Using today's cutting-edge technology to appreciate the cutting-edge technology of 600 BCE!
On the main web page for this course there is a picture of the Temple of Athena at Priene, a few miles from Anaximander's home town of Miletus. That temple dates from about 325 BCE, over two centuries after Anaximander's time. However, the technique for building very tall columns from shorter cylinders (called "column-drums," because they are shaped like drums) was developed by the Egyptians well over a thousand years before Anaximander. The columns not only had to stand up, they had to support the roofs of the temples without falling, and they had to stand on a base in such a way as not to sink into the ground or tilt. This requires tremendous precision in building, in measurement, and in calculation, as well as a well-developed grasp of principles of geometry and mechanical physics.
There is evidence of Persian temples built with this technique at least as far back as 700 BCE. Remember that the Persians lived in Asia Minor too; both the Persians and the Egyptians traded extensively with the Ionian Greeks. By about 600 BCE, large temples supported by columns made of stone cylinders began to appear in Greek territories, especially Ionia. It was costly to build such a temple, and only in certain areas such as Ionia were any Greek communities wealthy enough to build on such a massive scale at that time. Within the next decades, more and more Greek communities began large building projects. For a comprehensive study of the links between Anaximander's work and the architectural projects going on in Ionia in his time, see Anaximander and the Architects by Robert Hahn (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001).
Evidence such as architectural drawings on stones, and some stone-cutters' marks, makes clear
that the Ionian Greeks learned from the Egyptians how to make large column-drum temples. Here
are two examples of Greek column-drum temples from the 6th century BCE, at and shortly after
This is a column from a temple at Assos, a few dozen miles up the coast from Miletus. The temple
dates from about 580 BCE (Anaximander's time). The columns had all fallen or been knocked
down, and today workers are restoring them. Here, workers have put the original pieces of a
column back together. (This picture also comes from the Perseus web site.)
This is a temple from Akragas in Sicily (home of Empedocles). It dates from about 510 BCE. The people next to it give some idea of the scale. Sicily isn't that close to Miletus, but there was trade between the two, and there was trade between Akragas and Egypt. This picture also comes from Perseus