Roman Architectural Advancements

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Many centuries before the birth of Christ, the city of Rome grew, prospered, and developed into a thriving Republic; the feats of Roman engineers were spectacular, and many structures built by this culture still stand today. As in most cultures, Rome’s buildings became more elaborate and impressive. The Romans developed fantastic building technologies and ideas. With knowledge borrowed from the Greeks, Rome made impressive architectural advancements. These were major attributes of buildings, colossal structures, and a legacy that would influence later structures.

According to legend, the city of Rome was founded in about 753 B.C., by a group of shepherds. “It sat at an ideal location, along 7 hills on the Tiber River 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea in present day Italy” (Hall 1)1. Situated in an ideal defensive location, the city grew. Roman rule spread throughout the Italian peninsula due to its military strength and diplomacy. The first settlements discovered in Rome were on Tiber Island, later the sire of a temple to Aesculapius, the god of healing. Little is known of early Roman history because its first historical literature wasn’t recorded until 200 B.C.

The earliest structures that were inhabited by the ancient Romans were crude huts. At the end of the seventh century B.C., these huts were demolished. This made way for a decidedly more urban aspect of construction with permanent stone temples, houses, and various other public buildings. Building was encouraged by the leader Tarquin I who lived from 116 to 579 B.C. He made grants of land to be used as building sites. Tarquin promoted the development of shops and porticoes. Servius Tullius, his successor, expanded the city greatly. He surrounded it with a wall. The city of Rome further developed into a large power.

The ancient Romans created and borrowed fundamental types of concepts that made up buildings. The ideas the Romans borrowed were basic ideas such as the column. A column is a vertical shaped pillar with the chief design concern of supporting a building. Most columns consist of three parts: the base, the shaft, and the capital. The shaft is usually cylindrical in shape. The Greeks had three basic types of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. All three types had narrow fillets on them. These were small vertical slits that ran the length of the column. The Romans modified the column and added two types: Truscan and Composile. The columns became widely used in homes and temples in Greece and later in Rome.

The Romans also borrowed from the Greeks other major structural designs. “Romans worked wonders with noble arches and plebeian concrete” (Arch Inform 2)2. On the top of a column on most temples and public buildings rested an Entablature. This is a classic triangular shaped façade, or front of a building. The Entablature consists of four parts. The lowest part is the Architrave, which sits on top of the capital or upper part of a column. On top of that, the frieze was typically decorated with horizontal bands. The Cornice forms the upper part of the Entablature and protrudes beyond the frieze on the sides. On the very top sits a Pediment, a triangular segment between the lower Entablature and the roof.

The Romans borrowed the concept of the arch but utilized it fully. An arch is a curved structure used to support the weight above it. At the top of an arch, there is located a keystone, which is a stone that holds the other parts in place. To construct an arch, the Romans supported the blocks with wood until the keystone was inserted into the arch. A series of arches is called an arcade. Roman leaders built arches called triumphal arches, to honor their leaders. Arches were used more functionally to support aqueducts. “Romans put the arch in architecture” (Boorstin 2)3.

The Romans also developed the vault. A vault is an arched ceiling or roof. Most common was the Barrel Vault, but there were two other...
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