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Ancient Roman Civilization: Architecture and Engineering. City of Rome. Architecture and Engineering. What type of innovations came from the Ancient Roman Civilization? What influences can we see in our society today? Can you give two examples?. Roman Cities.

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architecture and engineering
Architecture and Engineering
  • What type of innovations came from the Ancient Roman Civilization?
  • What influences can we see in our society today?
  • Can you give two examples?
roman cities
Roman Cities
  • The typical Roman city of the later Republic and empire had a rectangular plan and resembled a Roman military camp with two main streets—the cardo (north-south) and the decumanus (east-west)—a grid of smaller streets dividing the town into blocks, and a wall circuit with gates.
  • Older cities, such as Rome itself, founded before the adoption of regularized city planning, could, however, consist of a maze of crooked streets. The focal point of the city was its forum, usually situated at the center of the city at the intersection of the cardo and the decumanus.

Plan of the City of Rome

By the time of Augustus, Rome had grown from a tiny settlement on the Tiber River to a metropolis at the center of an expanding empire. Under the republic Rome became the political capital of the Mediterranean and a symbol of Roman power and wealth.

all roads lead to rome
All Roads Lead to Rome

Why do you think a system of roads was important to the survival of the Empire?


Appian Way

An expanding network of roads helped to link Rome's distant territories. One of the most important paved military roads was the Appian Way, commissioned by the Roman official Appius Claudius Caecus. It became the major route from Rome to Greece. Although these large lava blocks may not be the original material, the route itself has remained unchanged and in use since it was first paved more than 2200 years ago.

  • The forum, an open area bordered by colonnades with shops, functioned as the chief meeting place of the town. It was also the site of the city's primary religious and civic buildings, among them the Senate house, records office, and basilica.

When archaeologists began excavating the city of Pompeii, which had been covered with ash and mud by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ad 79, they found the remains of people, ancient buildings, and other artifacts preserved amid the volcanic debris. Among the structures uncovered was The Forum of Pompeii, pictured, a group of temples, courts, and palaces that served as the city’s legislative center.

  • The basilica was a roofed hall with a wide central area—the nave—flanked by side aisles, and it often had two or more stories. In Roman times basilicas were the site of business transactions and legal proceedings, but the building type was adapted in Christian times as the standard form of the Western church with an apse and altar at the end of the long nave. The first basilicas were put up in the early 2nd century b.c. in Rome's own Forum, but the earliest well-preserved example of the basilicas (circa 120 b.c.) is found at Pompeii.

This Roman basilica was begun by the emperor Maxentius between 307 and 310 and completed by Constantine the Great after 312. Although it was one of the most important monuments in classical antiquity, almost all that remains of the building are these three huge, barrel-vaulted bays

roman temples
Roman Temples
  • The chief temple of a Roman city, the capitolium, was generally located at one end of the forum. The standard Roman temple was a blend of Etruscan and Greek elements; rectangular in plan, it had a gabled roof, a deep porch with freestanding columns, and a frontal staircase giving access to its high plinth, or platform.

By the 1st century b.c, the extensive conquests of the Romans led them to regard the Mediterranean as mare nostrum (our sea). Roman influence went far beyond politics. Roman art, architecture, and language were among the cultural traits that slowly took hold in many of Rome's conquered territories. Ruins of ancient temples in Baalbek, Lebanon, include the Temple of Jupiter, built by the Romans after they took control of the territory that included what is now Lebanon in 64 b.c.

  • Roman temples were erected not only in the forum, but throughout the city and in the countryside as well; many other types are known. One of the most influential in later times was the type used for the Pantheon (ad 118-28) in Rome, consisting of a standard gable-roofed columnar porch with a domed cylindrical drum behind it replacing the traditional rectangular main room, or cella.

The Pantheon in Rome is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It was commissioned by Hadrian in 118 and completed in 128. At one time it had a colonnaded court leading to the portico. The dome of the rotunda behind the portico is 43.2 m (142 ft) in diameter. The oculus (a round opening) at the top is 8.5 m (28 ft) in diameter and provides the only source of light for the interior.


Roman engineers completed the Pantheon, a temple to all the gods, in ad 128. Its interior was conceived as a single immense space illuminated by a single round opening, called an oculus, at the highest point in the dome. The interior is decorated with colored marble, and lined with pairs of columns and carved figures set into niches in the wall.

roman theaters
Roman Theaters
  • Roman theaters first appeared in the late Republic. They were semicircular in plan and consisted of a tall stage building abutting a semicircular orchestra and tiered seating area (cavea). Unlike Greek theaters, which were situated on natural slopes, Roman theaters were supported by their own framework of piers and vaults and thus could be constructed in the hearts of cities.

The Roman emperor Augustus founded the city of Aosta during the 1st century b.c near the junction of natural transportation routes from Italy through the mountains to France and Switzerland. The city has many remnants of Roman architecture, including wall segments from this theater.

  • Amphitheaters (literally, double theaters) were elliptical in plan with a central arena, where gladiatorial and animal combats took place, and a surrounding seating area built on the pattern of Roman theaters. The earliest known amphitheater (75 bc) is at Pompeii, and the grandest, Rome's Colosseum (ad70-80), held approximately 50,000 spectators, roughly the capacity of today's large sports stadiums.

The Colosseum in Rome (70-82) is best known for its multilevel system of vaults made of concrete. It is called the Colosseum for a colossal statue of Nero that once stood nearby, but its real name is the Flavian Amphitheater. It was used for staged battles between lions and Christians, among other spectacles, and is one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world.

  • Among the other great public building projects of the Romans, the most noteworthy are the network of bridges and roads that facilitated travel throughout the empire, and the aqueducts that brought water to the towns from mountain sources (Pont du Gard, late 1st century bc or early 1st century ad, near Nimes).

The Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard near Nîmes, France, was built between the late 1st century bc and the early 1st century ad. The Romans built extensive systems of aqueducts to carry water to their residential areas from distant sources.

  • A clear picture of Roman architecture can be drawn from the impressive remains of ancient Roman public and private buildings.
  • Many of our modern government institutions are modeled after the Roman system, as is much of our public architecture.

Builders laid the cornerstone for the United States Capitol in 1793, and the building has been the seat of the country’s Senate and the House of Representatives since 1800. The Rotunda stands 66 m (180 ft) high and is the symbolic center of both Capitol Hill and Washington, D.C.


Lincoln Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

  • What type of innovations came from the Ancient Roman Civilization?
  • What influences can we see in our society today?
  • Can you give two examples?
  • Amphitheater: circular building,a round or oval building without a roof that has a central open space surrounded by tiers of seats, especially one used by the ancient Romans for public entertainment
  • Aqueduct: A complex system of channels built to carry water from one place to another.
  • Basilica: a type of ancient Roman building that had a central nave with an aisle on each side formed by two rows of columns, and typically a terminal semicircular apse. It was used as a court of justice, an assembly hall, or an exchange.
vocabulary 2
Vocabulary 2
  • Forum: a public square or marketplace in ancient Roman cities where business was conducted and the law courts were situated
  • Oculus: an architectural feature that is round or eye-shaped, for example, a round window, a round opening at the top of a dome, or the central boss of a volute.
  • Complete Lesson Handout
where to get more information
Where to Get More Information
  • Ancient RomeWhat Life Was Like: When Rome Ruled the World: The Roman Empire 100 bc to ad 200. Time-Life, 1997. 
  • Adkins, Lesley, and Roy A. Adkins.Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. Facts on File, Reprint, Oxford University Press, 1997. 1998. A comprehensive reference covering more than 1,200 years of the Roman Empire; includes 150 illustrations.
  • Amery, Heather, and Patricia Vanags.Rome and Romans. Educational Development Center, 1998. A volume in the popular Time-Traveler series.
  • Connolly, Peter, and Hazel Dodge.The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome. Oxford University Press, 1998. Details what it was like to live in the capital cities of the classical world.