Roman architecture stands today as a testament to the ability and grandeur
of this once great civilization that, at one time, covered three continents.
The common style of architecture formed a thread that helped keep the
vast Roman empire connected. Their great theaters and amphitheaters were
wonders that could seat thousands of people and are still impressive, both in
size and volume, today.
Their development of the arch and concrete influenced architecture for
centuries to come. Click to go on….
The basics of Roman Architecture
• Doric Columns
• Ionic Columns
• Corinthian Columns
• Tuscan Columns
• Composite Order
The architecture of Classical Greece and Rome did not come about all at once, but
came in different stages of design and style. There were five different types that the
Romans and Greeks used throughout classical times, from pre 500 BC to the first
Doric Style - Columns built in this style usually had no base and consisted of a
massive shaft with 20 flutes. Doric architecture predates the 5th century BC. It
was infrequently used, but examples are seen in the Parthenon and Coliseum in
Later Roman columns differ
from the Greek version in
their addition of a base and changes
in the capital profile.
Another example of Doric Columns…
Ionic Style - More visibly complex than that of the Doric
style, being of slender proportion, and their height being
generally about nine times the column's lower diameter; the
order is always used with a base and the column shaft
usually has 24 flutings.
The example (at left) is from the Temple of Portunus.
Corinthian Style - This is the most ornate of the classical
styles and is generally much more slender than the Ionic style.
The Romans used the Corinthian order in numerous
monumental works of imperial architecture. They gave it a
special base, made carved additions to the cornice, and
created numerous capital variations, utilizing florid leafage
and sometimes human and animal figures.
The prevailing form of Roman Corinthian is seen in the
Maison Carrée in Nimes, France (see picture to right). This
style originated after the 5th century BC.
Tuscan Column - The Tuscan column was the next form to be introduced and it was
introduced by the Etruscans. The Tuscan Column is a very simple, plain column with
a base and non-fluted shaft. No major examples of this architectural type survive
Arch of Titus
Composite Order - The final architectural type to come from the classical world is
the Composite order and it was first seen in 82 AD on the arch of Titus (above). The
Composite form is a combination of Ionic and Corinthian orders. This form was
the most complex due to the fact that it used the arch.
Due to the advances of the Composite style of architecture and the skill that the
Romans had with concrete, the Romans were able to develop such architectural
marvels like the arch, the vault and the dome.
One of the most famous domed buildings to come from the ancient Romans was
the Pantheon built in the last century BC by Marcus Agrippa and later refurbished
Ready for a QUIZ?
Which column is the most ornate of the
classical styles and generally much more
slender than the Ionic style?
Click your answer:
Doric Column Corinthian Column
The Doric column usually had no base
and consisted of a massive shaft, like the
Parthenon. (not very ornate!)
Corinthian columns are the
most ornate of the classical
styles and are generally much
more slender than the Ionic
style, like this temple in
Here’s another question:
Which column is a combination of Ionic and
Click your answer:
Composite Order Tuscan Column
Remember, the Tuscan column is a very
simple, plain column with a base and non-
No examples of this
style survive today.
Click to go back
You got it!
Composite order is a combination of Ionic and
Corinthian orders. This form was the most
complex due to the fact that it used the arch. The
Pantheon is a great example.
The Roman development of the arch also led to the building of
the great aqueducts, used to transport large amounts of water
over vast miles of land.
The need for aqueducts occurred in Rome during the mid
republic due to the fact that the Tiber river had gotten too
muddy and polluted from waste dumping and other deeds. As
time went on, numerous aqueducts were built in Rome and
throughout the empire in general.
Perhaps the most well
preserved aqueduct is
Pont du Gard near
Nimes, France (right).
How did Aqueducts work?
To transport the water over great distances, the Roman
Aqueduct worked with the principals of gravity and they also
had special basins between the source and the destination that
would help purify the water.
Once the water had reached the destination, it was kept in a
storage tank where it would be distributed by pipes to different
locations at the city. Some lucky upper class people had water
piped directly to their residence, the earliest known form of a
sophisticated pipe system.
With the water system that
the Aqueduct allowed, the
Roman public baths got more
sophisticated and grew in
size as time went on.
By the second century AD, public baths had grown in size and
variety. In these new facilities, the pampered could do everything
from eat to exercise and even read.
Some of the most famous Roman Baths that still exist are in Bath,
England (pictured here) and Baden-Baden, Germany.
So, the baths were really health clubs!
Under such famous emperors as Titus, Caracalla and
Diocletion, magnificent baths were constructed that could
house thousands of people at a single time.
These later baths were constructed in different sections.
Upon entrance into the bath house, the patron would first
enter a changing room in which they would undress
themselves before continuing into the exercise room. After
a period of exercise ,the patron would then go to the warm
baths, in the tepidarium, then to the cold baths, in the
frigidarium. After their bath, the patron could have a
massage if he/she wished so.
What makes the Roman bath
houses such an architectural and
engineering wonder, other than
their great size, is the system
that the Romans had for The bath house also had a hookup to
maintaining them. In the cold the complex Roman water system and
and hot areas of the bath, the so always had an ample source of
water, for both bathing in and for
water temperature was actually
drinking. The great sanitary
regulated by the use of
conditions of the bath house were
underground fire furnaces. Also, major factors that helped to make the
the dirty water in the baths was Roman empire the cleanest society up
actually drained and replaced until the 19th century.
Arches and Amphitheaters
The Roman Amphitheater, like most styles
of buildings, was influenced greatly by the
Greek civilization. These structures were
generally circular and used the arch as their
style of building but some were known to be
built into a mountain or hillside. The theaters
and amphitheaters were quite big in size and
could hold upwards of 50,000 spectators.
The biggest ,and most famous, Roman A special fact about the Coliseum
amphitheater was the Coliseum which was is that it was originally built with
built by the Flavian emperors Vespasian and a huge removable canopy to
Titus. This building was used for everything protect the spectators from the
from mock sea battles to to gladiatorial fights. elements.
The great monuments that the Romans leave behind show a
great skill and an admiration for the accomplishments of their
leaders and the grandeur of their empire. Most Roman
monuments were constructed using the arch and had the details
carved into them. The arch was usually very big and was a
prominent feature of the skyline of the town in which it was
So, how about those
The grand public structures that the
Romans left are the greatest legacy to
their once powerful empire. Their
amphitheaters and monuments, such
as the triumphal arch, were
impressive structures that were
amazing to the Romans, and are still
a marvel to us today.
Back to the beginning…