Roman architecture

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As Roman architecture refers to the architecture of the Romans at the time of the Roman Republic and Empire . The Roman architectural history thus covers a period of about nine centuries (500 BC - 400 AD). The epochs of Roman architecture are named after individual rulers, dynasties or retrospectively formulated historical periods. The epoch or style terms coined by classical archeology have no correspondence in the written ancient tradition, i.e. they do not correspond to ancient perception and classification.


In terms of time, the Romans were the last people to play a significant role in the Mediterranean region in ancient times. During their appearance they encountered the heterogeneous art of the Etruscans , influenced by Italian, Greek and Oriental influences , which had developed very differently in the Campania landscape south of Rome than the art in the central and northern part of the Apennine peninsula . For example, the Etruscans were responsible for the first Italian house complex that deviated from the Greek specifications. In the place of the open colonnaded courtyard, around which the rooms are lined up in the Greek house, there was a more closed space, the atrium , which is also open towards the sky at the top, but in which this opening ( Compluvium ) is a relative one has little expansion. It also served to divert the rainwater collected from the roof surfaces into a cistern . The Etruscan temple building also shows an essentially different functional and design conception than the Greek one, was frontal instead of all-view, therefore only forms front pillars, so that the basis for a distinct facade effect was created.

In the dispute with the Romans from the 5th century BC The Etruscans gradually lost their political power and, like their art, became part of the Roman Empire . The main structures that were erected in Rome in the first centuries of the state are based on Etruscan architecture. In addition to the Latin influences, which can be seen everywhere, from the 2nd century BC The influence of Greek culture increased. Many Greek works of art and components found their way from Greece and Asia Minor to Rome as a result of victorious military conflicts . By adopting the three Greek column orders ( Doric , Ionic , Corinthian ), the appearance of the Roman architecture previously determined by the Tuscan order changed fundamentally.

The Romans adapted the adopted building forms to their own needs and developed them further, so that their own architectural style emerged. At the same time, the increasingly Roman-dominated Mediterranean area was enriched by numerous building types: In addition to the closed forum , this included basilicas , thermal baths , amphitheaters , Roman theaters , triumphal arches and typical forms of civil engineering such as roads , bridges and water pipes . The Romans put the functional building and the management of natural conditions as an architectural challenge in their appreciation on the same level as the tasks of sacred and representational architecture . From the Augustan period onwards, Greco-Hellenistic architecture in large parts of the empire increasingly merged with the established Roman architecture.

The Greek influence

Etruscan and Roman architecture

The first boom in Roman architecture began at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. A. During this time the construction of great military roads such as the Via Appia and water pipes fell; Appius Claudius Caecus built in 312 BC. The first aqueduct of Rome, the Aqua Appia . The Roman Forum was also given a more representative design by being surrounded by basilicas , which were used for public trade and the administration of justice. Of the monuments of this first boom, only a small decorative work from the beginning of the 3rd century BC has been preserved. BC, the sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus , which is now in the Vatican Museums .

Pillar construction

From 200 BC BC Rome extended its rule to Greece and Asia Minor . From the middle of the 2nd century BC The influence of Greek culture on Roman architecture made itself felt: Greek column construction (column order and column shape) and the vault construction perfected by the Etruscans began to merge at this time. The architecture was, however, more freely designed, towards an independent arch and vault construction with round arches , Etruscan barrel vaults or groin vaults and huge domes .

In addition to the arches and domes, the Greek columns, entablature and gables were retained for their decorative effect, but the old structure was remodeled, expanded and new elements were created, such as the composite capital , a variant of the Corinthian capital, regardless of the stylistic unity Ionic elements: acanthus tendrils or leaves with various decorative accessories above. The entablature was also more varied and richly decorated.

The column structure took on an integrating and at the same time invigorating function and softened the formal appearance of the vaults. Among the Greek column orders, the Corinthian order, the full leaf capital of which corresponded better to the striving for splendor and splendor, was particularly valued. It was not until Roman architecture that the Corinthian order was developed into a closed, independent and canonical order. In the Flavian period, the composite order , as can be seen on the Arch of Titus , also introduced a separate Roman variant of the column orders.

House shape

The changes in the old house form for a family are particularly indicative of the Greek influence. The original domus Italica with the usual axial sequence of entrance, open- topped atrium , tablinum and surrounding living rooms was given in the course of the 2nd century BC. In addition, a courtyard surrounded by porticos ( peristyle ) or a series of such courtyards. Furthermore, exedra , loggias and a number of other decorative elements (e.g. sculptures, fountains, stone tables, wall paintings, garden plantings) were added, so that the interior of the houses was a well-designed composition for the first time in antiquity. In the case of villas and palaces, structural and optical connections to the surrounding landscape satisfied the need for spatial expanse. City apartments of particularly wealthy families could - like the Casa del Fauno in Pompeii from the early 2nd century BC. - occupy a whole block.

Construction engineering

Pont du Gard

From mortar to concrete

The Romans had taken over the building with hewn stones from the Greeks and added the technique of mortar construction . At the same time, the Roman lime mortar created the prerequisites for the further development of the arches and vault structures adopted from the Etruscans, which were later used all over the world for technical facilities as well as for bridges , aqueducts and facade galleries.

Certain aggregates made the mortar water-resistant and hard as rock under water. Mixed with sand and gravel, this mortar made an excellent concrete that was used in the 2nd century BC. Cast masonry introduced in BC was used and poured between wooden cladding or masonry. This technology gave ancient architecture new approaches and almost unlimited possibilities not only for civil engineering. In this way, previously inaccessible building structures, multi-storey structures, any type of wall structure as well as wide-span barrel vaults and domes for large rooms without internal supports could be realized.

Concrete is often seen as the most important Roman contribution to the construction technology of the modern world , but many stylistic elements of the Roman Empire also live on in the arches and domes of government buildings and churches in Europe and North America .


Like the vault, the arch creates a self-supporting connection between pillars or walls. The Romans took over the real bow from the Etruscans and, with the help of new materials, developed it into a structural element of their own. With the help of the concrete it became possible to pour the arches. However, were falsework made of wood the weight of the wet concrete arch no match. So the Romans first built a light brick arch on the scaffolding and poured the actual concrete arch on top. Originally, the arch was a closure for a gap in the wall, i.e. a replacement for the lintel . New possibilities opened up when it was possible to put the arch on pillars in the 3rd century. The arch, which is lengthened in depth, creates the vault.


In Roman architecture, the barrel vault was initially used as the simplest vault construction in subordinate parts of the building. In the Colosseum , it was then stretched for the first time with light cast material between brick ribs that were invisibly connected to one another in the masonry. The spans achieved in the 1st century AD were 30.5 m for the Aula regia and 33 m for the Atrium Minervae . The cross vault , which arises from the right-angled intersection of two barrel vaults, was primarily used in the construction of the Roman thermal baths. With this type of vault, the load is no longer distributed across the walls as with the barrel vault, but is instead directed to four corner pillars via arches.

New construction tasks and building types


The basilica served as a covered foyer and was intended for court sessions and commercial transactions. The oldest basilicas built in Rome - the first was built in 185 BC. Erected and called Basilica Porcia - no longer exist. The oldest surviving Roman building of this type is the basilica in Pompeii . It originated in the second half of the 2nd century BC. And served for economic transactions as well as for the administration of justice; the tribunal , chaired by the highest city officials ( Duumvir ), had its seat here.

The facade of the entrance is structured by four magnificent Ionic columns with four-sided capitals, standing on basalt plinths, which are inserted into a staircase also made of basalt with four steps and form five entrances. The interior of the great hall was characterized by a two-storey colonnade on four sides, which consisted of 28 fluted Ionic columns that divided the auditorium into three aisles, of which the central nave is almost twice as large as the two on the side. The side walls were divided by 24 brick and plastered half-columns; their stucco covering was decorated in the First Style . The building could have been covered by a large gable roof with a uniform roof structure.

Thermal baths

The new types of construction included the private and public thermal baths (thermai = hot water source), which were built in the 2nd century BC. Were introduced in Rome. In the public baths, a central dome was built over the spring, around which the rooms for steam baths as well as hot, lukewarm and cold baths are grouped, supplemented by gyms, playgrounds, gardens and libraries. The structures made high demands on architecture and construction technology. So domes and cross vaults with enormous dimensions had to be erected and the advantages of marble and mosaic had to be emphasized. The hall of Diocletian's thermal baths, covered with a cross vault, was built in AD 302 and was 37 m high, 61 m long and 24 m wide. The ruin was transformed into the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri by Michelangelo during the Renaissance .

In Baiae , extensive remains of ancient thermal baths have been preserved, which are now located in an archaeological park. Three domed buildings bear the traditional names "Temple of Diana", "Venus" and "Mercury", but belonged to thermal baths. Due to changes in the sea level, parts of the ancient site are now under water, where an archaeological reserve has been set up that can be visited from boats or by diving.

Honor arches

In Roman architecture, one or three- sided triumphal arches and arches of honor are built up from arch architecture and wall structure , which were erected free-standing or spanning a street and carried the statue (or statues) of honored personalities or emperors on their attic . This type of arch architecture is a genuinely Roman invention that has no models in the architecture of Greece or the Etruscans. The early arches of Rome have not survived; the first arch known only from written records was made in 196 BC. Built in BC. Of the preserved ones, the arch of the Sergians in Pola from the early Augustusian period is particularly noteworthy. It is a private foundation of a Salvia Postrama for some male members of their family, whose attic carried three statues.

The splendor of these structures increased under the Roman emperors. They were richly decorated with columns, statues, reliefs and inscriptions. Excellent examples of the monument category are, for example, the Arch of Titus in Rome (after AD 81) and the Arch of Trajan in Benevento . The fluted half-columns with composite capitals stand on a non-structured base, but are far apart. The Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome has a different shape . For the facade-dividing columns of its three passages, each column was placed on a pedestal with a cranked cornice and the cranking in the entablature was resumed.


The most important public building in Rome was the Tabularium , the state archive of the Roman Empire , in which legal texts, edicts and contracts were stored. It was 83-80 BC. Built under Sulla by Quintus Lutatius Catulus . In terms of architectural history, the ashlar construction marks a turning point in Roman architecture. The substructure, ceilings and floors are made of mortar masonry, the exposed walls of tuff and travertine . The interior and stairs are covered with barrel vaults. Arch construction and wall structure are closely linked for the first time.


The majority of the residents of Rome lived in apartment blocks called insulae . The buildings were narrow, tapered towards the top like terraces and had up to seven floors with a maximum height of between 18 and 21 m. Most of the shops were located on the ground floor. There were no glass windows, rather the openings were closed with wooden shutters.

The insulae were lightly built. Its outer walls, plastered with mortar, were made of wood, the inner walls of wickerwork or the usual mixture of straw and clay. Because of this construction, the buildings quickly went up in flames and collapsed easily. These characteristics explain the conflagration of AD 64, which destroyed the entire district.

The Roman style at the end of the republic (until about 30 BC)

Maison Carrée in Nîmes
Teatro Romano in Volterra

The Italic- Etruscan temple, the center of the monumental architecture, consisted like the Greek one of cella , columns and entablature. However, it was clearly directional and thus fundamentally different from the directionless Greek construction with a ring hall and multi-level surrounding substructure. Access was only possible from a narrow side, on which a wide flight of stairs led to a podium with a pillared vestibule ( pronaos ); there were one or three cells on the back half of the dais. Even building types that were inherently directionless, such as the rotunda, were given a direction through appropriate structural measures. With the Pantheon this becomes very clear through the monumental vestibule. With the Temple of Vesta, this is limited to the staircase comprising only one segment of a circle, which therefore defines the "front" of the otherwise round temple.

Sanctuary of Fortuna - rows of arches made of mortar masonry as substructures in the hilly terrain.

Around 100 BC Several sanctuaries, located on mountain plateaus or on mountain slopes , emerged in Latium . Among these mostly architecturally modest objects, the late Republican terrace complex of the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste (today: Palestrina ) represents the starting point of a specifically Roman monumental architecture. An old core was magnificently expanded into an axially symmetrical complex with seven artificial terraces, in a combination of indigenous-Italian ( podium temple ) and Hellenistic structures (columned halls, open stairs).

Some of the Italic-Etruscan architectural forms flowed into the 4th century BC. Roman architecture developing independent forms. In addition to the Tuscan column , this affected the outside staircase and the high podium in the temple, and thus the directionality; only Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Roma on the Via Sacra in Rome shows the shape of a Greek building. In spite of everything, column order and column shapes gave Roman temples a Greek appearance until the end of the republic . At the same time, columns were often only used by the Roman builders to design facades or as facing ; the wall now had priority for enclosing rooms, so that there were mostly only half-columns on the flanks and the back of temples. Examples of the late Republican style are the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Temple of Portunus in the Forum Boarium in Rome .

The large secular buildings have a more Roman character than the temples, which were influenced by the Greek and Hellenistic models. The vault construction taken over by the Etruscans was combined with the cast masonry. Since the end of the republic, the huge structures that are still in ruins today have been based on the perfection of this technology: thermal baths, defensive structures and water pipes, above all the Pont du Gard near Nîmes in southern France. This aqueduct spans the river valley in three storeys with a length of 270 and a height of 49 m.

The types of construction that were developed during the Republican era and increased to monumental size during the imperial era included the amphitheater and the Roman theater with a semicircular spectator section and high stage - an early example of this is the Theater of Pompey on the Marsfeld . The Teatro Romano in Volterra dates from the time of Emperor Augustus . From the grandstand for around 2000 spectators you can see the partially reconstructed stage wall. Thermal baths such as the facilities below the theater from later times already existed in a simple form in Pompeii .

Another type of building from this period is the basilica , originally probably a market and court hall, the forerunners of which can be found in Athens and the Hellenistic East. The elongated hall was usually divided into three naves by two rows of columns and occasionally closed off by a semicircular apse on one narrow side. This design was adopted for the Christian parish church from the time of Constantine and continues to work in this way for centuries. There is a fine example in Pompeii , which is, however, influenced by the monumental buildings of the imperial era, e.g. B. in Rome and in Trier ( Constantine Basilica ), was far exceeded.

The Augustan period (30 BC to 14 AD)

The Marcellus Theater , behind it the Portico of Octavia and the Circus Flaminius on the Marsfeld (model in the Museo della Civiltà Romana , Rome)

After the civil wars, Augustus set about creating a new, representative framework for the new form of rule of the principate . Rome changed, as he thought, from a city of bricks to a city of marble. The temple of Mars on the new Augustus Forum , a strictly structured, symmetrically arranged square, was built from marble . Other impressive architectural testimonies that have survived to this day are, for example, the Marcellus Theater , the Pantheon built by Agrippa and renovated under Emperor Hadrian, and last but not least Augustus' mausoleum and the Ara Pacis , the altar of peace from 9 BC. BC, which shows a procession of the imperial family on a relief.

Augustus completed the great undertakings that had been initiated under Julius Caesar . His new, more splendid Rome, however, concerned more of the newer districts he added; the irregular nature of the old city was preserved. Only Nero had after the great fire in the year 64 n. Chr. The possibility of a major reconstruction. During the reconstruction, he had wider streets laid and limited the maximum height of the houses, which now had to have their own walls, to 25 meters; everywhere he took care of fire protection measures . Nero had himself built a huge, magnificent property with great art treasures and technical refinements, the Domus Aurea (the "Golden House"); In fact, the construction of the state house shows little political understanding, since at least the construction of the public infrastructure was slowed down at this time. The property was looted and demolished shortly after Nero's death. The Laocoon group was later discovered in the ruins , and the Colosseum was built on the area of ​​the associated lake .

The Arch of Titus at the entrance to the Roman Forum

The time of the Flavian emperors (second half of the 1st century)

The Amphitheater Flavium , now known as the Colosseum
Floor mosaic from Pompeii with the warning: " cave canem "

In the second half of the 1st century AD, when the influence of Greek artists declined more and more and the Romans found their own monumental style in the architecture itself, Titus completed the Flavian Amphitheater begun by his father , which because of an originally The colossal statue of Nero standing there is called the Colosseum .

The enormous building mass is structured on the outside by three arcade floors, the pillars of which are adorned by blinded Doric , Ionic and Corinthian half-columns and in whose niches marble statues once stood. From then on, arcades were among the preferred decorative elements in Roman architecture right up to the Porta Nigra in Trier.

Titus also improved the Roman water supply by expanding the aquae Marcia , Curtia and Caerulae and had thermal baths built southeast of the new amphitheater . The construction of such baths was apparently one of the self-evident “duties” of the Roman emperors in the period that followed. In addition, like Vespasian before him, Titus improved the infrastructure in Italy and the provinces . Above all, he pushed road construction. Large sums also went into the reconstruction of the cities in Campania that were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 .

The catastrophe of the eruption of Vesuvius has v. a. in Pompeii and Herculaneum a comprehensive idea of ​​the Roman home decor as well as of the Roman wall paintings and mosaics preserved through natural conservation . The mosaic, which Sulla made known in Rome as a variant of wall painting after his campaigns in Greece, unfolded its greatest heyday during the Roman Empire towards the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century. Initially mainly covering the floors like carpets, mosaics later also served as decoration for walls and vaults . Most of the designs are based on painted panels that have not been preserved. In addition to their own effect, the preserved “stone images” convey a vivid idea of ​​ancient Hellenistic and Roman visual art. The number of motifs was almost unlimited; There are scenes from Greek mythology, everyday Roman life, erotic art or depictions of historical events such as the mosaic of the Battle of Alexander in Pompeii , others are in Delos . The colorful depictions of landscapes and nature from Pompeii and Praeneste are also known as particularly attractive motifs .

The time of Trajan and Hadrian (AD 98-138)

Trajan's Forum
Castel Sant'Angelo

Trajan , the military emperor, carried out even more splendid buildings than his predecessors and, following on from the tradition created by Augustus, set up a monument for himself by building the enormous structure of the Trajan's Forum in Rome. It is the last, largest and most magnificent of the so-called imperial forums . It is also the forum in Rome that is still best preserved today. Later, like many other things in Rome, it was largely built over. Many buildings or parts of buildings also served as a welcome and cheap quarry.

Large parts of the markets and the Trajan's Column , which can be seen from afar , which was built for the emperor in 113 AD "by the Senate and the people of Rome", are particularly well preserved . The 38 m high marble column has a spiral staircase inside that extends to the capital, on which a gilded bronze statue of Trajan once stood. A 200 m long, spiraling band of reliefs around the entire shaft depicts the details of the campaigns in documentary depictions with over 2500 figures. This type of historical relief, which is also common on triumphal arches , represents a separate achievement of Roman art , in which the historical occurrence with its current reality value determined the artistic form.

Hadrian primarily promoted the arts and completed the Olympieion , the huge temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. His villa in Tibur (Tivoli) was the largest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden, in which a sacred landscape and memory of the areas he traveled was created. Most of the site has been destroyed as the Cardinal d'Este had much of Hadrian's marble removed to build his own Villa d'Este .

The pantheon built in Rome under Agrippa received its present form under Hadrian. The Arch of Constantine in Rome is said to have had a hadrianic core or predecessor, which would explain the origin of the hadrianic, but later revised reliefs (so-called hunting tondi). Hadrian's temple, the so-called Hadrianeum , built in his honor after his death , is now the seat of the Roman stock exchange .

Hadrian was buried in his mausoleum , which is known under the name Castel Sant'Angelo after renovations and construction of a connecting passage to the Vatican , the Passetto .

The later imperial period (138 to 306 AD)

Arch of Septimius Severus

Up until the time of Hadrian, the style of Roman architecture was pretty much the same; the buildings of Antoninus Pius and Marc Aurel complete the flowering of Roman architecture. Until the time of Diocletian , Roman architecture was able to maintain its technical level, but in terms of design a change set in which, as for example with the Arch of Constantine , was expressed in the increasing use of what was already there. The development of Christian architecture during this period shows the same tendency.

After all, Septimius Severus was one of the great builders whose passion not only benefited the expansion of the capital. He and his son had the huge complexes of the Caracalla Baths and other large structures built, especially in the eastern provinces. Today's brick and cast stone ruins no longer provide any information about the original splendor of marble and mosaics in the thermal baths, but the rubble shows that it is the traditional forms of the baths and Roman vaults. The triumphal arch on the forum in Rome is reminiscent of Severus, the splendor of which gives an impression of the representative style of the late imperial era.

During the time of the "Soldier Emperors", the monumental construction made little progress because of the short reigns and the effort required to defend the borders. It was only Diocletian who devoted himself to building thermal baths again, even larger and even more magnificent than the Caracalla thermal baths. As a retirement home he created in his home on the coast of Illyria to a huge encampment resembling Diocletian's Palace , in the walls later, the city split took place.

Constantine the Great (from 306 AD)

Ruins of the Maxentius Basilica

In the decade after Diocletian, one of the most impressive buildings of the late Roman period, the Maxentius basilica (also called Basilica Nova , sometimes incorrectly called Constantine basilica ), the last and largest Roman basilica, was built on the forum in Rome . It was on the edge of the Roman Forum . Maxentius , however, did not live to see the completion of his basilica; he died in 312 in the battle against Emperor Constantine I in the battle of the Milvian Bridge at the gates of Rome. It was Constantine who dedicated the basilica and also in the apse one in Akrolithtechnik crafted colossal statue erected of himself.

The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum is not only in historical terms (see: Constantine turn ) at a turning point. It glorifies Constantine's victory over his domestic political opponent Maxentius and is probably the largest and most powerful arch in Rome. Although its proportions correspond to those of earlier arches of honor, a large part of its plastic jewelry is spoilage that was reused from older monuments, while the contemporary sculptures in their formalistic style are an expression of a changed sense of art. Exceptions to the arch are the portraits on the spolia, which were reworked in Constantine's time and which are stylistically strongly based on older ones.

Even before the time of Constantine, the focus of construction began to shift increasingly to the provinces from the late 3rd century onwards. The creation of new imperial residences outside Rome made it necessary to erect imperial structures in the new capitals. In Trier , the remains of these grounds still give an idea of ​​the splendor and dimensions of a late Roman residence.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Neue Belser Stilgeschichte, Volume 2; P. 181
  2. Neue Belser Stilgeschichte, Volume 2; P. 177
  3. Neue Belser Stilgeschichte, Volume 2; P. 205
  4. Werner Müller, Gunther Vogel, dtv Atlas Baukunst, Volume 1 S 251, ISBN 3-423-03020-8
  5. Neue Belser Stilgeschichte, Volume 2; P. 223


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