Ancient Greek Architecture Was Profoundly Influenced By The Ancient Near East. Discuss.
To answer this question, it is vital that we define the boundaries of the ancient near east. Two prominent countries, Mesopotamia and Egypt, seem to have been subjected to an appearance of ‘monumental architecture and sculpture’ at almost the same time, according to Henri Frankfort in his publication The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (Fourth Edition 1970, p.11), with the other countries being Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, and Persia. The Mesopotamians, whose civilisation began in the Protoliterate period (3500-3000 B.C.), built out of the readily available mud-brick obtained from the alluvial plain between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, which was dried and baked in the Sun. This was used to construct ‘larger and more permanent’ structures than simple shelters (p.18). A.W. Lawrence in Greek Architecture (Fifth Edition, 1996) observes that Greek architecture was worthless until the first ‘approximate attempt at aesthetic architecture’ which was ‘a facade of burnt brick’ at Tiryns (p.3). This would seem to be the first, if not definitely direct, example of Mesopotamian, and indeed ancient near eastern influence.
One of the most fundamental influences of ancient near eastern architecture can be found in Troy, Asia Minor. An early house plan, typical of Trojan dwellings, consists of a long rectangular hall accessed by a porch, defined by extensions of the longest walls. Frankfort (p.208) observes that homes in Asia Minor were in general designed on a ‘very rigid plan’ like below, a portion of Troy at Hissarlik before the second millennium B.C. The rooms placed behind one another, with a porch leading into a main chamber and sometimes a room further behind. We will see that the Greek ‘megaron’ plan and ‘in antis’ temple plan is based on this scheme, although A.W. Lawrence (p.7) says there is ‘no firm evidence’ that Trojan culture directly influenced Greek architectural evolution. It seems likely, however, that these houses indeed provided the scheme for later architects to turn into ‘an art form’ as Frankfort (p.208) says, especially since the plan of the megaron is found over the wide area of mainland Greece and south-west Asia Minor (Lawrence, p.7). One such example is at Tiryns, a citadel of Mycenean culture, late thirteenth century B.C, for which the megaron suite may have been based on Trojan homes and palaces thanks to voyages from Greece (Lawrence, p.43). A.W. Lawrence (p.43) thinks that the ‘striking resemblance’ between this Mycenean megaron and the Trojan building could be due to ‘similarity of requirements’ yet this plan will be seen to be a recurring theme. In the diagram a porch is built thanks to extended walls, corresponding to Trojan planning, with the major difference being that the Myceneans and Greeks retained the shape of the stone ends of the walls rather than facing them with wood. They called an end to these walls an ‘anta’ (Lawrence, p.7). The porch leads to an anteroom which, through a central doorway, provides access to the main hall at the rear. Immediately we can see the similarity between this Mycenean Greek layout and the ancient near eastern Trojan palaces, with multiple rooms leading into one another aligned in a rectangle. Also, the presence of two columns fronting the porch in line with the end of the longitudinal walls in antis (Lawrence, p.62) may not be an entirely Greek innovation either. Henri Frankfort observes that the building below, the palace of Niqmepa of the Mittanian Era (1450-1360 B.C.) in northern Syria, was an example of architecture that developed into the bit-hilani, the origins of which ‘are found in Syrian architecture of the second millennium B.C.’ (pp.253-254). This structure was noticeable for its portico at the entrance – an entrance porch whose roof is supported by columns, seen here labelled ‘1’. A.W. Lawrence states that the people of the Greek island of Crete...
Bibliography: A.W. Lawrence, Greek Architecture, Fifth Edition, 1996, revised by R.A. Tomlinson, New Haven and London, Yale University Press. Pages xiv, xv, 3, 6-7, 13-14, 22, 26, 42-43, 45-47, 58, 61-62, 66, 76, 108, 190, 214
Henri Frankfort, The Art And Architecture Of The Ancient Orient, Fourth Edition, 1970, New Haven and London, Yale University Press. Pages 11, 18-19, 22, 128, 208, 253-255, 310
History of Architecture lecture presentations, notes, and diagrams: Ancient Near East – information on the temenos and lack of separation of functions, transitions from sacred to profane. Egypt – information on the naos and its relation to the Greek cella, first users of free-standing column. Greece – agora and acropolis, processional route, relation between temenos and acropolis, proportion.
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Ancient Mesopotamian temple, Protoliterate period, with buttresses and recesses on exterior
Palace of Phaistos, Crete, after 2000 B.C, showing recesses in walls and recessed doorway
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