Anta in Architecture: History & Style

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

What's the purpose of a column? A pilaster? An anta? In this lesson, we'll see what defines the anta and find out how it differs from other Classical architectural elements.

Antae Up

If you've been studying classical architecture for any amount of time, you've probably arrived at the point when you wonder just how many different ways ancient Greeks and Romans could create vertical supports. You've got columns, engaged columns, arches, pillars, pilasters, and on and on. Well, today we add one more to the list: the anta.

An anta (plural: antae) is a vertical, rectangular structure at the end of the wall in a Greek stone temple. As opposed to columns, which are freestanding, antae are physically attached to the wall. In some cases, they are built as part of the wall itself by thickening the wall at the end, while in others the antae are made separately and attached. Either way, they became important parts of Greek temples. You have to admit, those ancients knew their support structures.

The antae are the rectangular pillars at either end of the temple porch
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Function

So, what's the purpose of the anta? This was a support structure in the truest sense of the word. Antae were placed on either end of the opening of the temple, where the roof was supported solely by columns. The antae helped hold this weight. The increased thickness and sturdiness of the antae also helped to reinforce the masonry walls that they were built into. A temple which has antae on both ends of the porch, with columns in between, is said to be built in antis.

Archeologists believe that the antae developed along with masonry architecture in ancient Greece; similar features are found in Egyptian architecture as well. Many elements of early Greek stone temples have features likely derived from their original wooden structures, and the anta may be one of them. It's known that early Greek brick temples reinforced the brick walls by placing a thick wooden post at the end of this wall along the porch. The anta is located in this same place, and has the same function, so the connection to previous architectural forms is fairly evident.

The antae of this Doric structure in Delphi are part of the wall, not separate features
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The Anta Versus the Column

If the anta has its own name, then it must be different than a column, right? Right. While both are important structural features, there are a few major differences. For one, true columns in Greek architecture are freestanding, while antae are part of the wall. Secondly, columns only hold up the roof, while antae also reinforce the wall. Visually, we can't ignore the fact that antae were rectangular while columns are always shaped like cylinders.

The biggest visual distinction, however, has to do with style. Ancient Greek architects took the rules of style very seriously, codified in the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders of Classical architecture. Columns were some of the most important visual features of each style. In fact, the easiest way to identify a temple's style is to check out the column's capitals.

Antae were exempt from the stylistic rules applied to columns. Antae bases, shafts, and capitals tended to be simplistic and plain, without the fluting or ornamentation of the Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian orders. Antae were still part of the overall design of the temple, helping to visually contain the structure with their thick and solid corners, but they were not as consistently defined by any order or style.

Antae capitals did not have to be decorated, but they sometimes were
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