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Roman Architecture

( Originally Published 1915 )



Roman architecture has been called merely Greek architecture imitated with greater richness but less refinement. No doubt the Greeks were greater originators, but the Romans were more practical, and, being great builders they extended the art in every direction. Yet, where they changed or modified the Greek, they did not always improve it.

The one great feature of the Roman architecture was the use of the arch. Arches had been made before, but the Romans made them the basis of their designs, and this changed the whole appearance of their buildings and and created a new architectural style. The Greeks built in nearly straight lines, but the Romans used the arch, and hence, come the curves of Roman architecture, and of the later styles that grew out of it. Incidentally, the use of concrete, which is cement or ground rock and sand mixed while wet, and hardening into a solid mass as the mixture dries, changed the nature of their buildings, and made possible the dome of the Pantheon. The Romans did not confine themselves to building temples, but erected huge theaters, circuses, baths, and triumphal arches, all of which are characteristic of the work of this great people.

Like the Greeks, whom they conquered, the Romans were a free people. They were very war-like, and conquered the then known world and kept it and ruled it, too, for nearly a thousand years. They were a race of builders for several times as long as the Greeks, and that shows us why we find so many more buildings, or remains of buildings, of the Romans than of the Greeks. It also shows why they were able to do greater things and bigger things. They were not so refined or learned as the Greeks and what they did in the way of buildings, and the other fine arts, was largely learned from the Greeks whom they had conquered. We may almost say that the chief business of the Romans of those times was to go to war and to conquer new provinces, and the triumphal arch is one of the curious products of this time, being built to commemorate the victories of their Generals.

Thus, conquering, they grew very rich and became fond of amusements, which accounts for their great amphitheaters, and the extensive and luxurious baths. The amphitheater was a Roman invention. Of the buildings selected we shall study one amphitheater and one great temple dedicated to their gods, Even their gods they borrowed from the Greeks, changing them to suit themselves, and adding to their number to fit their different ideas.

To examine many of the buildings of the past, it has been necessary to dig into the earth, and when we visit Rome, we shall find that the Forum of the ancient city had to be excavated in order that the foundations of the buildings could be seen. In Egypt, where the buildings are much older, it is sometimes true that as many as eleven cities have been built, each on top of the last one buried. This is because the ground gradually rises where people live in cities. It may not be as much as a foot in one hundred years, but enough soil accumulates in one way or another so that by and by the buildings are half buried. With the buildings, much of the history of ancient times has been dug out of the earth, and the science which tells about this is called archaeology.

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