Greek vs. Roman Architecture

Essay by fluturas November 2007

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With its magnificence and architecture, the Roman Colosseum has impressed everybody for two millennia. The ancient Roman architecture encountered not only across the Empire but also in the Roman colonies at the time was seen as a real breakthrough. And so was the Greek architecture. But whereas Greeks turned architecture into an art, the Romans used it as a means to denote the greatness of the Empire and the emperors. Inspired by Greek architecture, the buildings in the ancient Roman Empire give a whole new perspective on the purpose of architecture - grandeur, majesty, and utility. The ancient Roman architecture was used to express the grandeur of the Empire by maximizing the utility at the same time.

Obviously the purposes the architecture served in these two cultures differ; but more than that, the way the builders are praised in the case of the Greeks or forgotten in the case of the Romans shows how important is classical architecture in characterizing an empire, a civilization.

There are almost no known names of the Roman architects of the important edifices that were built in Antiquity. And this is because they were simple employees meant to serve ruler, as opposed to the Greeks, who were valued as artists:The difference between Athens and Rome in this matter is (…): the democratic free-for-all which had characterized the embellishment of the Athenian acropolis was now focused on the supreme personality-cult of the Emperor.

Jocelyn M.C. Toynbee sees the difference between the two civilizations the same way: the Roman Empire used "Greek art in the service of the Imperial idea."Even the most respected and reliable treaty on ancient Roman architecture, DeArchitectura (On Architecture) by the Roman architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was dedicated to Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor. The first book actually starts...