Roman Art And Architecture


Roman art and architecture had a profound impact on the
world we live in today by influencing modern city planning,
architecture, and art. The early Roman structures were
copies of Greek architectural forms, however, the Romans
soon established their own identity by developing new
building material and constructing unusual shapes and
The Roman Empire's most impressive contribution is their
architecture. They created numerous structures, blending
utility with beauty. Quarried stone, used in conjunction
with timber beams, terra-cotta tiles and plaques, as well
as marble, was the essential Roman building material from
Republican times on ("Roman" Encarta'96). They also
developed a totally new type of material which they called
caementum (cement) and concretus (concrete). Cement is a
fine, gray powder which is mixed with water and materials
such as sand, gravel, and crushed stone to make concrete.
Concrete is fireproof, watertight, and comparatively cheap
and easy to make. When first mixed, concrete can be molded
into almost any shape. It quickly hardens into an
extremely strong material that lasts a long time and
requires little care. The cement that was used by the
Romans had such great durability that some of their
buildings, roads, and bridges still exist. 
Concrete vaulting made possible the construction of the
great amphitheaters and baths of the Roman world, as well
as the dome of the Pantheon ("Roman"). They used huge
vaulted halls, called basilica., for courtrooms and civic
activities. Many of their most impressive buildings were
constructed during the imperial period, from 27 B.C. to
A.D. 476. Roman theaters first appeared in the late
Republic. They were semicircular in plan and consisted of a
tall stage building abutting a semicircular orchestra and
tiered seating area. The earliest known amphitheater (75
BC) is at Pompeii, and the grandest, Rome's Colosseum (AD
70-80), held approximately 50,000 spectators, roughly the
capacity of today's large sports stadiums ("Roman"). The
Pantheon is the only building of Imperial Rome to have
withstood successfully the ravages of time and man (Morore
14). The porch reminds us of the Parthenon, but one can
clearly see that the columns are Corinthian rather that
Doric (Morore). The great vaulted dome is 142 ft in
diameter, and the entire structure is lighted through one
aperture, called an oculus, in the center of the dome
("Pantheon" Encarta'96). The Pantheon was erected by the
Roman emperor Hadrian between AD 118 and 128, replacing a
smaller temple built by the statesman Marcus Vipsanius
Agrippa in 27 BC. In the early 7th century it was
consecrated as a church, Santa Maria ad Martyres, to which
act it owes its survival ("Pantheon").
Another great achievement, attributed to the Romans, was
the layout of cities and the construction of apartment
buildings. The typical Roman city of the later Republic and
empire had a rectangular plan and resembled a Roman
military camp. It had two main streets; the main
north-south thoroughfare was called the cardo and the
east-west thoroughfare, the decumanus (Adam 54). A grid of
smaller streets divided the town into blocks, and a wall
with gates encircled the city. Recreational buildings,
buildings for homes, and shops were dispersed throughout
the area ("Roman" Encarta'96). The shops were usually
one-room units opening onto the sidewalks. Large cities and
small towns alike also had public baths. Under the
Republic, they were generally made up of a suite of
dressing rooms and bathing chambers with hot- , warm- , and
cold-water baths alongside an exercise area, the palaestra. 

The city plan also included libraries, lecture halls, and
vast vaulted public spaces elaborately decorated with
statues, mosaics, paintings, and stuccos ("Roman"). In the
second century A.D., Rome had nearly a million inhabitants
(Adam 58). The rich dwellings of the aristocracy and the
emperors' palaces stood close to the communal apartment
houses that were several stories high (about 60 feet).
These apartment houses were hastily built, "supported only
by beams as long and thin as flutes," wrote Juvenal.
Sometimes they fell down, and they were an easy prey for
the fires that periodically swept through the capital
As Rome established herself as the center of civilization,
it became clear that her destiny in the arts was to be
realistic in sculpture, as she had been imperialistic in
government (Craven 43). Throughout the Roman world, statues
and reliefs were regularly displayed in, on, and around
public and private buildings ("Roman" Encarta'96). The
style of the imperial relief sculptures ranges from the
conscious neo-Greek classicism of the Ara Pacis friezes to
the late antique the schematic, frontal, and hieratic style
of the new reliefs of the Arch of Constantine. Statues were
erected of deities, heroes, and mortals alike in a wide
variety of contexts. Every temple had a cult Statue; marble
and bronze images of the gods and heroes ("Roman"). In the
Roman Imperial Period, portrait painting is best
represented by a series of wooden panels recovered from
sites throughout Roman Egypt. These works, traditionally
called "Fayyum portraits," after the agricultural district
in Egypt where they were first discovered, were painted in
the encaustic technique, a method that uses pigment
contained in a medium of hot wax ("Roman"). These panels
are the only portraits that have survived in any number,
and even though they are provincial works, they testify to
a high level of accomplishment on the part of Roman
painters. These images reflect the prevailing tastes of the
times and provide a chronological overview of the
development of portraiture during the Roman Imperial
Period. Mural painting is, by contrast, well documented,
especially in Pompeii and the other cities buried in AD 79
by the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius ("Roman").
Wherever painted murals existed, colored floors were likely
to be present. They were often simply painted in solid
colors, but in many instances they were made up of marble
slabs of many hues or of thousands of tiny mosaic cubes

Roman art and architecture has had a profound impact
throughout the ages by influencing modern city planning,
architecture, and art. From our city streets to our
football stadiums, and even our tile floors, Roman art and
architecture has provided important examples and has been


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