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Greek & Etruscan Influences on Roman Art

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  • 00:00 Roman Art
  • 00:28 Greek Influences
  • 1:43 Etruscan Influences
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the influences that both the ancient Greeks and ancient Etruscans had on Roman art. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Roman Art

Roman art has often been criticized for being little more than a copy of other cultures. Those Romans never did anything original, just tried to copy the Greeks! Well, I think it's about time that somebody stood up for the Romans. Yes, Roman art was influenced by both Greek and Etruscan traditions, but there's a fine line between appreciation and plagiarism. Roman art represented a unique blending of Greek, Etruscan, and local Roman tastes to create a distinct artistic tradition.

Greek Influences

The Romans were not the first people to create major programs for sculpture, painting, and architecture. In Europe, that title really goes to the Greeks. Before the rise of Rome, the Greek cities had already developed the three orders of Classical architecture and developed some of the greatest sculpture in history. So, it's really not surprising that the Romans found inspiration in those styles.

In terms of architecture, the Greeks set the foundations for the perfect temple: symmetrical and balanced, reflecting ideal geometric ratios. The Romans fell in love with Greek symmetry and the use of geometry as the basis for aesthetic beauty. Roman temples are pretty clearly related to Greek temples, with the use of marble columns, a wide front porch, and an enclosed sanctuary, called a cella.

Roman sculpture was also pretty heavily influenced by the Greeks. The Greeks were the first western culture to really figure out how to accurately depict the human form, which of course, they did through geometric ratios. The realistic proportions, sense of movement, and overall beauty of Greek sculptures was inherited by the Roman artists, who often copied Greek sculptures before creating their own. The Romans, like the Greeks, carved both free-standing statues and reliefs that were commonly used to decorate temples. As one last example of Greek influence, Roman reliefs, mosaics, and paintings very commonly had Greek mythology as the central theme.

Etruscan Influences

So, the Romans must have pretty much just copied the Greeks on everything, right? Well, not exactly. While the Romans were influenced by the Greeks, their style was also influenced by the native people of Tuscany called the Etruscans, who inhabited the area long before the Romans moved in. Etruscan temples were different than Greek temples, and while the Romans followed a general devotion to Greek symmetry, the actual floor plans of their temples were much more Etruscan.

Look at these two temples. The first is Greek; it has a staircase and columns that go all the way around and is almost perfectly symmetrical from every direction. The second temple is Roman. See how much larger the front area, called the porch, is in this temple? There's only one staircase and the cella takes up a larger part of the structure. Those influences are purely Etruscan.

Temple floor plans
Floor plans for a Greek and a Roman temple

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