Echeia - assisted resonance in Roman Theatres; Companion to the Reception of Vitruvius

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The author has been asked to write an 8000 word chapter on the subject of Echia (the resonating vessels placed in Roman Theatres according to Vitruvius). The request has come from Prof. Ingrid Rowland. Prof. Rowland is responsible for the definitive edition of Vitruvius' The Ten Books on Architecture (Cambridge University Press). A treatise written in Latin on architecture, dedicated to the emperor Augustus, much more than a book on buildings and machines, the contents of De Architectura reveal a greater meaning of 'architecture', combining science, mathematics, geometry, astronomy; and not least the arts, sound, acoustics and music.

The research has been sourced by Brill as a result of a paper written some ten years ago - The enigma of Vitruvian resonating vases and the relevance of the concept for today. It has been presented as a paper at numerous conference proceedings including sessions at UH.

The 8000 word chapter details the use of Echeia - a type of assisted resonance, often debated in terms of function and use, as detailed by Vitruvius in The Ten Books on Architecture.

The clarity of sound within any Greek or Roman theatre (without any form of enhancement) is impressive to any visitor. The seats arranged in curved rows around the circular orchestra form large horizontal reflecting surfaces. This ensures that the path of the sound waves travel from the source (the actor or singer) to each of the listeners in a direct path (i.e. without reflection). Vitruvius, however, claimed further enhancements could be made.

"In theatres, also, are copper vases and these are placed in chambers under the rows of seats in accordance with mathematical reckoning. The Greeks call them Echeia. The differences of the sounds which arise are combined into musical symphonies...
… it becomes fuller, and reaches the audience with a richer and sweeter note."
Vitruvius, on Architecture, Book I, – on training of architects, Loeb

The research will update the author's initial findings into the concept by exploring further scientific findings with computer modelling. He will visit theatres in Fiesole, Florence; Aspendos, Turkey and the Roman Theatre in Amman (which is the only site having the original niches created to hold the resonating vases). In addition, the ‘reconstructed’ Greek Theatre at Bradfield College, Berkshire will be researched.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrill's Companion to the Reception of Vitruvius
EditorsIngrid Rowland, Sinclair Bell
Place of PublicationLeiden, The Netherlands.
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-68870-4
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-27067-1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2024

Publication series

NameBrill’s companions to classical reception
ISSN (Print)2213-1426


  • assisted resonance
  • Vitruvius
  • Echeia


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