During the early period (until 700 BCE), Greek
construction consisted mainly of houses with a few
temples. The common material for these buildings was mud
and bricks made of clay mixed with straw. In some areas,
however, stone was more easily available and used in
irregular blocks, with mud and small stones filling up the
gaps in between them. The buildings had a stone
foundation, with timber beams to support the walls and
ceiling. Roofs were either thatched or made of a flat
outer layer of clay, and supported by wooden posts.
The Pre-Classical period
From the 7th to the 5th centuries, Greece saw a
tremendous increase in the construction of temples and
public buildings, and their style of construction made its
way to other buildings as well. Walls were increasingly
made of precisely cut stone blocks, and beams and pillars
were also made out of stone. Large blocks of stone were
cut either by brute force or by inserting wooden wedges
into small cavities in the rock and then wetting them so
that they would swell slowly, breaking the stone in the
process. A similar technique was used by the medieval
Indian kings in making their huge temples.
The use of heavy stone blocks also required a much more
substantial foundation. They were much thicker than the
structure above them, and individual columns had their own
The stone blocks were then so finely shaped that no
cement was required to hold them together. Rather, their
natural weight was supplemented by wooden or lead dovetail
clamps between adjacent blocks in keeping them in place.
These were later reinforced by thin iron pieces whose ends
hooked into the blocks of stone, holding them together. Roofs were tiled and supported by wooden framework.
Columns were constructed from cylindrical sections of
stone stacked one above the other, and held by wooden
clamps through the centres of adjacent sections.
The Classical and Hellenistic periods
Walls were made in a variety of bonds (brick laying
patterns) to provide structural strength as well as for
maximum utilisation of available building material. These
varied from the common isodomic system which had rows of
cuboidal blocks arranged edgewise and lengthwise
alternatively, to the polygonal system in which the wall
face is made of multi-sided blocks with either straight or
The arch, an important structural feature, was brought
to Greece from Egypt and Asia, probably through the
expeditions of Alexander the Great1.
However, the structural
benefits of the arch were not fully utilised by Greeks,
unlike the Romans. This was probably because the Greeks
lacked the strong mortar the Romans used to hold blocks
together, and building an arch using only the precise fit
of the stone blocks to hold them in place was a difficult
important aspect of construction was the building of walls
and other structures to facilitate both attack and
defense. A common battle tactic was the building of
platforms by stacking timbers in a lattice next to the
city wall. City walls were also thickened and ports were
made for defensive weapons to be fired from behind the
wall. Towers at strategic points along the wall were as
many as four to five storeys high, the height providing
added range to siege weapons such as the catapult.
To shape the blocks of stone used in building walls and
columns, the Greeks used a variety of tools. Set squares
and levels ensured the evenness of faces, chisels of
various shapes were used to shape the blocks accurately,
and finishing was done with the help of abrasive stones
By the end of the 5th century, multiple pulley blocks
and winches were used to lift the heavy stone blocks;
evidence of ramps to lift heavier blocks is also seen.
J.J. Coulton, “Civilisation of the Ancient
Mediterranean”, (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988),p. 296.