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The Ancient Roman Pantheon of Gods: Architecture & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Explore the history, design, construction, and significance of one of the most important buildings from ancient Rome, the Pantheon, and test your understanding of ancient Roman history, culture, and religion.

Pantheon

There are some buildings that are cool. And there are some that are super awesome! The Pantheon is the latter.

Pantheon
Pantheon

The Pantheon is an ancient Roman temple famous for the architectural ingenuity required to create it. It's dome remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world to this day. It is both one of the best preserved surviving Roman temples and one of the most important buildings in the world.

History

The original name of the Pantheon has been lost to time. However, we do know that the term 'pantheon' means a place that is relevant to all of the gods, or a place to worship all of the gods. Rome had a polytheistic religion, meaning that it worshiped multiple deities. The original building was commissioned by Roman architect, general and politician named Marcus Agrippa to celebrate a naval victory in 29 BCE. The Pantheon was a part of the building complex sponsored by Agrippa, built on his own property, that also included a temple to the god of the sea, Neptune, and a public bath. Temple-building was a very political thing to do in ancient Rome; temples were very important, sacred spaces, and building one indicated wealth and power and was often a way to gain the favor of the people.

Bust of Marcus Agrippa
Marcus Agrippa

It's believed that Agrippa's original temple may have burned down in a huge fire around 80 CE and rebuilt a few times, possibly changing the style and dedication. Archaeologists do know that Emperor Hadrian had the temple completely rebuilt around 126 CE. Hadrian almost never put his own name on temples and probably decided to keep the Pantheon associated with Marcus Agrippa, which is why Agrippa's name is still on it today. It's unknown if Hadrian stuck to the original design of the temple.

Design and Construction

The Pantheon is a Roman temple with the typically-large portico, the open structure of columns in front of the main entrance. The triangular roof of the portico, called the pediment, was originally filled with bronze sculptures that were probably gilded. Archaeologists think the original statue may have been an eagle within a wreath of victory. The portico has eight Corinthian columns in front, each roughly forty feet tall, and two groups of four columns behind those. At the back of the portico, near the main entrance, are several niches that probably held statues of Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Marcus Agrippa. The Pantheon took 3 years to construct and employed 732 builders.

Portico of the Pantheon
Pantheon

The cella, the enclosed worship area, is shaped like a cylinder, which was not the normal style of a Roman temple but not entirely uncommon either. Covering the cella is a domed roof, which is one of the greatest engineering marvels of the ancient world. The Romans were the first to perfect the art of building domes, which requires a lot of architectural ingenuity to construct without the weight collapsing in on itself. The secret was concrete.

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