The Ten Books on Architecture, 2.8

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Methods of Building Walls

8There are two styles of walls: “opus reticulatum,” now used by everybody, and the ancient style called “opus incertum.” Of these, the reticulatum looks better, but its construction makes it likely to crack, because its beds and builds spread out in every direction. On the other hand, in the opus incertum, the rubble, lying in courses and imbricated, makes a wall which, though not beautiful, is stronger than the reticulatum.

2Both kinds should be constructed of the smallest stones, so that the walls, being thoroughly puddled with the mortar, which is made of lime and sand, may hold together longer. Since the stones used are soft and porous, they are apt to suck the moisture out of the mortar and so to dry it up. But when there is abundance of lime and sand, the wall, containing more moisture, will not soon lose its strength, for they will hold it together. But as soon as the moisture is sucked out of the mortar by the porous rubble, and the lime and sand separate and disunite, the rubble can no longer adhere to them and the wall will in time become a ruin.

3This we may learn from several monuments in the environs of the city, which are built of marble or dimension stone, but on the inside packed with masonry between the outer walls. In the course of time, the mortar has lost its strength, which has been sucked out of it by the porousness of the rubble; and so the monuments are tumbling down and going to pieces, with their joints loosened by the settling of the material that bound them together.

4He who wishes to avoid such a disaster should leave a cavity behind the facings, and on the inside build walls two feet thick, made of red dimension stone or burnt brick or lava in courses, and then bind them to the fronts by means of iron clamps and lead. For thus his work, being no mere heap of material but regularly laid in courses, will be strong enough to last forever without a flaw, because the beds and builds, all settling equally and bonded at the joints, will not let the work bulge out, nor allow the fall of the face walls which have been tightly fastened together.

5Consequently, the method of construction employed by the Greeks is not to be despised. They do not use a structure of soft rubble polished on the outside, but whenever they forsake dimension stone, they lay courses of lava or of some hard stone, and, as though building with brick, they bind the upright joints by interchanging the direction of the stones as they lie in the courses. Thus they attain to a perfection that will endure to eternity. These structures are of two kinds. One of them is called “isodomum,” the other “pseudisodomum.”

6A wall is called isodomum when all the courses are of equal height; pseudisodomum, when the rows of courses do not match but run unequally. Both kinds are strong: first, because the rubble itself is of close texture and solid, unable to suck the moisture out of the mortar, but keeping it in its moist condition for a very long period; secondly, because the beds of the stones, being laid smooth and level to begin with, keep the mortar from falling, and, as they are bonded throughout the entire thickness of the wall, they hold together for a very long period.

7Another method is that which they call ἑμπλεκτον, used also among us in the country. In this the facings are finished, but the other stones left in their natural state and then laid with alternate bonding stones. But our workmen, in their hurry to finish, devote themselves only to the facings of the walls, setting them upright but filling the space between with a lot of broken stones and mortar thrown in anyhow. This makes three different sections in the same structure; two consisting of facing and one of filling between them. The Greeks, however, do not build so; but laying their stones level and building every other stone length-wise into the thickness, they do not fill the space between, but construct the thickness of their walls in one solid and unbroken mass from the facings to the interior. Further, at intervals they lay single stones which run through the entire thickness of the wall. These stones, which show at each end, are called διἁτονοι, and by their bonding powers they add very greatly to the solidity of the walls.

8One who in accordance with these notes will take pains in selecting his method of construction, may count upon having something that will last. No walls made of rubble and finished with delicate beauty—no such walls can escape ruin as time goes on. Hence, when arbitrators are chosen to set a valuation on party walls, they do not value them at what they cost to build, but look up the written contract in each case and then, after deducting from the cost one eightieth for each year that the wall has been standing, decide that the remainder is the sum to be paid. They thus in effect pronounce that such walls cannot last more than eighty years.

9In the case of brick walls, however, no deduction is made provided that they are still standing plumb, but they are always valued at what they cost to build. Hence in some states we may see public buildings and private houses, as well as those of kings, built of brick: in Athens, for example, the part of the wall which faces Mt. Hymettus and Pentelicus; at Patras, the cellae of the temple of Jupiter and Hercules, which are brick, although on the outside the entablature and columns of the temple are of stone; in Italy, at Arezzo, an ancient wall excellently built; at Tralles, the house built for the kings of the dynasty of Attalus, which is now always granted to the man who holds the state priesthood. In Sparta, paintings have been taken out of certain walls by cutting through the bricks, then have been placed in wooden frames, and so brought to the Comitium to adorn the aedileship of Varro and Murena.

10Then there is the house of Croesus which the people of Sardis have set apart as a place of repose for their fellow-citizens in the retirement of age,—a “Gerousia” for the guild of the elder men. At Halicarnassus, the house of that most potent king Mausolus, though decorated throughout with Proconnesian marble, has walls built of brick which are to this day of extraordinary strength, and are covered with stucco so highly polished that they seem to be as glistening as glass. That king did not use brick from poverty; for he was choke-full of revenues, being ruler of all Caria.

11As for his skill and ingenuity as a builder, they may be seen from what follows. He was born at Melassa, but recognizing the natural advantages of Halicarnassus as a fortress, and seeing that it was suitable as a trading centre and that it had a good harbour, he fixed his residence there. The place had a curvature like that of the seats in a theatre. On the lowest tier, along the harbour, was built the forum. About half-way up the curving slope, at the point where the curved cross-aisle is in a theatre, a broad wide street was laid out, in the middle of which was built the Mausoleum, a work so remarkable that it is classed among the Seven Wonders of the World. At the top of the hill, in the centre, is the fane of Mars, containing a colossal acrolithic statue by the famous hand of Leochares. That is, some think that this statue is by Leochares, others by Timotheus. At the extreme right of the summit is the fane of Venus and Mercury, close to the spring of Salmacis.

12There is a mistaken idea that this spring infects those who drink of it with an unnatural lewdness. It will not be out of place to explain how this idea came to spread throughout the world from a mistake in the telling of the tale. It cannot be that the water makes men effeminate and unchaste, as it is said to do; for the spring is of remarkable clearness and excellent in flavour. The fact is that when Melas and Arevanias came there from Argos and Troezen and founded a colony together, they drove out the Carians and Lelegans who were barbarians. These took refuge in the mountains, and, uniting there, used to make raids, plundering the Greeks and laying their country waste in a cruel manner. Later, one of the colonists, to make money, set up a well-stocked shop, near the spring because the water was so good, and the way in which he carried it on attracted the barbarians. So they began to come down, one at a time, and to meet with society, and thus they were brought back of their own accord, giving up their rough and savage ways for the delights of Greek customs. Hence this water acquired its peculiar reputation, not because it really induced unchastity, but because those barbarians were softened by the charm of civilization.

13But since I have been tempted into giving a description of this fortified place, it remains to finish my account of it. Corresponding to the fane of Venus and the spring described above, which are on the right, we have on the extreme left the royal palace which king Mausolus built there in accordance with a plan all his own. To the right it commands a view of the forum, the harbour, and the entire line of fortifications, while just below it, to the left, there is a concealed harbour, hidden under the walls in such a way that nobody could see or know what was going on in it. Only the king himself could, in case of need, give orders from his own palace to the oarsmen and soldiers, without the knowledge of anybody else.

14After the death of Mausolus, his wife Artemisia became queen, and the Rhodians, regarding it as an outrage that a woman should be ruler of the states of all Caria, fitted out a fleet and sallied forth to seize upon the kingdom. When news of this reached Artemisia, she gave orders that her fleet should be hidden away in that harbour with oarsmen and marines mustered and concealed, but that the rest of the citizens should take their places on the city wall. After the Rhodians had landed at the larger harbour with their well-equipped fleet, she ordered the people on the wall to cheer them and to promise that they would deliver up the town. Then, when they had passed inside the wall, leaving their fleet empty, Artemisia suddenly made a canal which led to the sea, brought her fleet thus out of the smaller harbour, and so sailed into the larger. Disembarking her soldiers, she towed the empty fleet of the Rhodians out to sea. So the Rhodians were surrounded without means of retreat, and were slain in the very forum.

15So Artemisia embarked her own soldiers and oarsmen in the ships of the Rhodians and set forth for Rhodes. The Rhodians, beholding their own ships approaching wreathed with laurel, supposed that their fellow-citizens were returning victorious, and admitted the enemy. Then Artemisia, after taking Rhodes and killing its leading men, put up in the city of Rhodes a trophy of her victory, including two bronze statues, one representing the state of the Rhodians, the other herself. Herself she fashioned in the act of branding the state of the Rhodians. In later times the Rhodians, labouring under the religious scruple which makes it a sin to remove trophies once they are dedicated, constructed a building to surround the place, and thus by the erection of the “Grecian Station” covered it so that nobody could see it, and ordered that the building be called “ἁβατον.”

16Since such very powerful kings have not disdained walls built of brick, although with their revenues and from booty they might often have had them not only of masonry or dimension stone but even of marble, I think that one ought not to reject buildings made of brick-work, provided that they are properly “topped.” But I shall explain why this kind of structure should not be used by the Roman people within the city, not omitting the reasons and the grounds for them.

17The laws of the state forbid that walls abutting on public property should be more than a foot and a half thick. The other walls are built of the same thickness in order to save space. Now brick walls, unless two or three bricks thick, cannot support more than one story; certainly not if they are only a foot and a half in thickness. But with the present importance of the city and the unlimited numbers of its population, it is necessary to increase the number of dwelling-places indefinitely. Consequently, as the ground floors could not admit of so great a number living in the city, the nature of the case has made it necessary to find relief by making the buildings high. In these tall piles reared with piers of stone, walls of burnt brick, and partitions of rubble work, and provided with floor after floor, the upper stories can be partitioned off into rooms to very great advantage. The accommodations within the city walls being thus multiplied as a result of the many floors high in the air, the Roman people easily find excellent places in which to live.

18It has now been explained how limitations of building space necessarily forbid the employment of brick walls within the city. When it becomes necessary to use them outside the city, they should be constructed as follows in order to be perfect and durable. On the top of the wall lay a structure of burnt brick, about a foot and a half in height, under the tiles and projecting like a coping. Thus the defects usual in these walls can be avoided. For when the tiles on the roof are broken or thrown down by the wind so that rain-water can leak through, this burnt brick coating will prevent the crude brick from being damaged, and the cornice-like projection will throw off the drops beyond the vertical face, and thus the walls, though of crude brick structure, will be preserved intact.

19With regard to burnt brick, nobody can tell offhand whether it is of the best or unfit to use in a wall, because its strength can be tested only after it has been used on a roof and exposed to bad weather and time—then, if it is good it is accepted. If not made of good clay or if not baked sufficiently, it shows itself defective there when exposed to frosts and rime. Brick that will not stand exposure on roofs can never be strong enough to carry its load in a wall. Hence the strongest burnt brick walls are those which are constructed out of old roofing tiles.

20As for “wattle and daub” I could wish that it had never been invented. The more it saves in time and gains in space, the greater and the more general is the disaster that it may cause; for it is made to catch fire, like torches. It seems better, therefore, to spend on walls of burnt brick, and be at expense, than to save with “wattle and daub,” and be in danger. And, in the stucco covering, too, it makes cracks from the inside by the arrangement of its studs and girts. For these swell with moisture as they are daubed, and then contract as they dry, and, by their shrinking, cause the solid stucco to split. But since some are obliged to use it either to save time or money, or for partitions on an unsupported span, the proper method of construction is as follows. Give it a high foundation so that it may nowhere come in contact with the broken stone-work composing the floor; for if it is sunk in this, it rots in course of time, then settles and sags forward, and so breaks through the surface of the stucco covering.

I have now explained to the best of my ability the subject of walls, and the preparation of the different kinds of material employed, with their advantages and disadvantages. Next, following the guidance of Nature, I shall treat of the frame-work and the kinds of wood used in it, showing how they may be procured of a sort that will not give way as time goes on.

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