Roman Republican Period — 500-31 B.C.



Before the Romans, central Italy was dominated by the Etruscans.

The history of the Romans begins with the city of Rome, which was founded as a modest village in 753 B.C. by Romulus.  It was initially ruled as a monarchy with either an Etruscan or Latin king.

Since the 7th century B.C., Rome had contact with the Greek world.  Recall that nearby Naples was a Greek colony.


In 509 B.C., the last of the Rome’s Etruscan kings, Tarquinius Superbus, was thrown out and a constitutional government was established. 


The governance created by the Romans that characterizes the Republican period is:

Originally, Rome’s leaders came from the Patrician class — or wealthy landowners

Over time, there representatives from the Plebeian class — small landowners, merchants, freed slaves


Until 1 A.D. Rome probably looked like an Etruscan city.  As we have seen with the Capitoline Wolf, which was executed around 500 B.C., Etruscan artists worked for Roman patrons.


During the Republican period, Rome began to colonize other parts of the Ancient world:

By the 2nd Century A.D., Rome was a city of approximately 2 million people, and the Roman empire included most of region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.


Romans became interested in patronizing and collecting art — particularly Greek art.  Large shipments of Greek sculpture and paintings began to make their way to Rome.   In addition, Roman architects looked to Greek buildings for inspiration.


Temple of Fortuna Virilis, Rome, Italy, ca. 75 B.C.




Fortuna is the goddess of luck, but this small Roman temple was actually dedicated to Portunus, the Roman god of harbors.

It was built during the Republican era, and it draws inspiration from both Greek and Etruscan sources.


Like the Etruscan temple, has a high podium, one entranceway, axial symmetry, and a deep porch.


Like the Greek temple, it features columns of a classical order -- in this case, Ionic columns.  Also, like a Greek temple, it appears to have columns on all four sides.  Like the Greek temple, it has one cella (not three like the Etruscan).


Note! Unlike the Greek temple, the columns of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis are not real.  The columns on the sides and back are actually engaged columns and, therefore, this is a pseudo-peripteral temple.  Also, it is not wood (like most Etruscan temples), and it is not marble (like many of the best Greek temples). It was was built of local stone and then covered with stucco to imitate marble.  The Romans did not hesitate to use good materials to cover cheaper materials.  We'll see this over and over again in their architecture. 


Review the basic principles of architecture


Roman Vaulting



The round-headed arch can be used to vault space in three different ways:

In the above illustration, the round-headed arch, the barrel vault, and the groin vault are created through the use of individual stones -- or stone masonry.  But the material that was most frequently used by the Romans was concrete.  Concrete was cheap, and it made possible new ways of enclosing space.


During the Republican period, we begin to see Romans exploit concrete.  Indeed, their extensive use of concrete is a hallmark of Roman architecture.  They made concrete from lime mortar, volcanic sand, water, and small stones.


Sanctuary of Fortuna Primagenia, Palestrina, Italy, late 2nd Century



At the top is a modern-day photograph of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primagenia.  Below that is a model that reconstructs this sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of fortune in Palestrina in Italy.  This was a very large, tiered complex that was built into the side of a hill. 


At first glance, this complex might look Greek in certain ways — we see the colonnade and the temple front.  But these motifs were only a façade.  The entire structure was built of concrete.  Moreover, the landscape is subordinated to the architecture. 


Much of the original sheathing of this complex is now gone, and it's possible to see the Roman concrete.  In some cases, the concrete was reinforced by the insertion many pyramidal stones.  These technique is know as opus incertum and can be discerned in the details below.




Head of a Roman Patrician, ca. 75-50 B.C.



The Patrician class were the wealthy upper class.  During the Roman Republican era, marble portrait heads such as the one shown here were almost exclusively made for men.  In addition, all of these are mature to older men.  They do not appear happy.  Rather, most are scowling — displaying gravitas.   The term "versimilitude" is used to describe a portrait that is a true and accurate likeness of an individual.  But these portraits seem to be exaggerated in some ways.  They seem super-realistic in their emphasis of wrinkles and age.


Many of these portraits depicted Roman senators, and the senate ran the Roman state.  So, might these super-realistic portraits actually be idealized?  Yes!  These mean had had responsibilities and were supposed to be wise and experienced.  Their portraits convey these traits — this is what leaders are “supposed” to look like. 


Also note that these portraits were probably executed by Greek sculptors for Roman patrons.


Patrician with busts of his ancestors



It is also possible that these portrait heads could have been ancestor portraits — real or imaginary portraits of an ancestor who had died many centuries before.  The sculpture above presents a Roman Patrician holding two of his ancestor portraits.  These portrait busts were kept within the Roman house — but were also used for parades. 


Aerial View of the forum, Pompeii, Italy, 2nd C. B.C. and later
Forum of Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius in the Background


Now, go back and look at your map of Italy, particularly the square at the upper right.  On August 24, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried many prosperous towns around the Bay of Naples — including Pompeii.  Many of these sites were not excavated until the 18th century — and so were undisturbed for nearly 1,700 years. 


Above is an aerial view of Pompeii and a view in the forum of Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the distance.  There are some terms relevant to Roman City planning:

At the center of Pompeii is the forum or public square (green on the plan above).  This was usually located in the center of the city at the intersection of the cardo (the main north-south axis) and the decumanus (the main east-west axis).  These main streets were standard in laying out the city.  These internal main roads were then connected with the roads which lead to the countryside. 


Although the forum was marked by the intersection of the two major roads, it was usually for pedestrians only. 


At the very top of the aerial view of the forum appears the Temple of Jupiter (purple on the plan above).  As can be seen from the plan, this is a standard Roman type, combining Etruscan and Greek elements.  However, the location of this Roman temple is very different from Greek temples which stood in isolation and could be viewed from all four sides.  Around the forum were various secular and religious structures. 


At the lower right is a Roman basilica (see your textbook; orange on the plan above).  This was long, narrow structure which housed the law court for the city.  It's where judges sat to hear cases, probably from the market.  We see a central open area called a nave — separated from the side aisles by an arcade or screen of columns.  As we shall see, the Roman basilica was later adopted for the plan of the Christian church. 


Reconstruction of a Roman House



In addition to city planning, Pompeii provides an excellent opportunity to study Roman domestic architecture. 


The typical Roman house was entered through a small vestibule (1 above) into a large reception area known as the atrium (2).  Within the center of the atrium was the impluvium (3), which was a shallow basin that collected rainwater. 


Beyond the atrium was the courtyard — which was also open to the air.  This was surrounded by a peristyle (5) or a rectangular colonnade.  Off of the court yard were several small rooms — the singular is cubiculum, the plural is cubicula (4).  The large room in the back was the triclinium or dining room (6).



Atrium of the House of the Vettii, Pompeii
Atrium of the House of the Silver Wedding,


Here we are looking at the atrium and impluvium two different houses in Pompeii.  Notice that the roof over the atrium is open to the sky. Also notice how this room leads to the open courtyard in the back.