Masons at Work

Seth Bernard
University of Pennsylvania,
The Two-Piece Corinthian Capital and the Strategies of the Roman Builder
The carving of Corinthian capitals in two separate blocks was a distinctive feature of the Roman Corinthian order from its inception in the 2nd century B.C.E. As I argue, this practice was characteristic of Rome—we see only limited or later parallels outside of the city itself, and some of these external cases can be linked to Roman masons. While the development of the Corinthian order, eventually the Roman order par excellence of the Imperial period, has received attention, this feature has gone largely unremarked upon. Yet, as this practice would appear to reveal a distinctly Roman approach to a Greek tradition, we have in these two-piece capitals an entry point into how Roman masons accepted and innovated paradigms and technologies derived from other cultures.

In this paper, I begin by reviewing the chronological and geographic development of the two-piece capital—this practice persisted into the Flavian period, and its disappearance, as well as its development, requires explanation (hint: monolithic columns). I then ask what sort of challenges the two-piece capital was meant to overcome. I focus on quarrying practices (less important), lifting technologies (more important), and general tectonic conceptions among Roman masons at work.