A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Architecture

By Gwendolyn Leick | Go to book overview
Save to active project



Primarily found preserved in subterranean structures, mainly tombs. Due to the denuded conditions of Ancient Near Eastern buildings in general, relatively few examples for the use of vaulting as a means of covering spaces above ground are known, though the technical expertise which produced the underground vaults would have been applied more generally. By analogy with contemporary Near Eastern building traditions, and considering certain architectural dispositions, vaulted spaces were probably much more common than it appears from archaeological records alone. Thick walls enclosing relatively narrow transverse spaces were probably roofed by brick vaults rather than the much lighter flat roofs composed of timber and mudplaster. The advantages of vaults are primarily economical: they were cheaper to build and easier to maintain than flat roofs, and they provided higher internal spaces which could be lighted by clerestory windows.

The most widespread techniques of vaulting avoided the use of CENTRING. The high cost of the relatively great quantity of timber required for the temporary structures would have made them too expensive. Most popular for small rooms in private houses throughout the Near East was the corbelled vault. As in the corbelled dome, it distributes the weight gradually over the individual components of the structure, since each brick or stone receives the load of the projecting one above (eg in some of the mid-3rd millennium Royal Tombs of UR, the gatehouse at Tell Taya—see Reade, J., Iraq 30, p. 247; the posterns of Alishar, BOGHAZKÖY and RAS SHAMRA (2nd millennium BC); tomb 3 at MEGIDDO).

The earliest surviving examples of barrel vaults or tunnel vaults in brick were found in I Dynasty tombs in Egypt (tomb 3357 in SAQQARA). They were more commonly employed in the New Kingdom and the later periods (especially during the Graeco-Roman). They were used mainly to cover broad halls or corridors and were constructed either with a centring of wood or sand infill (in small structures), or by inclined courses resting against an arch or temporary wall. The voussoirs could be edge-shaped or curved but conventional, rectangular bricks were used more often, with small stones or sherds filling the gaps between them on the outside curve. The bricks usually had a higher proportion of chaff-temper than ordinary bricks to make them lighter. Finger-marks or vertical grooves along the surface allowed them to stick together by suction. The average span of a brick barrel vault was c. 3.25m; the largest recorded span, 8.60m, occurred in the royal stables at MEDINET-HABU. The best-preserved Egyptian brick vaults were found in the magazines surrounding the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (Ramesseum) in western Thebes—they were four bricks thick and spanned about 4m.

Ribbed vaults may have originated from curved reed-structures supported by rings of bundled reeds. A series of semi-circular


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Architecture


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 262

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?