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Ancient Roman Architecture

Ancient Roman architecture originated with the Etruscans who came to Italy in the 12th century BCE. The architecture would later draw from many civilizations that became a part of the Roman Empire. Understanding the characteristics of ancient Roman architecture is important to understanding how it influenced the world.

Ancient Roman Architecture

The Etruscans utilized many Greek and Phoenician styles in their architecture. They built huge temples to honor their gods. As the Roman Empire grew and spread to half of the civilized world, the need arose for many things, like roads for faster transportation. Of course the conquerors needed large, impressive buildings to show their dominance and power.

The ancient Romans built square forums featuring shops, temples, and public buildings (basilicas) around them. Theatres and amphitheaters were needed for entertaining large crowds and enormous arches were built to herald their victories. Another major development was the building of the aqueducts. The Romans built 51,000 miles of roads in their empire, hence the saying, "all roads lead to Rome".

One of the most important contributions made to the world from ancient Roman builders was the development of weight-bearing concrete. Before the first century B.C.E., there had been a concrete-like substance, but the Romans improved it so that it was strong enough to stand on its own and could actually replace stone.

By the third century, this concrete was near-perfect. It was made of lime mortar, water, sand, and stones. Since concrete could be easily made and the wooden frames for it be used repeatedly, this building method was more efficient and cheaper than building with only stone.

Arches and Domes

The development of concrete paved the way for the arch and the dome. The arch used wooden supports and blocks designed to direct force towards the keystone placed at the top of the arch. This keystone was the last block to be placed during the construction.

The arch led to covering larger spaces such as basilicas and public baths with vaulted ceilings. The Romans favored the dome in their construction, like in Hadrian's Pantheon. Other examples of Roman architecture from ancient times include the Coliseum, the Hippodrome, and the Pantheon.

The Coliseum

Emperor Titus opened the Coliseum in 80 AD with 100 days of games. These included celebrations and bloody exhibitions that included animals and gladiators. The Coliseum was covered with a canvas that had a hole in the center to let in the sunlight. About 50,000 people could fit inside the stadium. The word "Coliseum" was taken from an enormous (colossal) statue of Nero that stood close to the amphitheatre. Its real name was the Flavian Amphitheatre. The word "arena" comes from the Latin word for sand. Sand was placed on the floor of the stadium to soak up blood.

The Hippodrome

The Hippodrome was a building that was constructed for horse and chariot races. One of the most famous ones is The Circus Maximus. It was 600 meters in length and 200 meters in width. Its capacity was 250,000 people, which was about one quarter of Rome's population. Other circuses in Rome were the Circus Flaminius, the Circus Gai et Neronis, and the Circus Maxentius.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon was named from a Greek word meaning "to every god". It was built by Marcus Agrippa around 27 BCE and was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. The Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon using the original design around 126 AD. It has Corinthian columns and a concrete dome, the largest un-reinforced one in the world. The inside of the Pantheon measures 43.3 meters, or 142 feet, in both height and diameter. Sunlight and air enters through a circle in the center of the roof that is 8 meters 92 centimeters in diameter.