0 10 yrs

by Robert Hamilton

The focus of this essay will be upon the recognition, and analysis, of the continuity and the changes in the Roman republic and later empire, in regard to the art and architectural scapes. By looking at what stayed the same and why, and also by examining what changed and why, this essay intends to reveal the issues at the heart of these progressions and adjustments. Both public and private buildings will be considered, and the various themes that may have directed the evolution in their artistic and architectural forms. Roman art and architecture has much to tell us about the culture which created it.

To begin, let us consider the religious buildings which created a need for continuity in the type of buildings and public spaces, built through the Roman republic and into the period of the empire. Rome’s pagan, or multi-theistic, religious practices required temples in which to carry out sacrificial, and other ritualised worship, the Pax Deorum was essential for much of the life of the Roman Empire. Roman temples began with both Etruscan and Greek architectural influences defining their design and construction. High podiums, and a powerful frontality, were the dominant Etruscan themes in temples built during the republic, up until the second century BC.[1] The use of the Greek influenced Corinthian order was most prominent during the imperial period, as seen in the Temple of Mars Ultor.[2]  As Rome grew as a city, and as the conqueror of the world, her temples became more elaborate and impressive. Marble began to replace concrete as the preferred building material, especially at the time of Augustus and in particular during his extensive building program.[3] It was obviously important to Augustus to present Rome, as the capital of the world, and this was in part achieved through architectural means.  Augustus states in his own Res Gestae, “I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city during my sixth consulship in accordance with a decree of the senate…” Augustus provided a lengthy period of prosperity, and peace, for the consolidation, and expansion, of Rome, and this can be seen in the remains of the buildings inaugurated at this time. The recreation of the Ara Pacis Augustae gives us some idea of these temple spaces during the time of Augustus.[4]

Analysing the art, depicted upon the friezes of the Ara Pacis, we clearly see a more stylised and Hellenic example of Roman public art at this time. In particular, the processional reliefs, with their classical side-on view of the senators and imperial family, in respective reliefs, are evocative of the Parthenon.[5] The Temple of Saturn was rebuilt by Augustus in 42BC and the surviving ruin offers an indication of its size and majesty.[6] Augustus also used his building program to propagate the position and power of his own family, the Julia, and his creation of the Temple of the Deified Julius in 29BC was an example of this.[7]

Roman art itself embraced the more idealised Greek style, during the Augustan age, with a move away from the hyper realistic portraiture of the republican period. This can be clearly seen through the surviving coins and their depicted heads of the emperors.[8] In these minted images of Augustus, and later emperors, they present a more stylised, youthful looking, emperor, which is in stark contrast to those lined and elderly looking death masks of the republican period.[9] This highlights the issue of the changing nature of Rome’s cultural identity, as it grew it let go of certain defining characteristics and embraced a more Hellenised identity, with which to show the world. There was resistance to this evolution by many Roman ruling class members, like Cato the Elder.[10] Progress, however, brings its own agenda and demands expansion.

Continued in Essay on Ancient History by Robert Hamilton

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©Robert Hamilton






Bodel, John. “Monumental villas and villa monuments” Journal of Roman Archaeology, 10.



Clarke, John R. “Space and ritual in domus, villa, and insula, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250” in The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration , Clarke, John R. , 1991.

D’Ambra, Eve. “The social order” in Roman Art , D’Ambra, Eve , 1998.


Fagan, Garrett G. “The bathers” in Bathing in public in the Roman world , Fagan, Garrett G. , 2002.

Favro, Diane. “Meaning: Reading the Augustan city” in The Urban Image of Augustan Rome, Favro, Diane, 1996.

Favro, Diane. “‘Pater urbis’: Augustus as City Father of Rome” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 51:1 , 1992.

Hannestad, Niels. “The Julio-Claudians” in Roman Art and Imperial Policy , Hannestad, Niels , 1988.






Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, (trans) Ian Scott-Kilvert, Penguin, London, 1965




Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998.

Strong, Donald. “The Julio-Claudians (A.D. 14-68)” in Roman Art , Strong, Donald , 1980.


Suetonius, The Life of Caligula, Book 4, 21.


Vitruvius, Ten Books of Architecture, (trans) Morris Hicky Morgan, Harvard University Press, 1914.




[1] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 30. “Both Etruscan and Greek architecture played a part in shaping the typical Roman temple. Etruscan temples, with their high podia, deep columnar front porches and strongly emphatic frontality, influenced the layout of Roman temples.”

[2] http://www.ancient.eu.com/uploads/images/2065.jpg

[3] Suetonius, “Since the city was not adorned as the dignity of the empire demanded, and was exposed to flood and fire, he so beautified it that he could justly boast that he had found it built of brick and left it built of marble.”

Favro, Diane. “‘Pater urbis’: Augustus as City Father of Rome” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 51:1 , 1992 , P – 61, “Equally important for Augustus, unmaintained public buildings signified inefficiency and poverty of both resources and spirit. In the 20BC, Horace warned, “You will pay, Romans, through no fault of yours for the sins of your ancestors, until you have restored the temples and crumbling houses of the gods.”

[4] http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/italy/rome/arapacis/0081.jpg.

[5] http://italic.org/images/arax2.jpg

[6] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/romanforum/saturn.html

[7] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Aedes_Divi_Juli.html. Iulius, Divus, AEDES: the temple of the deified Julius Caesar, authorised by the triumvirs in 42 B.C apparently built by Augustus alone), and dedicated 18th August, 29 B.C. The body of Caesar was burnt at the east end of the forum, in front of the Regia and here an altar was at once erected, and a column of Numidian marble twenty feet high inscribed Parenti Patriae Column and altar were soon removed by Dolabella, and it was on this site that the temple was afterwards built from the evidence of coins, the temple was restored by Hadrian, but the existing architectural fragments belong entirely to the original structure. It had the right of asylum, and the Arval Brethren met there in 69 A.D. .

[8] http://www.romanemperors.com/images/augustus/augustus-and-tiberius.jpg

[9] http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/images/109images/roman/republican/head.jpg

[10] Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, (trans) Ian Scott-Kilvert, Penguin, London, 1965, P -137. “proclaimed that what the city needed was a drastic purification…”

[11] Favro, Diane. “Meaning: Reading the Augustan city” in The Urban Image of Augustan Rome, Favro, Diane, 1996, P – 218.  “Despite his admiration for Alexandria and other eastern cities, Augustus did not impose a Hellenistic plan upon Rome. He left the existing urban fabric fairly intact, neither carving out straight new colonnaded streets nor clearing large areas for grand palaces. The princeps worked within Republican traditions of patronage, cultural programs, building typologies, and urban experience to create a reverential, yet magnificent, Augustan capital. During the Republic, Rome’s image had been unfocused; individual buildings were impressive, but they did not work together to establish an overall identity for the city. Augustus continued this design approach by focusing on specific projects rather than an overall urban plan, yet simultaneously he forged a

focused urban image by emphasizing continuity and a hierarchical structure within the cityscape”.

Suetonius, The Life of Julius Caesar, Book 1, 44. “In particular, for the adornment and convenience of the city, also for the protection and extension of the Empire, he formed more projects and more extensive ones every day: first of all, to rear a temple of Mars, greater than any in existence, filling up and levelling the pool in which he had exhibited the sea-fight, and to build a theatre of vast size, sloping down from the Tarpeian rock…”

http://wings.buffalo.edu/AandS/Maecenas/rome/for_julius/ac991804.html Forum of Julius Caesar.

[12] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 31. “As Rome grew from a small town into the capital of a great empire her institutions became correspondingly complex. Law courts, money exchanges, treasuries, record offices and assembly places had to be built.”

[13] http://www.livius.org/a/turkey/ephesus/comm_agora/ephesus_agora01.JPG

[14] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 86. “The architectural climate in Rome changed abruptly after the death of Augustus in AD 14. The Temple of Concord, finished in AD 10, was to be the last great marble building of its kind built in Rome for some time.”

[15] http://www.capri.com/en/s/villa-jovis-mount-tiberio Villa Jovis at Capri.

Hannestad, Niels. “The Julio-Claudians” in Roman Art and Imperial Policy , Hannestad, Niels , 1988 ,P – 94. “There is also much to show that Tiberius hated the trappings with which the Principate had come to be surrounded. He was thus reticent in receiving marks of honour, and when the shield of valour and oak chaplet figure on his coins, it is made clear that it is Augustus’ honours we see. In the same vein, he does not allow himself to be styled Pater Patriae, and Suetonius states in accordance with this (Tiberius 27), that

he never gave audience from a litter, so as not to humble the supplicant, and that he was furious when a senator once addressed him as dominus . (‘master’), a form of address that recalled the Hellenistic kings and was used by slaves when addressing their master. Later, dominus was, in fact, adopted as a form of address applied to an emperor.”

[16] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 87. “This represented a sharp break with the policy of Augustus, who deliberately lived very modestly.”

[17] Strong, Donald. “The Julio-Claudians (A.D. 14-68)” in Roman Art , Strong, Donald , 1980 , p -109.  “The most important historical monument of the Julio-Claudian period is a monumental altar, apparently closely similar in design to the Ara Pacis, which was known as the Ara Pietatis [57]. Begun under Tiberius in A.D. 22, having been voted by’ the Senate to commemorate the recovery of Livia from a serious illness, it was not completed until the reign of Claudius.”


[18] Suetonius, The Life of Caligula, Book 4, 21 “ He completed the public works which had been half finished under Tiberius, namely the temple of Augustus and the theatre of Pompey. He likewise began an aqueduct in the region near Tibur and an amphitheatre beside the Saepta, the former finished by his successor Claudius, while the latter was abandoned. At Syracuse he repaired the city walls, which had fallen into ruin though lapse of time, and the temples of the gods. He had planned, besides, to rebuild the palace of Polycrates at Samos, to finish the temple of Didymaean Apollo at Ephesus, to found a city high up in the Alps, but, above all, to dig a canal through the Isthmus in Greece, and he had already sent a chief centurion to survey the work.”


[19] http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/foto/claudiarome1cp.jpg Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus.

[20] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 96. “Nero built two palaces in Rome, both of which are important for our understanding of the ‘Roman architectural revolution’. The first was the Domus Transitoria (or passageway) which linked the Palatine with the Imperial estates on the Esquiline.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_quan_nguyen/7966939690/ Domus Transitoria restoration work.

Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 102. “His dying words ‘What an artist dies in me’ are perhaps a fitting epitaph for the Julio-Claudian dynasty.”

[21] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 97.

http://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena/course/21/21h.405/www/DomusAurea/oct.html Domus Aurea.

[22] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 101.

[23] Clarke, John R. “Space and ritual in domus, villa, and insula, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250” in The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration , Clarke, John R. , 1991 , P – 2.  “the Roman house was in no way private. It was the locus of the owner’s social, political, and business activities, open both to invited and uninvited visitors. Because of this, the location, size, and decoration of each space formed codes that cued the behavior of every person under its roof, from intimates (the family, friends, and slaves) to distant clients. 2 This close connection between function and decoration reveals the minds of the ancient Romans as much as do their literature and great public art.”

[24] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/pompeii_art_gallery_07.shtml Detail Alexander Mosaic.

http://web.mit.edu/course/21/21h.405/www/HouseOfFaun/Entrance.html Faun statue.

Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 107. “Perhaps the best known example of the atrium/peristyle house is the House of the Faun at Pompeii. Covering 0.43 hectares (just over an acre) it is the largest and perhaps the most finely planned Hellenistic house in Pompeii. Most of it was built about 180BC, and the decoration throughout is in the austerely elegant First Style. Even to the end, this old style of decoration was kept up in the House of the Faun, which explains the rather noble appearance of the house. There are two entrances side by side facing the street. The left-hand door led through an entrance passage (1), with a fine stucco lararium on the wall, into the atrium (2). There were bedrooms only on the left (3-5), the rooms on the right acting as links with the tetrastyle atrium beyond (9). The tablinum (6) was framed between two big square pillars and opened on to the atrium, like the triclinium on its right (8), while a second triclinium on the left (7) opened on to the peristyle beyond.”

[25] Vitruvius, Ten Books of Architecture, Trans Morris Hicky Morgan, Harvard University Press, 1914. “1. After settling the positions of the rooms with regard to the quarters of the sky, we must next consider the principles on which should be constructed those apartments in private houses which are meant for the householders themselves, and those which are to be shared in common with outsiders. The private rooms are those into which nobody has the right to enter without an invitation, such as bedrooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, and all others used for the like purposes. The common are those which any of the people have a perfect right to enter, even without an invitation:[182] that is, entrance courts, cavaedia, peristyles, and all intended for the like purpose. Hence, men of everyday fortune do not need entrance courts, tablina, or atriums built in grand style, because such men are more apt to discharge their social obligations by going round to others than to have others come to them.

2. Those who do business in country produce must have stalls and shops in their entrance courts, with crypts, granaries, store-rooms, and so forth in their houses, constructed more for the purpose of keeping the produce in good condition than for ornamental beauty.

For capitalists and farmers of the revenue, somewhat comfortable and showy apartments must be constructed, secure against robbery; for advocates and public speakers, handsomer and more roomy, to accommodate meetings; for men of rank who, from holding offices and magistracies, have social obligations to their fellow-citizens, lofty entrance courts in regal style, and most spacious atriums and peristyles, with plantations and walks of some extent in them, appropriate to their dignity. They need also libraries, picture galleries, and basilicas, finished in a style similar to that of great public buildings, since public councils as well as private law suits and hearings before arbitrators are very often held in the houses of such men.

3. If, therefore, houses are planned on these principles to suit different classes of persons, as prescribed in my first book, under the subject of Propriety, there will be no room for criticism; for they will be arranged with convenience and perfection to suit every purpose. The rules on these points will hold not only for houses in town, but also for those in the country, except that in town atriums are usually next to the front door, while in country seats peristyles come first, and then atriums surrounded by paved colonnades opening upon palaestrae and walks.

I have now set forth the rules for houses in town so far as I could describe them in a summary way. Next I shall state how farmhouses may be arranged with a view to convenience in use, and shall give the rules for their construction.”

[26] D’Ambra, Eve. “The social order” in Roman Art , D’Ambra, Eve , 1998 , P -40-41.  “The status of the elite Roman was measured by the house in which he lived. A house filled with clients during the morning salutatio established his importance. When the doors to the street were open in the morning, the clients could crowd into the atrium (the central sky lit hall), to wait for the master. Rather than being a haven from the unruly life of the street, the house stood open to the street at certain hours and the prestige of the household required that passersby have a glimpse of the crowd within. The architecture of the house also ushered the visitor through a sequence of spaces arranged in function from public halls to more intimate rooms. The architecture and plan have less to do with privacy than with the hospitality and hierarchy that marked distinctions of status.”

[27]Clarke, John R. “Space and ritual in domus, villa, and insula, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250” in The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration , Clarke, John R. , 1991 , P – 4.  “ the tablinum, organizes all the house’s interior spaces. Strangely, Vitruvius and other writers on the domus are silent on the subject of the fauces-atrium-tablinum axis, probably because it was such an obvious and invariant feature. 4 A number of compelling architectural forms emphasize the axis. The space of the fauces, which marks the axis from the point of entrance, is long and narrow. A central opening in the atrium’s roof, the compluvium, was designed to funnel the rainwater from the roof into a basin below, the impluvium (Fig. 2). While the impluvium marks the axis by resting directly on it, the compluvium emphasizes the axis vertically, since it is of the same size and shape as the impluvium and is located directly over it. Rain falling from the compluvium into the impluvium makes their reciprocal relationship visible, yet the compluvium is also the source of light for the atrium and its dependencies.”

[28] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 34.

[29] Bodel, John. “Monumental villas and villa monuments” Journal of Roman Archaeology , 10: , 1997 , P – 6. ” The peculiar fascination exercised upon the human imagination by the domestic setting in which a great man passed his days requires no demonstration, and many societies can furnish relevant parallels to the respectful attention paid by the Romans to such noted landmarks as the so-called Hut of Romulus on the Palatine. It is my contention, however, that Roman villa culture’ grew up in an historical environment that especially fostered the association of country houses with personal commemoration and that shaped the development of the concept of the villa as a monument in distinctive ways. In addition to functioning as memorials themselves, Roman villas and country estates traditionally provided a setting for other, more conventional, types of monument – honorific statues, familial portrait busts, above all, tombs.”

[30] http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/h2/h2_1993.11.1.jpg

[31] http://www.usask.ca/antiquities/benemerenti/benemerentiimages/aureliushermia.gif

[32] http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1993.11.1

[33] http://www.vroma.org/images/raia_images/sarcophagus_gaudenianicene2.jpg

[34] http://ancientstandard.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/roman-bath.jpg

[35] Fagan, Garrett G. “The bathers” in Bathing in public in the Roman world , Fagan, Garrett G. , 2002 , P – 190. “A famous story in the Historia Augusta locates Hadrian in the baths with the general public, an occurrence said to have been frequent. On one of these occasions, so the story goes, Hadrian encountered an army veteran rubbing his back against a wall and asked the man what he was doing. The veteran replied that he was too poor to have a slave rub his back for him. The emperor promptly donated some slaves to him, along with funds for their upkeep. When visiting the baths on a later occasion, Hadrian was confronted by a crowd of old men rubbing their backs against the walls, in the hope of exciting his generosity. Not to be fooled, the emperor advised that the old men rub each other’s backs instead (Hadr. 17.5-7).”

Fagan, Garrett G. “The bathers” in Bathing in public in the Roman world , Fagan, Garrett G. , 2002 , P – 194.  “The Digest defines a man’s domicilium not as the place where he cultivates farmland but as that place where he conducts his business (negotia);visits the forum, baths, and theater; and celebrates festivals (Dig. Since the individual is said to live either in a colonia or a municipium and to own property at more than one location, a person ·of at least modest wealth and social standing is inferred. The logic behind the ruling is clear: wherever a man participates in a community’s public activities, there lies his legal domicilium. 13 That visiting the baths is included as a defining communal activity is revealing and suggests that it was not only normal but expected behavior for people of substance to be found in the local bathhouse.”

[37] http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/images/Baths%201%20.jpg

[38] http://www.civilizationswallpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/wallpapers/Italy/Inside-Colosseum-Rome-Italy-Desktop-Wallpaper.jpg

[39] Sear, Frank, Roman Architecture, Routledge, London, 1998, P – 134.

[40] Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, (trans) Ian Scott-Kilvert, Penguin, London, 1965, P -130-131. “I do not blame those who seek to make their fortune in this way,” he added, “but I would rather compete for bravery with the bravest than for money with the richest, or for covetousness with the most greedy.”