and back rows (four in each row) probably came from the Assuan region (De Fine Licht 1968: 40). The sixteen colossal shafts, each weighing about fifty metric tons, were brought by ship from Egypt to Rome. Although they were by no means the largest monoliths used in Roman architecture (indeed, there are indications that the portico of the Pantheon was originally intended to be furnished with even larger columns; see Wilson Jones 2000: 204–211; Wilson Jones 2009), their transportation and erection would nevertheless have posed a serious challenge to the architects of the time..." from the article: Decoding the Pantheon Columns

The Pantheon
The Pantheon

Ancient Egyptian Columns

"Egyptian architectural columns can be more or less divided into two basic classes. The first type is polygonal Egyptian Columns which, over a period of time, increased its number of sides from four to sixteen. The second class is stone imitations of plants such as the papyrus, palm, and lotus.

It is possible that these limitations are a reflection of earlier times when structures were supported by bundles of plant material and palm logs, perhaps bound together with ropes, animal hide, and mud..." from the article: Ancient Egyptian Columns

Advanced Machining in Ancient Egypt

"There is evidence, too, in the Cairo Museum of clearly defined lathe tool marks on some "sarcophagi" lids. The Cairo Museum contains enough evidence that, when properly analyzed, will prove beyond all shadow of doubt that the ancient Egyptians used highly sophisticated manufacturing methods. For generations the focus has centered on the nature of the cutting tools that the ancient Egyptians used. While in Egypt in February 1995, I uncovered evidence that clearly moves us beyond that question to ask "what guided the cutting tool?" from the article: Advanced Machining in Ancient Egypt

About Persian and Egyptian Types of Columns

Persian Columns
Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Joey Chung/Getty Images (cropped)

What is a Persian column? What is an Egyptian column? Their defining capitals don't look much like Greek and Roman capitals, yet they are as distinctive and functional. Not surprisingly, some column designs seen throughout the Middle East have been influenced by Classical architecture — the Greek military master Alexander the Great conquered the entire region, Persia and Egypt, around 330 B.C., ushering in a mix of Western and Eastern detailing and engineering. Architecture, like fine wine, is often a blend of the best.

All architecture is an evolution of what has come before it. The columns of the 19th century mosque shown here, the Nasir al-Mulk in Shiraz, Iran, do not look like the Classical columns we put on our front porches. Many of the columns in America resemble the columns of ancient Greece and Rome, because our Western architecture evolved from Classical architecture. But what of other cultures?

Here is a photo tour of some of these ancient columns — architectural treasures of the Middle East.." from the article: About Persian and Egyptian Types of Columns

persian column capital
Bull Capital from Persepolis, Apādana, Persepolis (Fars, Iran), c. 520–465 B.C.E. (National Museum of Iran) (photo: s1ingshot)

Persepolis Apadana Palace Recreation
Persepolis Apadana Palace Recreation

Tools, Blueprints & Construction Methods?

"In architecture, a vertical support is called a pillar, and a pillar that is round is called a column. During the time of Roman architecture, stone, brick and concrete were the most commonly used materials for building. Rome was the first civilization that used concrete extensively.

Stone columns were the new and improved version of the wooden columns and supports. It was discovered that the stone columns could be built higher and were more sturdy then the wooden ones. Additional support was given by metal pins that were placed in the column at the intersection of two pieces.

There were many design elements that were a part of the columns created in Rome. The main style orders were influenced by Greek architecture. These orders referred to the bases and capitals (tops) of the columns and the designs that they would have. The first and simplest was the "doric" order, the second was the scroll or "ionic" order, and the third was the "corinthian" order, which was flowery. These orders were commonly found on the Romans' creation, the half column. it added to the beauty of the building that it was placed on, though it had little structural value because it was only sticking out from a wall in the building..." from the article: Pillars of Rome

Drawings in Greek and Roman Architecture

The study of ancient architectural representation in drawings is relatively new. Until recently, Egyptian architectural drawing practices remained better known and understood than those of the Greeks and Romans. New discoveries have rectified this situation somewhat. In 1979 Lothar Haselberger discovered and documented numerous incised architectural diagrams on the interior cella of the great Temple of Apollo at Didyma. Haselberger identified the drawings as representations of the very building upon which they were incised. This moment led to a wave of discoveries of similar incised architectural drawings elsewhere. Heisel’s volume Antike Bauzeichnungen of 1993 was the first attempt at a comprehensive study of Greek and Roman architectural drawings. 1 Antonio Corso’s book is the second.

This book, characterized by the author as an essay (1), comprises just over 50 pages of text organized in eight sections and followed by an illustrated catalogue of 55 entries. Chapters One through Six treat textual evidence for the existence of architectural drawing; Chapter Seven, material evidence; Chapter Eight, conclusions. The central strength of Corso’s book lies in the evidence he pulls together from textual sources to support his observations.." from a book review of Drawings in Greek and Roman Architecture

Drawings in Greek and Roman Architecture by Antonio Corso (link)

A Brief Introduction to Ancient Indian Architecture

"From ancient South Indian temples to the finest Mughal ruins, Indian architecture is as old as civilization itself. The earliest traces of recognizable building activity in India can be traced back to the settlements of the Indus Valley. India is home to a myriad of temples, Baroque, and modernistic structures that tell the stories of their era. UNESCO lists 830 World Heritage Sites, 26 of which are on Indian soil.

India has seen a variety of architectural styles emerge over the course of its history. Some examples include temple architecture, Mughal architecture, Dravidian architecture, Sikh architecture, and cave architecture. Many early Indian buildings were made of wood, which was often decayed, burned, or brick that has been removed for reuse. Over millennia, it has progressed from small rock-cut cave shrines to huge temples that have extended across the Indian subcontinent and beyond, forming a style that is now seen in contemporary Hindu temples across the world..." from the article: A Brief Introduction to Ancient Indian Architecture

Kailasa Temple, Ellora
Kailasa Temple, Ellora

Where is the Technology? How Did They Do It?

The Ancient Greeks Used Machines to Lift Stones 150 Years Earlier Than Previously Believed

An examination of grooves on blocks of stone from early temples suggest they were lifted and then levered into place using a frame.

Archaeologists have long believed that the forerunners of the cranes that now dot the skylines of cities across the globe were invented by Greek engineers around 515 B.C. But a new study suggests that earlier versions of the lifting machines were being used on the Greek peninsula 150 years earlier.

Olivia Rotolo/University of Notre Dame
Olivia Rotolo/University of Notre Dame

The evidence comes from temples at the ancient cities of Isthmia and Corinth dating from 700 to 650 B.C. The 440- to 880-pound blocks used to construct the temples have unusual twin grooves running along the bottoms of the stones. Researchers have argued about the purpose of the grooves for decades. That's why architecture professor Alessandro Pierattini of the University of Notre Dame decided to take a closer look..." from the article: The Ancient Greeks Used Machines to Lift Stones 150 Years Earlier Than Previously Believed

For some excellent detailed discussions on ancient machining visit the website: Spirit & Stone

Were Ancient Columns Lathed?

Considering all of the amazing columns and buildings that still stand from the ancient world very little is know of how they did what they did.

There are many relics from around the world and across cultures that clearly show the marks of being lathed. The machines that did this have not be found.

From the Spirit & Stone article: Lathe Turned Stone Housewares

"These bowls and stone dishes/platters are some of the finest ever found, and they are from the earliest period of ancient Egyptian civilization. They are made from a variety of materials - from soft, such as alabaster, all the way up the hardness scale to very hard, such as granite.

Working with soft stone such as alabaster is relatively simple, compared to granite. Alabaster can be worked with primitive tools and abrasives. The elegant workings in granite are a different matter and indicate not only a consummate level of skill, but a different and perhaps more advanced technology.

Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl
Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl

Here is a quote from Petrie:

"...the lathe appears to have been as familiar an instrument in the fourth dynasty, as it is in the modern workshops."

Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl
Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl

Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl
Lathed Ancient Egyptian Granite Bowl

What can we say about the builders?

  • They had tube drills - drill bits and the machinery to hold them steady and apply rotational torque.

  • They had saws that would cut granite with ease and precision.

  • They had the ability to sculpt the hardest of rocks.

  • They were accomplished at finishing granite in situ - after a block had been placed in a wall or on the surface of a pyramid.

  • They had the ability to

  • cut, level and polish granite to a sophisticated degree of flatness.

  • They had lathes that would turn and polish granite, schist, basalt, etc (in ways we have not duplicated).

  • They had the means to cut extremely accurate parallel limestone joints with remarkable flatness over large surface areas - 35 sq.ft.or more, and apparently had mastered the technique before beginning the casing of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

  • They had the knowledge and technology to consistently lift, exactly maneuver and delicately place enormous weights of stone.

  • They had the means and motivation to quarry and move millions of stone blocks.

  • They had the administrative skill and wealth to organize enormous multi-generational public works and all that they require:

  • very long term planning and project continuity

  • the commitment of many generations of craftsmen: from youthful apprenticeship through retirement from the workforce.

  • the commitment of the entire family related to the craftsmen - these projects were long term and the workers must have lived nearby as part of a sizable 'pyramid construction town'

  • many generations of capable personnel: from leadership through executive designers to journeymen masters, craftsmen, labourers and support staff - tens of thousands of people training for years, and working together as a cohesive workforce for many decades. The pyramid builders of ancient Egypt seemed to have achieved the implementation of the largest, most ambitious and most long term engineering and construction program in the history of mankind.

These massive projects would include all facets of civil engineering, architecture, surveying, multilevel and multifaceted personnel management, physical infrastructure, materials management, etc. Initially, they would have to have been preceded by the appearance of a leadership so effective, that the undertaking of such immense programs and all the sacrifices they entailed, would have been possible to initiate. By what steps did they arrive at such a sophisticated political, organizational and technical stage of cultural development?" from the website: Spirit & Stone

Video from PraveenMohan

0:00 - 500 Years Old Machining Technology 1:31 - First Lathe Machine 2:00 - Recreated Model 4:37 - Oldest Vertical Lathe Machine 5:08 - Advanced Ancient Technology 7:24 - Conclusion Hey guys, this is the ancient site of Hampi that has been abandoned for at least 500 years, and here we can see this rock that shows solid evidence of machining technology. These perfect circular marks on this rock can be produced only with machines. This process is called facing, and we use the same technology today using lathe machines. It is covered with dirt when I found it, so I cleaned it up. Now, If you look at these circles, they are perfectly concentric and there is no deviation, no chipping in the rock, very similar to modern day technology. The rectangular slot in the center proves that this rock was machined using lathe technology. So, how was this created at least 500 years ago, at a time when historians claim there was no such technology? Were ancient builders using high tech machines many centuries ago, just like today? If this is true, we should not only find finished products like this circular rock, but we should also find the entire mechanism that was able to create this finished product. Is it possible that the entire mechanism, the lathe itself can be found in the same area? Now, if we take a step back and look at the entire picture, it has some very interesting components. It has two posts with circular holes near the top, which obviously means that a cylindrical rod was inserted between them, like this. This is a simple model that I am recreating, which I will show side by side, so you can understand this better. Nearby, we can see a long rectangular slab, with a hole in the center. When I measured the length of the slab, it matches exactly with the distance between the two posts. What does this mean? This means that the slab would fit perfectly between these posts. I am using this green rectangular styrofoam block which represents the slab in my model. So, the set up would look like this. If a metal tool was placed on this cylinder, pointing downwards, it looks like a modern day vertical lathe machine. I am going to use a pen for the metal tool in my model. This rectangular slab would be the base plate on which circular rocks could be placed and machined. Here is a simple round object which represents the circular rock and I place it on the rectangular slab, and if I rotate the circular rock, and lower the tool from the top, we can create these identical tool marks. See the similarity of the circles between this model, and the actual rock. My model has not rotated on a perfect axis, so you see that the circles are not as good, but the work of ancient builders was perfect. This set up actually proves that ancient people used vertical lathe technology, at least 500 years ago. What's even more interesting is that you can see some circular wear and tear on the base plate as well. Look at the base plate, you can see these half circular marks caused by the rotating objects which were placed on top of it. The other half shows no such tool marks, because these marks were created by accident, by friction from the rotating objects placed above. You can see the same marks beginning to form on my model as well. All these evidences clearly prove that machining technology, specifically vertical lathe technology was used in India, at least 500 years ago, and some archeologists even say this site was built 2300 years ago. So, I think I have just discovered the oldest machining set up, known to mankind, and it is lying in plain sight, abandoned and covered in dirt." from video introduction


1 view0 comments
bottom of page