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Ruins of the aedes of Vesta

Aedes (gen. aedis, fem.) The normal Latin word for "a building in which a deity resided" was aedes.[1] The aedes was the building itself and it might be erected in a templum or not.[1]



The aedes was the dwelling place of a god.[2] It was thus a structure that housed the deity's image, a temple, as distinguished from the templum or sacred district. [3] Aedes is one of several Latin words that can be translated as "shrine" or "temple"; see also delubrum and fanum. For instance, the Temple of Vesta, as it is called in English, was in Latin an aedes.[4] See also the diminutive aedicula, a small shrine.

In his work On Architecture, Vitruvius always uses the word templum in the technical sense of a space defined through augury, with aedes the usual word for the building itself.[5] The design of a deity's aedes, he writes, should be appropriate to the characteristics of the deity. For a celestial deity such as Jupiter, Coelus, Sol or Luna, the building should be open to the sky; an aedes for a god embodying virtus (valour), such as Minerva, Mars, or Hercules, should be Doric and without frills; the Corinthian order is suited for goddesses such as Venus, Flora, Proserpina and the Lymphae; and the Ionic is a middle ground between the two for Juno, Diana, and Father Liber. Thus in theory, though not always in practice, architectural aesthetics had a theological dimension.[6]

The word aedilis (aedile), a public official, is related by etymology; among the duties of the aediles was the overseeing of public works, including the building and maintenance of temples.[7] The temple (aedes) of Flora, for instance, was built in 241 BC by two aediles acting on Sibylline oracles. The plebeian aediles had their headquarters at the aedes of Ceres.[8]

A temple, the word containing the root of the Greek τέμενος. In ancient times temples were regarded as the dwelling-places and treasuries of the gods to whom they were dedicated. They might contain an image or not, but the latter case was exceptional. As they were not houses of worship intended for the devotion of a great multitude, they were usually of very limited extent. There were, however, temples of considerable size, among which was that of Artemis in Ephesus, 438 feet long by 226 broad; that of Heré in Samos; that begun by Pisistratus and finished by Hadrian, and dedicated to Zeus Olympius in Athens; and the temple of Zeus at Agrigentum, which was never wholly completed. All of these were nearly as large as the first mentioned. Only temples like that at Eleusis, in which the celebration of the Mysteries took place, were intended to accommodate a larger number of people. The great sacrifices and banquets shared by all the people were celebrated in the court of the temple (περίβολος), which included the altars for sacrifice, and was itself surrounded by a wall with only one place of entrance. It was a feature common to all temples that they were not built directly on the surface of the ground, but were raised on a substructure which was mounted by means of an uneven number of steps, so that people were able as a good omen to put their right foot on the first and last step.[9] [10]

The usual shape of Greek temples was an oblong about twice as long as wide, at the front and back of which was a pediment or gable-roof (ἀετός, ἀέτωμα, fastigium). Round temples with dome-shaped roofs were the exception. The principal part of the temple was the chamber containing the image of the god. This stood upon a pedestal which was often placed in a small niche (aedicula) and usually stood facing the east, opposite foldingdoors which always opened outwards. Before the image stood an altar used for bloodless sacrifices. This chamber, called in Greek ναός, and in Latin cella, generally received its light through the open door alone, but sometimes there was also an opening in the roof. There were also temples designated hypaethral (from ὕπαιθρος, “in the open air”); in these there was no roof to the middle chamber of the cella, which was separated from the lateral portions by one or more rows of pillars on each side. [11]


Generally each temple belonged to only one god; but sometimes a temple was regarded as the dwelling-place of several deities, either those who were worshipped in groups, as the Muses, or those who were supposed to stand in close alliance or other relationship to each other, such as the twins Apollo and Artemis, and Apollo, as leader of the Muses, together with the Muses themselves. Frequently only one god had an image and altar in the chief cella, while others were worshipped in adjoining chapels. Lastly, there were double temples, with two cellae built in opposite directions. Many temples had, besides the cella, a kind of Holy of Holies (ἄδυτον, μέγαρον) which was entered only by the priests, and by them only at certain times, and which was sometimes under the ground. Usually an open porch or vestibule (πρόναος), with pillars in front, stood before the cella, and in it were exposed the dedicatory offerings. There was often also an inner chamber behind the image (ὀπισθόδομος) which served for various purposes, the valuables and money belonging to the temple being often kept there. It was surrounded by a wall, and the door was well secured by locks. [12]

Various kinds of aedes

The various kinds of temples are usually distinguished according to the number and arrangement of the pillars. Thus:

  • 1. A temple in antis (ἐνπαράστασι) is one in which the pronaos (sometimes also the opisthodomos) was formed by the prolongation of the side walls of the temple (παράσταδες, antae) and by two columns placed between the terminal pilasters of the antae (q.v.).
  • 2. Prostylos (πρόστυλος), with the columns in front (fig. 1), is an epithet descriptive of a temple, the front of whose pronaos was formed in all its breadth by a row of columns quite separate from the walls, and with the columns at the extremities standing in front of the antae.
  • 3. Amphiprostylos (ἀμφιπρόστυ-λος) describes a temple (fig. 2) with the columns arranged at the back as well as in the front.
  • 4. Peripteros (περίπτερος) describes a temple (fig. 3) surrounded on all sides by a colonnade supporting the architrave. This is the type most frequently employed by the Greeks.
  • 5. Pseudoperipteros (ψευδοπερίπτερος, “falsely peripteros”) is an epithet of a temple in which the architrave appears to be carried by pilasters or by “engaged” columns in the walls of the cella. This form is seldom used by the Greeks, but often by the Romans.
  • 6. Dipteros (δίπτερος) describes a temple (fig. 5) surrounded by two ranges of columns.
  • 7. Pseudodipteros (ψευδοδίπτερος, “falsely dipteros,” fig. 6). A temple surrounded with only a single range of columns, but at such a distance that they correspond in position to the exterior range of the dipteral temple. [13]

According to the number of columns in front, 'which must always be an even number, since the entrance was in the middle, it is usual to distinguish temples as tetra-, hexa-, octa-, deca-, or dodecastylos (with four, six, eight, ten, or twelve columns). The number of columns along each side was usually one more than twice the number along the front, but this was not the invariable rule. The frieze resting on the architrave, and (in the Doric order) the metopes (μέτοπαι) in particular (q. v.), as well as the two pediments (τύμπανα), were decorated with sculptures, and these sculptures, as well as the walls of the temple, often had more life-like and more varied appearance given to them by appropriate colouring. The coping of the roof, as well as the angles of the pediment, was ornamented by ἀκροτήρια, which consisted of statues, vases, or ἀνθέμια, groups of flowers and leaves. [14]

The Roman temple

In the plan of their temples the Romans originally followed the Etruscans. The ground-plan of the Etruscan temple was nearly a square, the ratio of the depth to frontage being as six to five. Half of the space was taken up by the cella and the rest by the columns. The architrave was of wood, and without any special frieze. The great temple with three cellae on the Roman Capitol was built in the Etruscan style, the middle and largest cella being sacred to Iupiter, and the smaller ones on either side to Minerva and Iuno. Under Greek influence the different forms of the Greek temple began to be imitated at Rome, the most prevalent type being that described as prostylos, which lent itself most easily to the requirements of a templum in the strict sense of the term. An important alteration in the Greek form of temple was brought about by the introduction of vaulted arches or groined ceilings, which were seldom used by the Greeks, and never on a large scale, but were brought to great perfection by the Romans. They took the form of a cylindrical vaulting in the case of a quadrangular cella and a dome in the case of the round temples, which were frequent with the Romans. The two principal forms of the latter are:

  • 1. The monopteros, which consisted of a single circle of columns standing on a platform mounted by steps and supporting the columns which bore a dome on a circular architrave.
  • 2. The peripteros, with the same arrangement of columns, but with a circular cella in the middle which was covered by a dome rising from the surrounding colonnade. In a third variety, of which we have an example in the Pantheon (q.v.), the circular body of the building is not surrounded by columns externally, but only provided on one side with an advanced portico.

Roman temple ruins

The following are the principal temples at Rome of which some remains still exist:

  • The Temple of Vesta, at the south of the Forum. Part of the very early tufa foundations and some fallen fragments of columns and entablatures remain. See Roma, p. 1381.
  • The Pantheon, the most perfectly preserved of all. See Pantheon.
  • The Temple of Castor, at the south angle of the Forum. A fine octastyle, peripteral building of the Corinthian order. Built in the reign of Augustus on the site of an older structure.
  • The Temple of Divus Iulius, near that of Castor, built by Augustus. Very scanty remains exist.
  • The Temple of Concord, near the Tabularium of the Capitol. Rebuilt by Augustus. Little but the podium remains.
  • The Temple of Vespasian, near that of Concord. A prostyle, hexastyle building of the Corinthian order. Built by Titus and Domitian. Three marble columns remain.
  • The Temple of Faustina, at the eastern angle of the Forum. A prostyle, hexastyle building of the Corinthian order, built by Antoninus Pius in memory of his wife Faustina. Except for the back wall of the cella, the temple is still fairly well preserved.
  • The Temple of Mars Ultor, in the Forum of Augustus, built by him to commemorate the vengeance inflicted on the murderers of Iulius Caesar. A good part of it still exists.
  • Temple of Roma Aeterna and Venus Felix, built by Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. It was a deca style dipteral temple of the Corinthian order, and remains of its concrete podium exist to-day on the north side of the Via Sacra.

There are well-preserved ruins of Roman temples at Ancyra in Galatia and elsewhere in Asia Minor, in Northern Africa, at Nîmes in France (Nemausus), and in England. [15]

The Greek temple

The following are the principal Greek temples of which some remains still exist: [16]


  • Syracuse, island of Ortygia, Temple of Artemis, hexastyle, very archaic, scanty remains. Seventh century B.C., or even earlier.
  • Selinus, Sicily, three temples on the Acropolis, all hexastyle, with nineteen, fourteen, and thirteen columns respectively on the flanks, of local limestone, very early in style. Seventh century.
  • Syracuse, Ortygia, Temple of Athené, hexastyle, now built into the cathedral. Late seventh century.
  • Selinus, great Temple of Zeus in the Agora, octastyle, with seventeen columns on the flanks: never finished. Seventh century.
  • Corinth, hexastyle temple, with fifteen columns on the flanks; only seven columns now remain. Late seventh century.
  • Segesta, Sicily, hexastyle temple", the peristyle perfect, but the cella wholly gone, probably unfinished. Sixth century.
  • Agrigentum, Sicily, the great Temple of Zeus, heptastyle, with fourteen columns on the flanks, pseudoperipteral, slight remains. Sixth century.
  • Aegina, hexastyle temple, with twelve columns on the flanks; very perfect. Sixth century.
  • Paestum (Lucania), the so-called Temple of Poseidon, hexastyle, with fourteen columns on the flanks; very perfect. Sixth century. See illustration under Paestum.
  • Delphi, Temple of the Pythian Apollo, hexastyle, peripteral; designed by Spintharus of Corinth soon after the burning of the previous temple (the fourth on that site) in the year B.C. 548. Second half of the sixth century.
  • Agrigentum, Sicily, three hexastyle temples, two of them very perfect. Late sixth or early fifth century.
  • Selinus, the middle temple on the Agora. About B.C. 500.
  • Assos, Asia Minor, hexastyle, with sculpture on the architrave, very rude in style, scanty remains. About B.C. 480.
  • Athens, so-called Temple of Theseus, hexastyle, with thirteen columns on the flanks, very perfect. About B.C. 465. See illustration on p. 151.
  • Olympia, Temple of Zeus, built by Libon of Elis, hexastyle, with thirteen columns on the flanks; slight remains standing. B.C. 469-457.
  • Olympia, the Heraeum, a mixture of many dates, mostly destroyed, hexastyle, with sixteen columns on the flanks.
  • Athens, the Parthenon, octastyle, with seventeen columns on the flanks, still fairly perfect, built by Ictinus. B.C. 450-438. See Parthenon.
  • Selinus, hexastyle temple in the Agora. Middle of fifth century.
  • Sunium, Attica, hexastyle, a few columns only remaining. Middle of fifth century.
  • Bassae, Temple of Apollo Epicurius, hexastyle, with fifteen columns on the flanks, built by Ictinus, still fairly perfect. About B.C. 440.
  • Rhamnus, Attica, Temple of Nemesis, hexastyle, peripteral; and Temple of Themis, cella with portico in antis, and walls of polygonal masonry, a late survival of this early method of building. Middle of the fifth century.
  • Eleusis, the Hall of the Mysteries, with a dodecastyle portico, which is a later addition. About B.C. 440-220.
  • Tegea, Temple of Athené Alea, built by Scopas, hexastyle, with thirteen columns on the flanks; date soon after B.C. 393.
  • Paestum, enneastyle temple, and a small hexastyle temple, probably built by native Lucanian architects in the fourth century B.C.


  • Athens, the temple of Niké Apteros and the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.
  • Olympia, the circular Philippeum with eighteen Ionic columns outside, and, inside the cella, engaged columns of the Corinthian order: similar in plan to the Roman Temple of Vesta. See Roma, p. 1381.

In Asia Minor

  • Sardis, Temple of Cybelé, octastyle, with columns sixty feet high, of which only three remain, date about B.C. 500.
  • Xanthus in Lycia, Heroon of unknown dedication, a small tetrastyle, peripteral building on a lofty podium. Its sculpture is now in the British Museum. The date is doubtful, but it is probably not earlier than about B.C. 400.
  • The Troad, Temple of Apollo Smintheus, octastyle, pseudo-dipteral, with very close (pycnostyle) intercolumniation. Most of the existing building seems to date from a period probably about B.C. 400 to 350.
  • Samos, Temple of Heré, decastyle, dipteral. The existing temple is of the fourth century B.C. An earlier temple on the same site was built in the seventh century B.C. by Rhoecus of Samos.
  • Magnesia ad Maeandrum, Temple of Artemis Leucophryne, hexastyle, pseudo-dipteral, built by Hermogenes about B.C. 350.
  • Teos, Temple of Dionysus, hexastyle, also built by Hermogenes about B.C. 350.
  • Priené, Temple of Athené Polias, hexastyle, very similar to the temple at Teos; it was built in the second half of the fourth century B.C. and was dedicated by Alexander the Great.
  • Branchidae near Miletus, Temple of Apollo Didymaeus; decastyle, dipteral. This and the temple at Samos were the only two Greek decastyle temples.
  • Ephesus, Temple of Artemis (Artemision), octastyle, dipteral, built during the reign of Alexander the Great, B.C. 356-323. In many respects the most celebrated and magnificent temple of all Greece. See Ephesus.

Figurative illustrations from above


Aedes-fig4.jpgAedes-fig5-6.jpg [17]


  1. 1.1 1.2 Scheid, J., (2003) An Introduction to Roman Religion. (J. Lloyd trans.) ISBN 0253216605
  2. Robert Schilling, "Roman Gods", Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), p. 72.
  3. John W. Stamper, The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 10.
  4. Mary Beard, Simon Price, John North, Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998. p. 22.
  5. Morris H. Morgan, Notes on Vitruvius Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 17 (1906, pp. 12–14).
  6. Vitruvius, De architectura 1.2.5; John E. Stambaugh, "The Functions of Roman Temples," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.16.1 (1978), p. 561.
  7. Andrew Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999, reprinted 2002), pp. 129–130; Karl Loewenstein, The Governance of Rome (Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), p. 62.
  8. Lawrence Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 80–81 on Ceres, p. 151 on Flora; see also Barbette Stanley Spaeth, The Roman Goddess Ceres (University of Texas Press, 1996), p. 86ff.
  9. Vitruv. iii. 4, 8; cf. Petron. 30
  10. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  11. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  12. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  13. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  14. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  15. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  16. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,
  17. ”Aedes.” Perseus Digital Library,

Additional References

  • Nissen, Das Templum (Berlin, 1869)
  • Michaelis, Der Parthenon (1875)
  • Fergusson, History of Architecture, 4 vols. (London and New York, 1865-1876; new ed. 1891)
  • Falkener, Ephesus and the Temple of Diana (London, 1862)
  • Fergusson, The Parthenon (on the lighting of temples) (London, 1883)
  • Norton, The Temple of Zeus at Olympia (Philadelphia, 1877) and the article Architectura.
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