Roman Architecture

What is Roman Architecture? 

Roman architecture adopted the external language of classical Greek architecture for the purposes of the ancient Romans, but was different from Greek buildings, becoming a new architectural style. The two styles are often considered one body of classical architecture. Roman architecture flourished in the Roman Republic and even more so under the Empire, when the great majority of surviving buildings were constructed, some of which the ruins remain, to which we’ve researched and learned.. 

What was it famous for?

Ancient Roman architecture used new materials, particularly concrete, and newer technologies such as the arch and the dome to make buildings that were typically strong and well-engineered. Large numbers remain in some form across the empire, sometimes complete and still in use to this day.

How popular is it outside of Rome?

In Europe the Italian Renaissance saw a conscious revival of correct classical styles, initially purely based on Roman examples. Numerous local classical styles developed, such as Palladian architecture, Georgian architecture and Regency architecture in the English-speaking world, Federal architecture in the United States, and later Stripped Classicism and PWA Moderne.
Roman influences may be found around us today, in banks, government buildings, great houses, and even small houses, perhaps in the form of a porch with Doric columns and a pediment or in a fireplace or a mosaic shower floor derived from a Roman original, often from Pompeii or Herculaneum. The mighty pillars, dome and arches of Rome echo in the New World too, where in Washington, D.C. stand the Capitol building, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and other government buildings. All across the US the seats of regional government were normally built in the grand traditions of Rome, with vast flights of stone steps sweeping up to towering pillared porticoes, with huge domes gilded or decorated inside with the same or similar themes that were popular in Rome.


While borrowing much from the preceding Etruscan architecture, such as the use of hydraulics and the construction of arches, Roman prestige architecture remained firmly under the spell of Ancient Greek architecture and the classical orders. This came initially from Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies in southern Italy, and indirectly from Greek influence on the Etruscans, but after the Roman conquest of Greece directly from the best classical and Hellenistic examples in the Greek world. The influence is evident in many ways; for example, in the introduction and use of the Triclinium in Roman villas and terraces as a place and manner of dining. Roman builders employed Greeks in many capacities, especially in the great boom in construction in the early Empire.

Roman architecture covers the period from the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 BC to about the 4th century AD, after which it becomes reclassified as Late Antique or Byzantine architecture. Almost no substantial examples survive from before about 100 BC, and most of the major survivals are from the later empire, after about 100 AD. Roman architectural style continued to influence building in the former empire for many centuries, and the style used in Western Europe beginning about 1000 is called Romanesque architecture to reflect this dependence on basic Roman forms.

Corinthian Roman architecture

The word "Corinthian" describes an ornate column style developed in ancient Greece and classified as one of the Classical Orders of Architecture. The Corinthian style is more complex and elaborate than the earlier Doric and Ionic Orders. The capital or top part of a Corinthian style column has lavish ornamentation carved to resemble leaves and flowers. Roman architect Vitruvius observed that the delicate Corinthian design "was produced out of the two other orders."

Doric Roman architecture

The Doric Order was the first style of Classical Architecture, which is the sophisticated architectural styles of ancient Greece and Rome that set the standards for beauty, harmony, and strength for European architecture. The other two orders are Ionic and Corinthian. Doric Order is recognizable by two basic features: the columns and the entablature.

Ionic Roman architecture

The Ionic capital is characterized by the use of volutes. The Ionic columns normally stand on a base which separates the shaft of the column from the stylobate or platform while the cap is usually enriched with egg-and-dart.
The ancient architect and architectural historian Vitruvius associates the Ionic with feminine proportions (the Doric representing the masculine).

Famous Roman architects

Any list of Roman architects has to begin with a single name: Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Vitruvius was not just a Roman architect, he was the Roman architect. So, what made Vitruvius so great? Well, Vitruvius was the architect of Julius Caesar from 58 to 51 BCE. Not only did he build several structures, but he also traveled extensively around the Mediterranean and studied architecture from a theoretical perspective. The result was a major text entitled De Architectura, written between 30 and 20 BCE.

De Architectura was the first major Roman treatise on architecture, and in it Vitruvius tackles several issues. For one, he outlined the architectural styles of the Greeks, and organized them into what we call the Greek orders of architecture. He discussed building in terms of math and science, as well as philosophy, arts, and social welfare. He saw architecture as a unification of arts and sciences, in which the final product could help create a more ideal society.
Apollodorus of Damascus

After Vitruvius, there were many architects who helped Rome grow. Only one, however, can really be said to rival Vitruvius's fame. Apollodorus of Damascus was a 2nd century CE architect from Damascus, then part of the Roman Empire (today part of Syria). Apollodorus was the favored architect of the emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98-117 CE. Under Trajan, Rome stretched its imperial borders further than ever before. Trajan celebrated the success and wealth of Rome by commissioning a large number of building projects, most of them executed by Apollodorus.

10. Arch of Septimius Severus

This monumental arch was constructed in 203 AD in recognition of the unprecedented Roman victories over the Parthians in the dying years of the second century. It was under Septimius Severus’ rule that Rome was able to successfully suppress a raging civil war among its neighboring states. But the icing on the cake came when he immediately declared war on the Parthian Empire and brought the Parthians to their knees. In recognition of his achievements, the Roman Senate had one of the most beautifully decorated triumphal arches erected on his return to Rome.
Originally, it had a bronze gilded inscription as homage to Septimius and his two sons Caracalla and Geta for having restored and expanded the Roman Republic. It was a unique triumphal monument by all standards in contemporary Rome. Even today, despite some heavy damage, it stands as a lasting reminder of the once flamboyant Roman Republic.

9. Temples of Baalbek

A major attraction and a remarkable archaeological site in present-day Lebanon, Baalbek is considered as one of the most spectacular wonders of the ancient world. It also happens to be one of the largest, most prestigious, and mostwell-preserved Roman temples built in the ancient Roman era. The first of the Baalbek temples was constructed in the first century BC and over the next 200 years, the Romans built three more, each dedicated to the gods Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus respectively.
The largest temple among them was the Temple of Jupiter, which had 54 huge granite columns, each one around 70 feet (21 meters) tall. Although only six of these columns survive today, their sheer scale is enough to show the majesty of the Baalbek temples. After the fall of Rome, the Baalbek temples suffered from theft, war, and natural disaster, but they are still able to conjure up the aura of magnificence to this day, with thousands of people visiting the famous Baalbek temples every year.

8. Library of Celsus

Named after the famous former governor of the city of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus was actually a monumental tomb dedicated to Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. This amazing piece of Roman architecture was constructed on the orders of Celsus’ son Galius Julius Aquila. It was also a popular repository for important documents and at the height of its use, the Library of Celsus housed over 12,000 different scrolls.
It had beautifully carved interiors and equally mesmerizing architectural designs on the exterior, making it one of the most impressive buildings in the ancient Roman Empire. The architecture of the library is typically reminiscent of the building style that was popular during the rule of Emperor Hadrian. The entire structure is supported by a nine-step podium which is 69 feet (21 meters) long. The surviving facade of the building retains its amazing decorations and relief carvings which only add to the grandeur of the structure.

7. Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, literally the Gard bridge, is one of the few surviving aqueducts constructed during the Roman Empire. Located in present-day southern France, it was built somewhere in the middle of the first century AD. This aqueduct was constructed without the use of any mortar; Roman engineers built this three-story masterpiece by fitting together massive blocks of precisely cut stones. These huge blocks of stone weighed up to six tonnes each, and the bridge itself measured up to 1180 feet (360 meters) at its highest point.
The Pont du Gard was a pivotal structure in an aqueduct that stretched over 31 miles (50 kilometers) in length. The success of this engineering marvel was essential in making the entire aqueduct functional because it supplied water to the city of Nimes. In the end, the Roman engineers pulled off an outstanding feat of contemporary engineering and hydraulics. The Pont du Gard has been used as a conventional bridge throughout the Middle Ages, right up until the 18th century.

6. Aqueduct of Segovia

Located on the Iberian peninsula, the Aqueduct of Segovia still retains its structural integrity to this day, making it one of the best-preserved pieces of architecture from ancient Rome. It was built somewhere around 50 AD to facilitate the flow of drinking water from the River Frio to the city of Segovia. On its completion, it was an unprecedented 16km-long structure built using around 24,000 giant blocks of granite.
Just like the Pont du Gard, Roman engineers built the entire structure without any mortar. With 165 arches, all of which are over 30 feet (9 meters) in height, this architectural phenomenon has been a symbol of Segovia for centuries. The aqueduct had to go through an extended period of reconstruction during the 15th and 16th centuries after years of use and structural neglect. By the 1970s and 1990s, some urgent and necessary conservation action was undertaken to preserve the monument and its glory.

5. Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée is the only temple constructed in the time of ancient Rome that is completely preserved to this day. This marvel of Roman engineering was built around 16 BC in the city of Nimes. Maison Carrée is an architectural gem that stands 49 feet (15 meters) tall and runs along a length of 85 feet (26 meters). It was built by Roman General Marcus Vipanius Agrippa in memory of his two sons who died young. With the imminent fall of the Roman Empire on the horizon, Maison Carrée was given a fresh lease of life when it was turned into a Christian church in the fourth century.
This decision spared this majestic temple from the neglect and destruction faced by many other Roman monuments and landmarks. Since then, it has been used for various purposes such as a town hall, stable, and storehouse. At present, it is a museum.

4. Diocletian’s Palace

This marvelous building was built by the famous Roman emperor Diocletian in preparation for his retirement. Diocletian was the first Roman emperor who voluntarily retired from his position, citing declining health issues. After his retirement on May 1, 305 AD, he went on to spend a quiet life in this majestic palace.
The palace covers around 705 feet (215 meters) from east to west and its walls are about 85 feet (26 meters) high. At a time when the Roman civilization was in transition from the classical to the medieval era, architects were able to incorporate different building styles that had been used over the ages. It also helped that Christians used the palace as a cathedral in the Middle Ages, preserving its structural integrity throughout the medieval period. At present, Diocletian’s Palace is one of the most popular archaeological attractions in Croatia, and also a world heritage site as declared by UNESCO.

3. Amphitheater, Nimes

When this famous amphitheater was built in the city of Nimes, the city was known by the name of Nemausus. From around 20 BC, Augustus started to populate the city and give it a structure more akin to a typical Roman state. It had a number of splendid buildings, a surrounding wall, more than 200 hectares of land, and a majestic theater at its heart. Better known as the Arena of Nimes, this astoundingly large theater had a seating capacity of around 24,000, effectively making it one of the biggest amphitheaters in Gaul.

It was so large that during the Middle Ages, a small fortified palace was built within it. Later, somewhere around 1863, the arena was remodeled into a huge bullring. It is still used to host annual bullfights to this day.

2. Pantheon

The Pantheon is arguably the most well-preserved architectural marvel from the ancient Roman era. Unlike many other contemporary Roman temples that were almost always dedicated to particular Roman deities, the Pantheon was a temple for all the Roman gods. The construction of this temple was completed in 125 AD during the rule of Hadrian.
The Pantheon has a large circular portico that opens up to a rotunda. The rotunda is covered by a majestic dome that adds a whole new dimension to its grandeur. The sheer size and scale of this dome is a lasting testimony to the skills of ancient Roman architects and engineers. The fact that this astounding piece of engineering still stands to this day, surviving 2,000 years’ worth of corrosion and natural disasters, speaks volumes for its build quality.

1. Roman Colosseum

When the famous amphitheater, the Colosseum, was built in ancient Rome, it had an area of 620 by 523 feet (189 by 159 meters)), making it the largest amphitheater of its time. The construction of the Colosseum, the largest and most popular ancient Roman monument, began during the reign of Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. By the time it was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD, a never-before-seen amphitheater with a seating capacity of over 50,000 was ready for use.
It could accommodate such large numbers of spectators that as many 80 different entrances were installed. It is said that its opening ceremony – the grandest of all spectacles – lasted for about 100 days. In that time, about 5,000 animals and 2,000 gladiators fought to their deaths in an unprecedented extravaganza of gladiatorial and bestiarius battles.