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5.2: Roman Empire (27 BCE – 393 CE)

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  • Roman Empire (27 BCE – 393 CE)

    The Roman Empire spread across three continents, surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, consuming many cultures with its massive and highly trained army, a formidable opponent to other civilizations. The Romans created heterogeneous and outstanding art and brought significant architectural and engineering achievements throughout the empire, weaving cities together with a network of roads, constructing canals, heated water systems, sewers, water aqueducts, coliseums, earthen dams, and public baths throughout the empire.

    The roads were built using concrete and stones and are still visible today, hence the saying: all roads lead to Rome.

    The Romans were very advanced in creating sculptures and using masonry techniques in construction. Other ancient societies used large blocks of stacked stone to build their massive structures, while the Romans developed a compelling cement product and did not need large blocks of stone for buildings. Although earlier cultures invented brick, the Romans refined brick into a slimmer, more extended version and moved the capability around the world. Mobile kilns allowed them to make bricks for construction wherever they were building in the empire. They usually stamped the brick with the mark of the legion responsible for the building. With the cement, they used tufo, a grey, porous rock from volcanoes commonly found in the area and easy to cut into bricks and peperino, a form of green/brown rock from volcanoes also easy to cut and polish. With the smaller bricks cemented together, they were able to embellish the monuments and grand structures with slabs of marble.

    Initially, the Romans acquired marble from the Greeks, then discovered in the town of Carrera in Northern Italy, a white marble as good or sometimes better than Greek marble. This quarry is over 2,000 years old and still used today, providing Carrera marble to artists around the world.

    A large white building
    5.1 Colosseum

    Travertine, a yellowish limestone located in several areas nearby Rome, became another popular stone of Roman construction, including the Colosseum, giving the building its golden appearance.

    The Colosseum (5.1), built-in 80 CE, is located just east of the Roman Forum and opened with a celebration of one hundred days of games. The Colosseum was host to gladiator wars, animal fights, and other spectacles in a building so advanced, it contained bathrooms, drinking fountains, and seating for over 50,000 people. The basement (5.2) formed a staging area for participants and animals for the day’s events, over the basement was a wooden floor covered with sand.

    5.2 Interior of Colosseum

    The Pantheon (5.3) in Rome was built in 126 CE using granite, tough rock with a grey or pink color. The Pantheon has columns of red granite at the entrance to the grand staircase. An oculus in the center of the perfectly round dome allows the only light into the building. The domes (5.4) made with poured concrete into a coffered ceiling molding, becoming lighter as it rises. The Pantheon still standing today after 2000 years, a testament to the building process of the Romans.

    5.3 Pantheon
    5.4 Pantheon dome

    The Arch of Titus (5.5) was erected in 82 CE to commemorate the death of Titus and celebrate his many victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem. The arch is an example of both historical relief and a general model for many triumphal arches, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The chariot panel (5.6) depicts Titus on his chariot with the goddess Roma, the other figures representing the people of Rome. The carved panels give an impression of space, while the figures are positioned and shaped in different spatial relief; the first time Roman reliefs created this type of illusion.

    5.5 Arch of Titus
    5.6 Chariot panel

    Built-in 113 CE to honor the victory of Emperor Trajan and Rome in the Dacian Wars, Trajan’s Column (5.7) was a war memorial celebrating the two most significant achievements of the Roman Empire. The standing marble column is 35 meters high, with a spiral frieze depicting the two wars and 2350 detailed figures carved in low relief into the marble encircling the column. At one time, the carved army held metal spears and swords. The 200 meters of store carvings (5.8) is a complete visual record of the Roman army, each section of the massive stone column was carved and then hoisted into place with an extensive pulley system. The interior spiral staircase has 185 stairs leading to the top, reducing the overall weight of the stone, and giving access to the higher sections. The focus on Roman construction techniques is an example of the method used to impress and inform the public about the Roman army and its successes.

    5.7 Trajan’s Column

    The Temple of Venus and Roma (5.9) was the largest temple in Rome, located near the Colosseum, and it was dedicated to the goddesses Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna. Started under the directions of emperor Hadrian, construction began in 121 CE and completed in 141 CE. The stage for the building was 145 meters long and 100 meters wide, while the building on top of the stage was 110 meters long and 53 meters wide. The temple had two main chambers with a statue of Venus in one chamber and Roma in the other one. Located back to back, the chambers of Venus overlooks the Colosseum and Roma looks out at the Roman Forum.

    5.8 Column carvings

    The short side of the temple has ten white columns, and the long side has eighteen white columns every 1.8 meters in width. In the chamber of Venus, there is an altar where newlywed couples made sacrifices, and beside the altars are enormous statues of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina. Over time, fires, earthquakes, and looting destroyed much of the original building. In 630, one of the popes removed the gilt-bronze tiles from the roof to adorn St. Peters in Rome, and in the Middle Ages, most of the marble was taken to build projects in other places.

    5.9 Temple of Venus and Roma

    The variety and sophistication of art are what sets the Roman Empire apart from everyone else during the Classical Roman times, 100 BCE-315 CE. The Roman sculpture is divided into four categories including, portraits, busts, equestrian, and whole statues (especially the rulers in power). Many sarcophagi or tomb sculptures are adoring the final resting place of the rich or famous. Reliefs and historical reliefs were very popular and can be viewed on any Roman building. Copies of Greek sculptures began to surface, although the Romans tended to replicate the person as opposed to the Greeks, who favored a perfect sculpture piece. Roman artists worked to impress the people and display the majesty and power of the leaders. Ancient Roman artists carved their sculpture based upon classical Greek sculptures yet portrayed a flair for expression in the faces. The faces (5.10) are passionate, determined, regal, beautiful, and domineering, a trait appearing in many pieces of Roman art.

    5.10 Menander of Ephesus
    5.11 Statue of AugustusA statue of a person

    Augustus was the commander of the army for the Roman Empire, and the statue commemorating his victories located in the plaza. Augustus (5.11) is depicted wearing the military clothing of the army and raising his right hand as if addressing the troops before combat. The distant and tranquil look on his face, with the deeply draped clothing, signifies a warrior worthy of a marble statue and is reminiscent of the stance of Mars, the Roman god of war.