In this lesson, you'll explore how the ancient Egyptians used one of the basic forms of architecture to create new buildings on a massive scale. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.
Like an Egyptian
Can you walk like an Egyptian? Actually, the ancient Egyptians, a culture that thrived from the 4th to the 1st millennia BC, did a lot more than just walk. They built a massive civilization and filled it with some of the most notable examples of monumental architecture, or extremely large buildings, in the world. Some of these architectural forms have stayed with us to this day. Turns out, we do a lot more than just walk like Egyptians. In this lesson, we'll explore the post-and-lintel system of Egyptian architecture and learn how the Egyptians created massive structures.
Post and Lintel
One of the oldest forms of construction in the world is the system of the post and lintel, in which a large horizontal piece is supported by two vertical pillars. The pillars are the post, and the horizontal piece is the lintel. The post-and-lintel system has been used since the Stone Age, so why does it matter if the Egyptians used it?
The ancient Egyptians used the post-and-lintel system for more than stone monuments. They used it to make entire buildings out of stone, which was much more difficult. However, the Egyptians weren't just making small houses. They were building massive palaces for the pharaohs and temples for the gods. For this to work, the Egyptians needed massive slabs of stone to use as lintels, and a great number of columns to support the weight. With this style of construction, the lintels became the roof, supported by large walls and dozens of interior columns.
The ancient Egyptians were some of the first people to really embrace architecture on a large scale, creating huge temples. One notable example of this style of architecture is the Luxor Temple, built around 1400 BC.
The Luxor temple is a good example of post-and-lintel architecture
The post-and-lintel system used in Egypt required a lot of columns to provide support
An even older example of the Egyptians' use of posts and lintels to build massive structures comes from the Karnak temple complex, a massive system of temples and religious buildings built around 3200 BC. The most famous section of this complex is the hypostyle hall, an architectural term for an interior space filled with rows of columns. The entire hall was 50,000 square feet large. Originally, the entire space was covered by a massive stone roof, supported by columns in a post-and-lintel system. To support the weight of the ceiling, the hall featured 134 columns, aligned in 16 rows. The largest of these columns were almost 10 feet wide and 80 feet tall. The lintels that would have sat on top of these columns are estimated to have weighed up to 70 tons. Moving stones of this size and weight took incredible effort and some advanced engineering innovations. This made the Egyptian use of post and lintel unique; almost nobody else at this time was able to create such monumental structures from such a basic architectural system.
A post and lintel is an architectural system where a horizontal piece is supported by two vertical posts, or columns. This is a basic form of architecture that has been used since ancient times, but the Egyptians used it for monumental architecture, or buildings that are massive in size and scale. They also used columns to support the weight of giant slabs of stone to make large, covered buildings, as well as hallways, courtyards, and other features. Most of these major buildings were temples to the gods. One example is the Luxor Temple, built around 1400 BC. Like most Egyptian temples, it is full of columns. The disadvantage to the post-and-lintel system is that many posts are required to support the weight of a heavy lintel. This is also evident at the Karnak temple complex, built much earlier, around 3200 BC. Karnak features a 50,000 square foot hypostyle hall, or room filled with rows of columns. Of the 134 columns needed to support the weight of the stone ceiling, the largest are 80 feet tall and almost 10 feet wide. These massive columns could support the weight of a 70-ton slab of stone. The ancient Egyptians were not the first to use the post and lintel, but they were one of the first cultures to turn it into massive works of architecture.
Your understanding of this lesson's content could enable you to:
- Describe the post-and-lintel system
- Assess the development and utilization of the post-and-lintel system
- Identify examples of the post-and-lintel system at work in ancient Egypt