Town (or Urban) Planning in ancient Greece

Michael Lahanas

Stadtplanung im antiken Griechenland

Urban Planning: programs pursued in most industrialized countries in an attempt to achieve certain social and economic objectives, in particular to shape and improve the urban environment in which increasing proportions of the world's population spend their lives. Encyclopedia Britannica

The arrangement of private dwellings is considered to be more pleasant and more convenient for other purposes if it is regularly planned, both according to the newer and according to the Hippodamian manner; but for security in war [the arrangement is more useful if it is planned in] the opposite [manner], as it used to be in ancient times. For that [arrangement] is difficult for foreign troops to enter and find their way about when attacking. Aristotle

Plan of Miletus around 470 BC
A higher resolution Plan of Miletus

A color version and a map of the region around Miletus

The invention of formal city planning was attributed to Hippodamus (or Hippodamos) of Miletus (Ιππόδαμος ο Μιλήσιος) (c. 498- c. 408 BC). Hippodamus helped to design the new harbor town of Piraeus, which served as a commercial port for Athens further inland. Hippodamus' name is frequently associated with other orthogonally planned towns, such as Olynthus, Priene, and Miletus. His direct involvement in these cases remains unproven, but his name remains permanently associated with this type of plan that we call Hippodamian.

The catapult played a key role in making urban life in the fourth century B.C. significantly more precarious. During his first five years in power Alexander captured five major cities and many smaller ones. A passage in the Politics of Aristotle (Alexander’s tutor) reflects the change. Rational town planning, with straight streets intersecting to form quadrilateral city blocks, had just been popularized in Greece by the architect Hippodamus. Aristotle objected that at least part of every city should preserve the haphazard arrangement of earlier times to make it more difficult for invaders to fight their way in. Moreover, he wrote, the design of walls and their careful maintenance was particularly important at that time, “when…catapults and other engines for the siege of cities [have] attained such a high degree of precision. Werner Soedel and Vernard Foley Ancient Catapults

Hippodamus arranged the buildings and the streets of Miletus around 450 BC such that the winds from the mountains and the sea close to Miletus could flow optimal through the city and provide a cooling during the hot summer. In De architectura libri decem Vitruvius also mentions that in planning we have to consider the influence of the winds. Hippodamus first applied to his home city the grid plan which he had developed on inspiration from geometrically designed settlements, and that later many cities were laid out according to this plan. Miletus, which is a fine example of the grid plan, comprises houses on blocks created by streets and side streets crossing at right angles, with public buildings in the city centre, This plan retained in the Hellenistic period, however in the Roman period it began to deteriorate gradually and inevitably.

The Greeks were the first to use solar architecture They oriented their houses to make use of the sun during winter, while obscuring its rays during summer and entire cities were built this way as early as 400 BC.

According to R. Herzog the root of rational urban planning can be found also in the comedy of Aristophanes: The satire as complement to the utopia may confront us with rational management of space, money, work, sexual relationships.

Aristotle Politics concerning political and social ideas of Hippodamus:

Hippodamus, the son of Euryphon, a native of Miletus, the same who invented the art of planning cities, and who also laid out the Piraeus—a strange man, whose fondness for distinction led him into a general eccentricity of life, which made some think him affected (for he would wear flowing hair and expensive ornaments; but these were worn on a cheap but warm garment both in winter and summer); he, besides aspiring to be an adept in the knowledge of nature, was the first person not a statesman who made inquiries about the best form of government.

The city of Hippodamus was composed of 10,000 citizens divided into three parts—one of artisans, one of husbandmen, and a third of armed defenders of the state. He also divided the land into three parts, one sacred, one public, the third private: the first was set apart to maintain the customary worship of the Gods, the second was to support the warriors, the third was the property of the husbandmen. He also divided laws into three classes, and no more, for he maintained that there are three subjects of lawsuits—insult, injury, and homicide. He likewise instituted a single final court of appeal, to which all causes seeming to have been improperly decided might be referred; this court he formed of elders chosen for the purpose. He was further of opinion that the decisions of the courts ought not to be given by the use of a voting pebble, but that every one should have a tablet on which he might not only write a simple condemnation, or leave the tablet blank for a simple acquittal; but, if he partly acquitted and partly condemned, he was to distinguish accordingly. To the existing law he objected that it obliged the judges to be guilty of perjury, whichever way they voted. He also enacted that those who discovered anything for the good of the state should be honored; and he provided that the children of citizens who died in battle should be maintained at the public expense, as if such an enactment had never been heard of before, yet it actually exists at Athens and in other places. As to the magistrates, he would have them all elected by the people, that is, by the three classes already mentioned, and those who were elected were to watch over the interests of the public, of strangers, and of orphans. These are the most striking points in the constitution of Hippodamus. There is not much else.

The first of these proposals to which objection may be taken is the threefold division of the citizens. The artisans, and the husbandmen, and the warriors, all have a share in the government. But the husbandmen have no arms, and the artisans neither arms nor land, and therefore they become all but slaves of the warrior class. That they should share in all the offices is an impossibility; for generals and guardians of the citizens, and nearly all the principal magistrates, must be taken from the class of those who carry arms. Yet, if the two other classes have no share in the government, how can they be loyal citizens? It may be said that those who have arms must necessarily be masters of both the other classes, but this is not so easily accomplished unless they are numerous; and if they are, why should the other classes share in the government at all, or have power to appoint magistrates? Further, what use are farmers to the city? Artisans there must be, for these are wanted in every city, and they can live by their craft, as elsewhere; and the husbandmen too, if they really provided the warriors with food, might fairly have a share in the government. But in the republic of Hippodamus they are supposed to have land of their own, which they cultivate for their private benefit. Again, as to this common land out of which the soldiers are maintained, if they are themselves to be the cultivators of it, the warrior class will be identical with the husbandmen, although the legislator intended to make a distinction between them. If, again, there are to be other cultivators distinct both from the husbandmen, who have land of their own, and from the warriors, they will make a fourth class, which has no place in the state and no share in anything. Or, if the same persons are to cultivate their own lands, and those of the public as well, they will have difficulty in supplying the quantity of produce which will maintain two households: and why, in this case, should there be any division, for they might find food themselves and give to the warriors from the same land and the same lots? There is surely a great confusion in all this.

Neither is the law to commended which says that the judges, when a simple issue is laid before them, should distinguish in their judgement; for the judge is thus converted into an arbitrator. Now, in an arbitration, although the arbitrators are many, they confer with one another about the decision, and therefore they can distinguish; but in courts of law this is impossible, and, indeed, most legislators take pains to prevent the judges from holding any communication with one another. Again, will there not be confusion if the judge thinks that damages should be given, but not so much as the suitor demands? He asks, say, for twenty minae, and the judge allows him ten minae (or in general the suitor asks for more and the judge allows less), while another judge allows five, another four minae. In this way they will go on splitting up the damages, and some will grant the whole and others nothing: how is the final reckoning to be taken? Again, no one contends that he who votes for a simple acquittal or condemnation perjures himself, if the indictment has been laid in an unqualified form; and this is just, for the judge who acquits does not decide that the defendant owes nothing, but that he does not owe the twenty minae. He only is guilty of perjury who thinks that the defendant ought not to pay twenty minae, and yet condemns him.

To honor those who discover anything which is useful to the state is a proposal which has a specious sound, but cannot safely be enacted by law, for it may encourage informers, and perhaps even lead to political commotions. This question involves another. It has been doubted whether it is or is not expedient to make any changes in the laws of a country, even if another law be better. Now, if an changes are inexpedient, we can hardly assent to the proposal of Hippodamus; for, under pretense of doing a public service, a man may introduce measures which are really destructive to the laws or to the constitution. But, since we have touched upon this subject, perhaps we had better go a little into detail, for, as I was saying, there is a difference of opinion, and it may sometimes seem desirable to make changes. Such changes in the other arts and sciences have certainly been beneficial; medicine, for example, and gymnastic, and every other art and craft have departed from traditional usage. And, if politics be an art, change must be necessary in this as in any other art. That improvement has occurred is shown by the fact that old customs are exceedingly simple and barbarous. For the ancient Hellenes went about armed and bought their brides of each other.

In the magnificent and spacious Grecian city of Ephesus an ancient law was made by the ancestors of the inhabitants, hard indeed in its nature, but nevertheless equitable. When an architect was entrusted with the execution of a public work, an estimate thereof being lodged in the hands of a magistrate, his property was held, as security, until the work was finished. If, when finished, the expense did not exceed the estimate, he was complimented with decrees and honors. So when the excess did not amount to more than a fourth part of the original estimate, it was defrayed by the public, and no punishment was inflicted. But when more than one fourth of the estimate was exceeded, he was required to pay the excess out of his own pocket. Vitruvius On Budget Overruns

Except Aristotle's work about Hippodamus there is also Theano of Thurii with her work On Virtue dedicated to Hippodamus.

Another city planner was Deinocrates of Rhodes who worked as an architect for Alexander the Great. He also used a regular grid pattern for the city of Alexandria in Egypt.



1. For fortified towns the following general principles are to be observed. First comes the choice of a very healthy site. Such a site will be high, neither misty nor frosty, and in a climate neither hot nor cold, but temperate; further, without marshes in the neighbourhood. For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mists from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy. Again, if the town is on the coast with a southern or western exposure, it will not be healthy, because in summer the southern sky grows hot at sunrise and is fiery at noon, while a western exposure grows warm after sunrise, is hot at noon, and at evening all aglow.

2. These variations in heat and the subsequent cooling off are harmful to the people living on such sites. The same conclusion may be reached in the case of inanimate things. For instance, nobody draws the light for covered wine rooms from the south or west, but rather from the north, since that quarter is never subject to change but is always constant and unshifting. So it is with granaries: grain exposed to the sun’s course soon loses its good quality, and provisions and fruit, unless stored in a place unexposed to the sun’s course, do not keep long.

3. For heat is a universal solvent, melting out of things their power of resistance, and sucking away and removing their natural strength with its fiery exhalations so that they grow soft, and hence weak, under its glow. We see this in the case of iron which, however hard it may naturally be, yet when heated thoroughly in a furnace fire can be easily worked into any kind of shape, and still, if cooled while it is soft and white hot, it hardens again with a mere dip into cold water and takes on its former quality.

4. We may also recognize the truth of this from the fact that in summer the heat makes everybody weak, not only in unhealthy but even in healthy places, and that in winter even the most unhealthy districts are much healthier because they are given a solidity by the cooling off. Similarly, persons removed from cold countries to hot cannot endure it but waste away; whereas those who pass from hot places to the cold regions of the north, not only do not suffer in health from the change of residence but even gain by it.

5. It appears, then, that in founding towns we must beware of districts from which hot winds can spread abroad over the inhabitants. For while all bodies are composed of the four elements, that is, of heat, moisture, the earthy, and air, yet there are mixtures according to natural temperament which make up the natures of all the different animals of the world, each after its kind.

6. Therefore, if one of these elements, heat, becomes predominant in any body whatsoever, it destroys and dissolves all the others with its violence. This defect may be due to violent heat from certain quarters of the sky, pouring into the open pores in too great proportion to admit of a mixture suited to the natural temperament of the body in question. Again, if too much moisture enters the channels of a body, and thus introduces disproportion, the other elements, adulterated by the liquid, are impaired, and the virtues of the mixture dissolved. This defect, in turn, may arise from the cooling properties of moist winds and breezes blowing upon the body. In the same way, increase or diminution of the proportion of air or of the earthy which is natural to the body may enfeeble the other elements; the predominance of the earthy being due to overmuch food, that of air to a heavy atmosphere.

7. If one wishes a more accurate understanding of all this, he need only consider and observe the natures of birds, fishes, and land animals, and be will thus come to reflect upon distinctions of temperament. One form of mixture is proper to birds, another to fishes, and a far different form to land animals. Winged creatures have less of the earthy, less moisture, heat in moderation, air in large amount. Being made up, therefore, of the lighter elements, they can more readily soar away into the air. Fish, with their aquatic nature, being moderately supplied with heat and made up in great part of air and the earthy, with as little of moisture as possible, can more easily exist in moisture for the very reason that they have less of it than of the other elements in their bodies; and so, when they are drawn to land, they leave life and water at the same moment. Similarly, the land animals, being moderately supplied with the elements of air and beat, and having less of the earthy and a great deal of moisture, cannot long continue alive in the water, because their portion of moisture is already abundant.

8. Therefore, if all this is as we have explained, our reason showing us that the bodies of animals are made up of the elements, and these bodies, as we believe, giving way and breaking up as a result of excess or deficiency in this or that element, we cannot but believe that we must take great care to select a very temperate climate for the site of our city, since healthfulness is, as we have said, the first requisite.

9. I cannot too strongly insist upon the need of a return to the method of old times. Our ancestors, when about to build a town or an army post, sacrificed some of the cattle that were wont to feed on the site proposed and examined their livers. If the livers of the first victims were dark-coloured or abnormal, they sacrificed others, to see whether the fault was due to disease or their food. They never began to build defensive works in a place until after they had made many such trials and satisfied themselves that good water and food had made the liver sound and firm. If they continued to find it abnormal, they argued from this that the food and water supply found in such a place would be just as unhealthy for man, and so they moved away and changed to another neighbourhood, healthfulness being their chief object.

10. That pasturage and food may indicate the healthful qualities of a site is a fact which can be observed and investigated in the case of certain pastures in Crete, on each side of the river Pothereus, which separates the two Cretan states of Gnosus and Gortyna. There are cattle at pasture on the right and left banks of that river, but while the cattle that feed near Gnosus have the usual spleen, those on the other side near Gortyna have no perceptible spleen. On investigating the subject, physicians discovered on this side a kind of herb which the cattle chew and thus make their spleen small. The herb is therefore gathered and used as a medicine for the cure of splenetic people. From food and water, then, we may learn whether sites are naturally unhealthy or healthy.

11. If the walled town is built among the marshes themselves, provided they are by the sea, with a northern or north-eastern exposure, and are above the level of the seashore, the site will be reasonable enough. For ditches can be dug to let out the water to the shore, and also in times of storms the sea swells and comes backing up into the marshes, where its bitter blend prevents the reproductions of the usual marsh creatures, while any that swim down from the higher levels to the shore are killed at once by the saltness to which they are unused. An instance of this may be found in the Gallic marshes surrounding Altino, Ravenna, Aquileia, and other towns in places of the kind, close by marshes. They are marvellously healthy, for the reasons which I have given.

12. But marshes that are stagnant and have no outlets either by rivers or ditches, like the Pomptine marshes, merely putrefy as they stand, emitting heavy, unhealthy vapours. A case of a town built in such a spot was Old Salpia in Apulia, founded by Diomede on his way back from Troy, or, according to some writers, by Elpias of Rhodes. Year after year there was sickness, until finally the suffering inhabitants came with a public petition to Marcus Hostilius and got him to agree to seek and find them a proper place to which to remove their city. Without delay he made the most skilful investigations, and at once purchased an estate near the sea in a healthy place, and asked the Senate and Roman people for permission to remove the town. He constructed the walls and laid out the house lots, granting one to each citizen for a mere trifle. This done, he cut an opening from a lake into the sea, and thus made of the lake a harbour for the town. The result is that now the people of Salpia live on a healthy site and at a distance of only four miles from the old town.



1. After insuring on these principles the healthfulness of the future city, and selecting a neighbourhood that can supply plenty of food stuffs to maintain the community, with good roads or else convenient rivers or seaports affording easy means of transport to the city, the next thing to do is to lay the foundations for the towers and walls. Dig down to solid bottom, if it can be found, and lay them therein, going as deep as the magnitude of the proposed work seems to require. They should be much thicker than the part of the walls that will appear above ground, and their structure should be as solid as it can possibly be laid.

2. The towers must be projected beyond the line of wall, so that an enemy wishing to approach the wall to carry it by assault may be exposed to the fire of missiles on his open flank from the towers on his right and left. Special pains should be taken that there be no easy avenue by which to storm the wall. The roads should be encompassed at steep points, and planned so as to approach the gates, not in a straight line, but from the right to the left; for as a result of this, the right hand side of the assailants, unprotected by their shields, will be next the wall. Towns should be laid out not as an exact square nor with salient angles, but in circular form, to give a view of the enemy from many points. Defense is difficult where there are salient angles, because the angle protects the enemy rather than the inhabitants.

8. The thickness of the wall should, in my opinion, be such that armed men meeting on top of it may pass one another without interference. In the thickness there should be set a very close succession of ties made of charred olive wood, binding the two faces of the wall together like pins, to give it lasting endurance. For that is a material which neither decay, nor the weather, nor time can harm, but even though buried in the earth or set in the water it keeps sound and useful forever. And so not only city walls but substructures in general and all walls that require a thickness like that of a city wall, will be long in falling to decay if tied in this manner.

4. The towers should be set at intervals of not more than a bowshot apart, so that in case of an assault upon any one of them, the enemy may be repulsed with scorpiones and other means of hurling missiles from the towers to the right and left. Opposite the inner side of every tower the wall should be interrupted for a space the width of the tower, and have only a wooden flooring across, leading to the interior of the tower but not firmly nailed. This is to be cut away by the defenders in case the enemy gets possession of any portion of the wall; and if the work is quickly done, the enemy will not be able to make his way to the other towers and the rest of the wall unless he is ready to face a fall.

5. The towers themselves must be either round or polygonal. Square towers are sooner shattered by military engines, for the battering rams pound their angles to pieces; but in the case of round towers they can do no harm, being engaged, as it were, in driving wedges to their centre. The system of fortification by wall and towers may be made safest by the addition of earthen ramparts, for neither rams, nor mining, nor other engineering devices can do them any harm.

6. The rampart form of defense, however, is not required in all places, but only where outside the wall there is high ground from which an assault on the fortifications may be made over a level space lying between. En places of this kind we must first make very wide, deep ditches; next sink foundations for a wall in the bed of the ditch and build them thick enough to support an earthwork with ease.

7. Then within this substructure lay a second foundation, far enough inside the first to leave ample room for cohorts in line of battle to take position on the broad top of the rampart for its defense. Having laid these two foundations at this distance from one another, build cross walls between them, uniting the outer and inner foundation, in a comb-like arrangement, set like the teeth of a saw. With this form of construction, the enormous burden of earth will be distributed into small bodies, and will not lie with all its weight in one crushing mass so as to thrust out the substructures.

8. With regard to the material of which the actual wall should be constructed or finished, there can be no definite prescription, because we cannot obtain in all places the supplies that we desire. Dimension stone, flint, rubble, burnt or unburnt brick, - use them as you find them. For it is not every neighbourhood or particular locality that can have a wall built of burnt brick like that at Babylon, where there was plenty of asphalt to take the place of lime and sand, and yet possibly each may be provided with materials of equal usefulness so that out of them a faultless wall may be built to last forever.



1. The town being fortified, the next step is the apportionment of house lots within the wall and the laying out of streets and alleys with regard to climatic conditions. They will be properly laid out if foresight is employed to exclude the winds from the alleys. Cold winds are disagreeable, hot winds enervating, moist winds unhealthy. We must, therefore, avoid mistakes in this matter and beware of the common experience of many communities. For example, Mytilene in the island of Lesbos is a town built with magnificence and good taste, but its position shows a lack of foresight. In that community when the wind is south, the people fall ill; when it is northwest, it sets them coughing; with a north wind they do indeed recover but cannot stand about in the alleys and streets, owing to the severe cold.

2. Wind is a flowing wave of air, moving hither and thither indefinitely. It is produced when heat meets moisture, the rush of heat generating a mighty current of air. That this is the fact we may learn from bronze eolipiles, and thus by means of a scientific invention discover a divine truth lurking in the laws of the heavens. Eolipiles are hollow bronze balls, with a very small opening through which water is poured into them. Set before a fire, not a breath issues from them before they get warm; but as soon as they begin to boil, out comes a strong blast due to the fire. Thus from this slight and very short experiment we may understand and judge of the mighty and wonderful laws of the heavens and the nature of winds.

3. By shutting out the winds from our dwellings, therefore, we shall not only make the place healthful for people who are well, but also in the case of diseases due perhaps to unfavourable situations elsewhere, the patients, who in other healthy places might be cured by a different form of treatment, will here be more quickly cured by the mildness that comes from the shutting out of the winds. The diseases which are hard to cure in neighbourhoods such as those to which I have referred above are catarrh, hoarseness, coughs, pleurisy, consumption, spitting of blood, and all others that are cured not by lowering the system but by building it up. They are hard to cure, first, because they are originally due to chills; secondly, because the patient’s system being already exhausted by disease, the air there, which is in constant agitation owing to winds and therefore deteriorated, takes all the sap of life out of their diseased bodies and leaves them more meagre every day. On the other hand, a mild, thick air, without draughts and not constantly blowing back and forth, builds up their frames by its unwavering steadiness, and so strengthens and restores people who are afflicted with these diseases.

4. Some have held that there are only four winds: Solanus from due east; Auster from the south; Favonius from due west; Septentrio from the north. But more careful investigators tell us that there are eight. Chief among such was Andronicus of Cyrrhus who in proof built the marble octagonal tower in Athens. On the several sides of the octagon he executed reliefs representing the several winds, each facing the point from which it blows; and on top of the tower he set a conical shaped piece of marble and on this a bronze Triton with a rod outstretched in its right band. It was so contrived as to go round with the wind, always stopping to face the breeze and holding its rod as a pointer directly over the representation of the wind that was blowing.

5. Thus Eurus is placed to the southeast between Solanus and Auster: Africus to the southwest between Auster and Favonius; Caurus, or, as many call it, Corus, between Favonius and Septentrio; and Aquilo between Septentrio and Solanus. Such, then, appears to have been his device, including the numbers and names of the wind and indicating the directions from which particular winds blow. These facts being thus determined, to find the directions and quarters of the winds your method of procedure should be as follows.

6. In the middle of the city place a marble amussium, laying it true by the level, or else let the spot be made so true by means of rule and level that no amussium is necessary. In the very centre of that spot set up a bronze gnomon or "shadow tracker". At about the fifth hour in the morning, take the end of the shadow cast by this gnomon, and mark it with a point. Then, opening your compasses to this point which marks the length of the gnomon’s shadow, describe a circle from the centre. In the afternoon watch the shadow of your gnomon as it lengthens, and when it once more touches the circumference of this circle and the shadow in the afternoon is equal in length to that of the morning, mark it with a point.

7. From these two points describe with your compasses intersecting arcs, and through their intersection and the centre let a line be drawn to the circumference of the circle to give us the quarters of south and north. Then, using a sixteenth part of the entire circumference of the circle as a diameter, describe a circle with its centre on the line to the south, at the point where it crosses the circumference, and put points to the right and left on the circumference on the south side, repeating the process on the north side. From the four points thus obtained draw lines intersecting the centre from one side of the circumference to the other. Thus we shall have an eighth part of the circumference set out for Auster and another for Septentrio. The rest of the entire circumference is then to be divided into three equal parts on each side, and thus we have designed a figure equally apportioned among the eight winds. Then let the directions of your streets and alleys be laid down on the lines of division between the quarters of two winds.

8. On this principle of arrangement the disagreeable force of the winds will be shut out from dwellings and lines of houses. For if the streets run full in the face of the winds, their constant blasts rushing in from the open country, and then confined by narrow alleys, will sweep through them with great violence. The lines of houses must therefore be directed away from the quarters from which the winds blow, so that as they come in they may strike against the angles of the blocks and their force thus be broken and dispersed.

9. Those who know names for very many winds will perhaps be surprised at our setting forth that there are only eight. Remembering, however, that Eratosthenes of Cyrene, employing mathematical theories and geometrical methods, discovered from the course of the sun, the shadows cast by an equinoctial gnomon, and the inclination of the heaven that the circumference of the earth is two hundred and fifty-two thousand stadia, that is, thirty-one million five hundred thousand paces, and observing that an eighth part of this, occupied by a wind, is three million nine hundred and thirty-seven thousand five hundred paces, they should not be surprised to find that a single wind, ranging over so wide a field, is subject to shifts this way and that, leading to a variety of breezes.

10. So we often have Leuconotus and Altanus blowing respectively to the right and left of Auster; Libonotus and Subvesperus to the right and left of Africus; Argestes, and at certain periods the Etesiae, on either side of Favonius; Circias and Corus on the sides of Caurus; Thracias and Gallicus on either side of Septentrio; Supernas and Caecias to the right and left of Aquilo; Carbas, and at a certain period the Ornithiae, on either side of Solanus; while Eurocircias and Volturnus blow on the flanks of Eurus which is between them. There are also many other names for winds derived from localities or from the squalls which sweep from rivers or down mountains.

11. Then, too, there are the breezes of early morning; for the sun on emerging from beneath the earth strikes humid air as he returns, and as he goes climbing up the sky he spreads it out before him, extracting breezes from the vapour that was there before the dawn. Those that still blow on after sunrise are classed with Eurus, and hence appears to come the Greek name for the child of the breezes, and the word for "to-morrow," named from the early morning breezes. Some people do indeed I say that Eratosthenes could not have inferred the true measure of the earth. Whether true or untrue, it cannot affect the truth of what I have written on the fixing of the quarters from which the different winds blow.

12. If he was wrong, the only result will be that the individual winds may blow, not with the scope expected from his measurement, but with powers either more or less widely extended. For the readier understanding of these topics, since I have treated them with brevity, it has seemed best to me to give two figures, at the end of this book: one designed to show the precise quarters from which the winds arise; the other, how by turning the directions of the rows of houses and the streets away from their full force, we may avoid unhealthy blasts. Let A be the centre of a plane surface, and B the point to which the shadow of the gnomon reaches in the morning. Taking A as the centre, open the compasses to the point B, which marks the shadow, and describe a circle. Put the gnomon back where it was before and wait for the shadow to lessen and grow again until in the afternoon it is equal to its length in the morning, touching the circumference at the point C. Then from the points B and C describe with the compasses two arcs intersecting at D. Next draw a line from the point of intersection D through the centre of the circle to the circumference and call it E F. This line will show where the south and north lie.

18. Then find with the compasses a sixteenth part of the entire circumference; then centre the compasses on the point E where the line to the south touches the circumference, and set off the points G and H to the right and left of E. Likewise on the north side, centre the compasses on the circumference at the point F on the line to the north, and set off the points I and K to the right and left; then draw lines through the centre from G to K and from H to I. Thus the space from G to H will belong to Auster and the south, and the space from I to K will be that of Septentrio. The rest of the circumference is to be divided equally into three parts on the right and three on the left, those to the east at the points L and M, those to the west at the points N and 0.

Finally, intersecting lines are to be drawn from M to 0 and from L to N. Thus we shall have the circumference divided into eight equal spaces for the winds. The figure being finished, we shall have at the eight different divisions, beginning at the south, the letter G between Eurus and Auster, H between Auster and Africus, N between Africus and Favonius, 0 between Favonius and Caurus, K between Caurus and Septentrio, I between Septentrio and Aquilo, L between Aquilo and Solanus, and M between Solanus and Eurus. This done, apply a gnomon to these eight divisions and thus fix the directions of the different alleys.



1. Having laid out the alleys and determined the streets, we have next to treat of the choice of building sites for temples, the forum, and all other public places, with a view to general convenience and utility. If the city is on the sea, we should choose ground close to the harbor as the place where the forum is to be built; but if inland, in the middle of the town. For the temples, the sites for those of the gods under whose particular protection the state is thought to rest and for Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, should be on the very highest point commanding a view of the greater part of the city. Mercury should be in the forum, or, like Isis and Serapis, in the emporium: Apollo and Father Bacchus near the theatre: Hercules at the circus in communities which have no gymnasia nor amphitheatres; Mars outside the city but at the training ground, and so Venus, but at the harbor. It is moreover shown by the Etruscan diviners in treatises on their science that the fanes of Venus, Vulcan, and Mars should be situated outside the walls, in order that the young men and married women may not become habituated in the city to the temptations incident to the worship of Venus, and that buildings may be free from the terror of fires through the religious rites and sacrifices which call the power of Vulcan beyond the walls. As for Mars, when that divinity is enshrined outside the walls, the citizens will never take up arms against each other, and he will defend the city from its enemies and save it from danger in war.

2. Ceres also should be outside the city in a place to which people need never go except for the purpose of sacrifice. That place should be under the protection of religion, purity, and good morals. Proper sites should be set apart for the precincts of the other gods according to the nature of the sacrifices offered to them.

The principle governing the actual construction of temples and their symmetry I shall explain in my third and fourth books. In the second I have thought it best to give an account of the materials used in buildings with their good qualities and advantages, and then in the succeeding books to describe and explain the proportions of buildings, their arrangements, and the different forms of symmetry.

Excerpt from Book 5 Chapter 10


5. The space in the middle, between the colonnades and open to the sky, ought to be embellished with green things; for walking in the open air is very healthy, particularly for the eyes, since the refined and rarefied air that comes from green things, finding its way in because of the physical exercise, gives a clean-cut image, and, by clearing away the gross humours from the eyes, leaves the sight keen and the image distinct. Besides, as the body gets warm with exercise in walking, this air, by sucking out the bumours from the frame, diminishes their superabundance, and disperses and thus reduces that superfluity which is more than the body can bear.

6. That this is so may be seen from the fact that misty vapours never arise from springs of water which are under cover, nor even from watery marshes which are underground; but in uncovered places which are open to the sky, when the rising sun begins to act upon the world with its heat, it brings out the vapour from damp and watery spots, and rolls it in masses upwards. Therefore, if it appears that in places open to the sky the more noxious humours are sucked out of the body by the air, as they obviously are from the earth in the form of mists, I think there is no doubt that cities should be provided with the roomiest and most ornamented walks, laid out under the free and open sky.

7. That they may be always dry and not muddy, the following is to be done. Let them be dug down and cleared out to the lowest possible depth. At the right and left construct covered drains, and in their walls, which are directed towards the walks, lay earthen pipes with their lower ends inclined into the drains. Having finished these, fill up the place with charcoal, and then strew sand over the walks and level them off. Hence, on account of the porous nature of the charcoal and the insertion of the pipes into the drains, quantities of water will be conducted away, and the walks will thus be rendered perfectly dry and without moisture.

8. Furthermore, our ancestors in establishing these works provided cities with storehouses for an indispensable material. The fact is that in sieges everything else is easier to procure than is wood. Salt can easily be brought in beforehand; corn can be got together quickly by the State or by individuals, and if it gives out, the defence may be maintained on cabbage, meat, or beans; water can be had by digging wells, or when there are sudden falls of rain, by collecting it from the tiles. But a stock of wood, which is absolutely necessary for cooking food, is a difficult and troublesome thing to provide; for it is slow to gather and a good deal is consumed.

9. On such occasions, therefore, these walks are thrown open, and a definite allowance granted to each inhabitant according to tribes. Thus these uncovered walks insure two excellent things: first, health in time of peace; secondly, safety in time of war. Hence, walks that are developed on these principles, and built not only behind the "scaena" of theatres, but also at the temples of all the gods, will be capable of being of great use to cities.

Excerpt from Book 5 Chapter 11


4. This kind of colonnade is called among the Greeks xystus because athletes during the winter season exercise in covered running tracks. Next to this xystus and to the double colonnade should be laid out the uncovered walks into which, in fair weather during the winter, the athletes come out from the xystus for exercise. The xysta ought to be so constructed that there may be plantations between the two colonnades, or groves of plane trees, with walks laid out in them among the trees and resting places there, made of "opus signinum." Behind the xystus a stadium, so designed that great numbers of people may have plenty of room to look on at the contests between the athletes.

I have now described all that seemed necessary for the proper arrangement of things within the city walls [Note this includes most aspects of the 'built environment', because cities had to be fortified]

Alexander laying out the city of Alexandria by Andre Castaigne 1898/99

Comments and Quotations

For the Greeks were renowned for their successful endeavours in the area of city planning because they sought out locations which were naturally beautiful Strabo, Geography

Meton of Athens (Μέτων ο Αθηναίος ), Astronomer and Geometer. He appears in one comedy of Aristophanes, The birds:
PITHETAERUS In the name of the gods, who are you?
METON Who am I? Meton, known throughout Greece and at Colonus.
PITHETAERUS What are these things?
METON Tools for measuring the air. In truth, the spaces in the air have precisely the form of a furnace. With this bent ruler I draw a line from top to bottom; from one of its points I describe a circle with the compass. Do you understand?
PITHETAERUS Not in the least.
METON With the straight ruler I set to work to inscribe a square within this circle; in its centre will be the market-place, into which all the straight streets will lead, converging to this centre like a star, which, although only orbicular, sends forth its rays in a straight line from all sides.


Bayhan, Suzan. Priene, Miletus, Didyma. Trans. Anita Gillett. Istanbul: Keskin Color Kartpostalcilik Ltd., 2002.

R. Herzog, Überlegungen zur griechischen Utopie, Frankfurt 1985


Nicholas Cahill, Household and City Organization at Olynthus Chapter One: Greek City Planning in Theory and Practice

Slide Show: Town Planning and Temples in the 4th century BC
Town-planning and Pella
A walk though ancient Miletus (probably slow connection)

The Ancient Greek City-State and Town (German)
Cities and Fractal Geometry

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Town Planning in Ancient Egypt

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Selinunt - Manhattan der Antike : Die Polis als geplante Stadtanlage

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