Table of Contents
- Roman Architecture
- Ancient Roman Buildings
- Roman Architecture Characteristics
- Ancient Roman Building Materials
- Ancient Roman Architects
- The Pantheon
- Lesson Summary
Roman architecture was heavily inspired by the design philosophies of Greek architecture. There are three main styles of Roman architecture, first used by the Greeks before they were implemented into Roman style architecture. The types are more easily identified based on the design of the columns:
The Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks for many of their cultural facets, from literature and drama to architecture and art. Roman buildings were often built using Greek styles of architecture, such as colonnades. Greco-Roman architecture refers to a style in which Romans borrowed heavily from their Greek counterparts, but also expanded upon their designs to come up with something more characteristically Roman. For example, Romans often used concrete in their designs because of its usefulness, which allowed them to create much larger buildings than could be found in Greece.
The Etruscans were the early inhabitants of Italy, who flourished from 8th to 3rd century BCE. Unfortunately, very few examples of their architectural style remain, however enough has been uncovered to see that while they too borrowed from the Greeks, they had decidedly different designs. For example, Roman architect Vitruvius wrote that Etruscan temples were placed on higher platforms and were square in design, compared to Greek temples which were lower to the ground and rectangular. Models that have been uncovered show houses with steep, gabled roofs—they show buildings that are either rectangular or circular in design.
While many architectural characteristics stayed the same throughout pre-imperial and imperial Rome, some features were unique to each period. Much of Pre-Imperial architecture was influenced by the Etruscans, who also borrowed from the Greeks. Temples had cellas that were very frontal, where visitors were only meant to enter in through one point. Concrete was also not used often during this period, though would be experimented with in the late Pre-Imperial period.
The Imperial period brought with it a surge in architectural creativity. It is during this period that some of the greatest baths were created, such as the Baths of Caracalla. The basilica is also unique to this period, as the usage of concrete allowed for huge structures to be built. Although concrete was utilized extensively, materials such as marble were still used for building in order to hark back to Greek architecture.
There are many buildings that are characteristic of Roman architecture, e.g., temples. There are also functional pieces, i.e., the Aquia Appia, constructed in 312 BCE, one of the first aqueducts ever constructed in Rome. Ancient Roman buildings took on many shapes and sizes and varying degrees of creativeness thanks to innovations happening at the time, resulting in some of the most famous buildings of the Roman Empire.
Aqueducts are channels that are designed to funnel fresh water across large distances to urban areas. Oftentimes, the nearest source of fresh water would be several kilometers away, so transporting that water by other means would be extremely labor intensive. They also sported arches in as many as three tiers in order to adequately support the structure.
Roman theatres and amphitheaters were inspired by the Greek's theatres, however they featured much more stone architecture as well as a semicircular orchestra. They also incorporated highly decorated stage buildings, called scaenae frons, which used different levels of columns, pediments, and projections.
Baths are displays of the Roman ability to create stunning interior spaces. These structures utilized arches, domes vaults, and buttresses. They were often built symmetrically and included fountains and even libraries, in addition to the baths. They also utilized interior heating via pipe systems both in the floor and in the walls.
Initially conceived as gathering places or courts of law by the Romans, basilicas were adopted by the church to be used as religious sites. They feature long halls with a roof supported by columns and were often constructed along one side of the forum, or the central marketplace.
Bridges were an essential piece of architecture, though were more simply constructed. Though they still sported Roman arches to form a stone base, wooden structures would be built over top of them.
Constructed of brick, concrete, and wood, insula were affordable housing arrangements for those that were less well-off. Some even had balconies for residents, and the ground floor typically held shops on the street-facing side. They could also be constructed quite high, with some being as high as five stories.
Roman temples often combined both the Etruscan and Greek styles, utilizing an inner cella on the rear of the building complete with surrounding columns, all constructed on a raised platform and a stepped entrance. This was often the focal point of the building, unlike Greek temples in which all four sides of the building would be equal in importance.
The key purpose of a triumphal arch was to honor in sculpture a significant event. Often these were events such as military victories, and these arches were typically placed over thoroughfares, but later arches would be separated and protected by steps.
Walls, also used in commemoration of important figures and events, varied from 18 centimeters in thickness to an incredible six meters. Usage of marble was deemed too expensive for such structures, and as such concrete and brick were often the main material of choice thanks to their inexpensiveness. They could also be shaped in various ways, using irregular chunks of smoothed stone, pyramid-shaped chunks set with the base facing outwards, or a mixture of the two.
There are several Roman architecture characteristics to make note of:
The Romans utilized many different materials in their buildings, and even stumbled upon a type of material that could fill large spaces relative ease. Also, this material was cost effective.
Much of Roman architecture also features bricks, which were made from mud that was molded to fit a brick shape and then fired in a kiln. While sun-dried bricks were a common staple and were still useful well into the 1st century CE, fired bricks offered high durability and could be carved just like stone.
The Romans, while not the first to use lime mortar, were the first to realize the structural capabilities of concrete, of which lime is a key ingredient. Unlike modern concrete, which is a more viscous substance, their version of concrete was thick and was instead laid down rather than poured in. To make it, they used lime mortar mixed with opus caementicium, their term for stone aggregate (crushed stone, sand, and gravel). It was later discovered in the 2nd century BCE that when the concrete used volcanic sand, it could be set under water and was stronger than their normal concrete. While concrete itself was not very attractive, other materials could be applied to it to make it look more aesthetically pleasing, such as stucco, or even marble veneer.
Marble was the choice material for large-scale, imperially funded projects. There were many types that were especially prized, such as Parian marble from Paros. Colored varieties of the stone were also highly sought after by architects, though was exceedingly expensive due to transportation costs. These colored varieties could only be found in places like North Africa, whose marble had a yellowish hue, and Turkey which had a purple color. Rather than using large, whole chunks of the stone, marble was often used as a veneer over other materials such as concrete, since it is significantly cheaper than making entire structures out of marble.
Unfortunately, not much is known about Roman architects. There are few dedicated inscriptions for their work on surviving buildings, making it unclear as to who constructed the building and who it was dedicated to.
Virtuvius is the most famous Roman architect, thanks to his On Architecture having survived to this day. Other than that, Apollodorus of Damascus, favored architect of Trajan is known thanks to Trajan's Baths and Forum in Rome. Additionally, Severus and Celer are known because of the revolving roof of Nero's Golden House. Outside of these few, little is known.
The Pantheon is arguably one of the most impressive structures created in the Imperial era of Rome. While it is assumed that it was constructed to be a temple thanks to its name, it is unclear if that is what it was truly intended for.
The frontal porch measures in at 33.1 x 13.6 meters (108.6 x 44.6 feet) and features a colonnade of eight columns in the Corinthian style, with what was once a marble-paneled floor that has been lost, revealing the supporting brickwork.
Inside is a space that outshines its exterior by many degrees. Two large bronze doors lead into the rotunda, the large circular part of the building, which measures in at 43.2 meters (141.7 feet). The dome rises to match the diameter at an exact 43.2 meters (141.7 feet). In order to ensure the dome's integrity, it was constructed using a special mixture of concrete made to be lighter than normal, utilizing tufa and scoria (a kind of pumice). It was also the largest dome to ever be built in Europe, and retained that title until the 15th century.
On top of that, the walls of the rotunda are a massive six meters thick to bear the weight of such a massive dome. The interior features columns in the Corinthian style, along with a great deal of decorative work along its walls and over its alcoves.
Roman architecture often features design elements pulled directly from Greek styles. For example, the columns used by Roman architects fell in with the Greek orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, which each had special features that made them unique. They also invented concrete, a material that they would use to great effect thanks to its cheapness, how easy it is to create blocks from molds, and its versatility in making various strengths and weights. It was also often covered up with stucco or marble veneer because by itself, it is not visually appealing.
Romans constructed a wide variety of buildings, as well:
One of the most famous pieces of architecture of the time period, the Pantheon, is a temple with one of the largest domes to be built in Europe until the 15th century.
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There are many functions of Roman architecture. Their main purpose, however, would likely be grandeur. Whatever the Romans built, it was often large in scale, as is the case with the Pantheon, as well as the Pont du Gard Aqueduct.
One of the most famous examples of Roman architecture is the Pantheon. It is a temple with a massive 140 foot diameter dome, and is dedicated to the Roman pantheon of gods.
The four main architectural inventions are: concrete, the Roman round arch (not invented by them, but mastered nonetheless), aqueducts, and domes. Concrete is likely one of the most famous and most important, as it led to the ability to create some of their most impressive structures.
There are plenty of things that are unique about Roman architecture. For example, they were the first to heavily implement concrete in their construction. They also perfected the round arch, which led to the construction of vaults, which are hallways that are a continuous arch.
There are three main types, called orders, of Roman architecture that were borrowed from Greek architecture. They are the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian orders.
Roman architecture often featured things such as columns and arches in their structures. However, domes were a key feature, as in The Pantheon, as well as vaults.
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