Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 6

Architecture of Ancient Rome

Roman architects mastered a number of important architectural techniques,

including the arch, the dome and the vault, as well as the use of concrete.
Using these methods, Roman engineers designed and built some of the greatest
public buildings in the history of architecture, including temples,
basilicas, amphitheatres, triumphal arches, monuments, and public baths. In
addition, Roman architects designed numerous aqueducts, drainage systems,
and bridges, as well as a vast network of roads, while planners developed a
series of urban blueprints, based on army camps, to help create new towns
from scratch. Among the greatest buildings erected by the Romans,
were: Maison Carree, Nimes, France (19 BCE); Pont Du Gard Aqueduct, Nimes,
France (19 BCE); The Colosseum, Rome (72-80 CE); Arch of Titus, Rome (81
CE); Aqueduct, Segovia, Spain (100 CE); the Baths of Trajan (104-109);
Trajan's Bridge, Alcantara, Spain (105 CE); Library of Celsus, Ephesus,
Turkey (120 CE); Hadrian's Wall, Northern England (121 CE); The Pantheon,
Rome (128 CE); Palace of Diocletian, Split (300 CE); Baths of Diocletian
(306 CE); Arch of Constantine, Rome (312 CE); and the Cloaca Maxima (600-200
BCE), one of the world's earliest sewage systems, constructed in Ancient
Rome in order to drain local marshes and transport the city's waste to the
River Tiber.

Building Techniques: Arch, Vault, Dome

In architecture, however, the Romans absorbed some important techniques

from the Etruscans before Greek influence was decisively felt. This
included the arch and the vault, which were destined to carry Roman
engineering into a development directly away from that of ancient Greece,
who preferred "post-and-lintel" building methods to arches and domes. Thus
was laid the foundation of the art in which the Italic peoples were to
surpass the Hellenes: structural engineering. The vaulting techniques used
by the Romans were the simple geometric forms: the semicircular barrel
vault, the groin vault, and the segmental vault. The vault surfaces were
typically covered with stucco or tiles. An excellent example of Roman
vaulting is the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius in Rome. A natural
development of the vault was the dome, which enabled the construction of
vaulted ceilings and the roofing of large public spaces such as the public
baths and basilicas. The Romans relied heavily on the dome for much of
their architecture, such as Hadrian's Pantheon, the Baths of Diocletian and
the Baths of Caracalla. Characteristic of Roman architectural design was
the construction of complex forms of domes to suit multilobed ground plans.

The mastery by Roman architects and engineers of the arch, vault and dome -
further enhanced by their development of concrete - helped them to solve
the first problem of monumental architecture, which is to bridge space.
Roofing a great area means carrying heavy materials across spaces
impossible to span with the Greeks' simple post-and-lintel system. In the
arch, and the vault that grew out of it, the Romans had a means of
thrusting the massive Colosseum walls story above story, of covering a
luxurious bathing hall that could accommodate three thousand persons, and
of creating the majestic form of the Pantheon.

Influence of Ancient Greece

Although limited by their persistent use of post-and-lintel building

methods, Greek influence over Roman architecture was dominant in almost all
matters of architectural style and 3-D decorative art. The most obvious
Hellenistic gift was the series of Greek Orders of architecture -
Doric, Ionic and Corinthian- from which the Romans developed two
more: Tuscan and Composite(variants of the Greek Doric and Corinthian
styles, respectively). In general, Roman Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Orders
were slenderer and more ornamented. Columns tended to be left unfluted, but
the fascia of the entablature, left plain by Greek architects, was heavily

Given their tendency to show off, Roman architects had the least interest
in Greek Doric and, when they did use it, they invariably added a
decorative molding to the base. Examples of the Roman Doric style can be
seen in the Tabularium and the Colosseum in Rome, and in the Temple of
Hercules at Cori. The Ionic order was used by the Romans in some temples
and public buildings, as well as private homes. Exemplars include: the
Temple of Fortuna Virilis and Trajan's Forum in Rome. By far the most
popular idiom, however, was the Corinthian order. Based initially on the
style of columns taken from the Greek Temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens,
the order became progressively more decorative and elaborate. Good examples
can be seen at the temples of Mars Ultor in Rome, and the Temple of Vesta
at Tivoli.

In view of all this, it is hardly surprising that whereas the names of

architects are mostly Roman or Etruscan, the names of sculptors and
painters are Greek. Whats more, it seems that the architects did all the
important engineering and construction work, and then handed the building
over to imported artists to do the superficial decorative work. Thus, when
the hand of time stripped the ornamental casing from the Caracalla Baths or
the theatre at Orange, the walls and arches stood out with a mighty lift
and a compelling grandeur. And a "plain" engineering work like the Pont du
Gard stirs the blood and lifts the eye with its mathematical vigour.

The Roman mastery of concrete was a major step forward. Its strength,
flexibility, convenience and low cost - when compared to any other building
material - made arch, vaults and domes much easier to build. First employed
in the town of Cosa sometime after 273 BCE, its widespread use was a key
event in the Roman architectural revolution, and freed Roman construction
from the restrictions of stone and brick material and allowed for
revolutionary new designs in terms of both structural complexity and
dimension. Laid in the shape of arches, vaults and domes, it quickly
hardened into a rigid mass, free from many of the internal thrusts and
strains that troubled the builders of similar structures in stone or brick.
The widespread use of concrete in many Roman structures has ensured that
many survive to the present day. the Pantheon, Baths of Caracalla, and
Basilica of Constantine in Rome are just three examples.

Roman concrete (opus caementicium) was typically made from a mixture of

lime mortar, water, sand and pozzolana, a fine, ochre-coloured volcanic
earth, which set well even under water. To this cement mixture, was added a
combination of tuff, travertine, brick, and other rubble. Among the more
unusual additives used, were horse hair, which reportedly made concrete
less prone to cracking; and animal blood, which increased its resistance to

Concrete walls, except those underground, were invariably faced. Works were
categorized according to the type of facing employed. The four main types
included: (1) Opus quadratum concrete, a type of ordinary stone walling
that was used to face important public buildings. (2) Opus
incertumconcrete, the most popular facing for ordinary concrete walls,
prior to the Imperial era. (3) Opus reticulatum concrete, similar to opus
incertum but with pyramid-shaped stones. (4) Opus Testaceum concrete, a
type of brick/tile-facing which became the most widespread form across the
empire. (5) Opus Mixtum concrete, a combined brick/stone facing, popular
with later empire architects during the Diocletian period.

Building Materials

The earliest buildings built in and around Rome were made of tuff, a type
of volcanic rock of varying hardness, which could be worked mostly with
bronze tools. Later, harder stones were used, like peperino and local
albani stone from the Alban hills. During the empire, the most common stone
used for building was travertine, a form of limestone quarried in Tivoli,
as used on the exterior of the Colosseum in Rome. Marble was used only for
facing or decoration, or sometimes in mosaics. Coloured marbles and stones
like alabaster, porphyry and granite, were also popular, as exemplified by
the remains of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. The majority of domestic homes
were made with a variety of unburned bricks faced with stucco.


There were temples in Rome, and throughout her far-flung colonies and
provinces. But they were far less distinctive and inventive than Greek
designs of (say) the Parthenon or other structures; rather they represented
the Greek idea adapted and elaborated. The columns usually carried florid
Corinthian capitals - the Doric style being too plain to Latin eyes.
Decoration was added elsewhere too, so that in the end no bit of bare wall
was tolerated. Even the architrave, kept clean by the Greeks to emphasize
the feeling of cross-bar strength, was soon being traced over with Roman

The earlier round structures of the sort illustrated in the ancient Temple
of Vesta in the Roman forum, provided an appealing grace and a pleasing
ornamental fullness not known to the architecture of the Hellenes. The more
usual adaptation of the Greek rectangular temple is to be seen today in the
example at Nimes in France, known as the Maison Carree. It illustrates both
the survival of the essential Greek form, and the typical Roman (originally
Etruscan) changes, such as the podium or raised platform (stylobate) with a
flight of steps in front, and the substitution of engaged columns or
pilasters along the side walls of the cella, in place of the original
continuous colonnade. Even today the building has dignity and a quiet

In some cases the cella of the Roman temple was vaulted in concrete; it
might also possess a semicircular end, as in the Baths of Diana at Nimes,
and the Temple of Venus and Rome, in Rome. The most important Roman temples
of which remains exist, include: Mars Ultor, Castor and Pollux, Fortuna
Virilis, Concord and Antoninus, in Rome; the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek,
the Temple of Minerva at Assisi and the temples at Pompeii.


The most influential type of religious building developed by Roman

architects was the basilica. Originally secular in purpose, it was destined
to become an early prototype for the first Christian churches - see Early
Christian Art - and thus to affect monumental architecture down to the
twentieth century. The basilica was commonly situated in the Forum of a
Roman city, and was designed as a large covered hall to be used as a place
of general assembly for trade, banking, and administration of the law: in
simplest words, a meeting hall. The standard Basilica plan had a central
nave between side aisles; and it was here that clerestory lighting and
construction were introduced into European building. A few basilicas were
given semicircular halls at the end opposite the entrance, corresponding to
the later church apse or altar area. The oldest basilica is the Basilica
Porcia (184 BCE), while the famous Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls
(4th century CE) at Rome, though rebuilt in the 19th century (according to
the 4th-century plan), illustrates the impressive simplicity and grandeur
of the basilica design, combined with late Roman sumptuous decoration.
Where arched construction here surmounts the interior columns, the earlier
form had been a continuous architrave, sometimes with gallery above, just
under the clerestory windows. It is one of Rome's four most distinguished
papal basilicas: the others being the basilicas of St. Mary Major, St.
Peter's, and St. John Lateran. The most magnificent example is the 63,000
square-foot Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, an awesome example of
the cohesion and strength of Roman concrete. A more modern basilica
modelled on Roman architecture is Saint Peter's Basilica (c.1520-1620)in

The Pantheon

The greatest surviving circular temple of classical antiquity, and arguably

the most important example of ancient art produced in Rome, is
the Pantheon. Today it has lost its interior embellishments, though it is
the best preserved of major Roman monuments; but it takes the breath by the
vast dimensions, the simplicity of its forms, and the audacity of the
structural design. A temple-like forecourt or porch lies against an immense
142-foot wide circular hall or rotunda, under a low dome. The engineering
is elementary: the rotunda's walls form the drum from which the dome
springs direct; there are no windows. Light is admitted to the building
solely through a great a 28-foot oculus left open to the sky at the top. To
sustain the thrust of the dome, the walls are twenty feet thick, and there
are eight apse-like niches hollowed in them—one opened to form the main
portal, the others designed for statues of gods and later transformed by
the Christians into side-chapels. In its time the inside of the dome,
richly coffered, and the marble trim of walls and apses, must have been
impressively sumptuous; but today it is the grand simplicity of the
engineering and the great spaciousness that thrill the visitor. The
Pantheon is truly one of the world's most impressive buildings. The
Corinthian temple facade of the French Pantheon (1790) Paris, designed
by Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80), is a direct copy of its ancestor in


The theatres of Rome itself were usually temporary erections, but often
were adorned with almost incredibly rich displays of sculpture and
architectural accessories, if one may believe eyewitness reports. Some
surviving provincial examples indicate, indeed, that the architecture was
thought of as part of the spectacle. One Latin description mentions a stage
wall with 360 columns, 3000 statues, and other "special" adornments.


Amphitheatres were public arenas (of which 220 are known) in which
spectacles were held, such as contests between gladiators, public displays,
public meetings and bullfights. There is enough left of the Colosseum in
Rome, for instance, to indicate the form and to impress the eye - though
the complete interior sheathing of coloured marble has disappeared.
Constructed by the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian (c.70-82), the
structure is of concrete with a facing of Travertine marble. The 6-acre
complex is a marvellous constructive feat: a bowl more than 600 feet long,
with 50,000 or 60,000 seats resting on a honeycomb structure of arcades and
vaults, with passageways for spectators, rooms for the gladiators, and
cells for the wild beasts. To that extent the architecture is functional
and honest. But the marble facing to a certain degree weakens the mass
effect, denies the engineering, and contrasts badly with the necessarily
heavy materials. The columns carry no weight.

Incidentally it may be noted that the Emperor Augustus (31-14 BCE), of the
golden age of Rome, who is said to have boasted that he transformed Rome
from a city of brick to a city of marble, was speaking in terms of a
veneer. Greek monumental buildings had been of solid marble, and the
Egyptian pyramids are mountains of laid-up stone, but the Romans seem not
to have had the time or the thoroughness to deal in difficult materials
even when they had the materials at hand. (See also: Late Egyptian

Amphitheatres should be distinguished from Roman circuses (hippodromes) -

in effect, racecourses flanked by tiers of seats and a central grandstand -
whose elongated circuits were designed for horse or chariot racing events;
and also from the smaller stadia, which were built for athletics and
similar games. The largest Roman hippodrome was the U-shaped Circus
Maxiumus(built, rebuilt and enlarged c.500 BCE - 320 CE) in Rome, with a
seating capacity at its height of 250,000. It became the prototype for
circuses throughout the Roman Empire.