The civilization of Ancient Rome thrived from the sixth century BC to the fifth century AD. The Roman Empire was the second empire to conquer most of the Mediterranean Sea basin, the first being the Ancient Greeks. After taking over the former Greek Empire, the Romans assimilated many aspects of Greek culture into their own, including the Greek Architecture. The main attributions to Ancient Roman architecture are cement, the arch, the vault, the dome and centralized road systems.
The Roman Architectural Revolution is also known as the Concrete Revolution.
This is because during the Roman Empire’s thriving period, Roman architects began to create concrete and use it to build up their structures. The first known architect to design and build a building using concrete bricks was a man named Vitruvius. Vitruvius noted that he used a mortar and pestle to mix volcanic ash with lime putty and broken mud bricks. Together, these components created a strong concrete that allowed architects to build more exotic structures.
These structures include the vault, the arch and the dome. Because the Ancient Romans conquered much of the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, their architecture was spread throughout the region leading to the widespread use of Roman concrete to make safer, more exotic structures. The Roman innovation of concrete bricks allowed them to adapt and perfect more difficult architectural styles.
The Roman creation of concrete allowed the Romans to develop the design for the arch. The arch made by the Romans was supported by two posts and a semicircle top. The arches were extremely reliable to be stable and strong enough to support large, important buildings. These buildings included bridges, aqueducts and public buildings such as the Coliseum. The earliest documented bridge designed by the Romans is the Pont Flavien Bridge in modern day France. Designed in 12 BC by C. Donnius Flavius to replace a worn out wooden bridge, the Pont Flavien Bridge was about 75 feet long, supported by a long arch underneath and an entrance arch on each side. This bridge was heavily used until the 20th century AD, testing the limits of the arch built by the Romans. A typical Roman arch could support about 150 feet, which allowed the Romans to build long bridges such as the Pont Flavien Bridge. The Pont Du Gard aqueduct in modern day France was another example of the importance of Roman arches. About 1180 feet long and supported by about 47 arches on its top layer, the Pont Du Gard aqueduct was built in the 1st century AD. The Pont Du Gard aqueduct had three layers of arches supporting the structure. The aqueduct was essential to the Romans because it provided fresh water from the Alps to the western portion of the Roman Empire. Arches were architecturally stable structures that were innovated by the Romans and used in many important structures throughout the Roman Empire.
Another Roman innovation that was caused by the creation of concrete was the vault. The vaults used by the Romans were intended to heighten and broaden rooms. The common Roman vault consisted of an arch at both sides and a long arched tunnel in between the two arches. Vaults were used in many temples throughout the Roman Empire to make the roofs taller and make the sanctuaries grander. An example of the use of the vault in religious building is the Church of Saint-Séverin in modern day Paris, France. Reconstructed in the 11th century AD, the Church of Saint-Séverin had a vault that heightened the cathedral. The maximum height of the ceiling in the cathedral is about 30 feet, which was extremely tall for that time. The Church of Saint-Séverin was first built by the Romans in around the 6th century AD, but was later rebuilt using the same designs and concepts as the Romans had in the church in the 11th century AD. Vaults were used to both stabilize and heighten rooms, and were widely used in the Ancient Roman Empire in religious buildings.
The Ancient Romans developed the concept of the dome from their inventions or concrete, arches and vaults. Like vaults, Roman domes were used to broaden and heighten rooms in many buildings. However, being even more reliable and stable than vaults and arches, domes were widely used in bathhouses, palaces and tombs. A dome is the ideal roof for a bathhouse because of its ability to circulate the steam and heat and contain them within the room. Domes replaced the Neolithic Era “post and lintel” style of architecture. The post and lintel style consists of two posts connected by a flat, wooden slab on top. Domes allowed buildings to be taller than if they had a post and lintel style. The reason why domes and arches were so structurally stable is because they had an extra inner layer of cement to strengthen the roofs of buildings and prevent structural damage during natural disasters. Domes were essential to Roman architecture because of their stability and their ability to heighten and expand rooms.
The Ancient Roman architects used many architectural concepts developed by the Ancient Greeks such as columns and triangular gable roofs. An example of the blend of Roman and Greek architectural ideas was the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. Commissioned and designed by the Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, was built as a temple to honor and glorify the gods of the Ancient Roman Empire. The building has two sections of roof: a dome and a triangular gable. The dome on the roof adds a great deal of interior space and both heightens and broadens the room. As a way of blending Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman architecture, Hadrian designed the front portion of the roof as a triangular gable roof supported by Greek inspired columns. The triangular gable roof, or the pediment, was decorated with Ancient Roman gods and goddesses, showing a diffusion of culture and blending of architectural styles between the Ancient Greek civilization and the Ancient Romans. The columns used on the Pantheon were based on Greek designs. The Romans adapted the columns to be used under their arches, which provided structural support and also beautified the building or archway that they were used on. Ancient Roman Architects such as the Emperor Hadrian adopted and adapted many aspects of Ancient Greek architecture such as the triangular gable roof and the column.
The Ancient Roman development of concrete bricks allowed the Romans to build flatter, more durable roads that are still usable today. At the extent of the Roman Empire in the 6th century AD, Roman road systems stretched from as far east as Turkey and as far west as Great Britain, and surrounded the entirety of the Mediterranean coastline. The roads build by the Romans were used by legions of Roman soldiers to cross the vast Empire in a short amount of time. The allowed the expansion of the Roman Empire to hasten to become what it looked like in the 6th century AD. The Roman roadway system was the first unified road system in known world history. The code of law of the Ancient Roman Empire, the Law of the 12 Tables, written in the 5th century BC, dictated that the uniform width of a Roman Road had to be eight feet when straight and sixteen feet when curved. Because the majority of roads in the Roman Empire were in modern day Europe, the stones and concrete used in the roads had to be able to survive harsh winters with snow and rain, which was made possible by the Roman innovation of concrete. The stones placed in between the concrete in Roman roads were usually made out of lava or bricks, depending on which part of the Empire the roads were in. Roman roads were usually designed with five layers. The bottom layer was simply compacted sand to give the roads a proper foundation. The next layer was called the statumen, which was composed of crushed rocks to flatten out the surface of the sand. Next, there was the rudus layer, or the cement layer. This layer served as the structural support and weather resistance for the whole roadway. The fourth layer was the nucleus, which was cemented sand in which the fifth layer, the summum dorsum, or large stone slabs, were placed. On each side of the road there was a drainage hole to prevent the rainwater from penetrating the rudus layer. Because of the Roman innovation of concrete, Roman roads were structurally stable and weather resistant, which allowed them to be seen today.
Ancient Roman architectural styles have greatly influenced many famous buildings today. The Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. and the New York Stock Exchange building in New York City are replicas of the Pantheon designed by the Emperor Hadrian in Rome in 126 AD. The Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, New York and the Washington Square Arch in New York City both have arches that were based on Ancient Roman designs. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France is also an example of Ancient Roman influence on modern architecture. The Eiffel Tower uses an arch design to strengthen and heighten the building. Lastly, the Chrysler Building in New York City, standing 1050 feet and finished in May 1930, uses the Roman innovation of vaults and arches to become the largest brick building in the world. Roman innovations are still important in modern architecture today.
In conclusion, Roman innovations in architecture, consisting of concrete, arches, vaults, domes and roads, allowed Roman architects to build bigger, more structurally sound buildings and their concepts are still used today.