Roman Architecture

Essay by Jeff Boxen1College, UndergraduateA-, August 1996

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The Roman Empire, founded by Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C. and lasting in Western

Europe for 500 years, reorganized for world politics and economics. Almost the entirety of the

civilized world became a single centralized state. In place of Greek democracy, piety, and

independence came Roman authoritarianism and practicality. Vast prosperity resulted. Europe and

the Mediterranean bloomed with trading cities ten times the size of their predecessors with public

amenities previously unheard of courts, theaters, circuses, and public baths. And these were now

large permanent masonry buildings as were the habitations, tall apartment houses covering whole

city blocks.

This architectural revolution brought about by the Romans required two innovations: the

invention of a new building method called concrete vaulting and the organization of labor and

capital on a large scale so that huge projects could be executed quickly after the plans of a single

master architect.

Roman concrete was a fluid mixture of lime and small stones poured into the hollow

centers of walls faced with brick or stone and over curved wooden molds, or forms, to span

spaces as vaults.

The Mediterranean is an active volcanic region, and a spongy, light, tightly

adhering stone called pozzolana was used to produce a concrete that was both light and extremely


The Romans had developed potsalana concrete about 100 B.C. but at first used it only for

terrace walls and foundations. It apparently was emperor Nero who first used the material

on a grand scale to rebuild a region of the city of Rome around his palace, the expansive Domus

Aurea, after the great fire of AD 64 which he said to have set. Here broad streets, regular blocks

of masonry apartment houses, and continuous colonnaded porticoes were erected according to a

single plan and partially at state expense. The...