Roman Art, Architecture & Engineering

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  • 0:01 When in Rome
  • 0:35 Roman Art
  • 2:10 Roman Architecture and…
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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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 ways that the Romans filled their world with art, architecture, and marvels of engineering. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

When in Rome

Have you ever heard the phrase, when in Rome, do as the Romans do? Apparently, if you're ever in Rome, you need to spend all of your time creating incredible works of art and architecture. Because that's what the Romans did. The Roman Republic, the period from 509 BC to 27 BC when Rome was ruled by elected officials, saw the development of Roman styles of art and engineering. After Rome became an empire under the rule of a single leader from 27 BC to 476 AD, the Roman Empire continued that tradition of excellence.

Roman Art

Art was an important part of Roman lives. They decorated their homes, their businesses, and their temples in paintings and large murals made of tiny individual tiles called mosaics. Mosaics were a major form of Roman art, and they depicted scenes from Roman mythology, history, or just daily life. The individual tiles in a mosaic are called tesserae, and they were either made of glass or stone. Sometimes they were painted, but most tesserae were chosen for their natural color. Mosaics were time-consuming and expensive, so they indicated social status and only the wealthy could afford them. The largest known Roman mosaic is on a floor in the Villa del Casale, a 4th century estate in Sicily. It is a 3,200 square foot scene of hunting and fighting.

The other art form that was extremely important to the Romans was sculpture. Roman sculpture was highly realistic, displaying incredible skill. Most Roman sculptures were carved from marble, a soft stone native to Italy. More expensive sculptures were cast in bronze. Sculptures were carved to celebrate major events, from the rise of a family to prominence in the business community to military victories. Often, these events would be carved into reliefs, panels carved so the figures seem to stand out from the background. Since reliefs could be easily formed into a series of images, they were often used to tell stories, generally about a military conquest.

Roman Architecture and Engineering

The Romans were some of the greatest architectural innovators and engineers in history who developed styles and techniques that changed the world. The basis of this profound impact was the arch. An arch is 'an architectural form that controls the pressure from the weight of a building in a specific way'. The arch directs pressure downwards and outwards, creating a strong passage underneath that has the ability to support heavy structures.

Before the Romans, nobody really knew how to use the arch as an architectural feature. The Romans figured out how to use the arch to build enormous buildings. When used correctly, arches disperse the weight of the ceiling and allow for wider interior spaces. By building two arches that intersected at a perpendicular angle, the Romans invented something even more useful, the dome. A dome roof covers wide spaces while remaining structurally stronger than a flat roof. With the use of the arch and the dome, the Romans were able to create huge buildings that served as temples, meeting places, markets, or courts of law. For the first time, these huge buildings had lots of natural lighting with windows and high, domed ceilings and could even be multiple stories tall.

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