The Corinthian order is the latest of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric order which was the earliest, followed by the Ionic order. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order. The Corinthian, with its offshoot the Composite, is stated to be the most ornate of the orders, characterized by slender fluted columns and elaborate capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.
The name "Corinthian" is derived from the ancient Greek city of Corinth, although the style had its own model in Roman practice, following precedents set by the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus (c. 2 CE). It was employed in southern Gaul at the Maison Carrée, Nîmes (illustration, below) and at the comparable podium temple at Vienne. Other prime examples noted by Mark Wilson Jones are the lower order of the Basilica Ulpia and the arch at Ancona (both of the reign of Trajan, 98–117 CE) the "column of Phocas" (re-erected in Late Antiquity but 2nd century in origin), and the "Temple of Bacchus" at Baalbek (c. 150 CE).
In architecture the capital (from the Latin caput, or "head") forms the topmost member of a column (or pilaster). It mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it, broadening the area of the column's supporting surface. The capital, projecting on each side as it rises to support the abacus, joins the usually square abacus and the usually circular shaft of the column. The capital may be convex, as in the Doric order; concave, as in the inverted bell of the Corinthian order; or scrolling out, as in the Ionic order. These form the three principal types on which all capitals are based. The Composite order (illustration, right), established in the 16th century on a hint from the Arch of Titus, adds Ionic volutes to Corinthian acanthus leaves.
From the highly visible position it occupies in all colonnaded monumental buildings, the capital is often selected for ornamentation; and is often the clearest indicator of the architectural order. The treatment of its detail may be an indication of the building's date.