Substantive Education

May 28, 2009

Roman Art History Part 2

Filed under: Ancient Rome,Art — kbagdanov @ 1:38 am
Tags: , , ,
Roman Mosaic, Here a floor after a dinner party

Roman Mosaic, Here a floor after a dinner party

So here is the continuation of pieces for the art history test.

Mosaics were used by the Romans to decorate floors, ceilings, walls, patios, and public buildings.  This mosaic is the floor in a Roman Villa.  It is supposed to show the debris that would be on the floor at the end of a dinner party.  The bones and shellfish give indications of the lavish feast that has been served and are a reminder of the homeowners wealth.  You will notice the detail of the mosaic work including shadows and a little mouse scurrying in for a taste. Mosaics could be of such fine detail that from a distance it was hard to distinguish them from paintings.

Roman Theatre

Roman Theatre

Roman Theaters were generally built into hillsides to make construction of the seating areas easier.  The theatres were built into semi-circles much like the earlier Greek theatres.  One of the main differences is that the Greek theatres stage area would be open to whatever was behind the theater –  such as a grove of olive trees, the sea, or mountains.  The Romans, on the other hand, built a back to their theaters similar to what we do today.  This area would have several places for actors to enter and exit.  There were also many alcoves and niches around the theater where statues of current leaders were displayed.  Roman theaters similar to this one were built throughout the Roman empire and many were still being used into the 1980’s although most have closed in an effort to preserve the sites.

Roman Coliseum

Roman Coliseum

Easily recognizable is the Roman Coliseum.  This structure was so named because in ancient times there was a giant statue of Colossus next to the arena.  In Latin the word arena means sand, and since sand was spread on the floor of the coliseum to soak up the blood of combatants theses structures came to be called arenas.

The Coliseum is an outstanding example of the Roman use of arches.  Here we see three levels of arches with a fourth solid level on the top.  Between each arch is a column.  On the first level the columns are of the Doric Order, on the second level the Ionic Order, and on the third the Corinthian Order.  The top level had niches

Interior of the Roman Coliseum

Interior of the Roman Coliseum

where statues were placed.  The inside of the Coliseum was set up much like our stadiums are today, with arched tunnels leading spectators into the stadium.

A floor was placed over a maze of rooms at the base of the stadium.  Here you can see what the Coliseum looks like without the floor in place.  These rooms were used to house the wild animals that would be used in the games.  There were also areas for the gladiators, doctors, weight rooms, etc.  Lavish games were hosted by the leaders of Rome to garners support and favor with the general population.  The Coliseum could also be flooded to stage mock sea battles.

The Coliseum is an oval that measures 615 feet by 510 feet and is is 159 feet high.  The opening ceremonies to dedicate the Coliseum lasted 100 days and according to some counts 9,000 wild animals and 2,000 gladiators died for the amusement of the spectators. Unfortunately much of the Coliseum was dismantled in subsequent generations for materials.



One of the other amazing architectural feats of the Romans is the Pantheon.   This is a temple to ‘all the gods’.  Originally the Pantheon stood on a podium and was approached by stairs from a square with colonnades.  Passing centuries have buried the podium and stairs.   The entrance to the Pantheon resembles a Greek temple but then the porch gives way to a massive rotunda with 20 foot-thick walls that rise 75 feet in height.  These walls support a dome that is 143 feet in diameter and 143 feet from the floor to the summit.

In the center of the rotunda is an oculus, or central opening that

Ceiling of the Pantheon

Ceiling of the Pantheon

allowed in sunlight (and rain).  This massive structure was made possible by a very important invention of the Romans…cement.  Cement allowed the Romans to construct large buildings cheaply and efficiently all over their empire.  Once constructed, concrete buildings could then have a facade of marble, stucco or other material attached.  In the case of the Pantheon the use of concrete allowed the builders to make the ceiling out of sunken panels or coffers.  This reduced the weight of the ceiling considerably.  Marble veneers, architectural details,  richly colored marble, columns, pilasters, and entablatures hide the concrete work inside of the Pantheon.

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

The Romans effectively used a simple design of square against circle to create a sophisticated design that imparts of sense of awe and of being able to commune with the gods.  Maybe this is why in later centuries the Pantheon was converted into a Christian church.  It was this use of the building that helped it to survive the middle ages when most pagans structures were destroyed in an effort to rid the city of their influence.

Another unique feature of Roman architecture is the Monumental Sculpture.  These often took the form of the Triumphal Arch.  These freestanding arches commemorated a military victory and were part of the victory celebration.  Here we see the Arch of Titus in Rome.  After Titus died and was deified his brother commissioned the construction of this arch as a memorial of Titus’s conquest and defeat of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The arch is constructed of concrete and covered in marble.  Originally the arch served as the base for a statue of a horse and charitot driver that was 50 feet high.  The reliefs on the arch depict Titus’s capture of Jerusalem.  This capture ended a campaign to crush a rebellion of the Jews in Palestine.  The Romans sacked and destroyed the sacred temple and carried off it’s sacred treasures to display in a triumphal procession through Rome.  One portion of the relief shows Titus with an eagle carrying him skyward to join the gods, an acknowedgement that Titus was deified, or declared a god at his death.



  1. Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

    I’m Out! 🙂

    Comment by online stock trading advice — January 11, 2010 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

    • Thanks so much!

      Comment by kbagdanov — January 11, 2010 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

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