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Greek Influence on Roman Architecture, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The Romans are famous for their incredible works of art. Roman architecture, sculpture and painting are still considered some of the most beautiful works to come from the ancient world. It is no mystery that the Romans borrowed much of their artistic style from the Greeks, whom they conquered but obviously admired. The Romans were master craftsmen and artists, and used art both for political purposes and for its aesthetic value.  Influence on Roman architecture can still be seen today in the ruins of its most famous monuments, including the Colosseum, the aqueducts, the Library of Celsus and the Pantheon and in sculptures such as the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesos remains a beautiful monument to learning in the ancient world.   Though the library has many features of ancient Greek theatres, this Roman building was in fact one of the largest libraries of its day. “The library serves as a grave monument, rather like many churches, and in the tradition of entombing of heroes and celebratory family monuments, at the back right of the monument is the entrance into a sepulchral chamber that contained the remains of Celsus.” (Johnson 2009) The fact that Celsus had his body entombed here speaks of the importance that learning had to the ancient Romans.  They valued knowledge and information.  Their pride in learning is evident in the ancient monument.  The library contains a magnificent architecture that is reminiscent of the Greeks, showing how the Romans valued the knowledge of architecture that they had learned from the Greeks.  The façade of the library is composed of recessed niches in which statues would have sat. Greek columns are also present and make up an important part of the design of the building. Four pairs of Ionic columns on elevated pedestals flank the three front entrances to the Library. Above the Ionic columns are a set of Corinthian columns that frame the windows. The second story columns also form the niches for statues. The overall effect of the columns is that it adds height to the building, making the visitor feel dwarfed upon entering the Library, which was a center of learning. The Library of Celsus was an important part of the ideal of Rome since it was open to the public. Johnson tells us that “According to Gotze’s calculations, the 30 bookcases held about 12,000 scrolls.” (Johnson 2009) The knowledge that was contained within was of monumental importance to the ideals of Rome and the architecture of the building conveyed that this was a place to be honored.

By the time that Michelangelo first laid eyes on the Roman Pantheon, he is reported to have proclaimed is as being of “angelic and not human design.” (Parker 2009) Though similar to the Parthenon in Greece in some design concepts, the Pantheon is truly a unique architectural wonder.  Its concrete dome still stands today, a testament to the high degree of technology obtained by its ancient architects. The Romans borrowed the use of columns and the front entrance to both buildings is formed by 8 columns. The columns are wider at the bottom and taper off at the top, giving the illusion of greater height. The columns provide an intimating effect to all who enter, as these massive granite columns are 50 Roman feet in height and weigh 100 tons each. In addition to the 8 front columns, there are 4 rows of 4 columns each that extend to the interior of the building from the front. All of the columns of the Pantheon are of the Corinthian style, which was a style originally created by the Greeks but which was rarely used in Greek architecture. However, the Romans made great use of the Corinthian column and it is this style of column that is used in the Pantheon. These columns are the most aesthetically pleasing of the three column types. The Corinthian columns at the Pantheon have a slender fluted column shaft and are topped by an elaborately engraved capital.

The Roman emperor Hadrian is credited with the construction of the Pantheon.  There is some mystery surrounding the Pantheon. The engraving over the top of the building attributes the building to Marcus Agrippa but it was actually built by Hadrian.  Hadrian had the Pantheon built to replace the original one that had been built by Agrippa but had burned to the ground in 80 A.D According to Parker, he is reputed to have said, “My intentions had been that this sanctuary of All Gods should reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial glove and of the stellar sphere…The cupola…revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue.” (Parker 2009).  The Pantheon was designed as a great temple to all the Gods of Rome.  He used Greek artists in the construction of the temple, as he says, “The hours would make their round on that caissoned ceiling so carefully polished by the Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below, prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods.” (Parker 2009) The effect is a blending of Greek and Roman art, which is appropriate since the religions of the Romans and the Greeks are also blended into one another.

Although the Romans borrowed some forms from the Greeks when designing the Pantheon, they made the design their own by modifying the plan. While the Greek Parthenon is geometrically precise and rectangular in form, the Pantheon is a square and a circle combined. The Pantheon is an amazing architectural wonder, as its dome was the largest concrete dome in the world for centuries. The dome is one of the most amazing features of the Pantheon. In order to create the dome, the Romans again borrowed from the Greeks in the use of a series of arches that support the dome. In keeping with the geometry of the columns, there are exactly 8 arches used as support. The dome tapers to the top and a single oculus at the top opens to the sky. The oculus remains uncovered today and when rain falls in, it runs off the slightly convex floor and is drained away through drainpipes, which though from the days of the Romans are still quite functional.

The number 8 is an important feature of the architecture of the Pantheon. There are 8 piers supporting the 8 arches. There are also 8 round-headed arches which run through the drum from its inner to its outer face. Finally, there are 8 niches, or bays, corresponding to the arches which today hold statues. The geometry of the building is aesthetically very pleasing, which is why Michelangelo was so taken by the design.  When viewed with an artist’s eye, the building becomes an architectural wonder.  Although the architect of the building is unknown, his skill is beyond doubt due to the durability of the structure and the dome. The design is unlike any temple design from its day. It only has one entryway, which is also an unusual feature. The oculus at the top gives the only light, as there are no windows or doors around the side. Despite this, the oculus provides ample light during the day as the earth turns and the light rotates within the dome. This conveys to the visitor the power of the cosmos and the Gods for which it was built to honor.

Greek arches were also used extensively by the Romans. Besides being part of the architecture of the Pantheon, they were used in the design of the Colosseum. The Flavian Colosseum was built in Rome’s center and was completed in 80 A.D. by the emperor Titus. It is the largest amphitheater every built by the Romans and is a marvel of their architectural skills. This monument speaks to us today of the bloody gladiator battles that went on inside its walls to entertain the Roman masses. Despite its grisly past, it remains standing today ironically due to its history.  “Indeed, it was the amphitheatre’s reputation as a sacred spot where Christian martyrs had met their fate that saved the Colosseum from further depredations by Roman popes and aristocrats who were anxious to use its once glistening stone of the palaces and churches.” (Hopkins 2009)  Its design employs both arches and columns that were used harmonically to create a structure that was not only beautiful and gracious, but also strong and durable, even able to withstand the earthquakes that are common in the area. The placement of the Colosseum was also an important part of its design. Unlike other amphitheaters, which were located on the outskirts of town, the Colosseum was placed in the heart of Rome, both symbolically and literally.

The Colosseum uses all three column types, Ionic, Doric and Corinthian. The columns in the Colosseum, however, were not used to hold up the building, they were made to look like they were holding up the building but in fact were not. The columns were of the Doric order on the first level, the Ionic on the second level, and the Corinthian on the top levels. The columns framed arches, which added strength and beauty to the design of the Colosseum. The Romans modified the arch, which had been used by the Greeks, and used it in profound new ways. The building would not have been able to have been built to 4 stories without the use of the arches.

Arches were widely used throughout the Roman Empire. The Romans perfected the use of the arch in order to not only make their architecture more appealing to the eye but also to make their structures stronger and more durable. Roman aqueducts are a modern engineering marvel that allowed the Romans to supply water to areas where water was scarce. This enabled them to extend their empire and also allowed cities to expand despite the fact that water was scarce. Some aqueducts were built below ground to protect the quality of the water being channeled. Whether they aqueduct was built below ground or above ground, the arch was used to maintain the flow of the water by regulating the pitch of the aqueduct on and maintain the flow of the water on its way to its destination. Above- ground aqueducts would sometimes have up to 2 tiers of arches.

Aqueducts are an engineering marvel of the Roman world. They were highly effective, channeling up to 6 million gallons of water per day to service the city of Rome’s baths and fountains. They had to be built to incredibly fine tolerances to avoid the water clotting or overflowing. The aqueducts allowed the Roman Empire to expand and allowed their cities to grow as a greater population could be serviced with water. However, during Rome’s final days, their aqueducts could not be adequately protected and enemies had only to destroy part of the system to stop the flow of water into the city. From a political standpoint, the aqueducts were both a blessing and a curse. They allowed the empire to expand, but also had a hand in its eventual downfall.

The aqueducts stand today as an engineering marvel, speaking to us of the great architectural and technological advances made by the Romans in order to expand their empire. By using the Greeks design of the arch, they were able to utilize it to bring water to cities and areas that would not normally have had access to it year round.  It is impressive to still see these ancient artificial water ways standing in the countryside, attesting to the advanced technology and artistic creative spirit of their builders.

Roman art was definitely not relegated solely to the realms of its architecture, although it is probably one of the most well-known due to its high visibility. Roman sculpture was also truly remarkable in its beauty and form. In sculpture style, the Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks as well, who has done much to perfect the life like sculptures that it is so well known for. The Romans added their own style to sculpture as well, making it a style of their own. The Romans focused their sculptures on the individual. A good example of this is the famous sculpture of Augustus that was discovered at Prima Porta in the 1800’s.

The Prima Porta sculpture of Augustus is made of white marble. The figure is incredibly life like one word: lifelike, both in appearance and form. He is dressed in his military attire, showing his position of commander-in-chief of the army. In addition, he is standing in military pose and raising his right hand, as if addressing his troops. This was called an “adlocutio” pose. In addition, he is barefoot. Normally only Gods were depicted barefoot, which is highly symbolic of how Augustus is being portrayed in the sculpture. There is also a mythical aspect to the stature. Besides being shown barefoot, Augustus is featured with the God Cupid at his feet riding a dolphin. This alluded to the mythical ancestry of Augustus to the goddess Venus by way of his adopted father, Julius Caesar.

The Roman statue of Augustus of Prima Porta shows how much the Greek influenced Roman sculpture. In this elegant and very life like statue, Augustus is shown as a youthful hero. “The statue is far from being a replica of classical art.  It only takes on certain traditional elements.” (Elia, Erickson, Lee, and Yu 2005) Roman standards would have had a leader appear wise and old, with a solemn character. Augustus led a campaign to shift iconography from the old Roman Republic era to one that focused on the classical Greek and Hellenistic period. Heroes from that era were young, full of vigor and strength. The essence of Augustus’s campaign was to show that he was, of course, the best man to lead Rome. By depicting himself as a Greek hero, he was making a statement about his divine right to rule.

We still look today with wonder and admiration at the ancient monuments left behind by our ancestors.  The truth’s that they discovered, in geometry, architecture, and design, have allowed our modern culture to create our world today.  The Greeks passed on their culture to the Romans, who saw its intrinsic value to humanity and passed it down to us, through their art and architecture.  By studying these ancient works of art, we are in fact deciphering their ancient message, their legacy to us.

References

Elia, Josephine, Erickson, Erika, Lee, Stephanie, Yu, Zoe. (2005) Agustus of Prima Porta Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/21h.402/www/primaporta/

Hopkins, Keith (2005). The Colosseum: Emblem of Rome BBC Ancient History in-depth. Web. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/colosseum_01.shtml

Johnson, W.A. (2002) Library of Celsus at Ephesos Ancient Libraries, University of Cincinnati  Classics Department. Web. Retrieved from http://classics.uc.edu/~johnson/libraries/celsus.html

Kleiner, Fred S., Mamiya, ChristinJ. (2006) Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective Volume I. Belmont, California: Thompson Wadsworth.

Parker, Freda. (2009). The Pantheon: Rome – 126 A.D.. Monolithic Web. Retrieved from http://www.monolithic.com/stories/the-pantheon-rome-126-ad

Schram, Wilke, Passchier, Cees. (2010) Roman Aqueducts.  Web.  Retrieved from http://www.romanaqueducts.info/

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