Concrete in Roman Architecture

Topics: Concrete, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire Pages: 5 (1894 words) Published: June 12, 2013
Imperial Rome began under Caesar Augustus around 37 BCE and ultimately ended in 1453 when the city was sacked by the Ottoman Turks. When the Roman Empire began, it coexisted with many other prominent civilisations, such as the Etruscans, the later Egyptian dynasties and perhaps Rome's biggest architectural rival, the Ancient Greeks. However the Romans surpassed their rival civilisations architecturally, by extending their influence well into the next millennia, and in doing so they absorbed the Greek, Egyptians, and Etruscans, and other “lesser” contemporary civilisations. This may suggest initially that the Romans would achieve a diversity of architectural style, whereas theirs was remarkably uniform. Some of their building methods and styles were, however, obtained from other civilisations such as the Greeks and the Etruscans. Despite this, Roman architectural form remains distinctive, because of a particular reliance on recognisable geometric forms , simple structural logic and the use of simple construction materials. For example, with these, the forms of the Colosseum and the Pantheon created broad and impressive architectural spaces which continue to make an impact on architecture to this day, particularly in the area of civic buildings. What distinguishes Roman architecture is its technical advances which allowed the Romans to define space uniquely and impressively only using materials as simple as bricks and concrete.

A civilisation known for its efficiency, the Romans developed concrete as a building material as it was durable, strong and economical, and particularly well suited in the construction of large-scale buildings. Such buildings as the Temple of Diana (ca.80 CE) in Nimes used cut-stone masonry in its construction of the barrel vaulting, which was very expensive and called for highly accomplished stone carvers. Seeking economies, the Romans developed ‘a more expedient building method by using a new material, hydraulic cement, derived from volcanic deposits first discovered around Puteoli and named posszolana.’(A world History of Architecute). This was the stimulus for the Romans moving towards concrete construction, because when ‘pozzolana’ is mixed with rubble, lime and water, the mixtures reacts chemically and solidifies to a stone-like consistency. The Romans continued to develop what they could do with pozzolana and, combined with other substances, found it could be used to make aggregate (an ingredient of concrete) as well as an enclosure for the concrete. Once solidified, the substance could be used to in the same way as solid masonry, but being considerably lighter it was easier to transport and build with, and easier to shape. Moreover, brick and concrete are much less time consuming to shape and don’t require highly skilled workers in the same way stone masonry does. By the middle of the first-century CE the Romans very using concrete construction with increasing sophistication, and after the second century CE ‘concrete walls with stone rubble striped by horizontal courses of brick bonding every three of four feet became common.’( A World History of Architecture) The Romans, unlike the Greeks who had easily accessible marble quarries , were obliged to find other means of construction material, especially because they were motivated to create grand and complex structures. The use of concrete enabled the Romans to construct very stable walls, arches and vaults, which allowed them to achieve the construction of large public domed spaces . These could be seen in their design of baths and palaces, and especially in the Pantheon, where the Romans developed the use of cast concrete for the walls.

The Pantheon in Rome (118-28 CE) is considered to be one of the most influential buildings in architectural history and it makes use of concrete as the primary structural material. Without concrete the Pantheon would have been , at least, vastly more expensive and time-consuming to...
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