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The Greeks borrowed the column from the Egyptians and synthesized it into an architectural style that was characteristically their own. The first fluted columns date back to Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 BC). The principle architectural ornamentation used by the Greeks was also derived from Eastern predecessors.
There were three orders of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Doric column is the oldest, dating back to around 600 BC. The Doric column has no base. It was placed directly on the stylobate (the top step of the temple floor). It has a fluted shaft which tapers toward the top and a capital consisting of a simple curved member upon which sits a square block called the abacus. The top section of the shaft and the capital were cut from one block of stone. The transition from the shaft to the capital was at first defined by a concave moulding. As the style evolved, this feature was replaced by three or four projecting bands.
The Ionic column developed in the late fifth century B.C. Its shaft is more slender than the shaft of the Doric column, and the capital is distinguished by a pair of volutes (which look like rams’ horns) back and front, beneath which the necking is generally embellished. While the flutings of the Doric columns meet in a sharp angle, the flutings of the Ionic column are separated from each other by a narrow flat band. The Ionic column has a clearly defined base, with carved mouldings that sit on the stylobate. On the whole the look of the Ionic column is more graceful than the Doric.
The Corinthian column is even more highly ornamented than the Ionic. Its capital is further embellished with a single or double row of stylized acanthus leaves. On some Corinthian columns, volutes appear to grow out of the leaves. The base is similar to the Ionic but more refined. The Corinthian column evolved in the second century B.C. and continued to be a popular element in Roman architecture.
Tuscan columns were a Roman development. In many ways they evoke a return to the simplicity of the Doric column. Their shafts are generally tapered but unfluted. The base and capital are virtually unembellished.