Roman Architecture: what it is, origin, history and characteristics

You do not have to be a deep connoisseur of arts and architecture to at least have heard of the Colosseum, one of the greatest works of the Roman Empire. But Roman architecture goes far beyond this aesthetic and visual grandiosity.

Famous for its roads, aqueducts, stadiums and amphitheatres, the Romans have left a legacy for world architecture that has survived centuries and to this day influence architects and engineers.

Want to know more about this style that marked the history of humanity? So just follow this post with us. Let's take a complete tour of Roman architecture, from its origin to its final point, when the Medieval era comes to dominate the world of arts and architecture. Ready to board?

Roman Architecture: what it is, origin and historical context

Our first stop is the origin of Roman architecture and the historical context that allowed it to unfold. Roman architecture began in the second century bC and was born from the junction between Greek and Etruscan architecture.

But it is important to note that although it was a style strongly influenced by the Greeks and Etruscans, Roman architecture was able to print its own personality and identity to the works, being far from being a mere copy of the previous styles.

Basically, what Roman architecture did was to appropriate the Greek and Etruscan construction style and, on top of that technique, to establish its own creating even innovative forms of construction.

In Roman works it is possible to observe the influence of the Greeks with the use of columns - especially in the temples - and the Etruscan inspiration in the arches and vaults.

The Greek and Etruscan architecture built works to be appreciated and admired. Nevertheless all the necessary structure to create these monumental works required a great number of columns in the inner part of the buildings, limiting with this the internal space of the works.

It was here that the Romans had the ingenious idea of ​​joining the monumental grandeur of classical architecture with an advanced engineering for the time, based especially on the use and development of materials such as concrete and the creation of arches and vaults capable of supporting the weight of constructions .

The result of this joining were extraordinary works inside and out, quite different from what had been done so far.

Roman architecture is directly related to the rise of the Roman Empire. His works and constructions served as much to express power and status - as the triumphal archs scattered throughout Rome - and to serve the needs of this ever-growing empire, culminating with the emergence of roads and aqueducts, another landmark of architecture and engineering Roman

Another interesting point worth mentioning in the history of Roman architecture is that it was born pagan and reached its peak and decline converted to Christianity. That is, Roman architecture traces the direct historical relationship between art, architecture and the political and social changes of the Roman Empire.

Roman architecture features

Roman architecture

One of the main features of Roman architecture is the use of arches and vaults. Another great feature of Roman architecture was the use of concrete in buildings, one of the greatest innovations that Roman architecture brought to mankind. The main features of Roman architecture are as follows:

  • Solid and resilient designs, capable of surviving time;
  • Functional and luxurious constructions;
  • Innovative use of concrete in buildings;
  • Return of marble in buildings;
  • Arches and vaults in new formats, such as cradle and edge;
  • The arches were responsible for the artistic form of Roman works;
  • Wide walls with narrow openings that resembled windows;
  • Symmetry and mathematical proportions;
  • Spaces with large openings;
  • Works inspired by the practical spirit and warrior of the Romans;

Periods of Roman architecture

Roman architecture comprises the period between the second century BC and the fifth century AD. To better understand this architectural style, it is necessary to keep abreast of the changes that the Roman Empire has undergone since its peak to its decay, with each phase deeply affecting the history of Roman architecture. Check out each of these historical phases in more detail below:

Pax Romana

The Pax Romana is the first period of the Roman Empire and marks its rise. At that stage, between the first and second centuries AD, Rome enjoyed a prosperous and stable situation. This enabled the arts and architecture to expand rapidly and rapidly.

In the period of the Pax Romana (or Roman Peace) temples were erected, divided into two categories: the post-and-beam or post-beam (like that of the Greeks) and the vaulted ones, already reflecting the Roman style itself.

One of the most famous works of the Pax Romana period is the Pantheon. Built between the years 118 and 128 AD, the Pantheon was a vaulted temple of worship of the gods built with a vast dome (the largest to the Renaissance era) pierced by a circular skylight.

Another great work of the period is the Colosseum, built between the years 68 and 79 AD. Undoubtedly, this is the stage that embraces the greatest works of Roman architecture.

Late Empire

The Late Empire was the last era of Roman art and architecture and comprises the 2nd and 5th centuries AD, marking the decline of the Roman Empire and the transition to the Middle Ages. At this time of Roman architecture the project of greater prominence was the Baths of Caracalla. Although bathing is common in Roman cities, it is characterized by luxuries and ambition. The Caracala complex includes fitness rooms, swimming pools, classrooms, libraries and an interior richly decorated with murals and sculptures of the time.

Christian Primitive

If the Late Empire was the last era of classical Roman art and architecture, in contrast it was the period that marks the beginning of Christian art and architecture, from the second century AD, also known as the Primitive Christian period. It was at this time that the first Christian churches and basilicas were erected, with special emphasis on St. Peter's Church, the oldest church in the world. Later, already in the Renaissance era, the church was reformed and became known as St. Peter's Basilica, the current seat of the Vatican.

Innovation and materials of Roman architecture

One of the greatest legacies that Roman architecture brought to mankind was the use of concrete in buildings. The Romans were the first to develop a mass effectively able to 'glue' structures so that architects could be much more creative in their designs.

The substantial difference between the Roman concrete for what was done until then is the volcanic sand. Before the Romans, the mortar consisted only of water, sand and lime, they were the ones who perfected the recipe with the use of volcanic sand and broken tiles. This mixture proved to be much stronger and more resistant, making possible the creation of works like the dome of the Pantheon, a monumental work with 43.2 meters of height and no pillar of support.

The concrete invented by the Romans made possible innovations far beyond the structural part of the works. The mass used by them also created valuable aesthetic opportunities, such as the use of coatings to adorn the buildings.

The Romans were also masters of the art of working with marble. Most of the Roman buildings carried the stone as raw material. And even in the face of new architectural possibilities, the Romans did not abandon the use of bricks in buildings, on the contrary, they continued to be used, especially to be carved.

Main works and constructions of Roman architecture

The Romans marked the history of architecture with the construction of roads, aqueducts, temples, palaces, public baths, monuments, sculptures, amphitheatres, stadiums, vaults, basilicas, arches among others. There are many works over almost a thousand years of classical Roman architecture. Know a little more about each one now:

Theaters and Amphitheaters

Colosseum in Rome

Roman theaters and amphitheatres were clearly inspired by the Greek versions, however, the main difference between the two styles is the semicircular form. These spaces were built on a support structure with abóbodas and pillars. The most famous of these is the Coliseum of Rome, erected between the years 70 and 80 AD With a capacity of up to 80 thousand spectators, the Colosseum was the great stage of games and gladiators of the Roman Empire.


Pantheon in Rome

The temples are also a landmark of Roman architecture. The Romans generally built rectangular temples, but others were found in circular and polygonal formats, such as the Temple of Venus at Baalbeck, built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. But it was the Pantheon, built in 27 BC that gained more prominence. During the Middle Ages, however, the building was taken over by the Catholic Church that turned it into a church. The building survived virtually untouched over the centuries, demonstrating the durability and quality of Roman architecture. A curiosity about the work: to this day the Pantheon dome is the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world.


Via Appia

The Romans were good at building roads, so much so that they survived to this day. The main and first road built by them was the Appian Way in 312 BC, connecting the cities of Rome and Capua. Roads were a necessity of the Roman Empire, used to transport goods, people and soldiers.


Roman aqueduct

Aqueducts are structures built to supply water in cities. Rome had 11 aqueducts at the end of the 3rd century and almost 800 kilometers of artificial waters. These works enabled the population to move from subsistence agriculture to more elaborate activities, such as art, politics, engineering, and crafts. The system was only abandoned 500 years later with the arrival of the plumbing.

Roman Baths

The baths were buildings designed for public bathing, something very common in the Roman Empire. On the premises were swimming pools - hot and cold water, locker rooms and libraries. The outside of the baths was generally simple, the highlight was inside the buildings. Richly decorated, the inside of the baths featured columns, marble, statues and mosaics. One of the largest and most emblematic baths of the Roman Empire was that of Caracalla, built in Rome in the year 216 AD.

Arches triumphal

Arch of Drusus

The triumphal arches were built as a way to honor the soldiers and exalt the military victories of the Roman Empire. Today it is possible to visit five arches in Rome, survivors of the time: Triumph of Drusus, Triumph of Titus, Triumph of Septímo, Triumph of Galiano and Triumph of Constantine, the latter built in 315 AD is one of the greatest examples of imperial Rome architecture.

Roman houses

House of Vetti

The Roman houses were known as Domus and charmed by its symmetry, gardens, fountains and walls richly decorated with frescoes and stuccoes. The Roman houses were not as luxurious as the temples, yet they were spacious, spacious and well-spaced. The greatest surviving example is the House of Vetti, located in the city of Pompeii, southern Italy.

Roman architects

Apollodorus of Damascus

Most Roman architects remained anonymous, because it was customary in the Roman Empire to offer the dedication of the work to the person who commissioned and paid for it and not to the technical and artistic responsible of the construction.

However, some names have been able to stand out. Among them is Apollodorus of Damascus, the favorite architect of the Emperor Trajan, ruler of the Roman Empire in the period from 98 to 117 AD.

Damascus was known for its ability to build bridges and for designing famous works such as the Forum of Trajan and Baths of Rome.

But it was the Roman architect Vitruvius who achieved greater popularity. Although not much is known about his works, except for a basilica he built in Fano, Vitruvius left his contribution to the architecture documented in the book " De Architectura ", a ten-volume study of architecture written between 27 and 16 BC that remained intact over the centuries.

Roman architecture knew how to combine new techniques and materials in a style they understood very well. It was through architecture that Rome showed the ancient world all its power, strength and superiority. Even with the fall of the Roman Empire, the architectural legacy was not lost and the way they used concrete, bricks and arches continues to influence Western architecture to this day.

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