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Section view of the interior stairway and the pedestal of Trajan's Column (click on interactive image)
Plan of ground floor of the Greek Temple A at Selinunte. The remains of the two spiral stairs between the pronaos and the cella are the oldest known to date (c. 480 BC).[1]

The list of ancient spiral stairs contains a selection of Greco-Roman spiral stairs constructed during classical antiquity. The spiral stair is a type of stairway which, due to its complex helical structure, has been introduced relatively late into architecture. Although the oldest example dates back to the 5th century BC,[1] it was only in the wake of the influential design of the Trajan's Column that this space-saving new type permanently caught hold in Roman architecture.[2]

Apart from the triumphal columns in the imperial cities of Rome and Constantinople, other types of buildings such as temples, thermae, basilicas and tombs were also fitted with spiral stairways.[2] Their notable absence in the towers of the Aurelian Wall indicates that they, unlike in medieval castles, did not yet figure prominently in Roman military engineering.[2] By late antiquity, separate stair towers were constructed adjacent to the main buildings, like in the Basilica of San Vitale.

The construction of spiral stairs passed on both to Christian and Islamic architecture.


Spiral stairsEdit

Column of Marcus Aurelius. An almost 30 m high spiral staircase winds up inside, with 14 steps per full turn.
Monument Location Country Date of construction Height Number of stairways Comment
Temple A[1] Selinunte Italy c. 480 BC 2
Temple of Bel[3] Palmyra Syria 1st century
Trajan's Column[4] Rome Italy 113 29.68 m 1 14 steps per turn
Column of Marcus Aurelius[5] Rome Italy Late 2nd century 29.62 m 1 14 steps per turn
Baths of Caracalla[6] Rome Italy 212–216 2
Baths of Diocletian[6] Rome Italy 298–305 4
Round Temple at Ostia[6] Rome Italy 3rd century 1
Santa Costanza[6] Rome Italy c. 350 1
Tomb of Galerius[6] Thessaloniki Greece Early 4th century 2
Imperial Baths[6] Trier Germany Early 4th century 8
Column of Theodosius[7] Constantinople Turkey Late 4th century 1
St. Gereon's Basilica[8] Cologne Germany Late 4th century 16.50 m [A 1] 1
Column of Arcadius[7] Constantinople Turkey 401–421 1
Basilica of San Vitale[9] Ravenna Italy 527–548 2 A pair of stair towers
Gate of the Great Palace[10] Constantinople Turkey 532[A 2] ? ? Procopius (Pers. 1.24.43) refers to sorty down a spiral stairway
Sangarius Bridge[11] Adapazarı Turkey 559–562 10.37 m[A 3] 1 Located in pier of triumphal arch at entrance of bridge


  1. ^ Ancient staircase preserved to this height
  2. ^ Date of evidence
  3. ^ Height of arched doorway

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Beckmann 2002, p. 354; Ruggeri 2006, p. 77
  2. ^ a b c Beckmann 2002, pp. 353–356
  3. ^ Beckmann 2002, p. 355
  4. ^ Jones 1993, pp. 28, 31
  5. ^ Jones 1993, pp. 28, 38
  6. ^ a b c d e f Beckmann 2002, p. 354
  7. ^ a b Beckmann 2002, p. 352
  8. ^ Schäfke 1984, p. 102
  9. ^ Rasch 1985, p. 123, fn. 27
  10. ^ Beckmann 2002, p. 349
  11. ^ Whitby 1985, p. 129


  • Beckmann, Martin (2002), "The 'Columnae Coc(h)lides' of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius", Phoenix, 56 (3/4): 348–357, doi:10.2307/1192605, JSTOR 1192605
  • Jones, Mark Wilson (1993), "One Hundred Feet and a Spiral Stair: The Problem of Designing Trajan's Column", Journal of Roman Archaeology, 6: 23–38
  • Rasch, Jürgen (1985), "Die Kuppel in der römischen Architektur. Entwicklung, Formgebung, Konstruktion", Architectura, 15, pp. 117–139
  • Ruggeri, Stefania (2006), Selinunt, Messina: Edizioni Affinità Elettive, ISBN 88-8405-079-0
  • Schäfke, Werner (1984), Kölns romanische Kirchen. Architektur, Ausstattung, Geschichte, Köln, ISBN 3-7701-1360-8
  • Whitby, Michael (1985), "Justinian's Bridge over the Sangarius and the Date of Procopius' de Aedificiis", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 105: 129–148, doi:10.2307/631526, JSTOR 631526

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  Media related to Roman stairs at Wikimedia Commons

  • Traianus – Technical investigation of Roman public works