Madisonia: Mississippi’s Lost Greco-Roman Colony

Once there was a Greco-Roman city-state named Madisonia, situated in that region where Italy, France and Switzerland meet. It was a city-state of only homeowners, located on lots of half an acre or more with strict covenants, and it was very secure from outsiders. In fact, it was the last city-state to fall to the Barbarian invaders. The story is told that in 525 A.D., the Madisonians took to their yachts and sailed into the West and were never seen in Western Europe again. Although their skills in architecture, interstate landscaping, boutique shopping, and marketing were told and re-told by bards through the centuries, many scholars questioned the existence of Madisonia, so thoroughly had its culture disappeared.

In the late 1990s, however, a few intrepid archaeologists and historians advanced the almost unbelievable theory that the Madisonians eventually washed up near what is now New Orleans and pushed up the Pearl River until they settled in what is now central Mississippi. After years of searching through archives and digging test pits, these determined scholars finally found the Madisonians, who had cleverly disguised their identity in the American era by taking the new name “Madison, The City.”

Scholars point to the remains of a Greco-Roman fortified city, hiding in plain sight and now occupied by a Petco, Dick’s and other retailers, a present day master-planned community in the lineage of the Campo de’Fiori with an authenticity of architectural details developed in the old country and, obviously, perfected here in the new.  Moreover, the original grid pattern, a holdover from the Roman land measuring method of centuriation, is still evident and widely used.

Half of the original Madisonia fortified city survives in the L-shaped section with white roofs. The corner towers are an obvious sign that the Greco-Romans came under attack at some point in their history, leading them to renew the idea of a walled city with guard towers. The Malco Theater section was a later addition to the city grid, and its parking lot lanes are a clever disguise of the original Roman centuriation grid system.

Half of the original Madisonia fortified city survives in the L-shaped section with white roofs. The corner towers are an obvious sign that the Greco-Romans came under attack at some point in their history, leading them to renew the idea of a walled city with guard towers. The Malco Theater section was a later addition to the city grid, and its parking lot lanes are a clever disguise of the original Roman centuriation grid system.

Half of the original Madisonian fortified city remains. The fact the other half is completely gone gives a chilling indication of how the Madisonians lived under threat of imminent attack.

Half of the original Madisonian fortified city remains. The fact that the other half is completely gone gives a chilling indication of how the Madisonians lived under threat of imminent attack in the New World.

Even the guard towers were worthy of Corinthian columns. Notice the Roman latticework in the blind arches. They didn't try to hide their true roots; we just weren't looking with the right eyes.

Even the guard towers were worthy of Corinthian columns. Notice the Roman latticework in the blind arches. They didn’t try to hide their true roots; we just weren’t looking with the right eyes.

An ancient aqueduct with arches of a more compressed variety than the famous Pont du Gard in southern France (which, of course, the original Madisonians would have known) brought water all the way from the natural springs later known as Allison’s Wells to the original fortified city. The aqueduct also demonstrates another feature of Madisonian culture, the use of Dryvet, also known as EIFS, often used in Madisonia in place of stone or the long, narrow Roman Brick used by the ancients. Today, the aqueduct has been adaptively re-used as an automobile bridge over the railroad, something the Romans, those consummate engineers, would no doubt have appreciated.

Using the laboratory of Madisonia, scholars can now study the true thread of classicism instead of sitting around asking themselves how classicism would have evolved if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen. The answers they have found are surprising, to say the least: lower orders of architecture would have been gradually eliminated, and in general classicism would have gotten bigger, more eclectic, plasticker (referred to as “more plasticky” by some academics), and both more bricky and more stuccoey at the same time.

Proportions and scale are much more robust in the Madisonian tradition than they were in ancient times. For instance, while Tuscan columns typically have a capital that is one-half the height of the column’s diameter, in Madisonia, the ratio is inverted, so that Tuscan capitals are twice as high as the column’s diameter (this is just an example, since Tuscan, being the lowest of the orders, is rarely seen in Madisonia). For Corinthian columns, where the capital is equal to about 1/6 the height of the column shaft, a completely inverted ratio would be too absurd, so the Madisonians have an unspoken rule that Corinthian capitals (their favorite order) should be about one-third the height of the shaft and twice its diameter. Also, while typical classical columns would begin to taper (called entasis) about a third of the way up the shaft, Madisonian columns often don’t taper at all, or taper closer to the top than to the bottom.

The Corinthian order at the Madisonia CVS.

The Corinthian order at the Madisonia CVS. Notice the lack of entasis, or taper, and the proportions of the capital, which are about 1/3 the height of the shaft and twice as wide, in true Madisonian fashion.

The Madisonian proportions are so distinctive that the eminent architectural historian Sir Banister Fletcher saw fit to highlight two examples of the Madisonian Corinthian in his influential A History of Architecture (Nineteenth Edition, 1987).

Fletcher Notes4 (503x1024)

Once we understand the Madisonian proportions, we can begin to trace Madisonian influences throughout the region and establish what scholars call the “Madisonian cultural hearth.” For instance, notice this set of columns on the Spengler’s Corner building in downtown Jackson–Madisonian to its core, don’t you think?

Spengler's Corner

The Corinthian columns on the Spengler Corner building have an entasis two-thirds up the shaft, instead of the typical ancient technique of tapering one-third up. Also notice that the height of the capitals equals about one-third of the height of the shaft, and are double the diameter of the shaft. Really classic examples of Madisonian architecture!

Keep an eye out for Madisonian influences in your part of Mississippi–you never know when your discovery may change the course of Greco-Roman scholarship!

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Follow the Madisonian Saga to its exciting conclusion:



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16 replies

  1. Oh my, glad someone finally wrote what i’ve been saying. Although there are many residents who will find this article an example of great pride. I find it hilarious, and good comedy always begins with truth. Long live the Corinthian capital!

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  2. It’s especially appropriate that Fletcher included the Capital Madisonia Exxon in his examples. He undoubtedly recognized that behind Madisonia’s curious application of the classical language lies a driving impetus for social equity and fairness. This is probably why the Madisonians have eschewed the “lower” orders. They recognize that we are all special and deserve Corinthian columns, even at our gas stations.

    Several years ago, after the publication of the Palladian-French Second Empire-Swiss Chalet design for the for the new city hall, we came up with the term “hyper-traditionalism” to describe Madisonian architecture.

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  3. “lower orders of architecture would have been gradually eliminated”. Do you mean, we might have been spared the grotesque 6000 sq ft McMansions with pseudo gables, turrets, pillars, monumental entry halls, and acre-size driveways? Say it isn’t so! What else would inspire modern Madisonians to toil so vigorously at their jobs if they could not buy such modern-era castles? How else would the peasants be employed without grass, painting, vacuuming, and sweeping?

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    • The castles are another story, explained by the fact that the original Madisonia had a number of citizens who had been Roman soldiers in Gaul (France) and Britain and who had acquired a taste for the picturesque in architecture. Their descendants eventually broke away from Madisonia and formed their own communities with names that evoked their heritage of fox hunting and treks through the Scottish Highlands. This story is just beginning to be explored by Madisonian scholars and may be the subject of another April 1 post someday if the background research comes together,

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  4. I love this article! We have been visiting here for a month and have been amazed/appalled by what we have seen. Thanks for explaining it all!

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  5. Well played. Now, if only the present Caesar could be removed . . . .

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  6. What shall the future hold when the RulerMayor is no longer there?

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  7. ….a thought-provoking piece on this foolish day…..

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  8. Good job on the article! Social disdain so thinly veiled nobody will miss it, precariously close to open hate but not quite going there! Well done.

    Not a fan of some of the designs, myself, but am a proud resident. Sure seems as if the “plan” is working. There is a general focus on pride of ownership from which much of Mississippi could learn. Take Rankin County, for example – highest household income per capita in the state (beating Madison County by a fair bit) but some of the worst zoning execution on the planet. Dilapidated mobile homes right next to half-million-$ homes right next to used auto parts places right next to commercial.

    Nonetheless, its not the architecture that tells the tale, but the people. Mulitcultural, open, loving, supportive, and overtly neighborly, I love the people of Madison.

    Given the choice (and I was/am) I’d live in Madison over any other in the Jackson MSA. If I had to live in some of these areas, I’d pick up and move to Glendale, AZ or DeSoto County first.

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    • Your comment, which is a good example of unveiled social disdain and open hatred of other Mississippi communities, provides an excellent contrast to the tone of my post, which was a friendly April Fools poke at my neighbor to the north. I am confident that other readers will be able to tell the difference and come to their own conclusions.

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    • “Pride of ownership” = conspicuous consumption

      “Mulitcultural, open, loving, supportive, and overtly neighborly” = I don’t care where you come from or what you believe as long as you have as much money as I do

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  9. Bricky and Stuccoey need to be future MissPres Architectural Words of the week. Great Post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • EL,Malvaney, oh, amen, amen. Of course the *faux* and pompous grandeur is not tasteful, but that doesn’t bother me so much as the possible construction standards. The real-sure-nuff Greco-Roman artifacts have survived for centuries—millenia—because the Greeks and Romans, bless their hearts, didn’t have access to Dry-Vit and other cost-cutting materials. What will “Madison the City” look like in—forget 2,000 years!—another generation? This stuff (or most of it) was just not built to last.

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  10. Brilliant! A gentle poking of fun, yet insightful. I read part 2 first and it actually stood alone.

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  11. Genius!

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  12. Yes, brilliant. I have been waiting years for someone to do this – only never imagined it would be done so extensively and academically. Its a howl from start to finish.

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